Life’s rarely boring if you’re open to learning new things. From books to podcasts to trending TED Talks, the opportunities for expanding your knowledge and gaining a fresh perspective are endless.
But to notice these opportunities, you must develop a growth mindset to be open and receptive when new information, skills, or hobbies present themselves. That’s how you prepare yourself to learn something new every day.
The importance of being a life-long learner
The best part about learning new things is gaining a broader perspective. With this comes several other benefits, like:
Lifelong learning also has immense health benefits, like easing cognitive decline when you’re older or making you feel good about yourself and increasing your happiness levels. When you engage with fresh information or a new hobby, you stimulate the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental areas of your brain (SN/VTA).
When activated, these areas release dopamine, the feel-good hormone that produces a sense of pleasure and contentedness. While learning new things can feel challenging at the moment, the lifelong benefits are priceless.
How long does it take to learn something?
You can learn something new in an instant, like when a new coworker tells you their name. But it typically takes about a minute to memorize a word, and acquiring more complex knowledge, like learning a new language or knitting, takes about 66 days. This period depends on what you’re learning and how good you are at acquiring knowledge.
8 ways to cultivate the habit of learning
No matter what you want to learn, the first step toward gaining knowledge is noticing and seizing learning opportunities wherever you find them. Here are eight ways to cultivate the habit of learning.
1. Practice speed reading
The more information you consume, the more chances you have to learn something new. And if you’re a visual learner, speed reading quickens the rate at which you take in new knowledge.
Speed reading is a technique involving scanning written information to recognize phrases and sentences instead of individual words. Normal reading speed is about 250 words per minute (wpm). With speed reading, you can amp this up to 400–700 wpm.
You can practice speed reading by skimming information and jotting down five takeaways or using speed-reading apps that bold the only letters you need to see to populate the word in your head.
2. Treat mistakes as useful information, not failures
Making mistakes is part of the learning process. So treat every error as an opportunity to expand your knowledge base.
When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and examine why you made the choices that lead to that point. Then make an effort to process what happened and identify areas for improvement. Consider doing this by journaling about the experience so you can reflect on and learn from your thoughts.
3. Get curious and make friends with your inner child
Every child’s favorite question is “Why?” This innate sense of curiosity is how you begin to learn, grow, and understand the world around you.
As an adult, it’s important to stay curious to remain open to possibilities and opportunities. Reacquaint yourself with that inquisitive kid by making a habit of asking questions. This might mean probing further in a conversation with a coworker, researching the answer to one question you think about daily, or attending conferences to ask prominent professionals about their influential work.
4. Break out of your routine
While daily routines are comforting and can limit mental energy expenditure, they can close you off to new perspectives and experiences.
Starting small, like taking a new route to work or checking out the coffee shop that just opened can help get you off autopilot. Over time, you’ll become more comfortable with experimentation. Eventually you’ll develop a habit of daily learning through exposure to different ideas and trying new activities, like exercise classes, podcasts, and restaurants.
5. Get physical
Physical activity increases your heart rate, driving more oxygen to your brain. This increased O2 level positively impacts your well-being and cognitive abilities, improving your focus and brain plasticity — the neural connections enabling new skill development.
So get moving. If you’re not used to physical activity, try an introductory class that includes people of the same skill level so you feel more comfortable. Or learn a physical skill like iron work or belly dancing that doesn’t feel like exercise.
And if you’re naturally athletic, try an activity you’ve never attempted before, like a team sport if you usually exercise on your own. Changing up your exercise routine ensures you learn new things every day.
6. Schedule learning
Life is busy, so consider setting aside time to learn new things. This might mean listening to a podcast during your commute, spending ten minutes reading an article on your work break, or setting aside 30 minutes every evening to work on an online training course.
Adding a learning session to your schedule prevents you from forgetting about it. It also builds an expectation among those nearest to you that this is your time and they shouldn’t disturb you.
7. Don’t disregard the small stuff
There’s no better or worse hobby or information to acquire, so feel open and willing to nab small chances each day to take in new knowledge. You could ask three people for their names and try to repeat them the next day or read the coffee-roasting brochure at your local café. No piece of knowledge is inconsequential.
You’re surrounded by opportunities to learn, you just need to keep your eyes open.
8. Surround yourself with fellow learners
Spending time with people pursuing knowledge as intentionally as you are can encourage you to push through challenges to achieve your learning goals. And engaging with people who have different perspectives and experiences than yours can help keep your worldview flexible, so you can continue to find new avenues of knowledge to explore.
And since some believe you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, the more people surrounding you that have a growth mindset, the greater the chance you’ll become a knowledge acquisition professional.
How to learn new things: 6 steps
No matter your learning style, whether visual, audio, or kinesthetic, follow these six steps to improve your knowledge acquisition.
1. Determine what you want to know
Start by defining what you want to learn, like a hobby, knowledge about a subject, or a professional skill set. If you’re not sure where to begin, consider pastimes that already give you pleasure or that you enjoyed as a child but put aside due to other priorities.
And if nothing comes to mind, trial and error is OK. Try an introductory class or course to test out activities and subjects without committing to them.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
Meditation: The Mayo Clinic states that regular meditation can help you feel calm and manage your emotions. If you can’t access a meditation training center, find guided meditations online or via streaming platforms to start.
Time management skills: Developing your time management skills means you’ll better meet deadlines and accomplish your goals. Try using an online or physical planner to prioritize tasks and block out time for each item.
Public speaking skills: Delivering a speech or business presentation gives most people the jitters. That’s why Toastmasters International, an organization that helps people improve their public speaking skills, is so popular. You can also find free public speaking resources online or practice with your friends, asking for constructive feedback to ensure you know how to improve.
Cooking: Feed yourself while learning new skills by learning how to cook unfamiliar meals and cuisines. You could take classes, spend your free time with someone proficient at cooking, or watch social media tutorials to acquire these skills. Also consider going to new restaurants and evaluating the ingredients in and techniques used to create each meal.
2. Set goals
Once you know what you want to learn, chart the necessary steps to reach your goals. Make sure you create SMART goals — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely — to increase your chance of success. And divide larger objectives into small items to maintain your motivation and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
If you’re not sure about the steps necessary to master a skill, speak to your instructor or other students. They can help you establish realistic milestones and provide encouragement on your journey.
3. Use multiple mediums
Consuming something in several mediums increases your chance of acquiring this knowledge. If you’re learning to cook, you could watch a YouTube video once a day, cook something new once a week, and watch a family member cook once a month.
Using different modes of learning can also keep you engaged and provide alternatives when pressed for time or energy. If you’re too tired to go to class, you can read a book on your commute home or tune into a podcast before bed.
4. Leverage online learning sites
Don’t feel like you have to do this alone — so many online learning platforms exist that let you learn at your own pace. Here are some of the most accessible options:
Coursera provides a wide range of learning opportunities, from personal-interest lessons to university-accredited professional certifications.
Main topics: Business, software design, health and wellbeing
Cost: Free for a basic membership, then $79/month
Average lesson time: It varies greatly depending on the course
Skillshare offers on-demand courses broken into short tutorials and taught by industry experts.
Main topics: Marketing, design, cooking, software
Cost: $15/month, $99/year
Average lesson time: 30 minutes
Main topics: Current events, science, technology, culture
Average watch or reading time: 5–15 minutes
Main topics: IT and software, marketing, web development
Cost: $12.99–199.99 per course
Average lesson time: 7.7 hours
LinkedIn Learning offers personalized learning opportunities via articles, lessons, and certification courses.
Main topics: Business, technology, creativity
Cost: Free one-month trial, $262.80 annually
Average lesson time: Depends on the course
Main topics: Language
Cost: Free, $7/month for premium
Average lesson time: 5 minutes/day
5. Phone a friend
Having a study buddy improves your chance of learning success. Find someone who wants to know what you do and bond over the learning process. You and your friend can hold each other accountable and motivate one another to keep learning.
Another option is to pair up with someone who’s already proficient in the skill you want to learn. You can benefit from their hacks and experience while giving them the opportunity to reinforce what they know by teaching you.
6. Reflect along the way
Remember to learn from your learning process by self-reflecting regularly. This involves acknowledging accomplishments to increase your confidence and motivation as well as addressing weaknesses and learning from your mistakes.
You can keep a journal to track your progress or document the different stages of your development with photos. No matter your chosen method, what’s important is that you have a record to chart your course toward your goal and boost your spirits when you feel discouraged.
Today you learned something new
Working toward building the habit of learning something new every day is progress toward this goal. With every new skill set or information acquisition, you grow personally and professionally. You also fuel an inquisitive nature that your friends, family, and coworkers will appreciate. You’ll ask more questions about their lives and hobbies and show managers you want to grow within the company.