How to be a lifelong learner

Updated: Apr 19

I love the definition of a lifelong learner:

Lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. Therefore, it not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development, but also self-sustainability, as well as competitiveness and employability.  — Wikipedia

What do I love about Wikipedia’s definition of being a lifelong learning? It’s these key words: ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated. But it’s more than that, it’s that the motivation behind being a lifelong learning is clearly defined. You’re a lifelong learner so that you can enhance personal development, be an active citizen, increase your employability and in general grow as a person.


Lifelong learning has a dual mandate essentially. It’s a habit you develop so that you can grow your career options. It’s the continuing education you need in today’s workforce. It’s the upskilling and personal development you do so that you earn that promotion, get offered that new position or are eligible for a role you’ve always dreamed of.


But, it’s also the pursuit of curiosity and personal discovery. It’s the broadening of your personal horizons, earning a fresh perspective on life as you discover new lenses to view it through. Perhaps that lens is the Stoics philosophical approach or how marketing principals can help you fundraise for a charity you care about (true story - we wrote about that in our blog on how a humanities student applied marketing principles in real life).


It’s these two mandates of lifelong learning, the ‘practical’ one as well as the ‘personal’ one that make lifelong learning such a great habit to develop.


How to be a lifelong learner?

Unfortunately, developing healthy habits is hard! Whether it’s dieting, working out or studying a little bit every day, it’s simply challenging to be develop and have the discipline to stick to these habits that lead to success and in our case all the benefits and joys of being a lifelong learner.

As Tess, one of our team members shares:

This wasn’t something I could learn in one shot. There was no crash course I could take that would train me to think like a business person over the weekend. No, that would come from consistently reading business updates from respected analysts. This would fall in the category of lifelong learning, an ongoing process of learning. But how could I make sure I did this consistently? No one was keeping track and there were no clear deliverables, like a deadline or a test. - How to build sustainable habits for lifelong learning

No one is tracking you, no one is following up. There’s no test, it’s all up to you. That’s a challenge. In fact it’s such a challenge that most people report not succeeding at sticking to these kinds of long term goals even though they know they’ll help them in the long run.

Luckily for us though, cognitive science is teaching us a lot about how the brain works and how discipline connects to goals setting and achievement. It doesn’t take away the need for us to do the hard work, but it does help explain what’s going on underneath the hood (or in the brain in this case). When it comes to lifelong learning it’s all about grittiness and sticking it out. And that’s what Angela Duckworth’s research has covered. As Dr. Orit Elgavi a neuroscientist puts it in Alpe’s course on the Neuroscience of Productivity:

Angela Duckworth had given a name to the quality of pushing through challenges. Grit. She had even developed a way to test for it. And today, we’ll be talking about the neuroscience behind grit. What happens in your brain as you push through challenges? And, how can you use this knowledge to hack the system and become more successful in your own life?

So what makes up Grit? If you search online for the qualities of a lifelong learner you’ll find all kinds of lists: knowing your learning style, building a cohort of learners who support you, building a routine and so on.

These are all true, practical tips which we’ll get to in a minute, but first you have to understand what forms grit and how grit plays a part in being a lifelong learner. As Tess puts it in her coverage and takeaways from the Neuroscience of Productivity lesson on grit puts it:

But at the root of it all is that magical combination: perseverance and passion. And I think that all of us will balance those two in our own way. Some might err on the side of passion — starting many new projects even if we can’t finish all of them. And others will err on the side of perseverance, sticking through with a project even after it no longer interests them as much. So, as long as you have one or the other and are striving toward balance — a healthy communication between the two — then your well on your way to developing important qualities of a lifelong learner.

So perseverance and passion are critical to being a lifelong learning.


Practical tips on how to be a lifelong learner


Now that we’ve covered the cognitive and emotional side of it, let’s discuss the practical side of things. Here I like to quote Dena Lehrman, an occupational therapist and productivity coach. According to her this all starts with being a personal detective. You have to inspect yourself, to ‘know thyself’ — you have to self analyze and figure out what works and what doesn’t work for you when it comes to building successful habits. Because without understanding your strengths and weaknesses, you won’t be able to build the environment and habits for being a lifelong learner. Here are some of the factors she likes to think about:

I really like to think about this as layers on a cake. Remember Abby from our lesson on dopamine? We worked with her on structuring her day to get the most of her dopamine boosts. Last lesson we added a layer around taking the right breaks. Today I want to focus on aligning what you’re working on to when you’re working on it. Multitasking or juggling life as I think of it is part of that and needs to be taken into account. - Neuroscience of Productivity

So being a lifelong learner is all about setting yourself up for success. When it comes to being a lifelong learner it’s all about building the right habits:

  • Are you building the right social setting for you to learn? Do you need support from a group?

  • Do you allocate time for your learning? Is it a morning slot or an evening event?

  • Does your learning happen when you’re focused or on the go?

  • Is your learning program high or low touch? As in are you focused on it completely or multitasking and whatever sinks in sinks in?

  • Do you subscribe to a certain program or subscription?

  • How do you capture your learning and maximize retention for long term or is that less a goal?

All these questions are ones worth thinking about because they’ll affect how you structure your day, week and months to maximize being a lifelong learner.

Naturally, if you’re serious about being a lifelong learner, you’ll want to answer those questions so that you can maximize being a lifelong learner. For example, here are my personal answers to these:

  • Are you building the right social setting for you to learn? Do you need support from a group? Most of my learning I do on my own, but for one topic which is very challenging I have a group of friends that I learn together with. This allows me the flexibility to ‘do my thing’ but the accountability when I need it.

  • Do you allocate time for your learning? Is it a morning slot or an evening event? I read over the weekends and every night before I fall asleep, but most of my learning is done while I do other things via audio learning.

  • Does your learning happen when you’re focused or on the go? Definitely on the go, besides focused reading time.

  • Is your learning program high or low touch? As in are you focused on it completely or multitasking and whatever sinks in sinks in? Most of my learning is ‘low touch’ as in — whatever I remember I remember, what I don’t, oh well. Some of it is high touch: I create flash cards for myself to remember over time.

  • Do you subscribe to a certain program or subscription? I pay for Audible and Alpe Audio and purchase books very often.

  • How do you capture your learning and maximize retention for long term or is that less a goal? I’ve started using flashcards for things that are important for me to remember.

How to be a lifelong learner with audio!

You’ll notice that the most important aspect — when I schedule my learning — I’ve left very vague. That’s because while this is the most important part, for me, it’s also easiest, because most of my learning is done with audio. And I always have time for audio — each and every day. Unlike apps that I’ve tried to use, like Duolingo, which require screen time (that I don’t always have), I’ve always found time to listen to a lesson. Whether I’m washing dishes, out for a walk or on a drive — I have the ability to listen to something. This is how I learn even when I don't have time.


This is how I’ve managed to pick up on so many new topics and dive deeply into subjects like product management, investing, marketing and management every single day despite a busy schedule and really create a lifelong learning habit.

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