The Importance of Continuous Learning
Continuous learning is the cornerstone of personal growth. I love that it requires a conscious choice to seek knowledge, expand your horizons, and evolve. In sticking with the business theme of these conversations, in the U.S. market, businesses have to always be evolving, growing, or they become obsolete. That’s capitalism in general, but specifically, our culture puts a high priority on progress. So, comparatively, if you are focused on maintaining where you are instead of progressing (liken this to being comfortable in who you are and what you do, instead of pursuing new opportunities), you’re effectively moving backwards. You might be holding steady, but everyone and everything around you is progressing – so your steady isn’t good enough. Your steady is being left behind. Your complacency is killing you, making you obsolete. We need to evolve and adapt our lives to stay relevant, just the way businesses do.
But I hate learning. School didn’t do anything for me. I never use any of that. Well, welcome to adult life. You get to decide what you learn, how you learn it, and why. So what’s your excuse for not pursuing learning? This is wild… but maybe it’s because you just don’t know how to learn. Let’s get after it.
Curiosity is cute when it’s kids, but stupid when it’s adults. Am I right? No, but that’s a common sentiment among adults because we falsely believe we should have life figured out; we should know who we are, how things work, and what we desire. Or, worse, we should know what our job is and what isn’t, so that we can let stuff outside our purview be someone else’s responsibility. If, however, we commit to being curious, we find out what is unknown, opening the door to learning opportunities. We ask questions, seek answers, and find more of what is unknown, driving a positive feedback loop of curiosity. This is how we become active learners – the difference between childhood, school-style learning, and adult agency-based learning; deciding what to learn for ourselves.
Keep that topic in mind to give the rest of this conversation some actionable context. Formal education is a structured, platform based learning approach that offers a lot of benefits, but frankly, is usually expensive and can be pretty intimidating. Formal learning revolves around codified knowledge which just means information and how its presented has been vetted and put into text to make it, well, formal (standardized). This is usually what we think of when “learning” comes to mind1.
The alternative is informal learning; I say alternative and not opposite because they achieve the same thing – self-improvement, expanded knowledge base, exposure to more unknowns. The difference is that informal learning is where experience becomes the greatest teacher, knowledge is not defined by textbooks, and lessons aren’t on handouts. Tacit knowledge, experientially shared learning, is mostly done by word of mouth1. Given this definition, how do you feel about learning now? Because conversations with coworkers about how they did something, or casual conversations with friends about their interests offer you new ideas, methods, perspectives, and opportunities.
Isn’t that access to self-improvement, expanded knowledge base, and exposure to more knowledge? Hopefully this reshaped your perception of learning; now what will you do with it?
Now that you’re aware of the abundance of learning opportunities, how do you sift through the meaningful ones? Committing information to memory only takes about 15 seconds of mental processing; if you remember the drunk guy in your Uber pool rambling about when the CIA put probes in his brain to learn about his experience being abducted by aliens… you learned that4. So how do we make sure we learn things that are constructive for us? For you, I don’t know. But here’s some cautionary advice.
We don’t know what we don’t know.
Cognitive bias is a danger we’re all susceptible to. The short version, and the aspect that affects us here, is that we have mental blindspots that prevent us from genuinely knowing correct information4. We make assumptions about what we don’t know based on what we do know about other things. Much of the time, this is extremely practical – I didn’t know how to work on Harleys, but we own a ‘67 VW bug with an air cooled engine, making it essentially the same thing. It was a good enough starting point that I was able to figure out what needed work on the Harley.
This is also what allows us to think we know more about stuff than we really do. I could have just as easily destroyed that American-made, two cylinder 6-year-old Harley engine with my assumption that it was similar to a German-made four cylinder VW engine that’s 51 years older. There’s probably far more difference than similarity, wouldn’t you agree?
What I’m alluding to here is Overconfidence Bias. You know the saying “ignorance is bliss”? Well, when we’re uneducated (codified or tacit) about any topic, we tend to generalize or make assumptions about what we don’t know, and that usually results in us minimizing or oversimplifying the topic to best be understood by our uneducated approach2. In a popular study, researchers compared individual’s perceived performance to their actual performance and found that below average performers rated themselves as higher (more capable) while high performers rated themselves lower (less capable) when compared to each other2. The fascinating conclusion from this study was WHY people do this. Put simply, the more we learn about something, the more exposure we have to things we don’t know about it, so it’s easy to feel insecure or inadequate – we know our blindspots. The opposite is that when we’re unfamiliar with something, we generalize and oversimplify, thinking we know enough to understand it without identifying blindspots.
Does this matter? Not usually. I don’t know anything about gardening, but I’m okay with that for now; it isn’t in line with my life goals. But do I know anything about how to build an OEM style, off-road, long-travel suspension system for a 1967 VW Bug? Still no, not really, but the number of conversations I’ve had about it are leading me to know exactly what my goal is.
Grounded in the pursuit of understanding, instead of immediate utility, you can shape your understanding of the world to fit any need, desire, or opportunity you have in front of you. The critical part about this is that you don’t force the world into a template you believe or want to believe is true. Let your experience, others’ experience, and informal learning shape your continuous learning adventure. It’s truly a choose-your-own-path adventure, as long as you don’t overlook opportunities.
Continuous learning is not just about accumulating facts; it’s about personal transformation. It’s about questioning assumptions, challenging beliefs, and evolving into a better version of ourselves. Just like everything else we’ve discussed. Our journey is filled with stories, examples, and challenges that shape us into WayMakers IF we allow it. Take a minute to recognize the power and diversity of thought around us and how we can use it to become well-rounded, learn more ways to achieve our goals, and navigate a tough transformation landscape. Nothing needs to be done by ourselves with access to incredible learning every day just by opening our minds.
The path to continuous learning isn’t always easy and can be very tiring, but if we’re open to it, we automatically begin transforming ourselves. Don’t limit yourself to what you believe learning is; we just opened a door to accelerate your growth. Step through it to learn what else you can leverage to achieve your dream you.
Do you want to learn more? Check out:
The Podcast: “Be Relentless Podcast”!
The Fuel: Sisu Stamina, Performance Evolved
- Amin, A., & Wilkinson, F. (1999). Learning, proximity and industrial performance: an introduction. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 23(2), 121–125.Hhttp://www.jstor.org/stable/23599579
- Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121–1134. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1241
- Gillis, A. (2022, June). What is Cognitive Bias? SearchEnterpriseAI. https://www.techtarget.com/searchenterpriseai/definition/cognitive-bias#:~:text=Cognitive%20bias%20is%20a%20systematic
- Mayo, J. (2023). Be Relentless: If the Obstacle Is the Way, Then We Must Be WayMakers. Forge Publications, LLC.
- Mcbride, D. M. (2022). COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY: theory, process, and methodology. Sage Publications.
- Quinata, J. (2023a, September 2). Warriors and WayMakers – to Win the Fight, First, We Must Fight. Universal Learning Approach. https://ulauniverse.com/warriors-and-waymakers-to-win-the-fight-first-we-must-fight/
- Quinata, J. (2023b, September 12). Navigating the Transformation Terrain – Charting Your Path to Growth. Universal Learning Approach. https://ulauniverse.com/navigating-the-transformation-terrain-charting-your-path-to-growth/
- Quinata, J. (2023c, September 26). From Surviving to Thriving – How Mental Toughness Fuels Vision and Strategy. Universal Learning Approach. https://ulauniverse.com/from-surviving-to-thriving-how-mental-toughness-fuels-vision-and-strategy/
- Quinata, J. (2023d, October 10). The Art of Self-Communication – Project Managing Your Life Goals. Universal Learning Approach. https://ulauniverse.com/the-art-of-self-communication-project-managing-your-life-goals/