Become more interesting: the values of being a lifelong learner

become more interesting

Have you ever been around someone who gives off a vibe that makes you think they can be relied upon for anything? You can usually tell if you have encountered someone like this; they can join and participate in any conversation with ease, they display an amazing breadth of knowledge in a variety of fields, and they seem to be able to undertake any task given to them with ease and confidence. This is the sort of person you know will be able to achieve anything required of them to a high standard and with great efficiency as they have such a broad variety of skills. If you were to ask for their assistance with something, you know they help without hesitation and do their best job possible for you. If you have experienced such an individual, this is the mark of a lifelong learner; someone who has dedicated their life to the learning of new skills and the obtaining of knowledge.

Why be a lifelong learner?

Learning new skills and obtaining knowledge is a hugely rewarding way to spend your time and has great long term benefits. It can also be really enjoyable if you are learning things that interest you or are pursuing a creative hobby that you find fun. However, if you asked someone how they spend their free time, you’re not likely to find someone who tells you they learn things. Who actually wants to spend their time learning if they don’t have to, right? The reason for this is that learning new things requires a lot of mental effort and often doesn’t provide instant gratification. With TV, reddit, Facebook and Youtube providing instant entertainment without requiring any effort, these seem like much better and easier ways to spend time. If you are able to overcome this mentality to avoid these distractions and put some effort in, there can be some great long term benefits from spending time learning.

You develop the skill to learn new things much faster. It may initially take a lot of mental effort to learn new things, but as with anything, if you spend enough time doing it it becomes much easier. That way over time you’ll be able to overcome distractions and learn things without it feeling like a chore. This also means that if you are required to learn something for a job or just need to take up a new skill out of necessity, you will be able to pick it up much faster and with greater efficiency than the average person.

You become more self reliant. Depending on what skills you need to learn, you can solve problems that would normally require you to have to hire someone for. Imagine if your car breaks down or your computer stops working, with the right skills it would be no problem to fix the problem that most people would have to pay someone for. This could potentially save you a lot of money and is also rewarding knowing that you don’t need anyone else to solve your problems for you.

It’s mentally stimulating. When you constantly apply yourself to learning new things, it requires you to use your brain a lot more than what you would normally. This keeps it in good shape and means that you are constantly training it to perform better. You will notice after a while how easy it is to perform mental tasks that might have once required a lot of concentration.  Most people don’t experience this as they train to be specialists meaning they only apply have expertise in one field. When specialised in a single field, eventually tasks become automatic and require no effort, which means their brains stop becoming stimulated and they become out of shape and slow. The only way specialists stimulate their brain is by trying to build upon their given field and develop new skills. However, most people don’t do this as it is not required of them. When exposing your brain to new tasks you are constantly exercising it and making it stronger.

You become a more interesting individual. As you begin to learn new skills and obtain knowledge people will start to realise your abilities. Everyone is interested on someone who happens to appear to be really smart and competent so long as you aren’t forcing it on people and just come across as condescending. When you obtain new skills and knowledge, you will display it without even realising and people will begin to notice. You will find you can hold a conversation with almost anyone as you will be well versed in the fields that interest them. If people need advice or assistance, you will be able to help them. This will all add to people developing a respect for you and your ability to show competence across many areas.

How to be a lifelong learner

Fortunately during these times information is incredibly easy to get a hold of. Along with all the distractions, the internet has provided a means of learning anything you could possibly want. It is essentially the world’s largest, most accessible encyclopaedia. This means that pursuing a life of learning is easier than ever.

Become an autodidact. The best way to learn by far is to attend classes and be taught by someone. This gives you external motivation to do the necessary work and also provides all the info you need to know for you. However, a much easier way is to teach yourself. Although this can be much harder as it requires a lot more motivation to actually do the work since no one is saying you have to. But if you can develop the ability to teach yourself it can be far more efficient. Not only does it not cost you anything, but you can work around your own schedule and learn the things you want, not what a teacher wants you to know, which isn’t always what you want to be learning.

Don’t try to become an expert. If you go into learning something with the intention to become a master of it, all you’ll do is psych yourself out and end up learning nothing. It takes far too much time to learn a subject in its entirety, and if you’re planning on learning multiple subjects it is an unnecessary undertaking to master them all. What you need to do is apply the 80/20 principle; where 20% of a subject covers 80% of what you actually need to know. The other 80% of the subject is reserved for the experts and is only necessary to know if you actually want to fully dedicate yourself to the subject. When you go into learning something, first find out what the most commonly used topics in the given subject are and only learn those. Avoid learning things that only cover a very specific part of the subject. Essentially ask yourself; if I wanted to hold a conversation about this subject with an expert, what would be the main points I would need to cover to sound like I know what I’m talking about?

Learn how to use your time properly. A lot of you will be reading this and coming up with excuses for why you can’t pursue lifelong learning. These excuses will always revolve around having a lack of time. The fact is no matter how busy you think you are there will always be time. Even if you only spend 15 minutes a day learning something it will still be significantly more beneficial than nothing. What you need to do is look at your leisure times where you don’t do much productively and start filling those times with learning. You’ll be surprised how much time you actually have. The hardest part will be overcoming the desire to do nothing after a hard day of work and just knuckling down.

Discover free resources for learning. Once upon a time the only free learning resource was the local library. While this is still a perfectly good option, especially since books almost always go into more detail on a given subject, there are much now much easier and more efficient resources out there. Websites that give university quality courses such as Khan Academy and Coursera have made it incredibly easy for anyone to become experts in a subject for free. If you’re part of a university, you can usually access scientific journal databases for free. Journal articles are a great way to keep up with the latest science without getting false conclusions from scientific journalists. If you’re learning a new hobby or skill there will almost always be a forum containing heaps of tutorials and a community to answer questions. If it’s DIY you’re into then something like Instructibles is great. Basically what I’m saying is with the internet your options for free learning are essentially endless.

Learn how to write notes. When you’re going through mountains of information, it’s important to be able to compile what you know into an easy to understand format. This is why note taking is so useful; it allows you to compile everything you’ve learnt in a way that’s easy for you to understand. It’s also good for laying out plans for what you want to learn and making connections between ideas. There are unlimited different ways to take notes and many different styles you can find online. Because everyone is different it’s essentially up to you to experiment and determine what note taking style works for you.

Conclusion

The lifelong learner is someone who is looked up to and respected by those that know them. They give off an air of confidence that makes people think that they are capable of performing any task with ease and can be relied upon to assist in solving any problem. This is someone who has dedicated their time to acquiring skills and knowledge so that any situation they find themselves in they know they will be able to handle it with ease.

This is a goal that can now be attained by anyone. With the internet it is now easier than ever to learn anything you want to a high level. All that’s required is motivation, the ability to learn efficiently and good time management and anyone can become a lifelong learner.

photo credit: mendhak via photopin cc

Posted in Experience
2 comments on “Become more interesting: the values of being a lifelong learner
  1. Steve Courtenay says:

    Another excellent ‘Cultivated Self’ article Jonathan. Very enjoyable reading.

    I would suggest though, that a LITTLE bit of ‘the right’ television is not detrimental, as a balance of information diversity processed by the brain is also essential for a healthy brain. Unfortunately (or not?), TV is here to stay and has replaced the ‘other’ type of ‘entertainment’ that preceded television (story telling, craft making, reading (for entertainment, not learning (which was quasi learning anyway)etc.
    I agree that social media (Facebook, Youtube etc) has little benefit in developing lifelong learning skills, but maybe has a small place somewhere, perhaps as a total ‘blob out’ medium (which everyone needs now and again I guess).

    I also agree that self teaching and development is a great skill to learn and no doubt would promote self confidence, pride in achievement, motivation, determination and many other essential skills if you wish to reach that level of attainment where one day, you can give something valuable back to your community (the people, the environment and your planet).

    However, interaction with someone who hopefully would know more or at least the same as you, in the subject that you would be currently studying, is also important. Both for the ‘human’ exchange of idea’s and for the benefit of critiquing your work to date. Being able to obtain advice and sometimes just for a little bit of support and motivation when the learning becomes seemingly too much and daunting (which it naturally does once in a while), is also important. Having a peer to talk to when this happens (and it will) is very beneficially and can sometimes make the difference between achieving your goal with enjoyment (as you should also strive to do) or not.

    Once again, an excellent paper – informative, well researched and well written.

    Steve

    • Jonathan Munro says:

      Hi Steve, thanks for the great feedback.
      I agree that that there’s nothing wrong watching TV or going on facebook for some downtime. I’m not gonna stop watching TV shows anytime soon. It’s more learning about developing the ability to perform mentally strenuous activities without being lured to mindless activities because they are easier and provide instant gratification. Once this ability has been developed, you can use your time to develop yourself and learn new things with very little effort. It’s not so much cutting out down time completely, but spending less time doing mindless activities.

      I agree about having the human interaction. Like I said in the article, I believe that learning in a class setting is the best way to learn anything, but in terms of efficiency, being able to teach yourself is hugely useful. I think if anyone wants pursue lifelong learning, the ability to teach yourself without needing others is an absolutely necessary skill to have. Also, I believe learning things on your own is far more rewarding. For example, when I taught myself webdesign to make this blog I had a huge sense of satisfaction from being able to overcome problems, even though it would’ve been far easier if someone was there to answer my questions for me. However, I still believe that if you have the option to learn something in class to do so, but because its not always an option, it’s also important to have the ability to be teach yourself.

      Anyway, thanks a lot for your input.
      -Jono

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