The effect on my life that learning has, even the very basics of a new skill, is astounding. This week-end I attended my niece’s college graduation reminding me that learning something new does not end after college. In my 40’s I was working in a dental office realizing that this gig would be ending when the dentist decided to retire. I on the other hand, would still need to work for several more years. I considered what I was passionate about and, for those who know me, of course it was exercising. That euphoric feeling I got after every bike ride or every run was something I wanted to share with others so why not make it my second career. By becoming certified in a field I already loved I found that it changed the way I exercised. Having a clearer understanding of how the muscles worked, whether it was when I was lifting weights or cycling I started to really focus on how a small movement could change my results.
Recently I attended a Personal Training conference in Washington state. Not only did I learn new things to share with my clients I also reaped some very important benefits. Learning boosts our mental agility. The brain is a muscle. By giving it new challenges and opportunities, we can maintain our mental faculties. By continuing to learn, we can slow the deterioration.
Although my brain was fulI of new ideas and information, it was tired. Because my brain was tired, I slept much better than usual. I guess you could say it too had a workout!
In terms of happiness and self- satisfaction, learning energizes me. When I am intensely absorbed in a task I lose track of time. Hours pass like minutes. There is a name for this condition: flow, coined 30 years ago by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Research has shown that people totally engaged in pursuits can trigger healthful changes in their brain chemistry and respiratory patterns.
As I get older, it is more important to find things to do that light up my life. Whether it’s acquiring a new skill, joining a new group and meeting new people, or finding ways to continue using existing skills, successful aging and longevity are built upon patterns of lifelong learning.