5 Simple Ways to Gain Success Through Lifelong Learning
Your brain is a muscle. If you only work certain areas of it, day in, day out, other areas will become stagnant and out-of-practice. Today, neurologists overwhelmingly agree the brain is a living organ, and it is constantly reshaped and influenced by habits, behaviors, and experiences. Scientific studies show that repetition in actions or ways of thinking can cause certain behaviors or thoughts to come naturally. The opposite is true as well: if we tend to do something very little or not at all, it will likely become cognitively difficult for us.
One study demonstrated that, “When you engage in practices that increase feelings of happiness, you increase activity in your brain’s left prefrontal cortex. As you continue to feel happy, you strengthen this activity and solidify brain pathways that make it easier to replicate feelings of happiness.” This is an example of neuroplasticity—the brain’s incredible ability to adapt and change.
How might neuropathways and cognitive habits apply to your everyday life?
If, for example, you are an accountant or civil engineer who spends a lot of time working with numbers, your writing skills (anything beyond a simple email) might decline. Or, if you spend several months in relative isolation, your social skills will likely diminish. Or, if you spend all your time around similar people with similar beliefs and perspectives, it will become increasingly difficult to understand alternative points of view.
Even if you’re not planning on making any major life changes, it makes sense to challenge your brain and make an effort to develop or strengthen new neural pathways. Keeping your brain nimble and active can help fight dementia, boost your memory, improve problem-solving skills, and even enhance your overall health.
In your professional life, challenging your brain can help you become more adaptable and enable you to face tough situations with creativity and multiple perspectives. Not to mention, it can also help you build crucial skillsets to stay relevant in your industry.
How do you make an intentional effort to build or develop new neural pathways and keep your brain agile? Try these five tips:
Observe the world around you and start asking questions. Why are things the way they are? How does X work? Does everyone see things the way you do? How could processes/ways of thinking/behaviors change? What would that look like?
Pursue new skills.
If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language, throw pottery, train therapy dogs, master Microsoft Excel, or learn welding, do it! Sign up for a community education class, find online tutorials, or talk to an expert in the field. Be bold, and know you’re not going to master your new skillset overnight.
Use your local library to check out books on an entirely new, interesting (to you) subject. Take notes as you read to retain the information, and talk about your discoveries with others.
Whether you’re figuring out a crossword puzzle or sudoku, challenging yourself to take a new route home, or thinking about how to improve your company’s processes, it is beneficial to engage your brain in problem-solving. Not only will it keep your mind active, it may also reduce anxiety.
Leave your bubble.
It’s easy to stay safe within the comfort of your social bubble. It’s uncomfortable to have our ideas, beliefs, and perspectives challenged. However, it is healthy to step outside your comfort zone and attempt to understand others’ worldviews. When we do this, we build empathy and a deeper understanding of our fellow human beings.
How will you pursue lifelong learning this month? No matter your approach, it is important to keep your brain active and challenge your entrenched ways of thinking from time to time. Don’t let one of your most important muscles get out of shape.