Humans are built for curiosity.
As children, our schools and parents encourage us to learn about the world. But as we grow up, we get so busy with jobs, family, and other obligations that we often forget to make time to feed our curiosity. And when we don’t explore new things and indulge that inner child, it can lead to burnout.
Let’s take a few moments to consider how it makes good business sense to indulge our childhood curiosity and reignite the creative spark.
Why Is Learning Important?
We believe that learning is not only fun, but actually good for you, too. Don’t just take our word for it, though. According to Science of People, learning new things improves your brain’s neuroplasticity. Among other things, a more ‘plastic’ brain boosts your creativity and problem-solving.
The best part about this process is that all learning has an equal impact on your brain’s functionality. Learning a new musical instrument or taking a dance class has the same effect on your brain as picking up a new language or business skill. In fact, it’s best when you choose topics you want to study rather than those you just think will be useful. As the blog Science of People points out,
“When you choose to learn skills that are genuinely interesting and fulfilling to you, it strengthens the benefits. The results of learning skills that help us fulfill personal goals are rewards that trigger the release of the neurotransmitter, dopamine.”
Furthermore, learning helps prevent burnout, which ages your brain and causes you to be less productive, less creative, and have a shorter attention span.
Your brain actually wants you to learn something new and to challenge yourself. And, like taking a vacation, learning something new can recharge your batteries and give you new energy to put into your business. This is where education can literally pay off.
Take Time For Yourself
When you run your own business, you likely don’t keep to a 9-to-5 schedule (or an eight-hour workday in general). You have email to read, invoices to send, networking meetings to attend, and sales pitches to make. And that’s all before doing the work you do to make money.
If you’re working from morning through bedtime, you’re not being the most productive and creative person you can be. You’re probably stressed out, cranky, and have a short fuse when friends, significant others, or children seek out your time.
And sure, you might want to take that French class with your buddies or try your hand at oil painting. Perhaps you need to learn a new programming language to take your business to the next level. But you’re so busy, how can you ever find the time for these “extracurriculars”?
The fact is, you need to draw personal and professional boundaries in your life. Here are some ways to make it work.
- Schedule a meeting with yourself. Block out a one- or two-hour window of time on your calendar to focus only on whatever you’re learning about.
- Try the Miracle Morning process. Hal Elrod and his co-authors have devised a system for all kinds of professionals which involves waking early, performing a series of small, simple tasks like drinking a glass of water, stretching, and journal writing.
- Find a study buddy. Remember back in the “good ol’ days” when you and a friend got together to study for exams, keeping each other awake and on-task through the night? The same principle applies here. Taking a class with a friend makes you accountable to someone else, meaning you’re more likely to commit and make the time when it’s necessary.
- Get more sleep. Really. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, if you’re well-rested, you’ll be more likely to be productive. When you get your work done in a timely manner, you’ll be able to carve out a little extra time to focus on yourself.
Whatever process you follow, you need to stick to it. For this window of time, you need to prioritize the “you” with hopes and dreams and inner child, not “you” the business owner.
Now let’s turn to some of the ways you can indulge that child-like curiosity.
Reading is Fundamental
One of the best ways to engage your curiosity and give that grey matter a workout is by reading a book. Yet as it turns out, a quarter of Americans report not having read a single book in the past year, and the statistic goes up as they age. And that’s not surprising. There’s a lot competing for our attention. In addition to work and family obligations, we have social media, video games, and Netflix that fill in all of our free moments. Who has time anymore to curl up with a good book?
If that’s your story, consider these options:
- Get an e-reader (such as a Kindle or Nook), or use your tablet, and read while you’re at the gym or waiting for appointments.
- Listen to an audiobook during your commute or when doing dishes. Overdrive and Project Gutenberg offer many free options, or you can sign up for an account on Audible.
- Have your Amazon Echo device read a book from your Kindle library while you’re cooking dinner or while getting ready for work.
- Wake up a few minutes early and read a chapter or two before work.
Reading is one of the simplest and best ways to learn. Psychology Today points out that reading a book boosts brain function, enhances imagination, and encourages empathy. Put another way, reading is to the brain what a good gym workout is for the body.
Invest In Your Continuing Education
Consider taking a class that engages your creativity or allows you to pursue a hidden passion. Creative writing? Watercolor painting? Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to ice skate or play the guitar or learn another language.
Where can you find these classes? Here are some free or inexpensive options for continuing your education:
- Enroll in a college course. In the US, community colleges offer a great way to take low-cost academic and professional courses, and they can be very affordable if you live “in district.”
- Consider online webinars. There are tons of webinars available for every industry. Or check out SCORE, a nonprofit organization that offers business workshops.
- Take a Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs provide a wide range of compelling—and free—courses taught by university faculty around the world. Class Central has a list of different MOOC providers. The best part? You can go to class in your pajamas.
- Have fun learning a language. Duolingo offers free training in a wide range of languages, with exercises that turn learning a second (or third) language into a fun game. You might also check out Drops.
- Check out local meetups. Some groups focus on cooking, while others offer book discussions, hiking, or wine tasting. And while you’re learning, you’re also getting out of the house and making new friends. The best way to find one? Try Meetup.com, where you can search by interest and location.
- Check out our article on professional development for even more ideas.
Not Sure What to Learn?
So, we’ve convinced you that maybe you need to study something new. But what?
Here are a few different ways to approach this question.
- Consider taking a subject you struggled with in school. Maybe you hated your history teacher, or algebra was your downfall. Many people discover that when they take a new shot at an old subject, not only can they master it, but the effort is especially rewarding. Talk about getting closure!
- Create a learning bucket list. This is a brainstorm of everything you don’t know how to do but would be interesting in learning. These can be academic subjects or just things you’d like to know how to do around the house, like making pastries or learning how to garden.
- Try a new sport or other physical activity such as dancing, aerial training, yoga, or swimming. As you learn something new, you’re also building muscle tone and improving your heart and respiratory health.
- Consider what you enjoyed doing most as a child. Maybe you loved Legos or model airplanes. That doesn’t necessarily mean go and learn about Lego (though you could!), but you might revisit the joy of making things with your hands. Consider woodworking, making your own pottery or jewelry, or this free set of courses on basic robotics! If you’re more of a creative spirit, try a writing class, an acting class, or even puppetry.
- Cultivate a curiosity mindset. Move beyond classes and do your own investigation. If you find a statue that speaks to you, research the artist. If you’re taking your dog for his daily walk and you realize you don’t know what any of the flowers and trees are around you, now’s the time to find out. Read biographies of people in movies, plays, and television (Hamilton, anyone?).
Invest In Yourself
We get it. You have to devote a lot of time keeping your business going, following up on that new lead, or getting the next product out the door. Running a business can feel like running on a neverending treadmill.
That’s why it’s important to pause and take a breath every once in a while. When you keep going at breakneck speed, you might miss out on new opportunities or the next great idea, and you run the risk of burning out.
So why not take some time to challenge yourself? When you start engaging your brain, you might find that it’s not only mentally stimulating, but it can actually be a lot of fun. And then when you get back to your business, you’ll feel re-energized, inspired, and ready to get to work. In other words, invest some of your time in yourself, and you’ll reap the benefits many times over.
What Do You Think?
If you’re already a lifelong learner, tell us the classes you enjoy, what you do to stretch your brain, or how you engage your inner child. And if you’ve just decided to take the plunge, let us know what you’re going to try. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!