When we travel, or just go through life, it seems like there are always new things to learn along the way. For some, like myself, learning something new can bring up a lot of nervous energy. Can I do it? What happens if I can’t? Will people think that I look stupid if I don’t know what I’m doing? I’m working hard to get past these questions though, because the benefits of learning new things go far beyond just the new skill(s) that we acquire in the process. It positively affects almost every aspect of our lives.

Learning how to do something new can give us a new perspective.

Imagine that you’re looking at a painting. You’re standing about 10 feet away from it and you can see trees and a few people in the painting. Then, someone else comes to look at the painting and they get closer, just a few feet away from it. You think, “oh, I can do that?”, and you move closer too. Closer up you can see the little birds in the trees, the expressions on the people’s faces. You can see that one of the people has a book in their hand.

Now imagine that a third person walks up and flips the painting upside down. “What?? Is that even allowed?”, you say. As you look at the painting again, it looks like a different scene. There are similarities here and there, and part of it looks like a mirror image, but there are even more elements that you didn’t see the first two times around.

You never would have seen those things if you hadn’t learned from someone else that you could scoot closer to the painting and turn it upside down entirely. You would have only gotten to see part of the picture.

There are so many things in life like this. Things that we can only see from our point of view. But if we learn new things about the world around us, and learn from those around us, it helps us to shift our perspective so that we can see more and more of the bigger picture.

Along the same lines, you may also find solutions to problems that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

There’s an episode of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon can’t figure something out with one of his scientific theories. He’s tried everything he can think of. So, he decides to walk away from the project and do something completely different than what he normally does. He goes to a restaurant and becomes a bus boy (the people who clean the tables off after people have left).

As he’s cleaning off one of the tables, somehow a plate is knocked over, and peas go all over the floor. Suddenly, looking at the peas, he has an epiphany: he has been looking at his project from the wrong angle the entire time. He goes home, solves his issue and finishes his project.

Similarly, learning something new gives us the chance to step away from what we normally do. In doing this, we stop imposing our pre-determined ideas on the problem we’re trying to solve and new ways of looking at it can pop up. Even from a spilled plate of peas.

When we learn something new, it gets us out of our own heads a little more.

As we are learning, we have to pay attention to actually do so.  This keeps our focus outside of our own thoughts and worries for at least a little while, which helps us to get out of the automatic thoughts that we often fall into. I’m not saying that it fixes anxiety, but it can at least help it ease up from time to time.

It helps us to get out of our comfort zone and teaches us to be vulnerable for a bit; to be willing to look a little silly.

This is something that doesn’t always come easily to people. For a lot of us, we were taught early on that if we let people know we’re new at something, then it opens us up for ridicule. The progression in my world went something like this: stupid/naive=vulnerable, vulnerable=weak, and weakness=being unsafe.

Recently, I took a ferry to get from Lewes, DE to Cape May, NJ. I’ve been on ferries before, but I’ve never had to drive onto one myself. I was super excited about the trip, but I was worried that if I didn’t do exactly what I was supposed to, then people would think I was stupid. The automatic thoughts in my head were again telling me that stupid=being unsafe.

I reminded myself that people would be there the whole time, telling me where to go and what to do. They aren’t just going to let people pull onto the ferry and park themselves, there’s a certain way it has to be done. I finally calmed down and was able to actually enjoy the experience.

It wasn’t until I returned, and was talking to my therapist about my trip, that I realized I had slipped back into old patterns with my thoughts.  

In learning how to do something new, we give ourselves the opportunity to gain confidence.

As we’re learning, we may struggle at first, but, if we persevere, we eventually become proficient at it. We may even find that we possess abilities we weren’t aware we had. This process, in turn, gives us more confidence to try something else.

Within this, we also give ourselves the opportunity to become more resilient.

Inevitably, as we’re learning new things, we’ll make mistakes along the way. We’ll have to find new ways to accomplish what we want to do. We may even have to start over completely with a project. Each time we keep moving forward, keep learning to do whatever it is, we develop a little more resilience. Which comes in handy when the inevitable challenges of life arise.

I’m not saying that trying to build a birdhouse, messing up and having to start over, and then building one successfully one time is going to help you weather the hard times of life. I am saying though, that if you continue to try new things, persevere, and learn a new skill over and over again, then it can most definitely help you weather the hard times. Because, like the above, you’ve gained confidence in your ability to handle the hard stuff. You’ve gained confidence in your ability to find a way.  

Through the process of learning new things, we learn more about ourselves.

Trying new things gives us the chance to find out what we like and don’t like; what we do and don’t enjoy working on. Using the example above, maybe you’ve never tried to build a birdhouse before, but you try it and do so successfully. Then, afterwards you realize that it’s really not your cup of tea and you move on. Or maybe you decide you love building birdhouses and it’s all you want to do. If you had never tried building birdhouses, you would have never known if you liked it or not.

A weird example, I know, but one that applies just as much to a lot of other areas of our lives: clothing, food, movies, books, relationships, and so on. And…whether you end up liking what you try or not, you still get to take the skills and experience with you moving forward.

One of the benefits of learning something new that is an added bonus, is that it helps us improve our relationships (with friends, family, and complete strangers).

When we learn how to do something new, we can often learn to appreciate those around us more. This is one of the reasons that I think everyone should have to work in food service and in retail at least once in their lives. When you stand in someone else’s shoes, even for a small time, it helps you to see what actually goes into doing their job, or living their life. Then you’re much more likely to be understanding when things don’t work out quite right.

For this same reason, if you have someone who often does things for you, ask them to teach you how to do it. If we take the time to learn how to do something that someone else normally does for us – things like changing a tire, fixing something at our house, making dinner, or cleaning the paper jam from the printer – we develop a deeper appreciation for them doing it for us. We see more clearly, the time and hassle they are saving us.

Learning how to do something new teaches us that we all have strengths and weaknesses and we can compliment each other.

No one person knows how to do everything. We all have our own individual strengths and weaknesses. If we acknowledge our weaknesses, and see that someone else is strong where we are weak, we can ask them for help. Then, what we view as a “weakness” can be just as much of an asset as a strength.

First because, when we acknowledge that we have weaknesses, that we aren’t perfect, we show others that it’s ok to do so as well. This helps to break the cycle of what I mentioned above: people thinking that weakness=being unsafe. If we show people that it’s ok for them to show their weakness, that we won’t judge them or ridicule them, they’ll be more likely to show their own weaknesses and pass that belief onto others.

Secondly, this gives others the chance to use their strengths to help us, which can benefit them as much as it does us. Giving someone the opportunity to do something they are good at to help others, builds their confidence, and allows them to gain a blessing from the process. If we refuse to acknowledge our weaknesses, or to accept help, we take that opportunity away.

A few things to remember as you’re learning new things:

Be openminded, not just to the idea of learning something entirely new, but also to the idea of learning a new way of doing something that you already know how to do.

Just like the example of folding laundry above: if you’ve been doing it the same way for years, be open to the idea of learning a new way. At work, if you’ve been doing the same thing, in the same way for a while, ask someone else how they would do it, and then learn their way. You may eventually go back to the old way of doing things, but at least you broke the routine up for a little while and challenged yourself.

Remind yourself often that, learning a new skill doesn’t have to be connected with how you make a living. You can learn a new skill just for the sake of learning it, just for the sake of having fun.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to only focus on things that make us money. Things that move us forward in our lives, things that we have to do to survive. In short, we forget to have fun.

But taking a break, having fun, giving yourself permission to play…these have all been shown to help us perform even BETTER in the rest of our lives.

So, whatever sparks your interest, try it. It doesn’t have to be something that you can make money doing. It doesn’t even have to be something that you’ll do forever. Do it just for the fun of the process. Because even when we learn something just for the fun of learning it, we’re still getting all of the benefits listed above.

Sometimes, when we are learning something new, it brings up old habits, routine ways of thinking, and emotions, that are no longer benefiting us.

Just like my trip on the ferry…I had some strong feelings come up about who I was as a person and what I could handle. Holding onto these feelings long-term doesn’t serve me as a person, so they need to be felt, dealt with, and released.  

I’m not telling you this to scare you, or so that you’ll avoid doing anything new. Quite the opposite. I’m telling you because I want to let you know that we all have times when things like this run through our minds. We all have a bad habit of saying things to ourselves that are not so nice from time to time. So if you have this happen, know that you’re not the only one, and these feelings and emotions won’t stick around forever (if you work through them as you go).

When choosing something to learn, it doesn’t have to be a major investment – either time or money.

You don’t have to commit to going to a 6-week long class if you don’t have the time. And you definitely don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to buy supplies for something if you don’t have the money to do so. Instead, learn little things here and there. Ask questions. Be curious about the people and things around you. Follow your own interests and allow yourself to go down a rabbit hole researching from time to time. Take free classes at your local library or community center. Watch YouTube videos.  

If you continue doing little things like this here and there, before you know it, you’re going to have a whole new set of skills that you may not have ever been able to develop otherwise.

Be sure to give yourself, and your brain, time to rest and integrate all that you’ve learned from time to time.

Sometimes, even if it’s something that we’re excited about, we can overwhelm ourselves with too much information all at once. This is especially true if, in the process of learning, you release things that no longer serve you. Going through a stage where you release a lot of “junk”, and replace old thought patterns with new ones, can be taxing mentally and physically.

If you find yourself getting more tired and foggy after a period of learning new things, take time to rest. A few hours, or a few days; whatever your body needs. And then…move on to the next new and exciting thing.

Here are some ideas – both big and small – to help get you started on the path to learning new things:

Trying learning:

1) to use your non-dominate hand

2) a different language

3) a new recipe

4) how to take better pictures

5) how to be a better writer

6) how to remodel something in your house, fix a drain, etc.

7) how to fold your clothes a different way

8) a new exercise

9) how to stretch your muscles properly

10) how to load paper, or toner into your printer, or how to fix a jam

11) to play a musical instrument

12) how to change a tire

13) how to make tea

14) how to use a computer program that you don’t know how to use yet

15) how to use a new feature on your phone

16) how to meditate

17) how to see auras

18) how to hang a picture

19) how to sleep better

20) how to use chopsticks

21) how to make pottery

22) to do woodworking

23) when, how, and where to plant flowers and vegetables

24) to can vegetables or make your own jelly/jam

25) to play a new game

26) to drive a car with a manual transmission (a stick shift)

27) how to have a better marriage

28) how to be a better friend

29) how to decorate a cake

30) how to invest

31) how to make a mirror

32) how to reupholster a chair

33) how to make bath bombs, body wash, or lotion

34) how your favorite restaurant got its name

35) how to throw cards

36) how to do origami

37) how to make balloon animals

38) how to paint

39) how to crochet or knit

40) how to sew