Most people are inherently inquisitive. I spend a lot of time talking with our team about the value of curiosity. But over time, we can become set in our ways. Sometimes it seems easier to shrug off a new concept or task that appears difficult than to invest the time to master it.
A study at the University of Texas at Dallas found that learning challenging new skills keeps your mind sharp. Another three-month study found that adults who learned a demanding new task, such as digital photography, fared better on memory tests than control groups who spent time in less challenging pursuits, such as reminiscing with others or watching movies.
I see each day as a fresh opportunity to learn something new. Invariably, I find something that can help me pursue my goal of achieving sustainable happiness. Even while on vacation, I try to look for what’s novel.
For example, I recently traveled to Scotland with my family. I learned about the world’s best scotch producers–and their nearly insane devotion to tradition and consistency. That experience underscored the importance of setting a high bar for product quality (which I have to admit, I sampled), and how that can translate into generations of loyal customers.
High-performing people know that continued learning is essential–and employ unique approaches to get the maximum benefit from mastering a new concept or skill. Here are a few ways that successful people learn new things:
Learn how you learn
Maybe you are like Warren Buffett, who starts his morning by reading six newspapers. Perhaps you are a hands-on learner, or would rather listen to a podcast while working out. The important thing is to find out how you learn best, then start putting forth the effort.
Consume challenging material
Choose materials that introduce new concepts and challenge your old ideas. Here are a couple of recommendations to get you started: Pick up a copy of Outliers, a favorite of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, or dive into a classic such as The Aeneid, recommended by both Mark Zuckerberg and Ted Turner. Make sure to have a pen and paper nearby–a study found that handwriting notes can give you a stronger grasp of the concepts than if you tapped away on a laptop.
Go back to class
Successful people enlist help from subject-matter experts to expand their knowledge. Some well-known college dropouts have returned to school to finish what they started, including Steven Spielberg. In 2001, he completed his degree in film and electronic arts. To maximize your own learning potential, sign up for a conference, take an online course, or finally pursue that advanced degree.
If you want to strengthen your brain’s connections, you need to challenge yourself with novel tasks. It may feel strange or even frustrating at times, but doing so can result in rich learning experiences. If you want to be more successful, embrace disciplines and topics that are outside the norm for you–and persevere even when mastery is a struggle.
Successful people guard their time carefully. That is why they make sure to derive the most benefit out of what they are learning. They challenge themselves by asking, “What did I learn?” And if the answer is “not enough,” they ask more questions–and seek more answers.
The truth is that you will never know everything there is to know. (And the older you get, the more you realize that!) But if you can cultivate an open mind and seek to learn new things, you will always know more tomorrow than you know today.