You don’t know what you don’t know. And therein lies the opportunity. Your greatest strength might lie dormant. Your biggest life adventure may linger behind the veil. A best friend or colleague may exist along a life path not yet explored. Your biggest contribution to others may be a gift you cannot yet deliver or even conceive of, a gift to the world not yet unwrapped. 

Take a look at 8 ways you can improve your understanding and learn more. 

1. Climb the learning ladder

The process of education is essential to building understanding. A solid education builds upon itself from the ground up. Consider the following approximate order when pursuing learning (regardless of age): 

  1. Build a strong foundation. Learn and grow proficiency in the essential skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic (a.k.a. math). These topics are key to developing strong communication skills.
  2. Grow an understanding of our world and how and why it works (or fails to at times) by attaining a basic understanding of science, literature, and history. Nurture your understanding with continuing education of all sorts. 
  3. With communication skills in hand and an appreciation of “what is?”, “what was?”, “how does?”, and “why?”, explore the vibrant world of the arts and liberal sciences, including philosophy, psychology, law, or the intriguing technical studies of engineering, technology, and other higher-order sciences.

While the journey of education may not unfold exactly per the above, adhering to the general direction will yield enhanced understanding and intellectual capability.

2. Read, read, read

Warren Buffett reportedly reads 500 pages a day. That bar is extremely high for most, so how about 50 pages a day? Reading is essential to learning. To be clear, the reading we are encouraging is focused reading. Not the casual perusal of newspaper headlines or the topics scrolled online, but real reading for either entertainment and/or education.

And consider a variety of reading forms and formats. Perhaps a rotation between fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps tackle a classic or try a new author, and of course, do not forget to cleanse the pallet by reading something tried, true, and loved. Consider joining a book group if you need a push and desire some social interaction.

3. Take classes

Consider going back to the classroom, either physically or virtually. Whether pursuing a second degree or just exploring new fields, local colleges offer a classroom experience for many age groups.

Online classes can help you avoid the commute without sacrificing the education. Quality online learning can be found in the following two examples:

Take a small first step as necessary to get going, but do not be afraid to step out further and pursue new degrees and certifications. 

4. Learn a new language

If you speak a single language, you have left behind an important part of your cognitive ability and undermined your full effectiveness as a communicator. You have also missed out on the opportunity to empathize with the millions of people who operate in a second language every day. Open new parts of the brain and expand the opportunity for more interesting interaction with your fellow man by learning a new language. Fortunately, there has never been an easier time to do so.

Try one or more of the following to help unlock the multilingual version of you: 

  • Local college classes
  • Local tutors/tutoring groups  
  • Online applications | Example: Duolingo
  • Online tutoring | Example: Preply
  • Online podcasts | Example: Babbel podcasts
  • Audiobooks | Example: Innovativelanguage
  • Online translation tools | Examples: Various

And, if you are indeed considering expanding your ability to communicate, do not forget sign language. Plenty of quality online services await you including ASL Meredith, often recommended for beginners. ASL MEREDITH – Learn Sign Language Online with ASL Meredith.

The young do seem to have an advantage picking up a second language, but do not be deterred. Old dogs can learn new tricks, albeit perhaps a bit slower. It may not be fast or efficient, but you can learn a second language at any age.

5. Ask effective questions

One key to conducting a constructive conversation and learning from it, is the ability to ask thoughtful questions. Try some of these:

  • Why do you think that?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • What is your source of information? 
  • Has the investigation been completed?
  • Can you tell me what you mean when you say “x”?

Be sure to work on your delivery. The intent is to demonstrate interest, solicit a thoughtful response, and gain understanding. Learn to present these questions and others in a non-confrontational manner.

6. Practice active listening

The human design provides two ears and one mouth. The designer clearly anticipated a problem! When you speak to others, you are sharing… but you are not learning. Information and understanding can best be absorbed when listening. The more constructively you listen, the more efficiently you learn.

Attempt to:

  • Face whoever is speaking.
  • Be attentive and stay relaxed.
  • Let the speaker know you are listening with small verbal cues and/or non-verbal cues.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Attempt to visualize what the speaker is saying.
  • Do not interrupt. During a pause, ask clarifying questions as needed to ensure your understanding.
  • Work to be empathetic with the speaker’s feelings.
  • Consider what is not said.
  • Do not feel obligated to solve someone’s problems; listening is respectful and often more than enough.

7. Travel to and explore new places

Travel is stimulating—new people, new environments, new languages in some cases, new ideas, new ways of doing things. Depending on your budget, consider some of the following:

  • The classic road trip…adventure and insight are not necessarily far away.
  • Museums…and do not overlook the smaller, specialty museums. 
  • Camping and hiking…sometimes nature is the new relationship we need to forge to expand our understanding of the world. 
  • Cruises…a convenient way to sample several ports of call, potentially for later, more in-depth exploration.
  • Foreign countries and cities…and consider planning for a more immersive experience in one or two places in lieu of multiple quick stops. 

To optimize the experience, consider the following:

  • Read and study prior to getting underway. Study the map closely. Learn the history, politics, foods, and customs. 
  • If visiting a foreign country, make a focused effort to learn the local language. 
  • Figure out and use local transportation. While potentially intimidating at first, knowing and using the bus and/or subway system is an easy and cheap way to quickly experience the entire breadth of a new city.
  • Read travel tips to reduce the potential for travel risks and heartache.
  • Book guided tours in advance. Private tours are more intimate and informative but also more expensive; group tours are more reasonably priced and still very informative. Ask lots of questions—guides love it, assuming you do not hijack their schedule.

Yes, travel can be stressful, as well as rewarding. Thorough preparation will reduce risks, enhance your experience, accelerate learning, and boost your confidence. In support, we offer the LBLY travel checklist here for your use.

8. Monitor your performance

As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done. So, however you plan to attack learning more, consider a means of tracking your performance.

Are you going to read more? Consider the book and page reading metrics in Goodreads. Are you going to study a new language? Consider setting a target for daily study and tracking progress with the application, Duolingo. Or simply create your own tracking mechanism and use it to monitor your progress. And remember to reward yourself when goals are achieved.

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