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Back to School Month: Embracing a Lifelong Learner Mindset

It's that time of year again—kids are donning backpacks, lugging lunch pails, and heading back to the classroom this month. Do you remember the anticipation you felt at the start of each school year, a combination of excitement and nervousness? Every time the bell rang, it offered the chance to nurture our innate curiosity and grow with new knowledge. Those of us lucky enough to have great teachers were shown that there was no limit to what we could accomplish if we worked hard and remained open to learning.

For many of you, learning is a practice; it can be easy to get out of the habit once you’ve left school. But there is no need for our learning caps to be hung up or for our thirst for knowledge to become satiated just because we've been handed our diplomas. Instead, embrace the lifelong learner mindset. Lifelong learners are engaged in the never-ending pursuit of being the best, most well-rounded version of themselves—both in life and business.

The benefits of lifelong learning are well documented and researched—from improving overall well-being and mental health to supporting leadership development. One trait shared by the best executives I've partnered with in the course of my career is that they embraced a growth mindset by way of lifelong learning and encouraged their teams to do the same. Expanding knowledge and understanding is, after all, imperative for executives, especially considering how quickly industries, organizations, and technologies evolve. Agility and adaptability—skills shared by lifelong learners— are essential when filling organizational gaps.

For those who may have gotten out of the habit, rekindling your obsession with learning and committing to being a lifelong learner can feel next to impossible while also balancing work and personal responsibilities. Here are some of the easiest ways to reintroduce learning into your busy schedule.

Take a university extension or LinkedIn learning course

Most universities offer continuing education courses across a wide range of topics, from those directly geared to upskilling to more esoteric subjects. Many of these accommodate flexible schedules and are online, making it even easier to integrate into your existing commitments. LinkedIn also has a large selection of online business, creative, and technology courses. The online platform means you can access thousands of classes whenever and wherever it suits you.

Listen to a podcast

Not only does this approach take a minimal amount of effort, but recent studies have shown that podcasts promote brain stimulation by evoking mental imagery more intensely than watching or reading. Podcasts that members of the SHA team are currently enjoying are The Daily, Stuff you Should Know, Still Processing, Unexplainable, and You're Wrong About.

Learn a new language

Reports show that learning a new language provides enhanced problem-solving skills, better verbal and spatial abilities, improved memory function (both long- and short-term), and elevated creative thinking. Mobile apps like Duolingo, Chatterbug, Lingoda, and Babble use listening exercises, flashcards, and multiple-choice questions, leveraging learning science, to make learning from your phone enjoyable and effective.

Read a book

This age-old trick always gets the job done. Cracking open a book can be the entrance to a new world of information. An array of genres can stimulate the brain and promote creativity. Wondering what to read? Ask someone you admire what they found valuable. Don't forget that reading, even for short periods, can dramatically lower stress levels too.

Being open and curious has significant personal and professional benefits. While it is valuable and now ubiquitous to see upskilling and talent development offerings at organizations, it's important to remember that lifelong learning doesn't always have to be about gaining new career skills. We can nurture the drive and passion of education by learning a new language, expanding a specialized skillset, or picking up an intellectually stimulating hobby.

I challenge you to be a perpetual student throughout your life and encourage you to take this month to reflect on what you're passionate about and what you envision for your own future before embarking on your journey. I look forward to hearing how you choose to embrace a growth mindset, whether it be a three-month course or a quick read.


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