Reading Time: 5 mins
Life is all about learning; from your first look at the world to the last, your brain is constantly processing information. But how you use that information, and what sort of information you seek, can make a real difference to how your life goes.
Perhaps you want to seem smart at a party or maybe you are looking for ways to make your business more profitable? Either way, learning is going to help you succeed. Whether you plan to own your own business or you simply want to do a bit of freelancing or side-hustling on top of your career, how you choose to learn and what you choose will make a significant impact on the direction you end up going in.
So what should you do to give yourself the best chances? Smart people will tell you that learning is all about finding lots of different ways to access different information. Indeed, smart people tend to have habits that differ from the rest of us. They don’t just look for new knowledge, they question everything and explore the origins of information too.
Every time you pick up a book, read an article or take a course, you are giving yourself alternative avenues to go down and whether you choose to pursue a new route or simply like opening new doors, learning is the key to freedom. No knowledge is useless, but don’t assume that an in-depth research into quantum mechanics will help when you really want to learn how to use a potter’s wheel.
Be a little more selective.
Sign Up For Things
The first thing you need to know about learning is that you will only ever properly pursue the things that bring you joy. This means that instead of fixing your sights on ‘smart’ subjects, you need to work out what your passion is. It doesn’t matter whether you want to nail the best possible way to grow vegetables in a fish tank (real example) or you simply want to give an excellent massage to a weary rugby player, you have to be interested in the subject.
When you know what you are interested in, there are plenty of way to get started. You should definitely read as much as you can on the subject – and we will come to reading again later – but you might also consider who can help you on your quest for information.
Signing up for a course is a good way to meet people who are interested in the same things, study a subject in more depth and end up with a qualification too. There are all kinds of courses available from individual afternoon sessions to full-on PhDs which can take up to 8 years to complete. When choosing your route, you should think about your learning style and what will help the most. For example, if you want to become sports massage certified, it’s unlike that a PhD is going to be the best method for learning.
But signing up for things can also include going to groups such as book clubs, going to evening talks on random subjects or even getting a group together to go and do some cool things. Sites like Meetup are ideal for finding like-minded folk and if there isn’t a group already doing what you fancy exploring, you can make your own quite easily.
Ask More Questions
There is a big difference between knowing stuff and understanding stuff and that difference comes with the ability to question ideas. It’s all too easy to take information at face value and as we are being thrown “facts” all the time by the media and those around us, it can be hard to remain critical all the time. Unless you are willing to ask questions.
Asking questions is a surprising challenge if you are not used to doing it. People often think that asking questions makes them seem daft or stupid but actually, the right question can unlock a whole new conversation and deepen your understanding. Though you might feel a bit silly in the moment, asking a question can clarify all kinds of ideas for you and something as innocuous as ‘how’s your day going’ can open new avenues of conversation.
But you shouldn’t just be asking questions, you also need to learn to listen to the answer. Tuning in and out has become a normal way of living and we are all guilty of looking at our phones too much or getting distracted when we should be listening to something else. Try to focus on the responses you get and really hone in on the parts you want to question further. You’re not trying to interrogate anyone, just have a better quality of conversation.
Asking questions is a good habit to get into and whether you are asking something mundane or profound, the answer you get deserves just as much of your attention. Be ready to get an amazing answer at any time and don’t hesitate to make a note of something interesting (idea, website, film, book, song – whatever!) to go and research later on.
Read, Read, Read
While practical knowledge (like how to give an amazing sports massage) is a great asset to have, reading is one of the few tools you have to access a wealth of information whether you have 5 minutes before you have to leave the house or you have a whole evening to yourself. Reading encompasses everything from novels and poetry to articles, guides and blogs. And variety is key.
One of the reasons that people who read are more successful is that they are more able to reflect on the information they are given. Unlike a documentary or a film, reading pauses as you pause. You get time to go over a paragraph again or look-up an idea you read about the other day. Reading encourages you to piece information together to draw a conclusion rather than simply presenting the conclusion and insisting on its merit. Reading forces you to be more critical of the information you have and ask more questions.
Your vocabulary and your ability to take on new ideas are intrinsically linked. Until you have the word for something, it is really difficult to talk about in any useful way. One of the best ways to increase your vocabulary is to read. The meaning of the vast majority of words can be understood by context and many words actually rely on context for meaning. Kids who are exposed to a lot of books from a young age develop a larger vocabulary than their peers who aren’t but you can still catch up. The answer is still the same: read more.
The more you are willing to learn, the more you will realise just how much there is in the world that we just don’t know. There are gaps everywhere and whether you are trying to get answers that don’t yet exist or you are simply trying to get to the top of a particular field, it is worth your time and energy to pursue.
Though the smartest people in the world tend to get pushed into a particular niche, they also use their spare time to learn about other things. Einstein may be best known for his theory of relativity but he was also an accomplished self-taught violinist and played duets with Max Planck who came up with quantum theory.
Knowledge is everywhere, and the only difference between smart people and ordinary folk is that they know to go looking. The lesson? Be curious.