It can be comforting when we feel that we have “arrived” in life, or when we think we’ve got everything figured out.
Everything just seems more comfortable when we get in our own bubble and go on autopilot.
After all, how much more is there to learn about yourself and the world around you? The answer: everything!
To thrive in this 21st-century era of change, it’s in our best interest to try to adopt a growth mindset: the belief that our intelligence is not innate, or fixed. It is something we have control over if we exert a bit of tenacity.
Here are five ways you can continuously learn about yourself and develop your growth mindset, long after you earn that college diploma or advanced degree.
1. Keep in mind that curiosity builds confidence
What are the first words that come to your mind when you see a small child at work or at play? Curious. Enthusiastic. Joyful. Exploring. Persistent. Confident. They don’t generally worry too much about failure or what others think.
They focus on trying to figure things out. They’re in a state of constant observation. When they get upset or hurt, it’s not forever. Sooner or later, they move on to the next thing. They may cry, but before long, they’re back at it.
They forget minor hurts and can’t be held back from learning and exploring again. When my four-year-old goes off to school in the mornings, we try to make sure she is clean, well-combed, and neatly dressed.
However, she rarely stays that way. Her hair gets messy; she gets paint on her clothes or dirt under her fingernails. She gets skinned knees more often than not. That doesn’t stop her.
How many times do we find ourselves fearing to learn about the world around us because we’re too scared a hair may fall out of place, or that we might appear anything less than perfectly pulled together?
When you’re curious to learn about yourself – about your strengths, weaknesses, and what you will and will not do in certain situations, it can be messy, yes. But it can also build your confidence.
People who have what we want – people we admire – almost always have an attitude of self-awareness, of wanting to improve and continually learn. They’re rarely perfect. Strive to let curiosity guide you in all situations.
When we feel anxious or afraid of new situations, our senses tend to go inward and close up. Instead, try to open up and take a minute to notice all the details around you. Be confident that your curiosity is helping you grow in ways you may not even see yet.
2. Feel the fear
There can be fearless freedom in learning for the sake of learning, just because you want to, instead of worrying about how you will be evaluated or assessed.
When we were younger, our academic classes were probably boring because they were attached to some form of test or assessment.
This usually stressed us out and scared us because they did so much to help determine our academic future. Now that we are independent adults and are living out our futures, we are freer to learn just for the sake and love of learning.
I’m a high school English teacher. One day, I had to administer a state exam in another teacher’s room. She teaches AP Physics. The very word “Physics” has always been daunting to me. I’ve always labeled myself “not good at math or science.”
But as I was in another classroom without my own papers to grade or lessons to plan, I had nothing better to do than slowly open the Physics textbook and start looking through the pages – just to see what it was all about.
The act of simply thumbing through that textbook without fear of any performance, grade, or assessment attached gave me such a sense of freedom. The only thing driving me was curiosity. There was nothing scary about it at all!
But there was also no tangible payoff. I didn’t stand to increase my income or add to my credentials by simply thumbing through a textbook.
It’s normal to feel afraid about learning new things. Learning often involves fear when it also offers more of a payoff. Any time you seek to learn more deeply about yourself or the world around you, there will be risks involved.
Maybe what you learn will be too difficult – intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually. Maybe learning, changing, and growing will mean that you grow more distant from friends or family. Those fears are valid and are worth exploring.
Accept your anxiety about trying to learn something new. But don’t stay in that anxiety.
3. Focus on the payoff
Think about the payoff when you venture into new learning territory.
For example, if you seek feedback from a supervisor to learn about how you can improve job performance, it might feel a little anxiety-inducing. But the payoff will be that you’ll get stronger as a professional.
Or when you face the truth about how you act when you experience certain emotions, like anger, it may take time to learn new strategies to deal with those emotions.
But the payoff will result in stronger, more meaningful relationships. If you learn more about personal financial management, the payoff will be saving money.
You may be afraid of investing time and money into earning an advanced degree, but the payoff will be more professional opportunities, increased income, or whatever else motivates you. You get the picture.
When you feel afraid to learn new things about yourself or the world around you, figure out what the payoff will be. Then focus on that more than your fear.
4. Jot it down
Use words to learn about yourself and the world around you. This can be done with an early morning cup of coffee in your most comfortable chair, or while sitting at a cafe doing some people-watching.
Whether you use a spiral notebook, a private online journal like Penzu, or a blog with thousands of readers, put the words that are in your head onto a page.
When my pen flows across the page or when my fingers type across the keyboard, my heart rate almost instantly goes down. I don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or what anybody thinks of my writing – it’s solely for me. I am learning more about who I am, how I’m changing, what I feel, and what I want out of life.
When it comes to keeping a journal, you don’t have to jot down just your emotions or observations. You can use it to discover all kinds of things about yourself. You can keep track of your best times for learning, your eating, exercise, or social habits, how you feel when you’re taking care of yourself versus when you’re feeling burnt out, etc.
Record how you feel on a day when you drink enough water, eat correctly, or get a good night’s sleep. If you don’t know what to write about, invest in a book of daily meditations. You can also subscribe to a website that will send you free inspirational quotes. All you have to do is write – with no worries about judgment, internal or otherwise.
5. Hit the road
Get out of your familiar comfort zone in whatever way you can. Plan a vacation to a country you’ve never visited, or take a different route to work. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to travel. You can explore your own backyard. Plan a “staycation”. Visit your own town as if you were a tourist.
If you currently don’t have the funds to travel, make time to read as much as you can. Listen to podcasts that offer viewpoints from different places or countries around the world. Connect with other people in your field on various blogs or social media platforms.
Map out your day like you would a trip. Avoid dead time. Use found pockets of time like your commute or the evening after dinner time to learn about yourself. Read about a new topic or learn a new language. Set goals for what you want to discover. Break it up into manageable chunks.
The learning process doesn’t neatly begin on our first day of kindergarten and then promptly end once we turn the tassel on our graduation caps. We’re never really finished learning. Who we are and the world around us are works in progress as well as masterpieces worth discovering.
We want to hear from you: What will you learn about yourself today?