You may have dreamed when you were back in school of getting through graduation and never having to go back into the classroom. Of never having to read boring classic literature. Of never having to ever again try to remember the equation for determining a rhombus. 

And if you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard from your school-age kids that they are tired of homework, tired of tests, tired of studying. You’ve probably also heard the whining, frustrating, but valid question of, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

Even if you enjoyed your years in school, it can be easy to think of the classroom environment as the primary spot and season where education takes place. But learning is something, ideally, we should be pursuing all of our lives, not just in our childhoods and early adulthoods. There are benefits to keeping a learning mindset, long after your days in the classroom are through, and researchers are finding powerful advantages for those who keep on learning. 

What is lifelong learning?

Lifelong learning is when you, of your own choice, decide to take on an approach to your personal education in personal development, in a skill you want to master, or in an area that you have curiosity about. It’s self-motivated, doesn’t necessarily involve a high cost, and can be something that you decide to teach yourself or by receiving informal instruction. It can be anything from mastering how to cook the perfect steak to teaching yourself how to navigate an intricate piece of technology or software.  

How can lifelong learning help your career?

Your job may already require you to take CE, continuing education modules. And, yes, that is a form of lifelong learning. But the learning you do on your own, for your own development and understanding, can also have a big impact on your value at work. Let’s say you want to learn more about being a great listener. You read several books, take in a couple of great podcasts, and watch a TedTalk on listening. Your interpersonal relationships at home begin to green up. And then you discover that things are going better with your team at work, as well. Seeking opportunities to learn social skills, productivity hacks, technology updates, all of it can enhance your work life as well as your personal development.

How can lifelong learning help your health?

We’re able to see more than ever how continuous learning is one of the best medicines for the brain. Dr. John N. Morris serves as the director of social and health policy research at the Institute for Aging Research. He says, “Eventually, your cognitive skills will wane and thinking and memory will be more challenging, so you need to build up your reserve. Embracing a new activity that also forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy.” And it’s not just about doing crossword puzzles. Learning a new physical activity can pack twice the punch, because the brain is learning how to move the body to do the activity, while the body is challenged and strengthened by being physical. Everything from taking that dance class to learning how to paddle board can give you double the benefit. And physical movement has also been shown to improve brain function.

How does lifelong learning help your emotional life?

The experience of discovering something new, the thrill of mastering a new skill, the motivation to try to incrementally get better at something, all of these experiences elevate mood and enhance your self-concept. Researchers have found that those who engage in learning throughout their lives, in fun, self-motivated environments, show greater levels of satisfaction in their lives and in their outlook on themselves.

Luckily, today, it’s easier than ever to find immediate resources for learning practically anything. From YouTube videos with tutorials to online courses, Wikipedia to podcasts, digital lending libraries and more, a new skill, hobby, insight, or curiosity is yours for the taking. Challenge yourself to keep your brain agile and learning. As author Anthony J. D’Angelo writes, “Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”

Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.