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Every Lifetime Learner Should Try Out These Time-Tested Techniques

Every Lifetime Learner Should Try Out These Time-Tested Techniques

Lifelong learning is a continuous process of gaining new knowledge and experience. Nowadays, it has become quite a trendy thing. People of all ages join web courses and communities, get degrees online, boost their skills, and find new hobbies.

Do you have a strong desire to gain new knowledge? Then you can and should do it right now. There are so many options and opportunities for everyone. “It’s never too late to learn” is an old saying, but if you’re a lifelong learner, then you know just how true it is.

There are a few time-tested techniques that can become part of a daily routine for lifelong learners. Use them to make your learning experiences better.

1. Read constantly

Reading is a perfect way to combine learning with delight. Do you prefer fiction to non-fiction? If so, then go ahead and read fiction. Is non-fiction much better for you? Well then, that’s reason enough to enjoy non-fiction. Every single story brings you new ideas and experiences. Try to have a pocket-sized book with you so you can read it whenever you have a free moment, like when you’re taking public transit to work or having a lunch break.

Create a list of the books you want to read during the year and check them off one by one as you finish them. At the end of the year you’ll see how many great books you’ve read. If you have at least 30 checked off, you should be quite proud of yourself.

2. Create a list of what you want to learn

Making lists is generally a good way to plan not only your studying, but also your living and learning. You might have “to-read,” “to-watch,” and “to-do” lists, so why not have a “to-learn” list as well? Look through good web resources, choose an area you’d like to study, and add all those courses to your list.

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It makes sense to save awesome websites with online courses and check them from time to time for new lectures, tutorials, and podcasts. If you enjoy learning, there are a number of web platforms you’re probably already using, but there are many others you might not have tried yet. You’ll find some of them mentioned below.

3. Join a study group or book club

Have you heard that studying in a group is more effective for all group members? People in the group know what they want and their motivation is high. Healthy competitiveness in study groups is a good force, motivating all learners to do their best to discuss important issues and quickly absorb helpful information. If you have weekly study group meetings, it’s a perfect way to stay organized, since you have to prepare for every meeting, research something, make presentations, and so on.

Joining a book club is also a great method. It can help you learn how to think critically and share your views regarding the book you’ve read. And you enjoy reading, right? So it’s a win-win.

4. Don’t forget about practice

After you’ve taken a course, it’s time to check how your skills work in practice. You can use your newly gained skills while working or studying to make these activities much easier and more productive. For example, let’s imagine you took a course in writing. In order to master your writing skills, don’t be afraid to start a blog, where you can write about your life or any other specific topic that interests you (sports, cooking, literature, art, and so on).

5. Teach somebody else

Even though you may lack the competence to be an experienced teacher at the moment, you can still share your knowledge with other people and tell them about the resources that helped you. Teaching is a chance to both reinforce and extend what you know, which is always a plus.

6. Tailor time for daily self-education

You have a chance to learn something new each and every day. Allow an hour for reading, set a rule to look through a high-quality scientific article in the morning, watch one educational video a day, or do anything else to boost your skills. Just be sure to set definite time limits, or else your learning can get in the way of everything else you need to accomplish during the day. Also, find your perfect study time and establish a routine so the process is as productive as possible.

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7. Work out your own study style

There are many different learning styles, such as visual, auditory, and tactile. The majority of people are visual learners, meaning it’s better for them to absorb information if they see it. However, most learners also combine different learning styles for better efficiency. You can try reading out loud, watching educational videos, listening to audio books, highlighting important areas in your text, creating infographics and mind maps, building models, and making notes on separate sheets of paper.

A list of useful websites for self-education

As I mentioned earlier, it’s good to know where to find courses and study materials. The resources listed below are dedicated to online education:

Coursera, edX, Khan Academy, ALISON, MIT Open Courseware, Udemy – online courses from institutions all over the world.

TED, Big Think – communities for sharing ideas and enjoying recorded talks.

YouTube #Education – educational videos.

University of the People – online educational programs.

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OpenStudy – online community where students can find help or assist other users.

Authorama – public domain books.

Library of Congress, MITLibraries – vast variety of study materials.

SparkNotes – resource with concise information about fictional books and literary analysis.

Useful tools that can help you

Lifelong learners also need to use great tools, and when you have the right tools at hand, they make studying easier and more delightful.

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WeekPlan – tool that keeps daily plans in order and makes planning convenient.

Unplag – plagiarism detection engine that helps you make sure you don’t have accidental plagiarism in your writing.

Dictonary.com Word of the Day – resource to help learn new words daily.

Online Stopwatch – tool for students who prefer working with a timer.

As you can see, there are all kinds of ways to become a lifelong learner. Using the time-tested techniques outlined above will help you become the kind of lifelong learner who gets the most out of each and every learning experience.

Featured photo credit: Girl Reading a Book at Home BY VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.imgix.net

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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