Why Lifelong Learning is Important and Three Things You should Know

Never stop learning.

Lifelong learning is a way of living that I work to continue each year. It is one of three areas that I work on maintaining in my life. The other two are growing my fitness level and building a strong spiritual base.

When developing the theme of this blog, I wanted to focus in on the things that I am always trying to expand, my mind, my body, and my spirit. I learned of these three themes years ago as a child at the YMCA. My parents used to send me there in the summer for camp, where I made friends and learned new things. I have since moved on from my days as a camper at the “Y”, but these three principles remain with me.

One should always work to make sure that these three areas are always in balance. Unfortunately, it is easy to become unbalanced. Focusing entirely on learning and expanding the mind, while neglecting the spiritual aspects of our lives can be detrimental. Focusing in on becoming scholarly or entirely absorbed in learning our jobs, while neglecting our physical health is also not good.

Lifelong learning fosters your ability to perform in the workplace, at home and in society. It is a key trait that enables you to keep up with technological change, societal changes, and simply maintaining our ability to respond to different situations.

It is important that we keep learning and developing our intellect. Learning is important to our own growth.

“There is a very important and fundamental relation between learning and personality development. . . . The two interact in a “circular process.” Thus, mastery of symbol systems (letters, words, numbers), reasoning, judging, problem-solving, acquiring and organizing information and all such intellectual functions are fed by and feed into varied aspects of the personality—feelings about oneself, identity, potential for relatedness, autonomy, creativity, and integration.”Barbara Biber

For me it boils down to curiosity. I always want to know why something is.

But, what holds us back from lifelong learning? I believe that it is like most things – Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of not being capable of grasping the knowledge, or even fear of finding out something that invalidates our current understanding.

I don’t know why, but I’ve never been afraid of learning. I’ve struggled in some areas, but I have never feared it. My struggles where often internal beliefs that I couldn’t grasp it. Okay, perhaps that is a fear, but that is not how I perceived it. I have always known that with enough time and effort, one could learn a topic. The struggle was learning it in a classroom environment, where there is fixed time. Sometimes my laziness got the best of me.

In the last few years I started studying Japanese. Again, language is an area where I thought that it would be a struggle. And it was, but not from a learning perspective. It was a time problem. Which I guess boils down to a priorities. And unfortunately with a full time job and a family, learning takes a lower priority. But the process of learning the language was fun and exciting. Especially when I could navigate my way around Japan not having to rely on English. I’m not that fluent, but I know know enough to get by.

I firmly believe that we should never stop learning. I feel that if we stop learning, then we stop expanding our life and then what is the point?

Three things you can do to foster lifelong learning

There are three things that I feel that we can do that will foster that life-long learning process.

  • Read
  • Teach
  • Do

I think that reading is the most fundamental skill in learning. We need to be able to read all sorts of different types of information. Reading to me is an escape. It allows me to find some other world. But the wonder of reading is that as you explore a new book, you are learning new things. Even in a spy novel, you learn about new places and the geography of where the plot takes place. And if you are diligent, you look these places up to further enhance the experience.

Reading is also a great way of simply expanding your understanding. Turn off the TV.  Get a paperback, grab your Kindle or whatever else you use and start reading.

The best way to learn something is to teach it. This is so true. If you want to excel at something, teach it.

When I wanted to learn Feng Shui, I was encouraged to teach by Master Larry Sang of the American Feng Shui Institute. I didn’t teach much, I just introduced one topic in a beginning class. But soon after, I was teaching the entire class and suddenly then I was teaching the entire curriculum.

And the interesting thing about teaching is that you have to be one step ahead. You need to learn the materials to be versed enough to explain it. So if you want to really learn something, teach it. Become a tutor, share the information with interested friends. Find ways of exporting the knowledge to someone else. That is how you become good at it.

Lastly, do whatever it is that you are trying to learn.  The best way to learn a language is to speak to a native.  The best way to learn a computer is to use one.   Do not be afraid of failing.  Be afraid of not trying it.

I approach the “doing” part of the learning process as “hacking”.  Yes, sort of like computer hacking, but since I’m a computer geek, I tend to relate things this way.   Take for example Japanese.  I approached it the same way I would learning HTML or some other computer language.   You learn the key concepts to put together a simple sentence.  Then you just keep working at it and trying new things until you have a larger grasp of the concept.

I know I’m not fluent, but I “hack” at a conversation.  I have fun with it.  I know that I am making a mess of what I am saying, but I am doing it and in doing, I become better.   I know that I referred to my son as my father.  But in that mistake I learned the correct way of saying things.

The same could be true of any concept you are trying to master.  Simply do it.  Yes, you will make mistakes.  No, you do not have to be afraid of failing.  Rather, enjoy the exploration. Learn to cook, make crappy dinners, but enjoy the process and in failing you will learn and you will cook amazing dishes. The good comes with the bad. Accept it and keep going.

Learn a new computer skill. Learn to garden. Whatever your hidden passion is, read about it. Teach others about it. And do it. You will become skilled quickly. You may not be a master, but you will know more than if you didn’t attempt it at all.

If you are willing to fall down a few times and get dirty, you will become even better for it. Remember that the journey is the fun part. Expand yourself and start learning something new. Your lifelong learning experience will be worth it.

Let me know your perspective on learning.  What makes it fun, what makes it hard? How do you focus on your lifelong learning process?

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