The Lowdown on Lifelong Learning

Grandma Learns to Facetime. Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Grandma Learns to FaceTime at age 93. Photo by Sarah Dibbern

The holidays are over but my curiosity lingers. Conversations with other humans make me wonder, at what point in life do people decide they cannot learn anything new? Am I approaching that point? And can I avoid becoming suspicious of new-fangled ideas like online shopping or eating whole grains?

Some seem to believe their brains are at capacity, that no additional information or skills can be added to their mind/body databanks. Others simply scoff at any innovative ideas, methods or gadgets. Dedicated to the tried and true through and through.

But old dogs can learn new tricks. Advances in neuroscience research have revealed that mature brains are more capable of continued learning than once thought. But we sabotage our lifelong learning when we won’t invest the time it takes to learn, fear looking foolish when attempting to learn or simply believe we can’t learn.

As with most things, innate intelligence and skill can only take a person just so far. Even young people, who seem to excel at learning new things, need to develop good study habits, a strong work ethic and perseverance to learn truly marketable 21st century skills. Excellent students and high achievers are not merely smart. They are hard workers. They, like lifelong learners, must welcome challenge and prefer to push personal limits rather than settle into them.

But if people doubt their ability to succeed, then why would anyone, young or old, ever attempt to learn anything new? Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, writes about how mindset affects outcomes. She describes those with fixed mindsets who believe their intelligence is a fixed trait versus those with growth mindsets who believe their intelligence can continue to be developed.

Please, please, please let me be someone with a growth mindset lest I become flummoxed by future versions of direct deposit and microwave ovens.

I beg your pardon if you’re perfectly happy living life according to everything you’ve already learned years ago. But if this New Year is inviting you to learn a new skill, concept, method, recipe, language or habit, I support you. I encourage you. But, as with any typical New Year’s diet or exercise resolution, learning also takes commitment, a regular investment of time and belief in your ability to succeed.

I believe in you. Do you?

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