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5 steps to developing a lifelong habit of learning

This guest blog post is adapted from an original blog post by Lisa Link, executive director of enrollment for Cornerstone University's Traditional Undergraduate Admissions Office.

The simple truth is: Most successful people are dedicated to constantly learning. They recognize they always need to be growing, always need to be deepening their knowledge, always need to have a more thorough understanding of themselves and the world.

Here are five steps to get you started on the path to become a lifelong learner.

Step 1: Determine what you really want to know.

Having an overall love for learning is wonderful, but if you want to channel that love into a lifelong habit, you need to develop some specific thoughts about the subjects you’ll focus on. If you don't have goals, you’ll end up with a shallow understanding of numerous subjects and no deep understanding of important ones.

What things are most important to you? Leadership? Adult education? Scientific progress? Coaching young adults? Foreign policy? What outcomes would you like to see? Do you want to be able to lead your team at work more effectively? Connect better with high school students? Be able to converse on the history of Japan?

By determining your passions and desired outcomes, you can chart a learning path for yourself. You can decide what you’re going to study, how you’re going to study and select the resources that will best equip you.

Step 2: Set goals in line with your objectives.

Once you know what you want to dive deep into, establish a series of goals that will constantly push you toward deeper knowledge of your particular subject. For example, consider creating reading objectives for yourself.

Ways to support your objectives could be:

  • Join discussion groups, either physical or virtual, to discuss the issues you want to learn about.
  • Get other friends to join you in your goals, much like writers often try to complete writing goals together.
  • Take a class online to deepen a particular subject knowledge.

Step 3: Use a multitude of mediums to help you learn.

In terms of learning resources available, we have never lived in a richer time. No matter what the subject, from mining to morality to the etymology of words, there are literally thousands of resources across a huge number of mediums.

This massive number of mediums allows you learn in a variety of ways, depending on your circumstances and learning style. Do you travel a lot? Consider listening to audiobooks or podcasts. Also, many universities make lectures available on iTunes U. Are you more of a visual learner? Tap into the millions of videos on YouTube or take a video class from Udemy. If you love to read, there are obviously millions of books at your disposal.

The point is this: If you want to develop a habit of lifelong learning, fill in the nooks and crannies of your day. Rather than immediately hopping on Facebook when you’re bored, turn on a podcast or audiobook. Bring your e-reader to the doctor’s office rather than reading the latest celebrity gossip. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t have the return on investment that learning does.

Step 4: Put learning into your schedule

Make an effort to carve out some time every day for learning. This time block doesn't need to be huge: Even 15 minutes is great. Decide when and where you’re going to do it, whether that’s at your desk over lunch or on the train on the way to work or in bed at the end of the day. Put that period on your calendar and stick to it. Treat it as you would an appointment with someone.

The most successful people in the world make daily learning a priority. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reads more than three hours every day. Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, reads several hours per day, as does Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Make learning a habit and success will follow.

Step 5: Surround yourself with passionate learners.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously says we are the average of the five people we spend the most time around. Think about that for a moment in terms of how it applies to your learning habits. Are the people you’re around pushing you toward a deep passion for learning? Do they value knowledge and pursue mastery of particular subjects?

If you don’t spend time with lifelong learners, there’s a good chance you won’t be one. You’ll spend your time doing what they do, whether that’s golf, video games or any other hobby. There’s nothing wrong with this, but you need to be aware of the effect it will have on you.

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