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How to Develop a Lifelong Learning Habit

How to Develop a Lifelong Learning Habit

I am in love with lifelong learning. It was not always that way, however.

To be perfectly honest, I used to think that the only way to learn was in school. And I was not always a big fan of “conventional learning”, unless it was a course that really interested me.

It was not until I expanded my own definition of learning that the love affair began. The retreats, the books, the conferences, and even my own missteps. All a means for learning.

Now I cannot learn enough or get my hands on enough information. Lifelong learning is like a potato chip to me; I want more. As a matter of fact, as of the writing of this article, I have about 12 different books going at the same time.

Why?

Simple. It sparks my curiosity and the curiosity sparks my quest to be a lifelong learner.

“Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.” ― Samuel Johnson

The more I engage and employ lifelong learning, the more I experience some really cool things. Not only lifelong learning improved my brain functions (like my memory), but it has supported my success and personal growth as a business owner and made me a more effective coach.

Not to mention, as an introvert, it gives me a lot of material to work with in social settings, which is a great side benefit.

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The bottom line: lifelong learning has been truly instrumental in adding new tools and knowledge to my metaphorical toolbox.

The Importance of Lifelong Learning

If you think about it, the brain, while mostly grey matter has muscle. Like any muscle or skill, the less you use it the more chance for it to atrophy. But keeping your brain strong is not the only benefit.

In the article Benefits of Lifelong Learning, Marjaan Laal states that lifelong learning sharpens the mind, increases confidence, enhances interpersonal skills, expands career opportunities and impacts the ability to effectively communicate.[1]

How is that so?

When we learn, we expand our knowledge base obviously but it goes much farther than that. Learning can help us to step out of a pattern or routine. The more we do that, the more confidence we create.

It moves us past that point of complacency. It in turn enhances and improves the skills we already have by helping us to not only strengthen them, but also add to them.

It is also beneficial to our health. While it may not cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, for example, it has been reported that learning can slow the progression of diseases that impact the brain.

John Coleman stated in his article Lifelong Learning is Good for Your Health, Your Wallet and Your Social Life that even reading for a short period everyday can reduce stress levels.[2] With all the demands we face on a daily basis, who does not want a little stress relief?

If you are ready to reap the many benefits of lifelong learning be sure to read on.

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Train Your Brain to Crave Learning

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

The more we do something and notice the benefits of doing that something, the more apt we are to do it again and again. Enter a habit. Training our brains to crave learning is no different.

Here are some simple ways to begin to train your brain to crave lifelong learning:

1. Create an Objective for Your Learning

That may sound funny, but it truly does help to have an objective in mind.

For example, maybe your objective is to reduce your stress levels or find different ways to relax.

Having an objective not only makes the learning beneficial but gives it a purpose.

2. Start Small

If lifelong learning has not been your “thing”, trying to eat this learning elephant in one bite makes it more difficult to stick with. It helps to break down the learning into bite sized pieces.

For example, instead of trying to read a certain number of pages in a book every day, why not start with 15 minutes, two or three times a week?

After you have cemented that small habit into place, you can then add to it.

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3. Make it Fun.

If learning is a chore or becomes a chore, the act of doing it obviously decreases. Have some fun with your learning.

For example, for every new learning opportunity you take, give yourself some “props”. Give yourself a gold star. Make learning a game.

Whatever is going to make learning fun for you, make sure to engage the fun!

How to Cultivate the Habit of Lifelong Learning

If you don’t know how to begin lifelong learning, here’re some ideas for you:

1. Stick Your Nose in a Book

The most obvious way to continue learning is to read often and read a variety of books. Benefits of reading are many. Here you can find great books to read:

2. Engage in Deeper Thoughts and Conversations

Nothing shakes up the routine of the day-to-day surface level stuff than a deep conversation or deep thinking.

If you find that you do not have folks in your world that you can have those deeper conversations with, not to worry. Facebook , LinkedIn , and MeetUp are loaded with all sorts of groups engaging in some pretty cool conversations around topics of interest.

3. Check out Some Cool Podcasts and Videos

In your hot, little hand you hold a magical tool for learning. Education is open online in this era.

If you have not downloaded the YouTube or the TED app, give them a whirl. Some nice TED talks and podcast recommendations for you:

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4. Enroll in Some Extra Curricular Classes

Community colleges offer adult learning programs and classes for professional development with a cheap price.

If attending classes in a brick’s and mortar school is not your thing, no worries. Online courses are always available via sites like Udemy and many more:

25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

5. Leverage Your Missteps and Mistakes

Missteps and mistakes are great learning tools. Rather than judge yourself or use your missteps and mistakes as a 2×4 to beat yourself up with, take them as an opportunity to learn.

One thing that I find helpful is to take my missteps and mistakes and journal about them. To get the learning rolling I begin with a question like, “What am I meant to learn from this?” and then I let me pen just go. No overthinking or editing, just top of the mind writing.

If these ideas do not do it for you or you want more, be sure to check out Scott Young’s article right here on Lifehack:

15 Steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning

Conclusion

The keys to benefiting from lifelong learning are to:

  1. Set your objective for learning. When there is a purpose behind the learning, the learning becomes more compelling.
  2. Start small, in bite-sized pieces.
  3. Make learning new skills fun. Choosing the topics that most interest you and the way in which you want to learn that best suits you.

Following these simple steps and you will have your brain craving lifelong learning in no time!

More About Lifelong Learning

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Pam Thomas

Chief Change Officer @What's Within U; Helping people dig out from the ruts that keep them stuck personally and professionally.

How to Stop Worrying About the Future: 8 Practical Techniques How to Develop a Lifelong Learning Habit How to Talk to Strangers When You Feel Crippled With Social Anxiety Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)

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Published on March 1, 2021

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Single and Double-Loop Learning

Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

Single Loop Learning

Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

The Double Bind

When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

Primary Inhibiting Loop

When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.

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Secondary Inhibiting Loop

Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.

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Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.

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Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

Double Loop Learning for Individuals

Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

Here’s how that might look:

1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.

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3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

More Tips on Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
[2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
[3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

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