Contrary to what many believe, learning never stops at school. However, our interest and curiosity to do so wanes somewhere along the way. The reason, as many like to put it, is that ‘life happens’, that hardships of life dull our mind. While this may be true, it does not, however, mean that there’s no going back. It is always possible to regain an interest and curiosity about the world around us, and as a result, learn more about it. Only when you learn more about it will you be equipped to handle it confidently. Here’s how you can do that.
In today’s world, we are constantly being flooded by information. The current is so strong that we rarely get to surface for a breather. What is the point then, of all that information when we’re not making sense of it? It’s only when we question something that we get a reason to dig deeper, and it is only when we dig deeper that we find something that is worth learning.
So how do you begin to question? You can start with daily, regular activities. When you read the news, don’t accept everything as undeniable fact. Question it, and then follow up with background reading for additional information until you can form your own opinions. When someone gives you a ‘fact,’ don’t accept it at face-value no matter how convincing it sounds. Simply ask yourself, “Is this really true? Could there be more to it?”
Questioning is a habit that’s formed over time. It is the only way to get thinking – about anything at all. Not only do you become more confident, you inspire others to question their own opinions and knowledge.
A prerequisite to learning is an open mind, and one can’t possibly hope to learn unless the doors are always open. One way of training your mind to do that is by involving in a civil conversation with someone you disagree with.
Let’s be honest though, no one ever willingly walks into these conversations as they seem like a waste of time. But they’re only a waste of time if your intention is to convince the other person that you’re right. Learning can happen only when you’re open to the fact that you could also be wrong. “Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind,” as Maria Popova, author of Brainpickings, says.
Of course, even with that attitude, this is no easy task. It’s difficult to listen to someone whose opinions you don’t respect, let alone talk to them. But it is important to put prejudices aside and try to understand the basis of their opinions. There’s a very good chance that you’ll gain, if not an important, at least a different perspective. Even if you don’t gain that, you would have, in the very least, learnt to disagree in a civil manner. The important thing is that at the end of the day, you would have learnt something.
Associating with our peers has its advantages since we’re all on the same boat. But associative learning ends there as no one on that boat would have experienced what lies beyond. That is why we need constant inputs from people who have experienced more of life than we have. We learn best through their stories.
Although they are a great source of reliable advice, it’s best to not ask for it. Why? Because advice is specific to a situation. You’ll learn much more when you ask them about their life, about how they did this and that, and what they think of this that. From one person’s story alone, you will have a pool of information and perspective, all of which only increases the rage with which you view the world. This is a great way to learn because most times we live through the lives of others. Think of it like reading a good book because isn’t this the same reason for why we read?
It must sound contradictory that one can learn more by doing things that don’t require too much thought. The truth is, when you involve yourself in work like gardening, sewing, knitting or anything that involves your hands more than your mind, you let your mind wander. Scientists call this the ‘incubation period’. It is the necessary space and time that your mind needs in order to sort things out, find patterns, and generate ideas. This forms a crucial part of the process of learning – the ability to apply. Since the whole point of learning is to apply, it only makes sense to practice it.
In the end, you will find that learning is not just about gaining knowledge but also about learning new ways to learn, to keep your mind, ears, and eyes open. It is only when you do this that you train your mind to be receptive to all that the world has to offer; and the only way to do that is by learning to be curious again.