8 ways to pursue a lifetime of learning

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

I’m working up an e-book project and doing a little publicity for my upcoming book launch, so I’m posting a rerun today. This month’s theme in Simple Living Media is education and lifelong learning, so I thought this topic was well-fitting. This post was first written on September 28, 2009.

Sure, most of us want to be intelligent, well-rounded, informed people with an interesting opinion and an ability to conduct an adult conversation. But sometimes that’s hard when your days mostly involve diaper changes, Goodnight Moon, and Charlie and Lola.

As a student in school, it’s easy to learn new stuff — you’re bombarded with it. But as you dig into the trenches of parenthood, it’s easy to move into survival mode. Your brain can turn to mush if you’re not proactive.

Part of our family’s mission statement is that we want to be lifelong learners. This means that in order to thrive as well-informed people, my husband and I need to seek out quality information in the midst of parenting young ones.

Here are a few ways to pursue lifelong learning.

1. Read.

Get in the habit of always reading something. There’s no possible way to read everything available, so start your “to be read” list now. 3,000 books are published per day in the United States alone, and you can find a tome about any topic imaginable.

Don’t wait until your kids are older, you get enough sleep, or you have more time — something else will inevitably come up. Start with a goal of one chapter per day.  Heck, start with five minutes.

Libraries make reading affordable, as do used bookstores. Audible‘s huge audiobook selection also makes it easier to “read” books while running errands and working out.

2. Read quality.

woman reading
Photo from sxc.hu

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet.” -Charles Jones

Sure, you could read anything, but why? With so many options out there, there’s no reason to waste the brain God gave you with twaddle like celebrity magazines, poorly-written romance novels, or cheesy self-help books.

I’m all for light reading during certain seasons, but even then, there are thousands of brilliantly-written fiction books and quality magazines from which to choose.

Pursue your interests, but stretch your brain and try new things. Historical biographies (David McCullough is a brilliant writer), non-fiction that challenges your thinking, and classic literature are great places to start.

3. When you do watch TV, watch quality.

I don’t watch much television, mostly because I don’t have time — I’d rather be doing ten other things. But I do enjoy a good movie or Scrubs episode, and I could watch Ina Garten cook all day.

Make sure that:

1. Your TV is off way more than it’s on, and that

2. When it is on, that you’re watching something interesting.

Don’t waste your brain and your time watching fluff. Pick out a few shows you enjoy — maybe three per week — and only turn on the TV for those. Then turn it off, and go do something else.

4. Surround yourself with other learners.

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet.” -Charles Jones

The people you befriend makes a huge impact on your attitude and your lifestyle choices. Do your friends encourage you to pursue quality interests? Are they also interested in the world around them?

Life’s too short to spend time gossiping or discussing the latest episode of Entertainment Tonight. Find friends that support your desire to fill your mind with healthy brain food, because they want the same thing for themselves, too.

5. Be around people different than you.

group of friends talking
Photo by Marjon Kruik

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you surround yourself only with people from the same background, worldview, or life stage. Leave your comfort zone and make friends with people you least expect. You’ll be surprised at how much you could learn.

Get to know your elderly neighbor. Be friendly with the person from another country in the airline seat next to you. If you’re a Christian, do you only have Christian friends? Be proactive and meet your neighbors, and hear about life from their perspective. You’ll be challenged.

6. Keep up with the news.

Don’t bombard yourself with hours of news updates, because you’ll either get overwhelmed or depressed. But do stay in touch with the real world, even if you never leave the house except to walk to the park.

Put a news feed on your iGoogle page, so that you can easily glance at the top headlines. Browse your city’s newspaper, either in print or online. Subscribe to quality blogs.

Make sure and read international news as well. Give yourself a global perspective, too.

7. Make a list.

Once you have a few spare minutes, it can be hard to remember those things you want to learn about or try. The kids are in bed, the kitchen is clean, and — what is it I want to read? I can’t remember.

As you think of ideas, write them down. Keep an ongoing list of books you want to read, websites you want to explore, or hobbies you want to try. Then refer to this list often. Keep it somewhere prominent, like in your home management notebook, on the fridge, or at your desk.

8. Say “I don’t know” to your kids.

exploring mom child
Photo by Woodley Wonderworks

When your kids ask you something and you truly don’t know the answer, admit it. And then discover the answer together. Search the internet, head to your library, head to the museum, or call someone on the phone.

You’ll show your kids that you don’t know everything, and that certain things are worth the trouble to learn. Plus, it’ll be a fun bonding experience to learn something new together.

9. Just do something.

When it comes down to it, just trying something is a good start. Refer to your list, and check out one new website daily. Try an unexpected book from the library, and keep it on your night stand so that it’s visible and easily accessible.

Make a point to try one new thing a day. If you find your answer, or if your interest wanes, move on — no harm done. But if you dig deeper and find more interesting questions, or if the intimidating book turns out to be a page turner, then you just might be on your way to adding another dimension to your life.

Never stop learning. Set a good example for your kids. And make the most of your life.

On Friday, I’ll share some specific ideas available this fall (and onward) for stretching your brain and teaching you new things. Be looking for it!

What are you learning about right now? What’s something you want to explore?

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Comments

  1. Enjoyed this so much! I love reading and learning and the idea of writing what I want to know more about will be such a help! I don’t know that I agree with the quote about being the same person in 5 years except what we read and who we know. I have no intention of being the same… that’s kind of my motivation for learning. Do you agree with that quote?

  2. I notice that when I am reading regularly, I have an easier time carrying on conversations that lead to quality discussion.

    I also find that I am able to describe my feelings better after reading books rich with description.

    Oh how I long to be a lifetime learner!

  3. Cool. I love it!

  4. First, thank you for qualifying “poorly-written romance novels,” because I do believe there is a difference. A poorly written *anything* is heartbreaking!

    I would like to make the argument that you won’t necessarily know that something is “quality” or not unless you take a risk. I have found wisdom on Twitter, in “fluffy” novels and silly movies. The trick is staying open to it and trying things that are outside both my comfort zone and my preconceived notions. (Which is why I resonate with points 5 and 9 especially.)

    I believe there’s a difference between “taking a break” and denying your reality. I definitely believe the quote: “moderation in everything — even virtue.” Just my opinion.

  5. I too am a lifelong learner. In my ‘About” page on Heart Choices, that is something I write about. I never want to think I am too …old, smart, or learned enough already. There’s always something new to learn. And I’m glad that I love to read. It’s a habit I cultivated as a child and I’m so thankful for that.

    Blessings and love,
    Debbie

  6. Thank you for this post! I enjoy learning French with my daughter, who has just began learning it in school.

  7. Why not start a reading group together with some neighbors? You read one book a month and then one of the participants hosts a discussion about the book and the topic it covers. It’s an excellent way to gently ‘force’ yourself to finish the book and a great opportunity to host dinner parties and catch up with neighbors.

  8. Just wanted you to know Tish that I really enjoy your site. In some ways it has motivated me when working on mine. I too am a lifelong learner. I can’t get enough into my brain on most days. The library is magical to me. I could spend hours in there and not even notice. As for surrounding yourself with different people, I couldn’t agree more. Since I find that difficult at times in the real world, I have definitely searched them out online. Anyway, great post!

  9. My husband believes in this like no one I’ve ever seen. Every morning he practices from this online tutorial he found so that he can learn to speak Italian. No reason really, except that he wants to. He also uses the Great Courses Teaching Company regularly – they have awesome courses that you listen to (some DVDs too) about all kinds of subjects – music, history, philosophy, etc. He does it just because he wants to learn. He’s such an inspiration to me of continued learning!

  10. Learning new things as adults is SUCH a good example for our children. I want my kids to always have a love of learning and a desire to seek out new skills.

    I read constantly, but admit I only read for pleasure. :) rarely do I read non-fiction. However, I do find other ways to learn. We go to museums together, I make a point of finding the answers to things my children ask me when I don’t know, and just last week I started a continuing education course at our local community college.

    For me, my favorite kind of learning comes when my children teach me something new. Esp. when I question him on it and then go to Google and discover he was right all along!

  11. I’m all about learning and always have been. Right now, I’m learning how to adapt to life in a wheelchair. I’m a work in progress there.

    I’m also learning about blogging. As a brand new blogger, the thing I’ve learned most about is that I know a lot less than I thought I did. Humbling, but exhilarating at the same time. I’m free to admit that I don’t know, and to learn. There are some amazing connections that can be made with others, simply by admitting that you don’t know and letting them share with you.

  12. Right now I’m learning about homemade sourdough and the intricacies of it. I think as a cook there is always something to be learned!

    I’m really bad with number 6, keeping up with the news. I take in very little of what is happening – usually if it is major, I’ll hear about it on Twitter!

  13. I love to read. My new Nook is helping me explore new topics, not all the books I would usually read are on the Nook, BUT it’s forced me to explore some new topics. I’m also reading “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk”. . . great stuff!

  14. We are life long learners in our home. I love this post. I let the kids interest steer us in what they want to learn about. I also take my interest an share it with the kids. They are loving learning about photography with me. My son takes excellent pictures and he is only 7. If our children see us wanting to continue to learn as adults it is only natural that they will continue in the same path.

  15. I second Micha and Rana’s comments – another way to instill learning in your kids and learn yourself is to do it together! We’ve been studying Japanese as a family for 3 years using Rosetta Stone (We started when my kids were 8 and 11), and my husband is teaching my kids and me how to do jiu jitsu and kick boxing. On top of this there are all kinds of little projects to learn together by doing – making a bow and arrow from scratch, learning about how woolly bear caterpillers live, making Thai food together.

    And yes, while I love books and reading, some of my best learning moments have nothing to do with books but what I discover, observe and problem solve in the world outside of words.

  16. I’ve actually met Charlie Jones before and he was a wonderful man! He had a bookstore in Mechanicsburg, PA and he would kiss his favorite books and say “Have you read this? Oh, please read it! It’s wonderful!” He also had large portions of My Utmost for His Highest devotional memorized and he would quote it. Beautiful. And the quote you have of his? He would say that EVERY TIME you saw him. EVERY. TIME. He meant it.

  17. I’ve put your site on my daily web reading. My self-imposed rule on reading is one non-fiction for every two fiction books read. I keep a list of books, movies, and websites to read/watch next. I also began what I was calling a bucket list, but think I will change it to my Lifelong Learning List. Keeping up on news/current events is a weak area for me. My daughter informed me the Today show is NOT news. :)

  18. I love this! I really love to learn, and this being our first year homeschooling, I am learning so much. I love your ideas though of branching out into other areas of learning, the books you read, and the people you surround yourself. Very inspiring!

  19. This is such crucial advice for moms. I’m so glad you repeated it. So many moms feel guilty over the time spent reading or pursuing a delight, but Interesting moms = Interesting Children. Be sure to talk to your kids about all the things you’re learning. It sparks something in them!

  20. Thanks so much for this great reminder. I have always been a reader but find that I put it on the back burner too easily. The kids are back in school now and have reading minute requirements. That is when I grab my book and snuggle up with the kids for some quiet time.

  21. We started a notebook with my son when he was 3 to track all the questions he had — and the answers! Parents can do the same thing for ourselves — track our questions and then find the answers, whether it’s the last team that won the World Series (Yankees) or who founded Target (George Dayton).

    I also challenge myself to learn something new every day… it’s great dinner conversation to ask everyone what THEY learned that day.

    Great article!

  22. I love this post! I read classics, mostly, but every other book tends to be fluffy so I don’t get weighed down. :) The hard part is surrounding myself with other learners. I’ve tried several times to start a book club (or to find one on my side of town) and it always fails. *sigh* I know there are other moms out there who read! Why can’t we all read together?

    Oh, and I started subscribing to The Week, which is a great magazine to keep up on current events. It’s witty and quick to read. I love it!

  23. 8 fantastic reminders to continue learning and growing :). thank you.

    i think #6 is a huge challenge for me, especially since we hardly watch any tv (plus we don’t have cable so any news that is on will be the local broadcast…and they’re not so great). i like your idea of putting a news feed that you can check/scan daily.

    #5 especially hits home with us, because we do have a very diverse group of friends. we have many christian friends who may not dress or share the same sense of style as we do, but yet share the same values and faith. then we have many non-christian friends who share many of the same sense of style, music and entertainment as we do, but may differ in values, beliefs and faith. it is definitely an interesting mix when we get everyone together, but it has been such a valuable learning experience for the whole family to be around different people.

  24. Right now I’m learning the process of buying my first home and thus will soon explore home improvement projects.

  25. What a great post! DH and I were both blessed to grow up with parents and grandparents who were/are lifelong learners and encouraged us to be the same. Now we’re passing that on to our daughter. I love your entire list, but #5 and #8 really strike a chord with me. Lifelong learning is all about critical thinking, and nothing will make you think critically faster than a good friend challenging your assumptions. And my favorite moments with my daughter (aside from the time we spend reading together) are those moments that immediately follow “I don’t know”–because then I always say, “But let’s go find out!”
    And I’ll offer a tip on #6: In my experience, public media outlets (e.g., PBS, NPR) are great news sources for lifelong learners. Since they’re not dependent on commercial support, they tend to focus less on what “sells” (celebrity gossip, sensationalism, etc.) and more on what informs. E.g., CNN’s “arts” section is 90% celebrity gossip; NPR’s is full of educational features, reviews, and interviews on literature, theatre, music, and fine arts.

  26. My kids are only 3 and 5 and already they ask questions that I have to answer with I don’t know. But I always follow that with “Let’s look that up in an Encyclopedia or on the internet.”

  27. Great post!!! Love it all! I love the discovering the answers together. Great advice!

  28. I couldn’t agree more, I’m a learn by nature and these tips are point on. Thanks!

  29. Great post! I use http://www.goodreads.com/ to keep track of books I want to read and get inspired by what my friends are reading.

  30. I learn a lot of new things from using the internet. Sometimes I go on wikipedia sprees, inhaling facts from there like a sponge. It just feels good to know something a little more about things that we don’t really think much about, or consider.

    Philosophy is a great study when it comes to neverending new thoughts. I love to read about the concept of time, reality, space, etc. When I started to read about that stuff, and learn about mind-expansion, I was so entranced and felt like my intelligence was surely growing.

  31. As I read your posts, I so often find myself saying, “Yes, that sounds just right!” I’ve always been a reader, though Baby seriously cut into my long, lazy reading days! I’ve decided to carve out more time for that and am happier for it. One way I try to get some variety in my reading list is to go online and put books on hold at my library when I hear about them. That makes it easier to remember the titles I want to read, easier to pick up books at the library (they’re waiting at the desk for me–how awesome is that?), and gives me little surprises throughout the year since I’ve usually forgotten what I requested. I do peruse the shelves, too–always a treasure hunt!

  32. Love these tips! My son & I went to the library this afternoon and I’m always thankful that it’s one of his favorite places. He comes out will all that his arms can carry.

    So glad to “meet” you at the (in)courage twitter party last night! :)

  33. I enjoy learning about new things and challenging my brain. I am a firm believer in “use it or lose it!” My latest interest is going to keep me occupied for a long while and lead to rewarding experiences as well. It all started with wanting to find something to do with my young dogs who are very intelligent and high energy. I joined a local obedience club and began to see all the different opportunities available. I decided that teaching my dogs to track was were I wanted to go.

    Through research I hooked up with a local Search and Rescue group to gain some guidance. Now not only will the dogs be learning to track, but I will be learning all of the basics and take certifications to become a member of the Search & Rescue group.

  34. Lifelong learning is also linked to longevity. I agree that reading good quality literature is essential. The Great Books list is a great place to start. Learning to play an instrument is another one.

  35. I started my blog to push me to pursue my interests to the point where I can share something useful about them!

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