If it has been a while since you left college, you may have lost the habit of learning new things all the time or even developed bad habits that inhibit learning.
So how does one develop the skills to become a better lifelong learner? Well it's like getting better at anything really. You've got to make a point to actually do the work. Before that though you need to know what the work of becoming a lifelong learner involves. Read on to find out.
1. Keeping the commitment
Improving yourself takes a dedication that most of us find daunting. It takes discipline and focus, often at times when you lack them the most. At the end of the day, you just want to relax and kick back because you earned it, you tell yourself.
This is the wrong approach. Yes, relaxation is important, but spend portions of the day committed to learning, improving what you are doing by improving your skills.
We all know the phrase "work smarter, not harder." Working smarter means working more efficiently. Add in breaks, take naps, and work in blocks. Spend one of those blocks learning something that's been interesting you but you haven't had time to examine.
This type of dedication to learn can invigorate you so that, when you work, you accomplish more.
2. Schedule it out
Humans love rituals. We all have them; we get ready for work in our own habitual ways, we travel to work in a pattern, and we complete tasks using familiar methods. There's something reassuring about the familiar.
Learning benefits from the same thing. When you take time to schedule something, it builds anticipation. Set aside some time and space each day to study, and try to keep it the same every day.
Use a scheduling system that helps you stay on task, eliminate distractions, make sure everyone knows what you're doing, and move into your learning zone.
3. Organize your learning
Often, we find ourselves buried in notes, reminders, and more. Keeping track of it all becomes a task in and of itself. This can drag down your productivity, both in work and in learning.
Plan a method for storing your learning materials, notes, study aids, and more. Take advantage of technology that uses the cloud to keep your data up-to-date and ready for use wherever you may find yourself. Evernote or any number of Apple, Google, or Microsoft productivity products will work.
4. Repeat repeat
Repetitively studying work, key information, and other data can help transfer knowledge from short-term to long-term memory. Learning a language involves short-term memorization of terminology, followed by repeated use in context. A student repeats this process over an extended period to attain true fluency.
Approach this with purpose, free of distractions and fully engaged. Practice and review will help you master a subject, however working smarter, not harder, helps here also. Some experts have shown that dedicating 20 hours to a skill gives you the foundation you need to gain mastery.
5. Multi-tasking stops you from learning
Multi-tasking and information overloads kill effective learning. One study found that multi-tasking reduced IQ performance as much as skipping sleep.
The human brain possesses amazing computing abilities, but, like all processors, it can only do so much. To maximize learning time, prioritize what goals you have in learning and knock those out first before moving on to others. You may find that some goals eliminate themselves as you progress.
6. Life balance
Learning involves your entire body, even when you simply sit to learn. How you sit, what you eat, and how much you sleep all affect your ability to learn.
Exercise improves healthy blood flow, which helps the brain work effectively. An unhealthy diet draws away resources to deal with the unhealthy results of poor eating.
Do not sacrifice your sleep. Studies now show that the various stages of sleep greatly impact the brain's ability to retain and access information. When we are tired, our ability to focus wanes. Determine how much sleep works best for you and stick to that amount as much as possible.
7. Avoid stress
While many people swear by their all-night cramming sessions before a big test, science argues differently. Increased stress reduces the body's ability to function. As stress increases, the body releases hormones and neurotransmitters to heighten ability to react to danger, triggering a fear response while the brain increases alertness and anxious feelings. This creates an environment in which a person simply can't focus or work, let alone learn.
Living and learning mean just that. Don't create an environment in which you feel too much pressure to do either. Keep life more simple and relaxed and learning will follow. This way, the success you're after will happen more naturally.