Learning has always been essential for survival, but with world-change at an all-time pace, this is truer than ever. Happily, learning can be pleasurable with the right approach. Here, I explain how to enjoy learning, share thoughts on what to learn, the requirements for learning, and how to tell when you have learned something.
Reasons to be a Lifelong Learner
With technological change flying at us daily, we must learn quickly just to keep up. But there are other reasons to embrace learning besides keeping up with external change. Here are a few:
· It feels good.
· It makes our lives progressively easier.
· It enriches our lives.
· It increases our ability to achieve what we want to achieve.
>> Learning Feels Good
Our bodies have a natural reward system based on the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is released and makes us feel good as we make progress toward, and achieve, meaningful goals. When we set out to learn something and we make progress in that direction, it feels good. One of the great hacks of life is that YOU get to decide what is meaningful. If you say to yourself that you want to learn to sail, then every step in that direction will produce a dopamine reward.
>> Learning Makes our Lives Progressively Easier
By ignoring the routine maintenance on your car, you are likely to get a lesson in the cost of auto repair. If you learn from the lesson, life will progress more smoothly in the future, with fewer disruptions from automotive breakdowns. The same can be said for an endless list of things that we can learn.
A man's mind, once stretched by new ideas, never regains its original dimensions.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes
>> Learning Enriches us
Learning can enrich our lives by giving us new outlooks, new understanding, and new abilities. The change is generally pleasurable because it creates novelty, variety, and associations that would otherwise not have existed.
>> Learning Increases our Ability to Achieve
Through learning we gain new skills and abilities. Learning the right things provides the means to accomplish what we want to accomplish, giving us empowered and fulfilling lives.
What You Are Learning Matters
With the above factors in mind, it still matters what you are learning. If you ever wrote computer software, you likely faced a stream of languages to learn. Depending on the era, there was Assembly Language, FORTRAN, BASIC, COBOL, C, C++, Pascal, Prolog, SQL, Lisp, Perl, Python, Ruby, Java, Java Script, and so on—an endless parade. It took energy to learn a new language, and the knowledge soon become obsolete. Specialized knowledge can provide current earning opportunities, but the most highly leveraged things to learn are those with high utility and long legs, across a broad range of situations. Things that pass that test include the following:
· Learning to manage your health
· Learning to manage your finances
· Learning communication skills
· Learning to be proactive
· Learning to identify your true objectives
· Learning to see things from other’s perspectives
· Learning to choose empowering mindsets
· Learning to respond to stimuli instead of reacting to them
What it Takes to Continually Learn and Grow
A mistake people often make is expecting learning to happen automatically, but that is rarely the case. A common aphorism is that Experience is the best teacher, yet this is often not true. It is not only possible, but in fact quite common, for people to repeatedly make the same mistakes, particularly when they are habitual. For example, at one time I had a habit of placing my coffee on a specific counter. When I walked by, my elbow would hit the tumbler and spill the coffee. I cannot tell you how many times I had that experience before I finally learned to place my coffee elsewhere.
In fact, the best teacher involves another small factor, and that factor is evaluation of the experience. When we do that—when we immediately reflect and evaluate on our experiences—we maximize the learning that they provide. That is why all the high-caliber teams I have been on have conducted debriefs after every game, every race, every phone call, or every iteration of a product. We must actively seek the feedback to get it.
Other Factors Required for Learning to Occur
In most cases, before we can learn we have to believe in our capacity to learn. This is often embodied in what is called a growth mindset. When we have a growth mindset, we view every situation, every experience, as an opportunity to learn. In a growth mindset, we automatically tune our thinking toward growth and to gaining that small dopamine reward from learning something new.
The brain can change in adulthood, provided there is an emphasis on some perceptual event. The key thing is to bring focus to some perception, of some thing that is happening during the learning process.
— Dr. Andrew Huberman, Stanford Neuroscientist
We need to have the desire to learn. This is sometimes called a Teachable Spirit, and is closely related to humility. The people who are hungriest to learn will always outstrip those who approach learning passively, or worse, actively avoid it. Learning and thinking take energy. Despite comprising only 2% of our total body weight, our brains consume a whopping 20% of our body’s energy. Pound for pound, this is more than any other organ in the body. We need sufficient activation energy to get over the hump, and that comes in the form of desire.
The people who are the best leaders are the ones who want to learn leadership.
There will always be setbacks. ALWAYS! To get past them takes commitment. This takes the form of an advance decision to get back up and keep going after we get knocked down. It is helpful to understand beforehand that there WILL be setbacks, so that we do not view them as personal failures.
Don't even bother trying to avoid making mistakes, because you're going to make tons of mistakes. The important thing is learning quickly from your mistakes and not giving up.
– Mark Zuckerburg
We need to get started. No excuses. Just do it!
The Difference Between Knowing and Learning
A common misunderstanding is the difference between knowing and learning. It is the syndrome of the Monday morning quarterback, the know-it-all, the boor. To go back to my coffee example, after the first couple spills, I KNEW that I should not have left it where I left it, but I had not yet learned it. When learning has taken place there is a change in behavior. We all know to get plenty of sleep, exercise, and to eat our vegetables, but how many of us have really learned it? To manage those things requires us to learn discipline. Hey! I didn’t say it was easy, I am only saying it is worth it.
Don’t let your learning lead to knowledge. Let your learning lead to action.
The Hallmark of Learning is Change
Change and growth are always the goal of learning. With these come a sense of fulfillment, empowerment, and joy. If we set out in advance to be the best that we can be, if we commit to continuing when the slope is steep, if we make change our mantra instead of making excuses, we can learn, change, and grow, to have the lives we want to have.