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Take a second and think about your life, and all the energy you’re putting in to make it incredible: The marriage, the job, the house, the kids, the summer vacation plans. Are you comfortable with where your life is right now?

If you are, I’d take that as a warning sign. I’ll always advocate for confidence and owning your strengths, your weaknesses and where you are in life, but here’s the key: You should never be 100 percent comfortable. If you’re completely comfortable with who you are, you’re not testing yourself. We all have room to improve.

Now take a second and think about what you want to learn. Maybe it’s a new language, a musical instrument or something seemingly as simple as some breathing exercises to get you through the day. Focus on what will present a challenge and make you uncomfortable. Focus on what will make you better.

Because now you’re going to teach yourself.

The importance of Self-Education

I’ll throw out a term here you may not have heard of: an autodidact. That’s a person who self-teaches, and there are plenty of them who have made successful lives and careers out of the ability to teach themselves and asking the world questions without the constraints of institutional learning.

Don’t know any? Sure you do. Kurt Cobain taught himself to play guitar, and David Bowie taught himself how to play more than four instruments without lessons. The Wright Brothers never graduated high school, and Henry Ford never attended college. Malcolm X taught himself a range of topics – and memorized the dictionary to bolster his vocabulary – while he was in prison.

And autodidacts don’t just learn more by stepping out of their comfort zone, they also see a series of impressive health benefits from the process. Studies have shown that lifelong learners have an easier time dealing with the most significant effects of aging, including a reduction in cognitive decline. Plus, those committed to teaching themselves new skills throughout their life see a reduced risk of age-related conditions like depression and dementia decrease.

How to Become an Autodidact

So how exactly are you going to find time to do this? An eight-hour workday, a house full of kids, and a small window of time for yourself.  I get it, but you know how I feel about excuses. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, so here’s what you can do to make some time to learn something new.

First, set aside time for learning. You already do that to call a coworker or client, go for a trail run or watch TV with your kids. Do the same with your learning. Listen to a podcast on the drive home or work through a textbook on your lunch break. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram before bed, try an app that actually teaches you something like Duolingo, Lumosity, or SpartanFit App.

Next, figure out what learning style fits you best. Think back to high school or college: did you prefer diagrams or PowerPoint presentations to explain new ideas? Did you like reading directly from the textbook? Were you more of a hands-on learner?

If you don’t know your learning style yet, it’s worth a few minutes to figure it out. Once you determine how you best consume new information, you won’t waste any time learning in ways that don’t suit how you operate. Being an autodidact gives you the upper hand in each lesson—it’s your time and your rules.

Lastly, learn when it’s best for you. According to some studies, the best time for learning something new is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and then again from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. I know some of you are night owls and others are early risers, and you know your body’s internal clock best. Are you most alert right when you wake up in the morning? Or is your capacity for learning new information highest in the evening?

Don’t Do It Alone

I surround myself with colleagues and thought-leaders who are stronger, quicker, and wittier than me for a reason. And the older I get, the more I realize that taking initiative and teaching yourself is how to get on the same level as the leaders in the room, and that’s why  I started SpartanX Leadership events. I hand-pick each speaker because I always learn something from their stories, and you can too.

I teach myself mental strength, endurance, and conflict by watching other self-learners do the same. Take it from a CEO who’s in charge of hiring: your ability to self-teach sets you apart from those who don’t care.

Stop accepting where you’re at. Start working on who you want to become.

Tweet me where you’re at on your self-learning journey and how I can help.

Want more hard-hitting advice on resiliency, leadership, and whole-body health?

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Aroo!