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How to Acquire New Skills Later in Life by Embracing Your Curiosity

You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Is that true?

You can acquire new skills by doing one thing, and that’s leveraging your curiosity. The problem is that your innate curiosity waned as you’ve gotten older and wiser.

You think you know the answers to almost every question, and cynicism has replaced inquisitiveness. It’s probably why you like watching the news now. You aren’t looking for new ideas. You want your current positions reinforced, and that’s precisely what the news does for you.

Curiosity versus ambition

W​hen you were a child, curiosity ruled your world. Every new experience resulted in more questions. That’s why kids are always asking, “Why?” They want to know how things work and where stuff comes from. Their minds are sponges waiting to absorb any new information.

S​lowly, your curiosity turned to ambition. You understood enough information to know what you wanted. Your new task was figuring out what to do to get it.

Throughout early adulthood, ambition becomes the driving force in your life.

You may say that you were never an overly ambitious person. Your desire wasn’t to become a billionaire or cure cancer, but everyone has ambitions. Maybe you focused on simpler goals like getting married and having children. Whatever it was, something motivated you in one way or another.

A​long the way to chasing your dreams, your curiosity dissipated as you no longer had time for the notions of a child.

Memorization versus understanding

Another reason you lost your curiosity is how schools forced you to learn.

Most high school and college classes ask you to regurgitate what you’ve read or observed in a lecture. They wanted you to memorize the information to pass a test. Being curious and questioning your classwork was often discouraged.

School programmed you to memorize a subject’s facts and figures instead of understanding its how and why.

It​’s no wonder you don’t think learning anything as an older adult is possible. The last thing you want to rely upon is your memory.

Novelty equals curiosity

Novelty is essential for your mind’s curiosity. Your brain says, “Ooh, something new and exciting. Let’s learn more.”

It’s challenging to find curiosity within the boundaries of prior knowledge. If you have been an engineer for the past thirty years, something related might interest you but rarely excites you.

O​n the other hand, if you were an engineer who played his first game of pickleball and had a blast, you’re likely excited at the thought of learning and getting better at the game.

Remember that acquiring new skills works the same way for playing pickleball as learning calculus. Not every new skill needs to have a financial reward attached. Fun trumps value.

Find something new that intrigues you, and curiosity comes naturally.

Curiosity is fluid

Embracing your curiosity can often feel like shiny object syndrome. You may have the attention span of a golden retriever on a squirrel farm, and that’s okay.

Once you dig a little more deeply into a subject, it may no longer interest you. Look for something new again, and keep working on your curiosity muscle. Eventually, you’ll stumble across the one thing you can’t learn enough about.

W​hen you find it, you’re off to the races to acquire new skills.

S​kill development

Understand that learning a new skill later in life is not an overnight process. You’ll need more repetition than when you were younger, and there may be a ceiling to your abilities.

Use these tips to help guide you through the learning process:

  1. Have patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your origami dragon. Consistency is the key to your new skill, and consistency takes time.
  2. Record your progress. Improvement at anything is gradual. You’ll need to keep a record or photograph like a before and after so you can visualize your improvement.
  3. Use multiple resources. Read books. Watch videos. Join groups. Take classes. Share your passion. Whatever it takes. Immerse yourself in your new skill.
  4. T​each. One of the best ways to demonstrate and practice your new skill is by teaching it to others. If your skills are still fundamental, teach children. You’ll learn more when others ask questions.

Learning a new skill is highly beneficial to ward off the ravages of aging: new projects and knowledge exercise your mind and muscles to keep you pliable.


W​hat are you curious about today? What are you doing to act upon it?



Take care, even down there.

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