At Herrmann we talk about learning as a mental process that leads to lasting change in knowledge, behavior or both. A key word to notice in that sentence is process. It’s not an outcome; it’s the action. It’s what you have to keep doing to keep growing.
Now that doesn’t necessarily mean dropping everything and taking a six-week course or attending a formal lecture. It could. But it could also mean taking advantage of the everyday opportunities you have to pick up a new insight, expand your horizons or stretch your thinking in different directions.
These opportunities to learn something new are everywhere. You just have to be on the lookout. Here are are a few of our favorite tips for finding ways to learn something new every day:
- Get reacquainted with your inner child: Children like to experiment and figure out new things, but as adults, we tend to dismiss something that’s unfamiliar or assume we already know all there is to know about it—which is almost never true of anything or anyone. Think like your childhood self. Explore the unfamiliar thing from all angles. Ask questions. Test it out. Find out what other people think about it. Find out what you really think about it.
- Treat mistakes as information, not failure. When you’re hung up only on outcomes, you’ll lay judgment on your mistakes. Instead investigate the mistake and find out what that teaches you. Treat the process of figuring out what went wrong as a win in itself, and you’ll be more likely to learn from those mistakes and use that powerful knowledge going forward.
- Get out of the office (however you define your day-to-day “office”). Go for a walk, eat lunch with someone in a different department, take a different route to your next client meeting—whatever it takes to break up the routine. If you do the same things every day, you’ll miss the chance for unexpected encounters and discoveries, and you’ll lose out on the critical “mind wandering” time that helps you generate new ideas and make mental connections.
- Use your phone. Let’s face it—you’re looking at it anyway. Download an app that gives you a daily reminder, prompt, question or tip. Depending on your preferences, you might be motivated by something like a fun learning game or you might need a more linear planning tool. Find what works for you, and use it to hold yourself accountable.
- Listen to a podcast, watch a video, subscribe to a newsletter, or read something that challenges you or focuses on a topic outside your area of expertise. Go for variety, and look for those that don’t necessarily validate your point of view. Then make it a point to keep your mind open. Plan to identify one tangible thing you can take away from them every time.
- Work on the fundamentals. If you want to learn something that’s complex or requires advanced knowledge, don’t get overwhelmed by diving right into the tough stuff. Follow Elon Musk’s advice: Learn the basics and the conceptual framework before you try to master the more advanced material. The details need something to hang onto.
- Use your current skills and interests as the stepping stone to a new one. Love to cook? Try a recipe in a completely new cuisine or using a new piece of equipment. Great at fixing cars? Try restoring one or building an intricate model. Do a lot of writing? Try your hand at a specific poetic form you don’t normally use. Get inspired thinking about where you can go next.
- Get physical. Learning is a mental process, and a new study suggests there are even more brain benefits to physical activity that previously understood. Keep your brain primed for new learning by staying active, whether that’s by playing sports, hitting the treadmill or going dancing. The key is to find activities you enjoy and will stick with.
- Phone a friend. Or a mentor. Or an expert. Or someone who simply thinks completely differently than you do. And always be willing to return the favor. You can learn something new by teaching and advising others just as you do through your own development. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman has his three “go-to” people. Who are yours?
- Learn how you think to make it easier for you to learn. If you understand how you prefer to think and learn, you can make the learning process a lot more palatable. I’m not a highly technical thinker and barely made it through my high school computer programming class, so I assumed I “couldn’t do” computer work. But in my first job out of college, I learned how to use the Mac in a snap. The interface immediately engaged my preference for metaphors, visuals and design. Not only that, the process of learning how to use it changed my mindset about computers. Learning doesn’t have to be like it was in school. Find out what really engages you, and then use that knowledge to your advantage.
Especially when things around you are continually changing, and you’re not sure what tomorrow will bring, keeping an open and active mind for new learning is essential. What will new thing will you learn today?