4 Daily Habits from One of the Greatest Geniuses of All Time

When one of the most brilliant minds in history offers a few suggested daily habits, we are wise to listen and maybe even experiment with the suggestions.

If you look for lists of the greatest geniuses of all time, you almost always find Johann Wolfgang Goethe near the top. Goethe was a German novelist, poet, statesman, and scientist. He was a polymath whose work influenced Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Jung, Emerson, and Schopenhauer, to name a few. To truly appreciate his brilliance, most say that you must experience his writing in the original German. Some point to his written works as nearly flawless, across the genres that he explored.

Goethe offers some advice for breathing more of the arts into your life.

His words about daily habits do not actually come as personal advice from Goethe. Rather, they are drawn from one of the the characters in his novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. In this book a young man of the 1700s is striving to escape the world of economics for a life as an actor and playwright.

Here is the quote:

One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship

In the spirit of this quote, here is a life experiment for you to try.

  1. Set aside a journal to track your experiment and experiences (or maybe you want to use a journal that you dedicate for various life experiments).
  2. You know yourself best, but consider blocking off 15 minutes each day for 10 days to conduct this experiment. Put it in your calendar.
  3. Before you begin, invite respected friends, family, and others whom you respect to recommend their favorite or most beautiful songs that they’ve ever heard. Ask the same about a poem that inspired them, moved them, or intrigued them. Then ask for people to share the same about a painting or other piece of art.
  4. Your goal is to collect at least 10 songs, 10 poems, and 10 pieces of art.
  5. For the next 10 days, you are going to dedicate time to listen to one of the songs, read and ponder one of the poem, view and ponder one of the pieces of art.
  6. Record a few of your observations or thoughts each day.
  7. Finally, talk about what you heard, read, or saw to at least one person each day. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation. It might be a simple reference to what you are pondering, how it made you feel, what you observed, or questions that the song, poem, or art led you to consider.
  8. At the end of the 10 days, write a longer journal entry about what you learned, share your lessons with a friend or family member over coffee or lunch, or consider sharing it in a blog or a place where you connect with others online.


  • If you think this is too much for you, just do part of the experiment. Simplify and enjoy.
  • If you like to journal and write, you might write full paragraphs, but you might also create a daily bullet point list of questions and observations.
  • Talking about your experiment and lessons can be enriching, and I highly recommend it, but if it is too much to find someone each day, consider just doing it two or three times during the experiment.
  • This is a great experiment to do with friends or family. Consider finding a partner or group who will do it with you. You might choose to find your own songs, poems, and art; or you can come up with a common list as a group.

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