4 Habits of Highly Effective Lifelong Learners
History’s greatest men were lifelong learners — many of them devoted quality time to self-education. Albert Einstein, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Feynman, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton committed a lot of time to personal learning either in addition to traditional education or as a substitute to formal schooling.
Theodore Roosevelt was rumored to read a book a day. Learning for him was a path to professional success. He wrote his first book at 23.
Lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.
It’s about learning to know, learning to do, and learning to be. Cultivating the mind is essential for personal growth. In his book, Self-Education: Twelve Chapters for Young Thinkers, Edward Paxton Hood wrote:
“Our whole life is an Education — we are ‘ever-learning,’ every moment of time, everywhere, under all circumstances something is being added to the stock of our previous attainments. The mind is always at work when once its operations commence. All men are learners, whatever their occupation, in the palace, in the cottage, in the park, and in the field. These are the laws stamped upon Humanity.”
Self-learning is a habit many of us can emulate to thrive in an ever-changing world of work. With all the disruptions in the modern economy, ongoing skill acquisition is critical to professional relevance.
Self-education is one of the best ways to learn about the topics you care about. “To become employable, we must embark on a lifelong learning experience and embrace the ongoing development of skills,” says Tommaso Dolfi from Pathfinder.
The most successful people in history were dedicated to self-learning. They recognize the need to grow and deepen their understanding of themselves and interesting subjects. We would be wise to follow in their footsteps.
Paul Tudor Jones, a self-made billionaire entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist agrees. He once said, “Intellectual capital will always trump financial capital.”
More than ever, learning is for life if you want to stay relevant in the world of work. If you are aiming to become a lifelong learner, some of these habits can be useful for you.
Habit 1: Successful learners prioritize self-learning
Are your skills, knowledge, and experience more valuable today than they were a year ago? We can all become obsolete over time. The fast pace of change today also means we can become obsolete faster than ever before.
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none. Zero,” says Charlie Munger, Self-made billionaire & Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner.
Committing to self-learning can help you do your current job better and remain adaptable even when things change in the future. Scheduling continuous or lifelong learning can help you stay relevant.
Make lifelong learning a priority in your life to consistently improve your skills, knowledge, and experience.
To fully commit to their learning schedule, successful learners enjoy the process. You can make learning enjoyable by choosing topics that bring out the best in you. If learning is becoming a chore, you won’t prioritize it.
Habit 2: Effective learners are voracious readers
The most successful people we know today don’t stop learning. They read a lot — they continually expand their knowledge despite what they already know or have achieved.
Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day, according to his brother. Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks.
Warren Buffett spends five to six hours per day reading five newspapers and 500 pages of corporate reports. Buffett has invested 80% of his time in reading and thinking throughout his career.
According to an HBR article, “Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it you have to take off your shoes and bow.”
Why do the world’s smartest and busiest people find time for self-learning while others make excuses about how busy they are?
The answer is simple: Learning is the single best investment of our time. Or as Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Habit 3: Efficient learners maintain to-learn lists
We experience many learning opportunities every day but we can’t commit to them when we are busy getting other equally important things done. We often have to let them pass at the moment because of other tasks. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get back to them later.
To make the process of learning easier, create a to-learn list, and write down a list of concepts, thoughts, ideas, mental models, and topics you want to explore.
Or better still save them to your favorite bookmarking app. I use Pocket to save every new idea I come across online — it’s a rewarding experience.
You can later explore them in your downtime or at the specific time you have planned for your learning. I make the most of my downtime. I learn best when I am relaxed. We all have times when it just feels like the right time to learn something new. Use those times to learn things you bookmark.
Habit 4: Lifelong learners test their understanding
Reading is a great start. We learn a lot when we engage with written knowledge. Exceptional learners take a step further.
They interact with new knowledge by sharing what they know or teaching others through various means they find comfortable (speaking, podcasting, writing books or blogging, vlogging etc). The process of testing helps them remember better what they learn.
If reading is the best way you learn, make notes, compare the new ideas with your existing knowledge. “When you’re reading, you have to be careful that you really are concentrating,” says Gates.
“Particularly if it’s a non-fiction book, are you taking new knowledge and attaching it to the knowledge you have. For me, taking notes helps make sure that I’m really thinking hard about what’s in there.”
Bill Gates shares his reviews, reactions, and comments on his blog — GateNotes. Apart from book reviews, he shares updates about his passion projects. His Twitter bio states, “Sharing things I’m learning through my foundation work and other interests”.
To summarize, everything is a learning process. Learning is an investment that pays for itself in increased earnings. The “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge is important for personal maturity.
This article was written by Thomas Oppong, the founder of AllTopStartups and a career expert with a focus on creativity, productivity, and self-improvement. He is also an author, creator of thinking in models and Kaizen Habits and has been featured in Business Insider, Forbes, and Entrepreneur. Oppong also has a regular column in Inc.
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