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Learning to Learn

Teach yourself to enjoy the process of becoming a lifelong learner.


A student wearing headphones studies on a laptop

One of my most dreaded classes in high school was Human Geography. For some reason, I could not figure that class out. I could study for hours on end and it would make no difference on tests. Unfortunately, I allowed that experience to shape my perception into thinking I was a bad student.


It's been well over a decade since that time, but I still have doubts from time to time. Sometimes it can feel like there's always someone smarter, or better-looking, more talented, or well-spoken in the room. As I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate these people in my life, and to learn from them. A common trend I've seen in people living the rich and famous lifestyle is their unwavering desire to learn.


Learning goes beyond textbooks in classrooms however. Learning is a constant process that helps us to become more well-rounded. Sadly, too many turn away from learning after school, maybe because they experienced similar doubts like me. I'd like to argue that anyone can become a lifelong learner though, it just requires your understanding of the type of learner you are.


Make Progress Learning

One of the most common mistakes I made when trying to learn something new was forcing myself to sit down and steamroll through material. This led to the realization that eight hours of studying does not always mean eight hours of understanding. Whether you are trying to read something for your book club or prepare for an upcoming stats midterm, learning to recognize when your brain is no longer absorbing information and walking away will save hours of your time.


An open laptop on a table next to a notepad, cell phone, and coffee mug.

As much as we may wish sometimes for the ability to sit down for hours on end and absorb information like a sponge, most of us don't work that way. I fear sometimes that when individuals decide they are unable to sit down for long study sessions, they equate that to having some kind of learning disability.


It takes time to train your mind to steady and focus. Childhood development experts are often quoted saying that the average attention span of children is 2-3 minutes per year of their age. Taken to the extreme, if you're 30, you'd be lucky sitting down for 90 minutes. Does this mean a 30-year-old cannot read a book for longer than 90 minutes before they drift off in their own thoughts? No.


In order to make progress learning, you must view it as a long-term investment. Running athletes sometimes employ something called the interval method in which they go through a period of high intensity training followed by a short period of lower intensity strain. For beginners, this could look like 5 minutes of jogging followed by 1 minute walking alternated over a 30 minute block.


In a similar way, you can train your brain to endure longer and more intense sessions of engagement. Study for 20 minutes and take a 10 minute walk around the block, for example. While this concept may not be too foreign to you, sometimes we can call our little walk our "treat". The issue is that over time that "treat" could turn into a 45 minute TikTok doomscrolling session! Avoid this by making your break something to relax your brain, not distract it.


An hourglass on a white counter.

When athletes take a break from their sprint, they are still moving forward, just at a slower pace. Their breaks are not a quick bite to eat at IHOP. Likewise, when we take a break from research or study, rather than giving our brains the dopamine rush they crave, keep them running. Go for a walk, listen to some relaxing music, draw something, do anything that keeps your brain active!


As time goes on, extend that 20 minute study session to become 40, then 50, and so on. Maintain a strict schedule as you do this if you want to see real results.


Learning in Your Style

You may be familiar with the idea that everyone has their own learning style. There are four common types of learner: audio, visual, reader/writer, and kinesthetic. Figuring out which method of learning for you is crucial!


I am a very visual and reading/writing based learner. For me, if someone explains the rules of a game, it goes over my head. Once I watch the game being played however, I can replicate it with ease. Likewise, when I take notes that I want to remember, if I type them, I forget about it almost instantly. But when I handwrite my notes, they stick!


Experiment with different ways of absorbing information. As an example, let's say you want to learn how to write and publish a book. For visual learning, you might head over to the university of YouTube and watching some tutorials. For audio learners, try finding a book on the subject and listen to an audiobook, or do some googling while you listen to some classical music. For kinesthetic learners, take your materials outside and study in a park. And for readers/writer, grab some paper, a cozy blanket, and a copy of "Publishing for Dummies".


A group of people working together.

You may be a mixture of two or more learner types, so don't force yourself to conform to a single method. Keep things fresh and interesting! If you find yourself being distracted, try a different method. This is also a great time to use any focus modes on your phone to silence notifications for later.


Create an environment for yourself where learning and work feel comfortable and natural. Sometimes I get caught up trying to replicate the perfectly aesthetic environment I found in a YouTube video, but creating the scene itself undermines the reason I'm trying to setup. Practicality isn't always pretty!


Conclusion

I said earlier that people living the lifestyle of the rich and famous are often avid learners. They are people who find joy in discovering new things and perspectives. Life is all about change, and if you wish to succeed in life, you will have to adapt to that change. Too often, we get set in our ways and refuse to look outside of our perspectives. Lifelong learners come to evolve their beliefs and viewpoints as they continue to enrich themselves.


With the new year just around the corner, make a goal of learning something new everyday. As you do so, you will become the most interesting person in the room!

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