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10 Things To Learn From History’s Best Learners

Throughout history, and even in the modern era, there are individuals who have “cracked the learning code” and made breakthroughs by understanding (and acting on) things that others could not.

Here are 10 things we can learn from them:

1. They are permanently curious: Neil deGrasse Tyson

“No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”
~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

In science, curiosity is what leads to breakthroughs. And in everyday life, curiosity is a key ingredient to inspire learning, when it might be easier to just get on with your day. deGrasse Tyson’s curiosity was activated early in life, initiating a life-long study of astronomy after visiting the Hayden Planetarium at age 9, and now spreads that curiosity to millions of followers on one of the most interesting Twitter feeds around.

What can you get curious about?

2. They invest in themselves: Ben Franklin

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
~ Ben Franklin

Though his actual schooling ended at age 10, Franklin went on to be known as one of the most prolific polymaths of his era, constantly feeding his appetite for new knowledge through voracious reading in a wide array of different areas. This led to innovation and breakthroughs in printing, politics, science, engineering, activism, and of course the whole founding of the United States thing.

While you might not have time to become an expert in artificial intelligence, regenerative medicine, and renewable energy, just remember to keep investing in yourself by adding something to your knowledge bank each day.

3. They transcend traditional education: Albert Einstein

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
~ Albert Einstein

Einstein was famous for being a poor student. Even after his schooling, he took a menial job at the Swiss Patent Office because no one would consider him for a teaching position at a university. What he showed, more than anything else, is that brilliant discoveries transcend the bounds of what we typically consider “learning” and “education.”

The key is this: if you want to learn about something, say physics, you don’t have to pick up a physics textbook. Instead go outside and observe nature, watch a documentary, read about the life of famous physicists – inspiration and true knowledge don’t come from the classroom.

4. They teach themselves: Elon Musk

Everyone knows the famed billionaire founder of Zip2, Paypal, Tesla, and Space X. But how did he get there?

One of the keys to Elon’s success has been the consistent ability to teach himself whatever he needed to know to build useful stuff. In fact, he started way back when he was 12 years old, and taught himself computer programming, building a computer game called Blastar, which sold for $500. That trend has continued, starting both Tesla and Space X with virtually no previous experience in automotive or aerospace engineering.

So think about something you’d love to achieve. What skills and knowledge would you need to get there? Could you teach yourself?

5. They consider alternative viewpoints: Aristotle

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
~ Aristotle

How many people do you know who are staunch conservatives or bleeding-heart liberals? According to Aristotle, the father of modern science and political thought strongly-held beliefs like these are the enemy of productive discourse and progress. His philosophy: the answer to most problems lies in the synthesis of two opposing thoughts.

So the next time you’re sure you know something, whether it be about diet, climate change, or politics, research the opposing viewpoint and consider it objectively. Then, and only then, make your decision on what’s correct.

6. They get obsessed: Bill Gates

When Gates went to high school, he was already deep into programming computers, going so far as to study the source code for programs like Fortran, Lisp, and machine language. Soon after, he was hired by Information Sciences, Inc. to write a payroll program, and was commissioned by his school to write a computer program to schedule students in classes.

“It was hard to tear myself away from a machine at which I could so unambiguously demonstrate success.”
~ Bill Gates

Bottom line: Gates got obsessed, and kept taking that obsession deeper and deeper. And soon he found himself creating an industry. Get obsessed with something.

7. They learn for the sake of learning: Stephen Hawking

“No one undertakes research in physics with the intention of winning a prize. It is the joy of discovering something no one knew before.”
~ Stephen Hawking

Much of our learning life is consumed with building a skill set or earning this or that certification. But whatever happened to learning for the sake of learning. Famed physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking contends that truly meaningful discovery in science comes not out of a specific objective, but out of genuine enjoyment for discovering something novel.

Think about this the next time you pursue learning something: are you doing it just for the credential, or do you truly enjoy the learning process?

8. They attach enjoyment and wonder to new knowledge: Carl Sagan

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
~ Carl Sagan

Sagan was one of the first to truly introduce the public to the wonders of science with his Cosmos series back in 1980. And in addition to his hundreds of publications, he was an unrelenting advocate of advancement in the exploration of space. It’s inspiring to just listen to him speak about the wonders of the universe. His drive to discover came from a sense of wonder about the beauty and magnificence of nature.

If you find enjoyment in something, you can uncover a boundless source of energy for learning more and more about it. What inspires you to learn?

9. They commit to learning for life: Mahatma Gandhi

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was the utmost example of living in consistency with his beliefs. Part of that was an unyielding commitment to considering all alternatives, and keeping an open mind – continuously testing different approaches to religion, politics, activism, and even diet.

What we can all learn from him, is that keeping an open mind and participating in continuous, life-long learning is a practice worth adhering to.

10. They work tirelessly at building new knowledge: Thomas Edison

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
~ Thomas Edison

Edison is famous for his devotion to hard work. Everyone knows about his 10,000 failed lightbulb experiments, but it wasn’t simply an obsession with one invention – he applied the same principles to everything he did. And in the end built a laundry list of inventions, and an entire power distribution industry.

Edison reminds us that it’s not enough to be clever and it’s not enough to be correct. You have to put in the hard work, day after day. But in the end, the results always come.

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