In her book “Mindset,” Carol S. Dweck introduced the concept of a fixed and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset believes that learning, intelligence, abilities, talents, and levels of achievement are fixed or set by some mechanism and cannot be changed no matter what you do as an individual. These are individuals that often see change as a threat and see learning beyond the basics as providing diminishing returns.
The growth mindset is the opposite. These people believe that intelligence, understanding, talents, abilities, and even achievement levels are all based on your effort to succeed, learn, and develop. This last group of people tends to focus on continual learning and look for ways to improve their skills, embrace change, and constantly strive to set and reach goals.
Growth Mindset, Lifelong Learning, and the Brain
Continual learning, or lifelong learning, offers more benefits than simply believing you can achieve your goals and make desired changes. Science and research show that constantly challenging yourself to learn new things has a direct impact on the brain.
People who continue to learn are able to create new neural pathways in the brain. These neural pathways not only help you to learn new things, but they help the brain function more effectively. The greater the number of neural pathways and the denser the myelin is in your brain, the more improvement an individual sees in learning new things and finding creative ways to do already learned tasks.
In other words, the more you learn, the faster and better your brain becomes at learning. People who challenge their brains to learn new and novel things tend to be more creative, have better problem-solving skills, respond better to change, and be more engaged in the world.
Diverse Learning is Best
Research also shows that the more we challenge our brains, the better our brains respond. While it may be tempting to focus on a specific subject or work-related learning activity, increasingly diverse and unique learning offers greater potential for increased positive brain health and functioning.
When planning your yearly professional development goals, consider stepping out of your comfort zone. Try learning something completely different, even if it is not work related. This creates new neural pathways and myelin (the white matter of the brain) that can help in overall performance.
Ideas for diverse learning include taking a photography or art course, learning a new language, playing chess, taking up a new sport, learning to cook, or taking a basic mechanic’s course. The more diverse and exciting the learning, the more effective it will be at motivating you to keep being a lifelong learner.