After getting through your daily routine, it can feel impossible to find time to learn a new skill.
But lifelong learning has a range of benefits. You might find a new approach to your daily tasks, gain a better understanding of your industry, or discover lessons that help you improve yourself.
We looked through our archives to identify a few habits lifelong learners share.
Habit 1: Cultivate a growth mindset
People with a growth mindset recognize that they will keep improving and learning over the course of their lives. But those with a fixed mindset may interpret early challenges as a sign they aren’t “cut out for it” and become frustrated. Instead, lifelong learners recognize that they will always have room to grow, but that the process may not be easy.
Habit 2: Set SMART goals
Set learning goals that are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-defined (SMART). If the goal is too vague (ex. be more creative), learners won’t know where to start. If it’s overly ambitious (ex. write a bestselling novel), they’ll feel overwhelmed.
Lifelong learners reflect on their personal goals and find small, concrete steps they can take toward them. This approach can also help learners rack up some easy wins early in the learning process and build their confidence.
Habit 3: Spend five hours each week learning
Marathon study sessions have been shown to reduce learning. Benjamin Franklin set aside an hour each weekday to keep learning after he left school at the age of 10, writes Kevin Dickinson for Big Think. Other supporters of lifelong learning recommend looking for any available opportunity to practice, revisit, or discuss the material. When you revisit information over time, the information becomes easier to retain and recall.
Habit 4: Test your understanding
Reading is fairly passive, and our brains remember information better when we interact with it more actively, explains learning expert Ulrich Boser. After reading something once, articulate what the author is trying to say and how the material differs from other things you’ve read, recommends Boser.
Bill Gates uses the margins of books to jot down his reactions and responses, turning his reading session into a conversation with the author. “When you’re reading, you have to be careful that you really are concentrating,” says Gates. “Particularly if it’s a non-fiction book, are you taking the new knowledge and attaching it to knowledge you have. For me, taking notes helps make sure that I’m really thinking hard about what’s in there.”
Habit 5: Prioritize
Reflect on your learning goals and identify which lessons will help you take the biggest strides toward your goal. You may find that 20% of the content will lead to 80% of your progress. For example, if you’re learning a new language, you can get off to a strong start by focusing on the most common words and phrases.
Habit 6: Find motivation
This might be the most important shift a lifelong learner needs to make. In a traditional learning environment, students have strong incentives to learn the material (for example, to earn a good grade). But lifelong learners need to find their own motivation, whether it’s to improve themselves or advance their careers.
Habit 7: Celebrate progress
There comes a point when you might be tempted to give up—perhaps you’re losing interest in the subject or you’re feeling discouraged. To work through it, try changing up your study habits to keep things fresh and reward yourself for reaching milestones (Dickinson, Big Think, 9/18/18; DeMers, Entrepreneur, 9/1/17).
Read more about lifelong learning
Study tips aren't just for students—they're also helpful for higher ed professionals who need to keep up with the latest developments in their fields.