At school, we studied six (or perhaps more) subjects a day. We loved some (Art and Technology), and hated others (PE and Math, right? At least one of them).
But I think we can all agree the diversity gave an interesting, if somewhat chaotic, shape to the day. Also, often by design — sometimes sheer coincidence — it educated us, advancing us as humans. If that isn’t too much of a sweeping statement . . .
Forgetting to learn
All too often, as adults, we can forget to learn. This isn’t our fault. Life is structured in a way that champions money, our careers, routines, and (because we absolutely need balance), social activities, and fun.
All these things, great as they are, create noise. With all this ‘noise’ going on around us, our focus naturally shifts from the knowledge and advancement that were so important in our formative years. And it’s all-too-easy to never hear the calling again.
We can’t change the system. We have to keep our jobs, pay our rent, feed our families, and ourselves. These are always going to be the most important things, but does that mean we must stop learning?
Taking Inspiration From School
Perhaps we can take some guidance from the way school is structured. We had to go every day, whatever our mood, ideals, and motives — we were made to sit and learn.
As someone who writes music, I’m all too aware of the adage that we must be ‘inspired’ to write music. People ask where it ‘came’ from, and how lucky we are: ‘It must be great to have all those ideas’.
One of my favorite teachers said something that’s stuck with me — it’s one of the truest things I’ve heard said about creativity generally:
‘Nobody sits down and is inspired by God. You have to sit down when you aren’t inspired by God and write anyway’. If we wait to feel inspired, we’ll probably never do it. The same is surely true of learning.
A short burst of time like this is a fantastic way to approach learning. If you start by limiting yourself to a MAXIMUM of half an hour, approaching learning, especially at the start, will be much less intimidating. So, short bursts will actually lead to longevity. What’s 30 minutes? An episode of The Simpsons? or your favorite soap?
Once you’ve mastered this, you can build to an hour or more. That initial short burst will really help with motivation and the feeling that you can take things on.
So, What Should I Learn?
Quantum physics. Only joking. Learn something that makes you happy. Get ready for increased confidence, satisfaction, and general endorphins from the feeling of accomplishment you’ll get. That thing you always wanted to learn — how to make the perfect omelet, or how a business supply chain works. Something wacky, anything! But I guarantee it will lead you into another idea, and another idea — perhaps even a whole subject area.
We’ve all sat on YouTube and watched ten videos in a row because of those treacherous ‘Suggested For You’ columns. (Oh, the days of my life whoever invented that algorithm owes me). But we’re aiming for the educational equivalent. Something that leads to something else.
Where Should I Start?
In fact, YouTube isn’t a bad place to start if picking up a book (or even the idea of finding one) feels off-putting. YouTube is a powerhouse of knowledge and, provided you don’t immediately revert to cat videos, it could be the perfect way to whet your appetite for knowledge. If you watch videos in the right area, they will probably lead you to related articles and books anyway.
In this vein, another possible way to start (depending on the subject) is by reading fiction novels in your chosen subject area. Some time ago, I had to research some historic events for a writing project — something way out of both my natural interest and comfort zone.
Feeling daunted by where to start (how do you even make a dent in a topic you know nothing about?), I ended up reading several fictional novels and watching films on the subject matter. These resources turned out to include a lot of useful information, and while that information had to be taken with a pinch of salt, they certainly helped. Most importantly, though, they gave me a foundation to build upon, without it feeling too much like ‘work’.
Goal Setting for ‘Freestyle’ Learning
Goal setting is a vital part of learning. But the way we think of ‘goals’ in this context may not be what we usually think of when we use the word. For example, it may not be working towards any particular accolade or qualification.
We’re probably all familiar with SMART (Sizeable, Manageable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) objectives. While, in our own way, we want our objectives to be all of those things, taking such a dogmatic approach could be very off-putting and have the opposite effect when it comes to freestyle learning.
Try to think of your goals more philosophically. Plan to reach a predetermined point of advancement, which may or may not involve physical action, or be especially ‘timebound’. What we want to avoid are goals that are open-ended:
- Learn about psychology
- Get to the point where I can speak French fluently
- Take grade 5 music theory
The kind of goals you need to set are those that aim to keep you inspired, are easily achievable, and easily modified as you complete them:
- Finish chapter 1 of a book on psychology, and summarize in notes from memory.
- Learn at least ten new phrases a day in French.
- Practice one question of each element present in the music theory syllabus.
By dividing your goals into ones you can hit more easily, especially at the start of your endeavor, you’re getting a more immediate sense of success. This will keep you going. Again, it’s only after you have a firmly established routine that you should consider widening the goalposts.
Learning in Your Job or Business
Tying your new quest for knowledge into your job or business can be a great way to motivate yourself. Studying for things that will make business life easier, or put you in line for promotion will make learning into a tool that also links to those adult-type responsibilities we mentioned earlier — like having more money.
Take time to find out what is needed to advance in your job, or sit down and plan a route that could take your business to the next level.
Unfortunately, life is rarely as simple as on computer games like The Sims, where skill level, and being in a great mood guarantee you that promotion. No, there are all kinds of factors in the real world that can prevent promotions, most commonly just lack of available positions.
Even in the flattest of companies, there is still a pyramid of power to a certain degree. So your reason for learning should be motivated primarily by something else — fulfilling that childlike need to advance personally, irrespective of whether it will lead to immediate success.
Your learning has already begun!
Reading this (technically) counts as starting in your new learning path. What was it — ten minutes? At least! So well done — you deserve a break. Check your phone, grab a coffee, and Tweet about your newfound enthusiasm! As long as you promise to springboard from this, a future of knowledge and personal satisfaction is there waiting for you.
If there’s one takeaway from this blog, it’s that learning doesn’t necessarily mean books. If that’s not your deal, opt for something more practical or adventurous. Just ensure the goals lead you to little ‘hoorays’ on a daily basis.
Yoga, gardening, carpentry, skydiving — the possibilities are as infinite as your imagination.