One of the most important lessons to learn in business – and in life – is that every experience can be a learning opportunity. Smart people find ways to grow and develop in any situation. They embrace an always-learning mentality.
Approaching life and business with a growth mindset means that you see teachers everywhere. Lifelong learners continually seek out opportunities to acquire new skills, push their boundaries and understand more about the world around them. Read on to learn why everyone should embrace an always-learning mentality, how to develop a personal growth mindset and where to find learning opportunities.
There is immense value in becoming a student of life. When you focus on continually growing and learning, you will begin to notice many direct and indirect benefits in both your personal and professional lives.
- Career success. Developing new professional skills obviously boosts your value at work, but other less tangible benefits may have an even larger impact on your career. Research shows that people with growth mindsets approach work differently than their peers with fixed mindsets. By demonstrating a pro-active, dynamic and engaged attitude, they tend to experience more career success than others who don’t readily embrace development opportunities.
- A stronger brain. Proving what many would consider common sense, science has found that seeking out learning opportunities strengthens our brains. Much like our muscles, brain tissue follows “use it or lose it” principles. Challenging our neural networks helps to preserve existing connections, grow new ones and develop the insulation that enables the transmission of impulses.
- Decreased stress. An always-learning mentality combats the perils of perfectionist tendencies and all-or-nothing thinking. By focusing on making gradual improvements, people with growth mindsets feel more empowered to affect change and less stressed. They learn from their mistakes and develop resilience.
- Increased motivation. Embracing challenges helps people stay engaged with their personal, professional or academic pursuits. In addition to benefiting from the feeling of achievement that comes from learning, people who believe that they are capable of changing and growing demonstrate higher levels of enthusiasm.
- Personal fulfillment. People who are always learning seek out new experiences and opportunities. Through being willing try and open to change, they discover new sources of joy and ways to give back to others. An always-learning mentality encourages its proponents to be compassionate to themselves and to others and inspires behavioral patterns that increase happiness.
So how can you leverage an always-learning mentality to improve yourself? Keep these principles in mind as you look for opportunities to expand your skill sets, increase your understanding of concepts and benefit from new experiences.
- Have a goal in mind. With so many different possible subjects to learn, you may feel overwhelmed by all of the options. Setting a measurable goal can help learners focus. First, consider what you hope to achieve – whether that’s earning a raise, mastering a new language or increasing your fitness level – and then outline what steps you need to take to get there. Your incremental goals should be behaviorally based and move you closer to your longer-term aspirations.
- Learn with others in real-time. The digital era provides a wealth of opportunities to study and practice many different topics entirely online. While there are many benefits to learning autonomously, including self-direction and convenience, these solitary experiences also have some significant drawbacks. Research suggests that real-time interaction and collaboration increase learning. When you learn in a group, you can benefit from sharing knowledge and experiences and develop a sense of camaraderie that motivates you to keep going.
- Use what you have learned immediately. Science has found that old adage is true: We learn best by doing. Performing tasks using what you’ve learned creates new associations that reinforce your memory. If a colleague shows you how to create a data table, you may not fully understand the process until you do it yourself. Look for opportunities to practice your new skills as soon as possible.
- Teaching can deepen your understanding. After reflecting on what you’ve learned and putting your new knowledge into practice, you can further reinforce your comprehension by attempting to explain it to someone else. When students tutor other students, they increase their understanding of the topic, recall it more easily and apply their skills more effectively. Teaching requires you to consider the material from different angles and creates more of those neural connections that are so important to memory.
Now that you’ve explored your goals and understand the basics of effective learning, what can you do to turn your plans into actions? Here are some ideas on how to get started on your personal or professional development journey. Pursue one that fits your learning style or try a few different paths to step outside your comfort zone and discover more possibilities.
- Use massive open online courses (MOOCs) effectively. While in-person learning may be best, many of us lack the time or money to attend live courses. The multitude of free, self-paced MOOCs, such as those available from edX and the Khan Academy, can help bridge those gaps. To take full advantage of online coursework, connect with others with similar learning goals. An informal cohort of learners who are interested in the same topic can collaborate to help each other engage with the material, find resources and apply concepts.
- Read and discuss. Between traditional media, e-books and online content, lifelong learners have access to more information than ever. Since you’re reading this post, chances are that you sometimes turn to written sources to learn new concepts. However, the average person only retains 20 percent of what they read. Engaging with the content in other ways increases the likelihood that you will be able to remember and apply what you learn. Consider reaching out to the author to respond to their work. You could also forward what you’ve read – or a shorter summary of the content – to interested friends or colleagues and invite them to share their thoughts.
- Meet up with like-minded people. All fields have their own conferences, seminars, expos or training sessions. While many people attend to grow their professional networks, these events also offer opportunities to learn from the movers and shakers in your industry. Approach someone whose work intrigues you and ask them what development interest them most these days. Figuring out what influencers are focusing on now can provide new insights into industry trends and may help to inform your future goals.
- Emulate success. Talk to people who intimidate you. If someone inspires you, tell them so and ask them how they got where they are. Don’t be embarrassed of what you don’t know. Seek out experts online and in-person who can guide you. Ask a more experienced colleague for their advice, or simply observe and imitate the way someone you admire approaches challenges.
- Create value for others. As you work to grow and develop, consider the needs and wants of others and how you can address those issues. Identify ways that you can apply the skills that you’re learning to solve problems or make life better for the people around you. When you look for practical applications, you gain a stronger understanding of the challenges and opportunities at play.
As you work toward self-improvement, embrace the challenges along the way by not fearing failure. Remember that both successes and setbacks are learning opportunities. We often learn just as much, if not more, from our losses than we do from our victories. Strive to become a little wiser each day. With an always-learning mentality, you can leverage the power of consistency and perseverance to achieve more at work and at home.
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