4 Ways to Continuously Learn About Yourself and the World Around You

By on February 12, 2018

By Meredith Newlin—

It can be really comfortable when we feel that we have “arrived” in life, or when we think we’ve got everything figured out. Everything just seems more comfortable when we get in our own bubble and go on autopilot. After all, how much more is there to learn? The answer: everything!

To thrive in this 21st century era of change, it’s in our best interest to try to adopt a growth mindset: the belief that our intelligence is not innate, or fixed, but is something we have control over, if we exert a bit of tenacity.

Here are four ways you can help yourself continue developing this growth mindset, long after you earn that college diploma or advanced degree.

1. Keep in mind that curiosity builds confidence.

What are the first words that come to your mind when you see a small child at work or play? Curious. Enthusiastic. Joyful. Exploring. Persistent. And almost always, confident. They don’t generally worry too much about failure or what others think. They focus on trying to figure things out. They’re in a state of constant observation. When they get upset or hurt, it’s not forever. Sooner or later, they move on to the next thing. They may cry, but before long, they’re back at it. They forget minor hurts and can’t be held back from learning and exploring again. When my four-year-old goes off to school in the mornings, we try to make sure she is clean, kempt,  well-combed, and neatly dressed. However, she rarely stays that way. Her hair gets messy; she gets paint on her clothes or dirt under her fingernails, and she gets skinned knees more often than not. That doesn’t stop her. How many times do we find ourselves fearing to learn about the world around us because we’re too scared a hair may fall out of place or that we might appear anything less than perfectly pulled together?

When you’re curious to learn about yourself– about  your strengths,weaknesses and what you will and will not do in certain situations, it can be messy, yes, but it can also really build your confidence.

People who have what we want–people we admire– almost always have an attitude of self-awareness and of wanting to improve and continually learn. And they’re rarely perfect. Strive to let curiosity guide you in all situations. When we feel anxious or afraid a new situations, our senses tend to want to go inward and close up. Instead try to open up and take a minute to notice all the details around you. Be curious and confident that your curiosity is helping you grow in ways you may not even see yet.

2. Feel the fear.

There can be a fearless freedom in learning for the sake of learning, just because you want to, instead of worrying about how you will be evaluated or assessed. When we were younger, our academic classes was probably boring because they were attached to some form of test or assessment, which usually stressed us out scared us because they did so much to help determine our academic future. Now that we are independent adults and are living out our futures, we are more free to learn about what we want to just for the sake of love of learning.

I’m a high school English teacher, and the other day I had to administer a state exam in another teacher’s room. She teaches AP Physics. The very word “Physics” has always been daunting to me. I’ve always labeled myself “not good at math or science.” But since I was in another classroom without my own papers to grade or lessons to plan, I had nothing better to do than slowly open the the Physics textbook and start looking through the pages — just to see what it was all about. The act of simply thumbing through that textbook without fear of any performance, grade or assessment attached gave me such a sense of freedom. The only thing driving me was curiosity. There was nothing scary about it at all. But there was also no tangible payoff. I didn’t stand to increase my income or add to my credentials by simply thumbing through a textbook.

It’s normal to feel afraid about learning new things. Learning often involves more fear when it also offers more of a payoff  Any time you seek to learn more deeply about yourself or the world around you, there will be a risk involved.   Maybe what you learn will be too difficult, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually. Maybe learning, changing, and growing will mean that you grow more distant from friends and family. Those fears are valid and worth exploring. Accept your anxiety about trying to learn something new. But don’t stay in that anxiety.

3. Focus on the payoff.

Think about what the payoff will be for you to venture into new leaning territory.

For example, if you seek feedback from a supervisor to learn about how you can improve your job performance, it might feel a little anxiety-inducing, but the payoff will be that get stronger as a professional. Or when you have the courage to face the truth about what you really do when you experience certain emotions, like anger, it may take time to learn new strategies to deal with those emotions, but the payoff will result in stronger, more meaningful relationships. If you learn more about personal financial management, the payoff will be saving money. You may be afraid of investing your time and money into earning an advanced degree, but the payoff will be more professional opportunities, increased income, or whatever else motivates you. You get the picture.

When you feel afraid to learn things about yourself or the world around you, figure out what the payoff will be, then focus on that payoff more than your fear.

3. Jot it down.

Use words to learn about yourself and the world around you. This can be with an early morning cup of coffee in your most comfortable chair, or it can be while you’re sitting at a cafe doing some people-watching. Whether you use a spiral notebook, a private online journal like Penzu, or a blog with thousands of readers, put the words that are in your head onto the page.

When my pen flows across the page or when my fingers type across the keyboard, my heart rate almost instantly goes down. I don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or what anybody thinks of my writing; it’s solely for me. I am learning more about who I am, how I’m changing, what I feel, and what I want out of life.

When it comes to keeping a journal, you don’t have to jot down just your emotions or observations. You can use it to learn all kinds of things about yourself. You can keep track of what times of day you do your best learning, or a journal of your eating habits, your exercise habits, your social habits, how you feel when you’re taking care of yourself versus when you’re feeling burnt out. Record how you feel on a day when you drink enough water, eat correctly, or get a good night’s sleep. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to what to write about, invest in a book of daily meditations or subscribe to a website that will send you free inspirational quotes. All you have to do is write, with no worries about your judges, internal or otherwise.

4. Hit the road.

Get out of your familiar comfort zone in whatever way you can–whether it’s planning a vacation to a country you’ve never visited or taking a different route to work.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to travel. You can explore your own backyard. Plan a “staycation” and visit your town as if you were a tourist..

If you don’t currently have the funds to travel, make time to read as much as you can. Listen to podcasts that offer viewpoints from different places in the country or globe. Connect with other people in your field on various blogs or other social media platforms. Map out your day like you would a trip.  Avoid dead time. Use found pockets of time like your commute or your evening after dinner time to learn something new, whether it’s reading about a new topic or learning a new language. Set goals for what you want to learn that day,  and break it up into manageable chunks.

The learning process doesn’t neatly begin on our first day of kindergarten and then promptly end once we turn the tassel on our graduation caps. We’re never really finished learning. Who we are and the world around us are works in progress as well as masterpieces worth discovering.

Meredith Newlin teaches English in North Carolina and is the author of Captured Fireflies: Truths, Mistakes, And Other Gifts of Being an English Teacher. She is a graduate of LaVenson Press Studios’ Women’s Writing Intensive and Full-Length Manuscript Workshop. Her writing has been featured in Firefly Ridge Literary Magazine, NC Boating Lifestyle Magazine, as well as several custom publications, including United Airlines’ Hemispheres and American Cancer Society’s Triumph magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from UNC-Asheville. She lives in Durham, North Carolina with her family.

Captured Fireflies is available on Amazon.

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4 Ways to Continuously Learn About Yourself and the World Around You