How to make lifelong learning easy

Sometimes we see learning as a boring, difficult chore. But if we want to improve our life in meaningful ways, lifelong learning is indispensable.

When I worked as a data analyst in the financial industry, I had to learn about the business side of every project. For example, though I knew about the technical side of data, I had to learn intricate details about insurance to create a useful solution for that area of the business.

Lifelong learning doesn’t have to be about work. Playing an instrument, cooking, and starting a blog also require continuous learning so that we can create increasingly better outputs while enjoying the process.

In this article, I want to share several creative ways to make lifelong learning easier and more fun.

Contents

Get into the right mindset
Remove the hurdles
How to find time to learn
How to pay for further education
How to learn when you’re too tired
Wrap-up

Get into the right mindset

In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck talks about two types of thinking. One is the fixed mindset, where we believe we live with the potential we are born with. The other is the growth mindset, where we believe we can learn. Her work suggests that to build a mindset for learning, we can use the word "yet".

Ever caught yourself say something like, “I’m not good at this”? Things probably ended up being difficult. What if next time, you said, “I’m not good at this, yet”? It immediately sounds and feels different.

For me, the word “yet” is like a switch in lifelong learning. It’s a sort of reminder that there’s no need to stay in the dark. When we flip that switch, we start to gain clarity. We begin to think that learning is doable.

In lifelong learning, getting to the right mindset is the hardest step. It’s also the most important.

Remove the hurdles

We may have different end goals for learning but we start with similar challenges. How do we make lifelong learning less overwhelming and more fun? How do we find the time to learn? How do we pay for continuous learning? How can we study when we’re too tired?

How to find time to learn

Most folks are incredibly busy. Adding lifelong learning to their daily routine is almost impossible. If it’s a constant challenge to find the time to learn, try these shortcuts.

Use your sixty seconds. Your mind is freshest after a good sleep. Set your alarm one minute earlier in the morning. Read one book page, or one paragraph from an article, or go over the outline of a subject you’re learning – use the first minute of your day to consume knowledge.

The mind is more fertile when it’s calm. Around bedtime is one of the calmest times of the day. Before you go to bed, put the materials you’re going to need in the morning next to your bed. Just before you turn off the lights, skim over the parts that you’re most interested in. Do this for a minute or less.

The 60-60 experiment increases the frequency of learning and at the same time, it decreases the pain of sacrificing other important parts of your day. This is a great way to get started with the habit of learning.

When I created the experiment, I didn't think it would make an impact. How can 60 seconds make a difference? But it did, for me. I benefited from Parkinson's law, fitting the task within the time allotted. It also helped build an appetite for learning more.

Incorporate learning into what you already do. The magic happens when we start to think of ourselves as learners because then, we see every situation as an opportunity to learn. This experiment interprets learning as part of who you are. Wherever you are, you’re there to learn.

Imagine someone named Ali. At work, they take note of interesting terms, painful bottlenecks, new tools and applications. While waiting for an elevator, they flip out their phone and Googles the concepts that intrigued them earlier in the day. They do this too while waiting for their order at the cafeteria or waiting for the microwave to finish.

When eating, they try to sit at a table that talk about ideas, not people. If they can’t find a table like this, they sit on their own.

During breaks, Ali tacks on the productive tasks. For instance, read a book, find their next best read, list 10 ways they could solve pain points for their team, sketch what to learn next, or think of ways to get better at a new application.

This is a fun and efficient way to continue the habit of learning. It doesn't require you to move around your schedule. An important benefit of this approach is getting used to the process of adapting learning into your existing routine. It also helps you feel that you're the kind of person who likes to learn, regardless of time and place.

Look at the nook and crannies. There’s no substitute for deliberate practice. It’s one of the greatest pleasures of learning. Once you experience that pleasure, you will want to create chunks of time for it. To make that happen, audit and adjust how you spend the 24 hours in your day.

The first step to find more time to learn is to audit your day. Write down the activity and next to it, note the amount of time spent.

The second step is to adjust. You want to identify the activities you find less important than learning and de-prioritize them. To de-prioritize, you can either remove them or do them less frequently. Where possible, try to compress the time allotted for the ones that are left. Whatever time you freed, you can dedicate to learning.

The other way around also works. You can decide what time you want to do the learning, then identify and compress the activities accordingly.

It's a deceivingly simple 2-step process: audit and adjust. That's why it's easy to take it for granted. The truth is, time is the most valuable resource in the world. I would want to see where the last 24 hours of mine went, and have a say where the next 24 hours will go.

How to pay for further education

When we we’re young, studying made up almost our entire realm of responsibility. As adults, we now have to shoulder our own expenses. We also need to save for our future. We also want to take care of our family. Suddenly, lifelong learning seems too expensive. It doesn’t have to be. Here are a few starting points. Most folks would've already looked into one or more, but they're all worth considering.

Take advantage of free online courses. Massive open online courses (MOOC) are free, high-quality, and accessible to everyone who has internet. The internet is a portal to virtually unlimited learning. Even the most reputable educational institutions are now sharing video lectures and study materials on the internet.

Volunteer locally. Depending on your area of interest, you can volunteer in your local community to start getting experience in the real world. This not only helps expand your network, it also allows you to contribute value to society while learning.

Get paid while learning. Take advantage of educational perks at your organization. Most companies offer financial support for continuing education, conferences, and professional certifications. In addition, if your job requires you to use tools and applications, make the most of the free resources available to learn about them. Third-party content creators and training centers also offer a gamut of online courses that are free if not inexpensive.

Scholarships and bursaries. If you’re going the traditional academic route, scholarships and bursaries are worth a look. Institutions often offer financial support and direct you to places where you could get additional assistance. Look at the list of bursaries and scholarships available when you apply.

Join communities and barter. There’s a Facebook group, online forum, local society, or Reddit for almost every subject. In these places, members with wealth of experiences are often generous in sharing their knowledge to newcomers. You can ask specific questions and get several opinions on the matter. It’s interactive and informal. For most learners, learning is more engaging outside a traditional four-walled classroom. Try striking a bargain with another member and offer to teach them a skill you already know that they don’t. In exchange they can do the same for you. That’d be fun too.

How to learn when you’re too tired

We're exhausted at the end of a workday. It feels like whatever is left of our mental energy won’t be enough to accomplish something substantial. Here are a few life hacks for studying even when you're tired. How effective one tactic is depends on your body's natural rythm. Experiment and use what works better for you.

Do it before the day starts. Take back your golden hour and use it for learning. The first hour of the day is precious for doing intellectual tasks. As mentioned earlier, that’s when the mind is the freshest. That’s also when stress is the lowest. If a slot isn’t available in your current routine, try waking up an hour earlier. It feels great to know you finished one of your most important tasks for the day before it even started.

Do something refreshing before starting. Try not to study when you’re already drained. Consider doing an invigorating activity before starting a study session. It can be as simple as a 10-minute stroll, a healthy booster juice, or stretching for a few minutes. This creates a surge of energy and happiness, which over time, you will associate with learning.

Make the anticipation phase positive. Throughout the day, make choices that build the anticipation, not the dread of learning. Instead of thinking, “I have to study later”, try saying, “I get to learn later.” Embed nuggets of learning sessions throughout your day. This increases the learning frequency, which not only helps with remembering more concepts. The productive feeling also boosts confidence, which turns learning into a joy, not a chore.

Wrap-up

The right mindset makes all the difference. Consider starting your lifelong learning journey with the growth mindset. We also want to set ourselves up for success by removing the hurdles. This includes using creative ways to find time for learning. It also means trying alternative routes for funding your education and boosting your mental energy.