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What did you learn today? Why building the habit of learning is key

May 27, 2022 - 15 min read


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The importance of being a life-long learner

5 steps to cultivate the habit of learning

How long does it take to learn something?

How to learn something new

Get support with your learning journey

Fancy trying your hand at baking? Learning a new language? Picking up a new hobby? What about that instrument you’ve always wanted to play?

Go for it!

Novelty is the nectar of life. There are few things as enjoyable as learning and developing yourself.

But there’s more to it than just fun. Learning something new is a great way to broaden your horizons.  Not only will it improve your water-cooler talk, but it helps keep you relevant in a changing world. 

Getting started is the hardest part. That’s why it’s important to think about what you want to learn and set goals to stay motivated.  But, here’s the good news: the act of learning is in itself a skill. And it can be, well, learned.

There’s no time like the present to learn something new. So why not start by learning how to learn?


The importance of being a life-long learner

The practice of learning will help you understand yourself and the world around you.

When you learn about yourself, you improve your ability to communicate your needs, set clear boundaries, and make decisions for your life and career.

And when you expand your understanding of the world, you connect yourself to the global community. You learn how to contribute to people’s lives at home and at work.

Learning also makes you a more adaptable person — a skill that is heavily-valued by employers. It’s important to keep up with industry trends, acquire new skills, and develop more efficient workflows. These things will benefit your career and improve your value to your team.

And, if you still need a reason to keep learning, research shows that learning enhances your quality of life. There are even several mental health benefits associated with  learning how to learn:

  1. Reduced stress 
  2. Improved self-confidence
  3. Increased knowledge
  4. Improved mental well-being 
  5. Increased opportunities to build social connection

Plus, it’s fun! Life’s more vibrant when you make an effort to learn something new every day. 

People can be visual, physical, or auditory learners. You might enjoy listening to audiobooks, working with your hands, or watching a documentary. Whatever your style, it’s useful to follow a learning pathway, which is a mind map that tracks your progress on your goals. 

At BetterUp, we can help you on your learning journey. Our coaches champion personal well-being and growth, social connections, and leadership and career development. What better way to make a lasting change than by learning?

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5 steps to cultivate the habit of learning

Successful individuals are dedicated to lifelong learning experiences. You don’t need to go to a top university to learn how to be a good student, either. In fact, the key to being a lifelong learner is to take a broad view of learning.

Notice, we didn't call it education or school? With curiosity and a growth mindset, it's almost impossible not to learn something new every day. That being said, more intentional, directed learning is rewarding and beneficial.

Here are five steps to help you cultivate this habit:

1. Determine what you want to know

There’s a difference between loving something and learning something. Anytime you find an area of your life where you lack knowledge or identify a skill you’d like to improve, write it down. Keep track of things you feel inspired to learn about. When you start looking at the world through the lens of these areas you want to know more about, you'll find lots of opportunities to learn.


2. Set goals

Having goals lets you plan and take steps to start acquiring the skills you need. The human brain can only retain so much at once. Instead of trying to learn everything quickly, start with microlearning or exposing yourself to information in bite-sized pieces.

Reading a few news articles or listening to a short podcast each morning is a great way to absorb bits of information each day.

3. Use multiple mediums

Our world is more interconnected than ever. You can access many resources online: classes, podcasts, books, TED talks, and more. Mix and match how you learn to optimize your information absorption. It’ll keep you stimulated and things interesting.

4. Put learning into your schedule

Choosing an activity to learn is one thing, but having conviction is another. If you don’t set aside time to learn, you won’t improve. Any amount of time is better than nothing.

5. Surround yourself with other learners

Are the people you hang out with pushing you to do better or be more adventurous? Can you talk about different subjects with them, or are they unsupportive? Other people influence our habits.

Spending time with positive individuals who are just as curious as we are will give you that extra push to continue even when you’re frustrated. 

You can also learn from one another. Share with them what you’ve learned this week in your reading or listening, and they might share right back. 

Following people who are experts at what you’re learning on social media will help increase the positive energy around you, too. 

Remember: everyone you meet knows something that you don’t. If you’re open to learning from them, they’ll be open to sharing.

How long does it take to learn something?

On average, forming a new habit takes 66 days. But the reality is that the time to develop a new habit varies — after all, some habits are easier to develop than others. That’s true for mastering skills, too.  But you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy something or get ahead.

Think about your professional goals, too. Employers want well-rounded workers. They also need workers who can upskill themselves and stay up-to-date on changes in the field.

Spending a year learning a single skill isn’t the most efficient approach if your focus is nurturing your career. If you’re learning something new because you feel passionate about it, the timeframe may be less important.

Learning new things requires patience and persistence, but knowing how you learn best will help the process go quicker.

How to learn something new

It doesn’t matter what type of learner you are; many resources are available to help teach you a new skill. Below are seven ways to do that.

1. Practice speed reading

This is a learning skill that improves your visual system and retention. Thanks to speed reading, you will absorb and recall information quicker over time.


2. Visit online learning sites

Learning doesn’t have to be formal or structured, but sometimes we need foundational knowledge. And sometimes we need structure to keep us motivated. Online courses can bridge traditional education and self-directed learning.

First up is Khan Academy, a free teaching platform that lets you learn at your own pace. Founder Sal Khan breaks down subjects into simplified concepts. 

Coursera is another place you can complete online programs, mainly post-secondary certifications. Lynda gives you access to hundreds of online courses taught by experts on everything from web development to Excel.  

Duolingo is a site exclusively for foreign language learning. It's easy to use and you can switch between learning as many languages as you want. You’re also sent email alerts that remind you to practice daily when you sign up.


3. Treat mistakes as information, not failure

Mistakes are our best teachers. If you don’t make mistakes, you won’t improve, and reflecting on what happened gives you the know-how to do better next time.

4. Get curious (and make friends with your inner child)

The curiosity of children is a magical thing. They’re interested in everything. Explore the unfamiliar, the weird, and the challenging. Remember, when you’re learning, there are no stupid questions.

5. Get physical

Learning is a mental process, and our mental wellness benefits from physical activity. Increasing your heart rate means that more oxygen travels to your brain. This in turn bolsters your focus and promotes brain plasticity. Brain plasticity refers to the neural connections that help us learn skills.

6. Phone a friend

Learning is more fun with a buddy. Having someone to turn to for support keeps us going. Ask friends to join you in learning-related endeavors to help hold each other accountable. You can read a neuroscience book together or enroll in an online course to stay motivated.


7. Break out of your routine

Routines are useful for maintaining healthy habits and being productive. But, especially when working from home, they can lead to learning inertia. 

It’s important to expose yourself to as many different types of people, situations, foods, smells and sounds as possible. By stepping out of your comfort zone, you open yourself up to all sorts of learning potential.

One thing I miss, now that we all work from home, is that I don’t get exposed to nearly as many different types of people, situations, foods, smells, and sounds as I used to when I commuted.

8. Reflect along the way

Reflection cements learning and gives you a sense of achievement. Good learners look back on how far they’ve come. What types of questions did you ask? What new insight did you get? Where were you totally wrong? What surprised you?

Reviewing what you know solidifies the fundamentals and gives you a good foundation to build on down the road. Journaling is a great way to track your progress and keep track of interesting new questions you might want to explore.

Get support with your learning journey

If you think the next step in your journey is to start learning something new, you’re probably right. Doing so will provide many benefits. You’ll become a more well-rounded person, become more adaptable, and overall have more fun in life.

So go pick up that guitar, sign up for that pottery class, or register for that professional development training. Start working toward a better you.  

We won’t sugarcoat it — personal growth isn't always easy. But learning something new doesn't have to be hard. At BetterUp, we can help. If you’re willing to do the work, we’ll help you achieve your goals and cheer you on every step of the way.

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Published May 27, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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