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When I attended college for my first degree, I was shocked to find out that there would be minimal guidance. It was an art degree, and the curriculum was created around self-learning and exploration. The next four years would be the most incredible experience in developing the mental shift I needed to become an autodidact or a life-long learner.
You may have wondered about how to become an autodidact learner and what the benefits of this are. Perhaps you are like most adults, who simply feel relieved when their school years are done and the “prison sentence” has finished.
But learning isn’t about earning a degree; it’s about a philosophy, a natural curiosity, and a drive that will change the way you look at the world. When you become an autodidact learner, your focus moves from a “why me?” thinking paradigm to a “what can I learn from this?” way of thinking.
Are you a life-long learner? Keep reading to find out how to become an autodidact and why you should embrace life-long learning.
What Does It Mean to Be a Self-Taught Person?
A self-taught person is someone who engages in learning as part of their life journey. Where others wait for teachers and mentors to guide their learning, a self-taught learner or autodidact learns at their own pace and under their own guidance.
The learning objectives are set by the reason for learning. So if you are a programmer and need to learn a new programming language, you would go to college or do an online course if you are a regular learner. But an autodidact will teach themselves by using resources they find for themselves.
An autodidact will question the assumptions of others instead of just following the herd. For these unique people, learning is about questioning, discovery, and experimentation.
To be an autodidact means to be interested in life, have a lust for learning new things, and pursue a quest to continue learning more always.
Some of the greatest minds of our time – such as Benjamin Franklin, Jane Goodall, and Elon Musk – were/are self-taught in their fields. Innovation comes when we step out of the footsteps of others and make our own, and sometimes that requires us to steer our own learning journey.
What Are the Benefits of Being Autodidactic by Nature?
You may wonder what makes someone an autodidact. Is it a unique characteristic you are born with, that comes naturally, and you either have it or don’t? Do you need a massive IQ to be an autodidact (i.e., is it for only super-smart people)?
While being naturally smart is definitely an advantage, it can also get in the way of being innately curious about the world, which is the root of learning.
Being an autodidact means you look at the world as a series of opportunities, see potential where others see only complications, and desire to learn new ways of doing things every day.
When you are an autodidact, you will experience a number of unique benefits:
The brain is one of a few living and regenerative organs that requires stimulation to promote healing and renewal. In psychological terms, this is known as the brain’s neuroplasticity.
Each bit of information we add to the brain helps it develop its complex network of neurons, which in turn, triggers the unique process of cellular regeneration and brain matter evolution that comes with learning.
When you learn all the time, you are giving your brain a mental workout, which is great for making you smarter while also helping your brain work like an athlete. When it comes to your brain, it’s a case of use it or lose it.
With knowledge comes opportunity. When you learn new things, it gives you new insight, and you become an innovator in your field of interest. Innovators are problem solvers, which translates into career opportunities.
When you learn, you will find ways to earn. Some of the top market leaders and entrepreneurs of our time were self-taught, and this new dissemination of knowledge is required to make advances and break into new terrain. Others will notice, and you will be met with success when you are an autodidact.
In learning, you will also develop skills. Far from just reading textbooks or boring academic manuals from others, you will begin to explore new forms of knowledge and how to apply that knowledge in a useful way—and you will develop skills as a result.
When I taught myself about horseback riding, I met new people I wouldn’t have met if not for that. The knowledge and skills brought new people into my life, and these people and experiences interacted, creating the person I have become.
7 Steps to Becoming an Autodidact Learner
If you don’t have to be born an autodidact, how do you become one? It’s about redefining what you know about learning and making your own way toward knowledge.
But there are a few steps that will help guide you to developing the curious and eager-for-learning mindset needed to become a mental innovator and lifelong learner.
Step 1. Find Something Interesting to Study
Even the most dedicated student will fail if what they are studying is of absolutely no interest to them. When you are interested in something, you will have the motivation to persevere. For self-directed learning, you require a lot of motivation. It’s hard, since there are no clear boundaries or end-goals set by someone else; instead, you are the one setting the markers.
When you are interested in what you are learning, you will push further and keep going, even when it feels like nothing makes sense on some days. Or you’ll celebrate on other days when you’ve discovered something new and amazing.
Action Step: Discover What Interests You
Do you know what interests you? What do you want to learn?
If you’ve spent your whole life learning what others told you to, you may not know what interests you (beyond your current paycheck). Using a vision board can help you connect with your inner wishes and dreams again. This is where your passion lies, and by letting yourself see the things you are interested in, you can create a list of things you want to learn.
Take two weeks and collect “random” images or words that resonate with you. Tack these up against your bathroom door and spend time looking at each. Where does your eye linger? Place those images that you focus on aside and paste them onto a board you can hang in your office or bedroom. These are your passions.
Step 2. Create a Personal Development Plan
Okay, it sounds worse than it is. If you’re the type of free-thinking person who doesn’t know what lies on the other end of breakfast, you probably hate the idea of having a plan. However, a plan keeps you accountable to actually learn and to not just dream and never get anything done.
Having a personal development plan is a schedule of what you want to learn, when you want to master different steps, and what you hope the outcomes to be. Of course, these goals and outcomes need to be flexible too, as learning new things is not something that is always linear.
With a personal development plan, you can begin to set the objectives of what you are learning. It is a list that reminds you why you are learning something. You can also indicate divergent knowledge paths that interest you to expand into later.
Action Step: Create a Personal Development Plan
How will what you learn benefit you?
Evaluate what you want to achieve, what you need to achieve those outcomes, and also what you can use to reach those goals. You can use a template to help you if you’ve never created a personal development plan before.
In school, your teachers would have created a curriculum or lesson plan to follow, and you are now going to create your own based on what you want to achieve in your learning activities.
Step 3. Develop Focus
At school, you were probably told a few times by well-meaning teachers to focus on your work. Having good focus is a secret ingredient to success in any task in life. Focus allows you to really zoom in and get to the meat of what you are learning instead of just scratching at the surface.
Perhaps you already have great focus, but most likely, you struggle to focus with intensity. Improving your focus will help you develop the skills needed to learn on your own, to drive forward when you hit a wall, and not to give up when you engage in self-directed learning.
Action Step: Simplify Life for Better Focus
How will being able to focus more benefit your ability to learn?
Stop trying to do everything at the same time. When you need focus, it’s best to give your brain all the help it needs. Focusing on more than one item will divide your efforts, so start to simplify your life with these 11 ways to stay focused.
Step 4. Get Started NOW
One of the reasons that being an autodidact person is quite rare is that people tend to waste a lot of time procrastinating. People don’t believe they can do things on their own (after all, we’re all herd animals by nature), and looking for a leader only to discover you are alone in your task can be daunting.
The result is that people procrastinate. They get their feet stuck in molasses, and no matter how hard they try, they don’t learn new things and don’t persevere with new knowledge. Bust procrastination by getting active right now.
Action Step: Do, Even If You Don’t Know How
What is holding you back from doing something now? Do you doubt your own abilities?
Procrastination is a disability. It’s a car wreck waiting to happen. The only way to get procrastination out of your head and focus on what you have learned is to get busy doing. Procrastination lingers in your head, so get out of your own head and start doing.
If you are learning about making pottery vases, don’t spend months reading blindly—stick your hands in the clay. The best learning happens when you are busy with what you are interested in. Make it your habit not to tolerate procrastination. If you feel the “what ifs” start to creep in, stop your negative thinking and just make your move.
Or as Yoda would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Step 5. Cultivate a Growth Mindset
Learning on your own is not easy if you’ve been accustomed to group activities your whole life. Learning new information with only your own guidance may feel foreign—especially when that knowledge contradicts what you already know. It goes against what you’ve believed in until now. It’s time to change your mind and go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
Part of having a growth mindset is creating the motivation to drive you toward your purpose. You need to believe your learning is going to enrich your future and make life better for you. Learning without focus and purpose is doomed to failure. Your reason for learning what you are interested in depends on your mindset.
Direct your mind toward the things that make you grow. You are learning and pushing further into your learning journey to achieve the things you want to make life better for you and those you care about.
Action Step: Train Your Brain for Growth
Do you see yourself as someone who can learn new things easily and who adapts to change without any problems?
Examine hardships in your life and see where your ability to change has previously helped you progress instead of fail. In a journal, write about how being flexible in your thinking has helped you achieve, while not wanting to change has cost you in the past.
Reflect on how you handle feedback and criticism. Do you get defensive? Change the instinct to see outside influences as bad into a chance to see it as an opportunity to grow.
Step 6. Meet Your Basic Needs
It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach. At least, this is what’s always used as an excuse for school feeding schemes. However, it’s true. When your basic needs aren’t met, you can’t be expected to push further and learn new things. Some great minds like Ghandi may have done so, but it stacks the deck against you.
So sleep enough, eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, and notice the way your senses respond to the world around you. Feed your brain healthy foods, and satisfy your body’s needs and requirements to help ensure clear thinking, good memory, and better motor skills.
Action Step: Create Good Daily Habits
When last did you practice self-care and ensure your needs are met? Which needs do you need to take better care of?
Develop some good daily habits like having a morning shower in cold water to wake up your brain, eating a heart-healthy breakfast, and drinking less caffeine as you meet your body’s basic needs, so your brain can be free to focus on what you are learning now.
Develop some daily habits that can help ensure your body, mind, and spirit are ready for life and learning. Cultivate a positive “can do” mindset as part of your daily habits and you will be able to tackle learning challenges with more confidence too.
Step 7. Empty Your Mind
You can’t fill a cup that’s already full. So, before you dive into any new activity or learning outcome, ask yourself whether your mind is calm and at peace, or if the cup is a stormy sea that can’t hold more?
Autodidacts tend to learn all the time, leaving no time to decompress, which can lead to information overload. One of the final steps to being a successful autodidact is to know when you should step away from the learning process.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to keep track of your learning, as well as keeping an eye on the ever present threat of mental burnout. Writing in your journal, meditating, and yoga are all great ways to re-center and refocus.
Action Step: Empty Your Mind by Walking
Is your mind busy all the time? Time to breathe and let silence fill your mind as you rest between learning sessions.
Make rebalancing your thoughts a habit by practicing a mindfulness activity like meditative walking. Set aside time each day to walk meditatively in your garden or local park or even your office carpet.
While walking, let each step flow slowly like thick syrup as you peel your feet off the floor inch by inch, moving at a snail’s pace. Use the steps to slow down your thought processes. Breathe mindfully at the same time as you match each step with an inhaled or exhaled breath.
Final Thoughts on How to Become an Autodidact Learner
In life, the bonus points go to the innovators and creative thinkers. When you embrace your power to learn, grow, and constantly advance your knowledge and skills base… you open the door to potential and success.
Becoming an autodidact learner, directing your own knowledge acquisition process, and not just following in the footsteps of others with mindless dedication will free your thinking and advance your mental clarity.
In an ever-changing world, it’s important to stay ahead of the game. Learning constantly is the only way to achieve this.
It’s also important to keep in mind that quality always trumps quantity. Learn why quality over quantity is an important life lesson to embrace with 10 reasons to choose quality of quantity.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.