In 100 Words: An Open Mind for Lifelong Learning

When our mind is like a mountain, it is nothing but a heap of fixed beliefs and knowledge that does not evolve.

To have a mind like a valley, we need to pursue things with a sense of wonder, knowing that we don’t know and having a receptive frame of mind ready to absorb. An open mind enables critical thinking, diverse experiences, experimentation and iterative learning by connecting the dots.

Isaac Asimov echoed the same sentiment. He said,

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

Also Read at QAspire

How Our Brain Learns

As someone who is committed to lifelong learning, I am very curious about how we learn (sketchnote here). We learn the most during our early years and observing/helping my own kids learn and explore new things is such a wonderful learning experience as well. I learn a great deal about learning when I see my 4 years old son trying to explore language in new ways and my 9 years old daughter learning how to swim.

This observations enable me to appreciate different learning styles, pace and challenges. It tells me that learning is not easy, especially when we grow up. Learning anything new makes us uncomfortable in the beginning and a lot depends on how we embrace the discomfort of learning. That we need to build our capacity to map learning across the contexts and make connections. That is how we become effective lifelong learners.

I recently came across an interesting article on Crew Blog by Belle Beth Cooper titled “6 important things you should know about how your brain learns”. The article underlines the importance of visual learning, role of sleep and sleep deprivation in consolidating our learning and interleaving new information for better learning.

I recommend you to read the full article and here is a sketchnote summary of key points I gathered from the article.

Lifelong Learning – 20 Lessons

I wrote earlier about leadership and creating a learning organization. Further thinking revealed that a learning organization is not possible without learning individuals. Here are my top 20 lessons to cultivate lifelong learning:

  1. As professionals, ability (and drive) to learn constantly is a competitive advantage.
  2. Learning is not a one time event, but a lifelong process. It has to be continuous and self-directed.
  3. If you keep doing things the way you have always done, you will only know what you have always known.
  4. The more risks you take, the more you learn. All significant learning happens when we are ready to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
  5. When you take risks, be ready to fail and learn from those failures. Don’t waste your failures.
  6. Learning requires a humble self-reflection and assessment of your successes, failures, motives, assumptions and actions.
  7. “If you don’t read, you have no advantage over those who cannot read”. Jim Rohn said, “Every great leader I’ve ever met has been a great reader.” Reading feeds our curiosity.
  8. Learning is not external (certifications, trainings) – external endeavors only help when you are internally committed to learn. Learning is not an “outside-in” process. It starts from our desire to learn. So, its “inside-out”.
  9. We don’t learn if we don’t listen. Pre-requisites for learning: an open mind and inclination to listen.
  10. Seeking (and accepting) feedback on our work is a great way to learn. So is paying attention to criticism.
  11. Learning requires commitment and discipline – to read that book, to read a few blogs, to stop watching TV, to dedicate some time in the day to active learning.
  12. Technology makes learning easy (and inexpensive). Lot of generous folks share so much via their blogs, podcasts and videos. Sparing some time exploring these ideas in your area of work makes a big difference.
  13. Reminder: Books are still our best friends.
  14. Post-Reminder: You don’t learn swimming by reading a book. After you read, contemplate and stir your own thinking. Apply lessons in your context and put them in practice. That is the best known method to learn.
  15. Friends accelerate our learning and hence, having friends who think (and make you think), who learn (and enable you to learn), who are inspired (and inspire you) is important. Friends can catalyze your learning process.
  16. The more we share, the more we learn. Coaching others, engaging in teaching others or simply sharing our lessons reinforce them into our system. We internalize those lessons in the process of sharing.
  17. A lot of learning is also about unlearning. Learning is fluid and hence we cannot hold on to our lessons forever. They change according to changes in our context.
  18. Our work plays important role in our learning – if you spend 40 hours a week doing same things over and over again, you have got a reason to be concerned.
  19. A few critical questions – What have you learned lately? What are you looking forward to learn? How is your learning helping you contribute more?
  20. Last but not the least – constantly learning new things refreshes our mind and contributes a great deal in our happiness.

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