Because lifelong learning is the most valuable skill you can build.
Have you ever wondered how some people keep reinventing themselves while others seem to be stuck?
“The most important skill for getting rich is becoming a perpetual learner. You have to know how to learn anything you want to learn,” Naval Ravikant said.
But learning is much more than gaining a competitive advantage and making more money.
Continuous learning helps you make sense of yourself in the world, find belonging, and transcend yourself to a new level. It’s the ultimate ticket to a fulfilled and meaningful life.
Unfortunately, most people think they’re done with learning when they finish school.
True learning starts after you finish school. It’s when you follow your curiosity and interest that the wonders of learning start to emerge. Each of the following seven habits can help you become a better learner.
1) Read Books that Make You Want to Read More
Reading is the most powerful habit of becoming a lifelong learner. Here’s why:
- Books give you access to the brightest brains. You can pick the brains of the smartest people on earth.
- Reading helps you find new questions and discover unknown unknowns.
- Reading is liberating. Freedom means choosing from a set of options. The more options you have, the freer you are. Reading helps you explore options you never knew existed.
Start with the books you truly enjoy. When you love what you read, you will ultimately love to read.
Bad books are hard to read, while good books almost read themselves. Life is too short for bad books. Read the genres you love, the content you deeply enjoy, from authors you admire.
Start books quickly but also quit them fast if you don’t enjoy reading. There are too many excellent books on this planet. Once you quit a mediocre one, you can read a great one.
In case you’re struggling to make reading a habit borrow James Clear’s 2-minute-rule. Instead of trying to read 30 books, aim to read one page before bed every night. Reduce this habit into a 2-minute first step.
“It’s not about “educated” vs “un-educated.” It’s about “likes to read” and “doesn’t like to read.”
— Naval Ravikant
2) Reframe Your Questions
When you ask closed questions, you get limited answers. It’s easy to make the world black and white.
Whether you ask a colleague for feedback to advance your career or have your role model’s undivided attention — open-ended questions will help you get the most of it.
Great questions are designed to determine what the other person knows — not to show what you know.
If you don’t understand your counterpart’s answer clarify with “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you think that?”
Here are some great questions you can ask:
- If we had spoken to you 10 years ago, what different views of the world and yourself would you have had?
- What were the best and most worthy investments (money, time, energy, or different resources?
- What advice would you give to a young person starting in (subject area)? Would you advise to specialize early or late?
- Don’t: Do you think I could’ve done this better?
Do: What could I have done better?
- Don’t: Do you have feedback for me?
Do: What feedback do you have for me?
Even better: What’s one thing I could do better in that meeting?
Once you get in the habit of asking great questions, you’ll find yourself on the fast track to better learning.
“To ask the right question is harder than to answer it.”
— Georg Cantor
3) Stick Through With What You Start
Did you know less than half of the books that are bought for Kindle aren’t even opened? Or that data from Harvard University and MIT revealed only two to four percent of people who join online courses complete them?
The feeling you get when spending money on learning is rewarding. Yet, when you don’t follow through, it’s a waste of money. You’re tricking yourself into the illusion of knowledge.
Yet, it’s not your willpower that determines whether you finish an online course.
When you pick a course, you want to evaluate whether the curriculum design will help you achieve your desired outcome. Here are features to look out for:
- Offering real-time feedback on learning progress.
- Having assignments that are directly linked to your desired skill.
- Including structured access to a fellow community.
- Evidence-based learning design, e.g., deploying spaced repetition features and using testing as a tool.
“Free education is abundant, all over the Internet. It’s the desire to learn that’s scarce.”
— Naval Ravikant
4) Embrace Being Wrong
The enemy of learning is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge — the things you think you know.
When you’re convinced to know something, learning something new means you have to change your mind, people who don’t want to change their minds keep stuck in the same place. Overcoming our egos is one of the big learning challenges.
And the antidote? It’s your willingness to change your mind. To admit when you’re wrong. To ask questions instead of pretending to know.
Changing your opinion when presented with evidence or arguments is one of the most valuable skills you can have in the 21st century.
Well-known psychologist Adam Grant writes in ‘Think Again’: “Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn. Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.”
The best antidote to ignorance are so-called anti-libraries: a collection of unread books.
“You will never read all those books,” friends say when they look at my want-to-read list. They’re right. The list grows by two books every day. Even though I read two books a week, I will only read very few of the list.
But that’s the point. My antilibrary is a constant reminder of what I don’t know. It helps me stay curious and humble.
If you want to learn something new, you first need the humility to see what you don’t know.
“The purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs; it’s to evolve our beliefs.” — Adam Grant
5) Start a Group with Likeminded Learners
In ‘Peak,’ author Anders Ericsson shares an interesting story about one of America’s first brilliant minds: Benjamin Franklin.
At age 21, Franklin gathered the smart people in his city to form a mutual improvement club. Each Friday evening, the club’s members brought an interesting conversation topic. Once every three months, the members wrote essays on the topics they discussed.
Anders Ericsson writes about the benefits: “One purpose of the club was to encourage the members to engage with the intellectual topics of the day. By creating the club Franklin not only ensured himself regular access to some of the most interesting people in the city, but he was giving himself extra motivation (as if he needed any) to delve into these topics himself.”
But you don’t need to be Benjamin Franklin to start a learning circle. Reach out to people that share your learning goal or join an existing group. Such a mastermind group can be a genius way to increase commitment and keep motivated.
Through regular collaboration, you form a community. You network with like-minded people from across the globe. As you follow the same learning goal, these relationships can be very powerful.
6) Create Your Own Version of The Material
Mere content consumption doesn’t lead to more knowledge. Human brains don’t work like recording devices. The words on the pages don’t magically stick to our memory.
Yet, people often overestimate the benefits of consuming things but underestimate the advantage you get from making things.
The key to effective learning isn’t to consume more information at an accelerating pace. The key is staying with what you learned and connecting and applying it to your life.
The authors of ‘Make it Stick’ compare learning with writing an essay. In the beginning, the first draft is unorganized and feels messy. Only after some consolidation and editing, things start to make sense and feel coherent.
Similarly, learning is at least a three-step process: encoding of information in your short-term memory, consolidating knowledge in the long-term memory and retrieving information when it’s needed.
To make the most of what you consume, you want to become a creator of newsletters, podcasts, blog posts, videos, or other learning material.
In December 2019, my partner and I started a podcast for the pure joy of learning. We labeled it “Zusammen Wachsen” (German for “Growing Together”) and recorded one episode a week about a topic we’re curious about.
For the past 81 weeks, this has been our ultimate learning engine.
Likewise, writing is one of the rare professions that give you a ticket to lifelong learning. When you’re typing your first posts, you can answer these meta-learning questions: “How does this relate to my life? In which situation will I make use of this knowledge? How does it connect to other insights I have on the topic?”
You can’t rephrase anything in your words if you don’t get it. By creating your own version, you become an effective learner and make new information stick.
7) Pick a Job that Helps You Learn Every Day
A few years ago, I became obsessed with starting at a tier-one consulting firm.
I studied to ace my exams, spent weeks practicing case studies, and admired consultants from afar. When I finally sat in the interview, there was just one problem: I realized I’d never want to work there.
Whenever I share this story, I hear similar anecdotes. So many people climb up the ladder only to realize it’s been leaning against the wrong wall.
Many work environments kill your love for learning. If you can, pick a job that provides you with the freedom to follow your curiosity. Ultimately, your job isn’t about what you do but about who you become on the way.
Want to feel inspired and improve your learning?
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