Sharpen Your Brain by Learning How to Learn


Thanks to the internet, information is perhaps easier than ever to access. You can hop around from site to site reading about everything from the mysterious unsolved Tamam Shud case and how to write computer code to the benefit of controlling your mindset and the fact that countries used excise beard taxes—and, of course, everything in between.

Not everyone is auto-didactic. Many of us choose to spend our free time focusing on the flesh. For some, that means watching hours and hours of television each night. For others, it means going to the bar regularly. But just because you may be of the mindset that your education ended the moment you earned your diploma doesn’t mean you’re incapable of changing the way you view the world. In fact, by continually acquiring more and more knowledge and skills, you drastically increase your chances of success in both your personal and professional lives.

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic, believes that with each new skill you learn, you double your chances of success. In his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, Adams insists that he’s not a genius by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, he calls himself a decent illustrator who has an above-average sense of humor and a solid grasp of language. Over the years, he gradually learned new skills. Taken together, his skillset—plus his prior business and marketing experience—added up to a sum greater than the parts. Now he’s a millionaire with “fuck you money.”

OK, so how do I get started?

There are a number of completely free resources available online. In addition to the plethora of websites and blogs you can learn from, there are sites like Coursera that allow you to study virtually any topic without opening your wallet. You can also check out Harvard’s YouTube channel which offers a slew of lectures and other educational videos. For even more free learning resources, check out Stanford’s online resources.

While you might wish you had control over the entire world, you do have control over your own thoughts and actions. You can accept a life of mediocrity or you can strive to challenge yourself at every occasion. Become a student of life and push yourself to keep learning new skills and new subjects. You’ll become a better-rounded person—one who’s attractive to employers and strangers alike.

This is all not to say the only way you can teach yourself about things is by isolating yourself from the rest of the world and reading book after book and text after text—quite the contrary. That’s part of the equation. Here are the other parts.

1. Do what you love

When you were a student, there were invariably subjects that didn’t interest you. Maybe you loved history but you hated biology. For some reason, you could spend hours reading about Benedict Arnold’s betrayal and the bizarre case of Phineas Gage. But when it was time to talk about Golgi apparatuses, you’d stare out the window and think of your favorite band.

It’s a lot easier to learn about things that interest us because they already have our attention. No matter what your favorite subjects are, it’s almost certain that you don’t know everything there is to know about them. Whenever possible, pursue your passions and do what you love. Not only will you be more engaged with your work and the people around you, there will also be plenty of organic learning experiences along the way.

2. Utilize technology

Let’s say you’ll be flying all over the country on business for the next several weeks. There is a ton of stuff you want to read, but you can’t exactly haul 10 books from city to city. Instead of wasting your time on the plane, grab a device like a Kindle and bring those books with you.

Maximize your time by leveraging the technology that makes it easiest for you to learn. You can also use wearable devices that stimulate your brain and get you thinking clearer. While you’re at it, refine your study skills so you’re able to retain even more information.

3. Talk to people

Learning doesn’t always require tuning out the outside world. That’s because knowledge doesn’t consist solely of facts. It also requires understanding how to relate to other individuals and perceive the situations you find yourself in.

Attend networking events and conferences to learn about what’s going on in your field. Meet new people and learn from the perspectives and ideas they have to offer. In addition to being inspired by new ways of thinking, you never know when you will meet someone who could change your life sometime down the line. You’ll also improve your interpersonal skills and therefore become more likable.

4. Aim for the sky

We all have this concept in our heads about the disgruntled career employee who’s stuck in a dead-end job but for whatever reason refuses to get out. This person might be miserable as he or she commutes to work. In the office, the individual simply goes through the motions, doing what’s necessary to get through the day without getting fired. Then it’s back home where it’s time to complain incessantly to the family—or the television or the cat—about how miserable their work situation is. Yet for some reason, they show up to work the next day and repeat the process. They don’t proactively do anything to tangibly improve their situation.

Sharpen your mind by challenging yourself whenever you can. Be repulsed by the notion of the bare minimum. Develop a growth mindset and change your perspective. There will always be new things in the world to learn about and explore—whether at the office or wherever you find yourself over the course of your travels. Keep your eyes open and whenever you get a chance try to take it all in. You’ll become the best version of yourself sooner than you think.

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