As we enter another new year, goal setting and plans for self-improvement are front of mind. While health often tops the list of areas for self-improvement, education and learning are often relegated to the pursuits of students and deprioritized after school or university.
A lifelong learner is someone who actively pursues both formal and informal education, training and development, whether for career advancement, personal satisfaction or both.
Whether pursuing marketable skills or the fulfillment that comes from advancing your knowledge on a subject or improving a skill, there are many benefits – strengthening memory, improving self-confidence, a sense of achievement and increased happiness to name a few.
Entrepreneurs are lifelong learners, taking leaps and learning as they go. Running a business is an eternal learning curve. Being a business owner pushes people to grow in areas they might not have otherwise, learning how to manage people and upskilling out of a necessity to grow in different areas of the business.
After 11 years in business for myself, I’ve learnt the value of surrounding myself by the best of the best and always being open to learning from absolutely anyone. Even the fresh new hire straight out of school could have a valuable lesson to teach. I also take the approach of always aiming to personally be one percent better than I was last week, last month and last year.
I joined Entrepreneurs’ Organization in December of 2021 as a way to connect and share learnings with other founders, but also because they have a core focus on growth and learning, through guest speakers, events and even a global university for entrepreneurs.
Whether you’re a business owner or not, the good news is that a growth mindset is one that can be cultivated. To become a lifelong learner, you simply need to nurture a combination of natural curiosity for the world and the discipline to build learning into your routine.
As former American President John F Kennedy said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other".
Here are seven ways to develop a lifelong learning mindset
1. Maintain your health
Health and learning make great bedfellows. Taking care of your physical and mental health allows you the energy, space and creativity for learning. Play also promotes learning by stimulating the entire body and creating a memory of the learning experience in the nervous system.
2. Build reading into your daily routine
This may be an obvious one, but there is a wealth of knowledge and experiences out there to absorb from books. If you’re already a big reader, why not learn to speed read? If you aren’t a big reader, could you swap some screen time for a book or start small with a timer on and build it into your day?
Whether you are in a book club or swapping notes with a friend or peer, sharing your takeaways can help keep you accountable to your reading goals. I also find great value in reading and learning from industries other than the one I operate within.
Some of the best books I have ever read and can recommend are: Before The Exit by Dan Andrews (a must if you’re thinking about an exit), Good to Great by Jim Collins and The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon.
3. Listen and learn from those who have walked the path before you
As with reading, or any educational pursuit, learning comes as a result of active listening, observing and reinforcing or remembering the takeaways. One great way to learn is to hear from others who have walked the path before you.
As an entrepreneur, I’m always listening to the experiences of my peers and their takeaways to decide if they might help me improve my own circumstance.
One thing Entrepreneurs’ Organization does well is to remove ‘advice’ from the equation, meaning when you are learning from others they aren’t ever telling you what you should do. Instead, we share our experience and what we learned from it, so others can make their own conclusions about whether it is helpful or not.
4. Consider your education an investment
There are many ways to upskill for free – we live in a world with a wealth of access to free information via the internet (or even a library).
Paid learning or upskilling, particularly as the cost of living is rising, can be a mental hurdle to overcome. Sometimes, investing in upskilling will directly impact our financial success and other times it won’t.
This decision is obviously case-by-case and depends on the individual, but we should all view our education as a worthwhile investment, even if it is just our time.
5. Focus on effort over achievement
If you’re a perfectionist, learning a new skill can be daunting, but failure is how we learn. Fail forward and learn as you go, emphasizing the effort over the achievement outcome to remove that pressure to be perfect.
6. Find your passions through trial and error
Try a new class. Experiment with a new recipe. Harness your creativity and try something new every week to find your passions. Don’t be afraid to try something you think you will hate.
7. Set SMART goals
Without a plan, your goals are just wishes. Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) goals around the things you want to learn, make them manageable and keep yourself accountable and on track.
In summary, to nurture a growth and learning mindset, you need to first absolve yourself of the notion that learning is reserved for youth or formal education institutions. Embrace a level of anxiety and discomfort that comes with not yet knowing everything about a situation and how it will pan out.
Start with good habits. These create a ripple effect through your life. Start small and work your way up. Get curious about your passions. Join groups like Entrepreneurs’ Organization where growth and upskilling is built in. Surround yourself with other lifelong learners. We are heavily influenced by our peers and the joy of learning is contagious. Share your new skills or knowledge with others and attract like-minded thinkers.