You know when people ask you:

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I have an easy answer. I would have told myself to start my learning bucket list younger. I have written about creating Bucket Lists of Experiences before, but I have not talked about something I hold near and dear to my heart.

A Learning Bucket List: A list of all of the skills, ideas and things you want to learn in your lifetime.

While doing research on the Science of Happiness, I quickly discovered that the happiest people prioritize learning. Let me tell you about the science of learning:

The Science of Learning

Growth Mindset:

Carol Dweck found that those who are wired to learn, succeed more. And further, our brains are in a constant flux of change when we learn and this happens throughout our lifetime. Here’s what she found:

“In [her] research in collaboration with my graduate students, we have shown that what students believe about their brains — whether they see their intelligence as something that’s fixed or something that can grow and change — has profound effects on their motivation, learning, and school achievement.”

Dweck goes on to describe individuals who have a fear of change and individuals who embrace and seek change as living in “different psychological worlds.” In the former, change can cause devastating setbacks and in the latter, challenges are relished and the individuals will persevere in the face of change.

This is the main difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, intelligence is believed to be fixed, that each person has a certain amount of it and that’s that. In a growth mindset, however, the belief is that intelligence is ever-growing, ever-changing–a potential that can be realized through learning.

Flow:

Learning can also get you into an experience of flow. During flow, an individual is completely absorbed in an activity which involves their creative abilities. Discovered by Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “flow is the zone, the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

Purpose:

Learning gives us purpose. Having a list to grow and check off gives us something to live for. This is different than being goal-oriented. When we have things to learn we know that we are constantly evolving and our life, skills and achievements are not static.

From a health perspective, stress and depression can take a major toll on the heart. One study involving 4,500 adults with coronary artery disease found those who were also plagued with extreme depression and/or stress were 50% more likely to die or have a heart attack in the next 6 years. Scary stuff!

However, in another study, researchers found that having a strong sense of purpose in life actually has the ability to lower the risk of stroke and heart disease. Randy Cohen, the study’s lead author says: “Developing and refining your sense of purpose could protect your heart health and potentially save your life.

Bottom Line: Learning is good for your health!

How to Learn:

This funny thing happens to adults—we forget how to learn. As kids, we are constantly in school, experiencing things for the first time and forced into daily learning situations. As adults, we are often in the same job day after day, very rarely given new tasks and our learning muscles atrophy. I want to flip this on its head. Just because you are out of school, doesn’t mean you have to stop learning:

Life is the best school we have.

What:

The first thing I want you to think about is what you want to learn about. This can be skills like “making sushi” or “changing a tire” or entire topics like “French” or “Tennis.” It can even be about different subjects that you are interested in like “Italian History” or “How Wine is Made” or “Eating Vegan.” Brainstorm a list of ideas and topics below:

How:

You also want to think about how you best learn. Do you like reading about things? Do you like having things explained to you? Do you need to try things out yourself to understand them? Check off your favorite methods:

___ Books

___ Audiobooks

___ In-Person Classes

___ Video

___ Experimenting

___ By yourself

___ With a learning partner

___ With a learning group

___ With a mentor or tutor

When:

The biggest hurdle adults have to overcome with learning is fitting learning into their schedules. Many people tell me, “After a full day of work I am just too tired to learn.” Or “I don’t know when I will have the time to learn a new skill.” This is ok, you just have to figure out when the best learning time is for you. Here are some ideas, check off the ones that sound promising:

___ Listening to an audiobook or podcast while you get ready in the morning

___ Watching an online video while you cook or eat breakfast

___ Taking 20 minutes every day before work to do a chapter in a workbook

___ Listening to an audiobook or podcast while you commute

___ Taking a lunchtime class

___ Doing a 30 minute exercise or skill building session while you eat lunch

___ Watching an online video while you cook or eat lunch

___ Taking a class after work

___ Doing a learning group once a week after work

___ Meeting with a learning partner over happy hour

Where:

I have some favorite resources for learning.

  • Audible: I LOVE audible and think it is an amazing resource. Learn while you cook, clean, drive, relax—anywhere!
  • Your local library: If you are on a budget or have no idea where to start, your local library is a fantastic resource. Go talk to your libarians to find out what classes or books they have.
  • Your online library: Most libraries now have online learning systems where you can check out audiobooks, get downloads and watch videos.
Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and human behavioral investigator in our lab.

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