07 Feb The incredible benefits of learning new things
Whether we notice or not, most of us tend to repeat the same tasks day in and day out.
This constant repetition can make life boring and monotonous. Don’t get me wrong–I’ll be the first person to tell you that routines are good, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling comfortable! I know from experience that a certain degree of routine and comfort can help me get through a day without feeling too overwhelmed by stress and uncertainty.
That said, I also know from experience that there is such a thing as being too comfortable. When too much comfort leads to stagnation, we lose out on opportunities for personal and professional growth. This pushes us into a rut, and can affect our happiness and quality of life.
About that time that I fell into a rut…
When I first moved to Toronto from the US, everything in the city seemed new and exciting to me. I’d be walking downtown, for example, or sitting at a new neighbourhood café I had just discovered, and feel giddy with wonder and awe at my new surroundings.
I really loved that feeling, and for a while I was convinced that it was tied to my new environment.
But with time, that feeling started to fade. The streets around me became familiar and I began to fall into a routine. Day-to-day stuff started getting in the way, and my excitement started to subside. I no longer looked at the city with the same giddy sense of awe, and slowly started to fall out of love with it.
After about a year, I was complaining about things that I used to love, and had become so immersed in my life that everything around me started to become bleak and monotonous…
How learning something new changed my way of seeing things
By 2014, that monotony had taken over other aspects of my life.
At that point I was struggling with some personal and professional challenges. I felt like I was in a rut, and decided to talk to a few friends about the situation I was in.
The more people I talked to, the more I noticed that many were living experiences that were FAR more challenging than my own. Those conversations shifted my perspective, and I started thinking that I had to change my tune and start focusing on how lucky I was.
What happened next was life-changing…
I decided to embark on a year-long photography project. Although photography wasn’t exactly a new hobby for me (I have two degrees in the field), it was something I hadn’t done in a loooong time (did you see how many O’s I added there?). I felt like picking up my old passion would shake things up a bit, and push me to see things in a different way.
Since I already knew the ins and outs of a camera, I decided that I wanted to use the project to challenge myself in another way. I decided that my pictures would have a theme — gratitude — and that I’d take one a day and post it on social media.
It was the best decision I ever could have made.
Before starting the project I was constantly complaining about my life. But taking a picture every day to express gratitude helped me change my perspective. It taught me how to reconnect with an old passion and see the city through new eyes, just like I did when I had first moved here.
All of a sudden my body felt different, my energy felt different, I felt different.
That’s when I learned that pushing yourself to learn something new could have incredible benefits…
The benefits of pushing yourself to learn something new
1. It can help get you out of your ruts
Learning new things is a great way to break you out of a mundane routine. It shakes up your life and wakes your brain up from the slumber of monotony.
2. It provides the perfect opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself
Learning a new hobby or trying something new out will teach you something you didn’t know about yourself. Take something like snowboarding for example. Let’s say you go out there and give it a try. Doing this may teach you that snowboarding REALLY isn’t your thing, or perhaps you’ll learn that it’s an activity you LOVE! You won’t know that about yourself until you try it out!
3. It will give you a confidence boost while helping you overcome your fears
Learning a new skill is often an extremely rewarding experience. If it’s something you like, you’ll quickly notice yourself improving, which can give you a great confidence boost.
In most cases, trying something new is often about overcoming fear. Fear of discomfort, fear of failure, fear of ridicule…But every time you actually go and try something new, this fear is shattered, which in turn also helps boost your confidence.
4. You may just learn a new skill
Trying out something new can teach you a new skill. This skill can be just be a hobby, but it can also be something marketable that you can use for professional growth!
5. It stimulates creativity and brain plasticity
Highly creative people push themselves to learn new skills in order to innovate and express themselves in new ways.
When you try new things, you force your brain to exercise in a new way. This stimulates creativity, which eventually rubs off in other areas of your life. As a result, you begin to see the world and think about things in new ways.
How to break the routine and start learning new things
So now you know the benefits of learning new things…but one question remains: how do you let go of your insecurities and actually start learning new things?
It’s all about mindset
The first thing you need to do if you want to start learning new things is to change your mindset.
According to Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, a lot of people trick themselves into personal and professional stagnation by having what she calls a fixed mindset.
Dweck describes the fixed mindset as a voice in our brain that tells us that we were born with a fixed amount of skills and don’t have the capacity to learn new ones.
For decades, this idea was thought to be backed by science. At the time, common scientific belief was that after early adulthood, the human brain couldn’t change. This concept was popularized by the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
While many people internalized this idea and thought it to be true, in recent years an overwhelming amount of research has surfaced showing that we are in fact capable of learning new skills and improving existing ones. But to do this, we have to shift our our mindset, adopting what Dr. Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’.
As opposed to the fixed mindset, the growth mindset is the belief that we can improve our lives and that success comes from challenging ourselves by learning and practicing skills everyday.
You know when you’re adopting a growth mindset, because you start to say things like:
- I’m excited to face a new challenge.
- I might not be good at this now, but I can improve.
- I’m willing to work hard to make a change.
3 things you can do today to adopt a growth mindset and start learning new things
1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice”. Before you start learning something new, it’s important to tune in to your internal mental chatter. Start to notice when you use fixed mindset phrases such as, “I’m just not good at this” or, “If I fail at this, people will think I’m a failure.”
2. Focus on small changes. In order to get your mindset ready to tackle new learnings, it’s important to start small. Micro-changes in habits can provide you with the motivation needed to adopt a growth mindset that in turn will allow you start learning new things. I’ve written extensively about the benefits of micro-changes.
3. Celebrate the process. When you start learning something new, it’s likely that you won’t immediately be good at it. Some people get down on themselves for this, and immediately revert back to adopting a fixed mindset. To counteract this, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the small milestones that you reach throughout the process. Doing this allows you to stay motivated and enjoy the process of learning something new.