Children learn how to walk in phases. First they discover their toes, gripping and pointing and kicking. Then come a few unsuccessful crawls as they test out the strength of each foot, realizing that a knee is better suited for the task. Finally they stand a few times, gaining confidence that earns some video-worthy spills.
Dozens of falls later, and they’re still at it, figuring out the best way to start and how to stop themselves when the head’s momentum outpaces the legs’ ability. Eventually they succeed, surrounded by smiling and cheering adults. Now it’s time to run.
We are born with an innate desire to learn new concepts, not just the ones expected of human development, but those that bring us happiness, satiate our curiosity and even those which have no measurable benefit at all. But somewhere along the way, we stop learning more than is required of us. Maybe friends said it wasn’t cool to study; or a counselor saw some test scores and said that math isn’t really our thing; or a fancy promotion keeps us busy enough to forget the simple joys of learning. We begin to ignore those challenges that don’t fit our current skill sets. Instead, we look for ones that show off our strengths and hide our weaknesses. We become fixed in our ways. That fixed mindset allows us a free pass to give up at the first sign of struggle.
Knowing that our best growth happens in times of struggle is the basis of having a student or growth mindset.
A growth mindset is the idea that when meeting a challenge, we respond not with “I can’t do this,” but rather, “How can I learn to do this?” Carol Dweck, Ph.D., one of the pioneers of fixed-versus-growth mindset research, says that unwarranted praise can promote a fixed mindset in children. The same is true of ourselves. While we should respond with self-encouragement after failing, we should also hold ourselves accountable—don’t let ourselves off the hook too easily. At its core, a growth mindset isn’t blind positivity, but rather the understanding that knowledge and achievement comes from the accumulation of hard work and practice.
A growing body of research shows that neurologically, growth mindsets stabilize existing neural pathways and even construct new ones, allowing connections between information and response to happen faster and more reliably. The applications of a growth mindset have shown promise at nearly every stage of life. A seventh-grade teacher in Minnesota introduced the concept of brain plasticity to half of her underperforming class, and they outperformed their peers in subsequent math tests. Lifelong learning programs in retirement communities are becoming increasingly popular as research finds correlations between learning new skills that require mental and physical focus—mastering a new card game, for example—and preventing the onset of dementia and other neurological diseases. Commit to a student mindset by allowing your curiosity to grow and lead you in new directions. Start with the tips below.
Related: 3 Techniques to Never Stop Learning
Ask questions and spend time researching the answers. Frustrated that you hit that same red light every day on the way to work? Research how traffic flow maps are built. Remember that learning new things isn’t always about getting a raise or earning a promotion. Learning in all forms is inherently beneficial.
Commit to conquering one new thing each month. Never learned how to dance? Sign up for a swing dance club.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an avid reader, dive into books. A 2014 study conducted at Boise State University found that reading not only helps us learn new concepts, it’s also been shown to increase emotional intelligence and social awareness. By connecting and relating our lives to the characters on the pages, we are able to work through complex social situations and be better prepared to handle future ones.
Of course, along with these tips, you have to take care of the rest of your mind and body in order for it to be ready to take in new information and apply it in meaningful ways. Get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet, increase your heart rate for 20 minutes a day and try meditation to clear your brain’s junk drawer. Becoming a lifelong learner isn’t a new concept, but it’s certainly one that requires a reminder every so often.
A growing body of research shows that neurologically, growth mindsets stabilize existing neural pathways and even construct new ones, allowing connections between information and response to happen faster and more reliably.
Co-owner and CEO of Fresh Prints; Chino, California
The biggest fear is seeing something and not understanding how it works. A student mindset involves asking a lot questions and trying to work through the why, what and how of situations, people and systems. Young kids ask a lot of questions. Part of a student mindset is channeling a child’s innate curiosity and applying it to your work.
One of my company’s principles is, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously.” If you take yourself too seriously, you shut off avenues through which you can learn and grow. An unfortunate side effect is that you’ll start watching a YouTube video at 11 p.m. on how to make tiramisu and before you know it, it’s 3 a.m. and you somehow got to a Wikipedia article on Johannes Guttenberg’s first iteration of the printing press.
When you’re in the right environment, every situation can be a learning opportunity. We’ve implemented a management/business book club at Fresh Prints. This allows us to learn together on a company-wide level. We send each other short videos and articles, and share books that we find interesting. It’s not a bad use of company time if we watch helpful videos on the job. Our company principles allow us to do so. In fact, they encourage that. Most young entrepreneurs start out with a student mindset. That’s the only way to get your feet off the ground. It’s easy to get overwhelmed inside your own thoughts and day to day happenings.
Author, speaker and business consultant; Las Vegas
I started my first business when I was 12 years old, and being young, I knew there was a lot I didn’t know, so I spent time around people that knew more than I did and absorbed their knowledge. But it was when I went to my first motivational speaking event with Jim Rohn, Tom Hopkins and Brian Tracy that I got the real drive to learn as much as I could.
Now I have a very consistent lifestyle. I get up at 4:45 a.m. every day to do my studies, read a business book and read about Asperger’s Syndrome (to gain knowledge to help with my son). After that I listen to an audiobook while getting ready for the day or doing household chores. While working on my latest book, #12Books12Months, I find inspiration and additional support to my own theories with examples from other books and content that I find helpful in expressing what I have to share. Make learning one of your non-negotiables and be sure to create an effective schedule so you will receive all the benefits of the process.
Founder and Chief Mommy at MommyGo.com ; New York
When I became an attorney, I realized that to be great at the profession, it wasn’t enough to just learn what’s required. Additional knowledge resulted in having an advantage over my opponent and served my clients better. I have to build my learning into my day. I listen to business podcasts daily—during any driving as well as any house chores. I also take online business courses to constantly improve performance of my companies. Every summer, I travel with my family (mostly to Europe) and I learn art and history related to our destinations. I interact with several business mentors on a regular basis and in fact just returned from a highly productive summit with them. Currently I’m also studying style and hired a consultant to help me understand it better.
I feel like I’m constantly growing and my circle of friends includes fascinating and like-minded people who are committed to learning. I look at learning as a tool to make life less stressful and less busy; it helps in organizing systems and processes to avoid chaos. One of the main reasons I love entrepreneurship is that it involves constant learning. I use any setbacks or challenges as a trigger to learn how to overcome them. One of the most successful people I know once told me that his life motto was established to put himself in uncomfortable positions: “If I’m too comfortable, I’m not learning, not growing.”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine.