From those that I have spent time with on-on-one, most people don’t really think too much about how they learn. I’m not talking about formal education, but how they learn how to live in relationships. They just subconsciously adopt ways to think and act around others.

Generally, you may think that learning comes naturally. You listen to someone speak either in conversation and you simply absorb what they are saying, right? Maybe so, Maybe no. I find that as I get older, real learning takes more effort. The more I have filled my brain with facts, figures, and experience, the less room I have for new ideas. Plus, now that I have lived more than a few decades I have all sorts of opinions that may discredit the ideas being presented just because I have an opposing opinion. Knowing that, I’m trying to stay open to ideas that are different than what I have carried around for years.

For me to mature, to respond to my environment more often in an appropriate manner, the desire to do so should always outweigh my desire to be right. The world is changing and new ideas pop up every day; incorporating them into my life will keep me engaged with life in a way that is exciting. It’s about being aware of the correct time and place to behave and knowing when to act, according to the circumstances around me. By taking the position of being a student, a clearer comprehension of life’s purpose has developed and all of that contributes to the feeling that life is meaningful.

The following are the methods I use to stay open and think critically; which is really just another way of saying I am teachable. I’ve shown these to others people because they have benefited myself by trying them out; they may just work for you too, no matter how old you may be.

Try to Quiet Your Inner Voice

It’s that little voice that offers up a commentary when you are listening to someone. It’s the voice that brings up your own opinion about the information being provided; so it’s judging instead of observing. And it is all too easy to pay more attention to the inner voice than the person who is speaking. That voice often keeps you from listening openly for good information and can often make you shut down before you have heard the entire premise. Focus less on what your brain has to say and more on the speaker. Seek similarities instead of differences. You may be surprised at what you discern by trying to discover a commonality with another soul.

Challenge Your Thoughts

If you can’t quiet the inner voice, and just observe, use your busy mind to your advantage. Every time you hear yourself contradicting the person speaking, pause. Consider all the reasons why the speaker may be correct and you may be wrong. In the best case you may open yourself to the information being provided. If that doesn’t work, you will have at least strengthen your own viewpoint.

Get Curious

Next time you are listening to someone share some new information, try to ask relevant questions. If you are listening instead of thinking about what you will say, you’ll likely learn more, and the action of thinking up questions will help process the concepts in your brain.

Focus on the Message; Not the Messenger

Often people shut out learning due to the person who’s delivering the information. Whether it’s a boring lecturer, someone physically unappealing, or a member of the opposite political party, the person presenting the message often impacts your learning. Even friends can disrupt the learning process since there may be too much history and familiarity to see them as an authority on a topic. Separate the material from the provider. Pretend you don’t know the person or their beliefs so you can hear the information objectively.

Look, you’re a human, I’m a human. We’re breathing the same air. We all have problems and we’re trying to get through our day doing the best we can. That means learning not just how to get by, but also get along. If that can happen, your life will be better because perhaps one of the best ways to evaluate the quality of a person’s life is by examining the quality of their personal relationships.