Be a Non-Stop Learning Machine

As a professional speaker and author specializing in the topic of motivation, I’m often asked, “How do I get motivated and stay motivated?” My answer is simple: Become a non-stop learning machine. I have found that learning motivates me to keep my wheels spinning. So let’s talk about learning.

At the heart of knowledge is books. When we are growing up, reading is a valued ritual: Our parents read us bedtime stories, then we discover how to read on our own, and then we pore through one book after another during our school years.

Unfortunately, many people in our society, once they graduate from high school or college, just quit learning. They say to themselves, “No more homework” and “I never have to read another book again!”

A recent attendee in one of my training programs admitted he hadn’t read a book since high school. Interestingly, commencement doesn’t mean “finished” – it means “to start.”

R.I. Reese, a former vice president of ATT, once said, “Formal education is but an incident in the lifetime of an individual. Most of us who have given the subject any study have come to realize that education is a continuous process ending only when ambition comes to a halt.”

That is also why I believe Toastmasters is so important. We all have a chance to keep learning. 


What is a learner?
I think learners can be identified by the following activities:

•  They read books. As Stephen Covey states in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “There is no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get in the habit of reading great literature. You can get into the best minds that are now or ever have been in the world.”

As a suggestion, you may want to set up a plan for your reading. Decide on how many books you are going to read every month and mark them in your planner. At the end of each month take out the planner (or P.D.A.) and check your progress. Part of your plan may also include a reading strategy. Decide what areas you need to improve in and then create a list of books that could possibly help in those areas. If you don’t know of any books on that topic, go to Amazon.com and do a search, or search the topic on a computer at your local library.


                    “Just like new computer software, every year think about upgrading to a better
                    version of you. Strive to be a You 1.0, and then a You 2.0 and then a You 3.0.”



•  They ask others. Ask other people who you know and respect about what books they are reading or have read that have had an impact on them. Write down their suggestions and head to your nearest bookstore. Some of the books that have had the most impact on my life have come at the recommendation of my friends and colleagues. 


Break the Barriers
One of the barriers to reading a large amount of books is their steep cost. There are some creative ways around that:

•  Budget for it. I’m sure that you budget for other items – think about budgeting for your own self-improvement.

•  Get a library card: Most cities or towns have a local library where books can be checked out, for little or no cost. You will then have the ability to check out books by the dozen.

•  Watch for sales: My local big-chain bookstore has a whole bargain-book area, where books can be bought for amazingly low prices. And I’ve purchased many classic books for ridiculously low prices at flea markets and thrift stores.

•  Find your local used-book store. Most communities have at least one used-book store. In my area there are two great used-book stores, and I can buy five to six books for the price of one new hardcover. Another bonus these stores have: character, which the chain book store can’t create.

•  Buying Online. Sites such as Amazon.com, half.com and BarnesandNoble.com are easy to use, and the best feature is their search capabilities. You can search for books by subject, title and author. Plus, the prices are fairly competitive and shipping is fast.


Branch Out
Reading is a great way to learn, but supplement books with activities such as:

•  Search the Net. You can use the Internet as a source of information and research. By using many of the search engines and meta-search engines, you can locate tons of valuable information on the Net. The Net is an amazing mix of Web sites, research, magazine articles and commercial services that you can subscribe to for a fee. I found an amazing site on the Internet where you can download classic old book titles from the early 1900s and late 1800s – for free! Check out www.gutenberg.org. (I am currently reading a book on motivation that I downloaded from the site; it was written in 1901!)

My main frustration with the Net is knowing exactly where to find the information. Because of the overwhelming amount of material, it makes sense to learn how to search the Web as efficiently as possible. Again, books can teach you Internet search strategies. For example, the way a topic is entered on a search engine can change the results. The rules are different with each search engine.

•  Ask Questions. When a subject comes up and you don’t understand something, ask! I have worked with many people who won’t ask a question and will pretend they know something when they clearly don’t. The only way you can get smarter is by seeking out information that you do not understand.

Seek out S.M.E.’s (subject matter experts) and tap into their expertise. Toastmasters meetings are filled with such people. My uncle, Scott Camp, is the consummate “asker.” He is always asking questions. When I tell him about my work and my life, he asks tons of questions. He’s a human sponge who soaks up information at a rapid rate, and he’s very smart. Why? Because he is a non-stop learning machine. He understands that the more questions he asks, the more he will learn.

•  Read Journals and Magazines. Continual learners subscribe to and read many different magazines every month, on many diverse topics. I highly recommend reading the magazines of your industry, publications about business, and some about success and motivation. I also would encourage you to read magazines that deal with hobbies or things you are passionate about. I read the Toastmaster magazine every month cover to cover.

Reading other people’s success stories is uplifting and motivating, because when you see people like you accomplishing amazing things, it shows that anything is possible. You’ll read about such a story and then say to yourself, “If they can do that, why can’t I?”

•  Watch Videos/DVDs. I don’t think there are many topics that don’t have DVDs that can help you learn about the topic or even gain new skills. You can even improve your golf swing or take dance lessons right in front of your TV.

•  Try New Software. There are a multitude of computer programs to help you build skills and learn in every subject from algebra to zoology. You can also practice with a regular workplace program you haven’t used before, like PowerPoint. Try the tutorial and be amazed at what you can create.

•  Listen to CDs. Maximize your time by taking advantage of the minutes and hours you spend behind your steering wheel.

As much as your local morning disc jockey can be entertaining, you are wasting precious learning time. Decide what topics you want to learn about and find CDs on them. Consider your car a “rolling classroom”!

•  Seminars and corporate training programs. Keep an eye out for seminars on self-improvement topics. Many are of high quality and reasonable in price. I have been to training programs that have been so relevant and so useful that they changed my life. If your company offers training, sign up for as many courses as you can. In general, these programs are well-developed, tested and are conducted by professionals. Take advantage of them.

•  Employee Education Assistance. Many corporations also offer educational benefits for employees. These programs often offer reimbursement for educational courses, paying for a percentage up to 100 percent. Find out if your employer offers this benefit.

•  Community Schools. Look for courses on topics that interest you at the local community college. Often, these classes are very inexpensive. 


Why You Should Keep Learning
The world is changing rapidly. So think about the possibility of reinventing yourself every year. Because the world will not stay the same, you can’t stay the same. As French philosopher Henri Bergson once said, “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”

Let’s take the example of Warren Sapp, a former professional football star. Sapp was a perennial All-Pro as a defensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But a few years ago, Sapp had a bad season and he was trying to figure out why. He studied tapes in the off- season and decided he had become apathetic, and had gotten “fat and lazy” (his words). So he decided he had to get better. He dieted, worked out, lost weight and came back the next year in the best shape of his life. If an athlete who performs at the level of Warren Sapp is willing to reinvent himself, shouldn’t we be?

Just like new computer software, every year think about upgrading to a better version of you. Strive to be a You 1.0, and then a You 2.0 and then a You 3.0. It will definitely make you feel young and more motivated. Robin Sharma, in his book The Greatness Guide, says, “There is a cure for aging that no one talks about. It’s called learning. In my mind, as long as you learn something new each day, stretch your personal frontiers and improve the way you think, you cannot grow old.”

So what are you waiting for? Do it today! Get fired up and become a non-stop learning machine! 


Shawn Doyle, ACB, is a member of Chester County Club in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. He will be the presenter at the Get Fired Up! Luncheon at the International Convention in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Friday, August 15. Reach him at sldoyle1@aol.com 

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