8 Habits of Highly Successful Lifelong Learners

Lifelong learning isn’t just another business buzzword but an economic imperative in today’s modern workplace. With the continuous advancement in technology, the nature of jobs will continue changing in the coming years, and many skills that we have right now will evolve or become obsolete. This means that everyone needs to become lifelong learners and continuously update their skill sets to keep up with changes and stay competitive. 

But first, we need to dispel the damaging misconceptions about lifelong learning, such as: (1) only “intelligent” people can keep on learning and (2) the older a person gets, the harder it is to acquire new skills. These are not true. To quote Buddha, “What you think, you become,” and your perception of your own ability determines what you can and can’t achieve. Once you’ve made the conscious decision to become a lifelong learner, all it takes is developing the right attitude and learning habits.

Here are 8 habits that can help you to keep learning new things and developing yourself throughout your life.

1. Be comfortable with being a beginner

One of the biggest challenges in learning as an adult is the discomfort of not being good at something when you’re just starting. But successful lifelong learners are those who have learned to love being beginners. They approach any new skill with a realistic expectation that they won’t get it right away. To be an effective lifelong learner, you need to have a beginner’s mindset.  Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said, in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”

2. Learn from mistakes and failures

Another mental trap that many people struggle with is the misinterpretation of mistakes and failures as a measure of a person’s intelligence or abilities. But studies by cognitive psychologists reveal that mistakes help us learn if we keep a growth mindset, which is the belief that one’s intelligence is fluid and can grow with effort. Effective lifelong learners maintain a growth mindset and look at mistakes and failures not as signs that they are not good at something, but as opportunities to improve and do better.

3.  Ask questions

Successful lifelong learners have a child-like mindset — they are not afraid to ask questions when they want to learn something. Many people fear being thought of as “dumb” or incompetent for asking questions. But in fact, it is a sign of intelligence, because they know that there are more things to learn, greater things to discover, and more ways to become better.

4. Be willing to unlearn what you know

In this ever-changing world we live in today, what worked 10 years ago may no longer work in the workplace 10 years from now. This is why effective lifelong learners approach learning not as an accumulation of knowledge, but a constant process of unlearning in order to open themselves up to learning new things. They are willing to challenge their own assumptions and beliefs and accept the possibility that there are different and better way to doing things.

5. Be patient with your own self-development

With adult responsibilities in the way, many people believe that they simply don’t have the time to spare for learning. If they need to learn something, they want to learn it fast and become frustrated when they don’t. But successful lifelong learners know that self-development is an investment, and just like in finance, patience is your greatest asset for long-term results. As Cal Newport said in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, “It takes time to get good at anything.” Lifelong learners know that learning little by little is better than not learning at all.

6. Practice and apply what you learn

According to Malcolm Knowles’ five principles of adult learning, adult learners learn best when they know how they can actually use their knowledge and skills in real life. Lifelong learners become more engaged in what they’re learning because they practice what they learn in practical situations. This way, they get instant feedback on what works and what needs to be improved on.

7. Don’t limit yourself to what you already know

As the types of skills needed in the labor market change rapidly, lifelong learners strive to  learn beyond their areas of expertise. They are always looking ahead to what is going to be required in their potential next role and learn skills that are relevant across a variety of industries and positions. This way, they are open to more opportunities and more prepared to switch gears in their careers if necessary.

8. Evaluate yourself and seek feedback

Lifelong learners possess a strong concept of self-awareness. No matter how good they already are at something, they’re always looking for ways to be better at it. They question their assumptions and bias towards themselves and seek feedback from others.