Learning is something many of us do less and less of as we get older.
But the most successful people never stop. Success is all about continuing to grow and finding new ways to be even more amazing. You can’t stop and rest on what you’ve got; if you want to be truly successful, you must be open to growth and improvement all the time.
Even though a lot has been made of the idea of specializing — of investing your 10,000 hours to become truly great at something — that is not all that there is to success.
The smartest and most successful people are always learning. Whether it’s studying a new programming language, or reading a book about mountaineering teams that gives them an idea for better leading their own team at work, successful people never stop learning.
Of course, learning takes time. So often we have the best intentions for learning a new skill — “I’ll just spend a few hours every Saturday morning learning to code!” — only to have life get in the way and stop us before we get started.
So how do the most successful people in the world keep learning? How can you make consistent, ongoing growth a part of your life, without sacrificing your sanity or working 20 hour days?
Carve out consistent time for deliberate learning
This is the most important step you can take. Make growth a habit.
Learning a new skill isn’t often part of your regular job, which means you usually have to make your own time for it. And for a lot of us, that usually means… it doesn’t get done.
But amazingly successful people like Bill Gates, Oprah, and Warren Buffett all make it a point to set aside five hours a week specifically for learning. That’s just one hour per weekday, and if Oprah has time for it, I bet you can find the time too.
You can do lots of things with your five hours a week — it doesn’t have to be sitting down and studying your new skill like a student necessarily.
Reading counts, as does focused thinking (or journaling) about, and experimenting with your new skill. Are you spending time reflecting on how this skill relates to other skills you already have? Are you having coffee with an expert in this field and hearing their opinion? Then you are working on learning.
And of course, it doesn’t have to be exactly five hours a week. Instead, think of this number as a baseline; it’s a commitment to learning that you can actually achieve consistently over time.
The key is to take your growth time seriously and make it happen consistently. Truly understanding a new concept or skill takes time, and if you are serious about your own growth, then you should take that time seriously too (since it’s the only way it will happen!).
Be focused on improvement over time
Slow, consistent growth is the key to success. (In our opinion!)
It is unlikely that one thing you do today will be the difference between being a success and being a failure. It is the things you do every single day that add up to who you are and what you are known for.
If you want to learn piano, you should first figure out how to play a scale before you expect to be able to play a beautiful symphony.
If you don’t think incrementally, you’ll just get frustrated (because no one can do anything perfectly on their first try, no matter how naturally gifted) or you’ll end up cutting corners in an effort to just get to the finish line as quickly as possible.
Leaps ahead will happen on their own — when something really clicks, you’ll take a huge step forward, which always feels amazing. But don’t try to force it. Instead, focus on following your intuition and setting smart goals about what is important to read, do, listen to, etc next and then take that next step.
Put your new skills in the context of your existing skills
You already know a lot, which makes it even easier for you to know a lot more.
Just because something is new to you doesn’t mean you know nothing about it. In fact, being new at a skill is actually a huge opportunity to apply the knowledge that you already have.
Learning isn’t just about taking in new information; it is also about understanding what it “isn’t” and putting it into context. When you’re brand new at something, you’re seeing it in the context of everything else you already know, which gives you other modalities of understanding besides just receiving new information.
Successful entrepreneur Elon Musk is an example of someone who cross-pollinates his knowledge to help himself grasp new concepts quickly. In addition to reading a lot about different fields, he spends time examining how the things he learns compare to the things he already knows. Then he just needs to ask: what can I add? What am I seeing that no one else sees that links these fields?
When you compare a new skill to an existing skill, it’s like a shortcut towards understanding and strong connections that make you smarter across the board.
Set reasonable goals and track your progress
When you allow learning to happen in consistent, small doses that occur over a long span of time, tracking progress can sometimes feel like a challenge.
That is why it is so important to set goalposts to check in with throughout your learning journey, to make sure that you are improving and not just stalling out or getting distracted.
If you break your learning goals into small achievable steps, you’ll not only get to feel a sense of accomplishment more often (yay!) but you’ll keep better track of where you are going so that you can make sure it’s still the right direction.
It’s easier than you think to lose your way, especially learning something complex. So check in often and make sure you are going where you want to go.
Get clear on the “why” behind your desire to learn this skill
If you’re learning a skill for a particular project — for example, if you are trying to learn how to use Facebook ads for an upcoming product launch — get super specific about what you actually want to accomplish.
That way, you won’t spend time on things that, while they may be useful, aren’t actually critical to what you want to do.
Figure out exactly what you hope to accomplish, and work backwards from there. What do you need to be able to do? What skills do you need to have in order to get there, and which ones can you do without? Where is your time best invested?
Learning opportunities are all around you
The smartest and most successful people never stop learning. If you see everything around you as an opportunity to learn, then you can’t help but find lessons in everyday life — and pursuing new skills is part of that.
Set goals you can achieve and take your growth as seriously as everything else you do; if you do that, you won’t be able to help but achieve your dreams.
What new skills do you want to learn? How can we help you achieve them? Share with us on Facebook or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!