Whether it’s a new hobby you’re learning for fun or a skill you want to acquire for your career, learning new skills offers so many benefits for our mental health, our confidence and our ability to take on new challenges at work.
It’s all too easy to feel stagnant in our jobs when we’ve been in them for a long period of time, but learning new skills and building on those we have already acquired can work wonders for reinvigorating our passion for a subject and giving us a sense of purpose. Not convinced? Here are just a few of the reasons why you may want to consider learning a new skill and how doing so can help your mental well-being as well as your career.
It alters your brain chemistry
Learning new skills actually affects the brain and develops stronger connections between neurons, which prunes away weaker connections and helps the brain adapt to changing environments more effectively.
It’s a process known as synaptic pruning and as we gain new experiences and learn new skills, certain connections are made stronger and more resilient, while weaker ones are eliminated. When you invest your time into learning new skills, you have the opportunity to stimulate positive changes in your brain which offers many cognitive rewards as you age.
Learning opens new doors
From learning a language to building websites or understanding how to use a new type of software, learning skills open doors in a host of different industries and could help you get a better job or a promotion with your existing employer. Over the past couple of years, the world has seen an influx of vacancies in certain industries from nursing and software developers to truck drivers, where employees retiring haven’t been replaced by younger staff or applicants haven’t developed the necessary skills to take on these available roles.
Upskilling builds on existing knowledge and is one of the ways that employees can stay relevant in their industry and take on more responsibilities, whether it’s gaining new driving qualifications to fill available roles, learning how to code a new programming language or transitioning horizontally in a nursing role to use skills in a new department.
More adaptable to change
Your perceptions change when you learn new skills. It makes you see what’s possible and the potential in a challenge rather than only seeing it as a glass-half-empty situation, which increases your resilience and lowers stress. Life is full of changes, and we can’t always plan for them but being more adaptable can help us to roll with the punches and see things with a positive outlook. Having the necessary skills in your back pocket, and the knowledge that you can build on those skills if you need to makes it easier to adapt to inevitable changes that will come your way.
Helps you make connections between skills
Part of learning new skills is building on what you already know and the skills you already have. Prior information about your industry, for example, will enable you to understand related concepts and subjects far quicker than someone who is coming in completely fresh without any existing knowledge.
For staff, this is a benefit and makes it easier to learn more skills continuously – an advantage that is often overlooked but that could benefit both staff and employers. The more you learn, the faster you become at picking up these skills and this increases productivity and efficiency.
It’s a boost to your confidence
Nothing boosts your confidence quite like mastering a new skill, and it helps you feel empowered to do more, not just in your job but in life generally. You’ll feel capable in ways you didn’t before, and that’s an incredible advantage when it comes to motivating you to try new things and take on new challenges.
If you’re feeling a lack of purpose in your job or personal life, having the confidence to try something new can really help to pull you out of a slump and see things from a different perspective. You might find a new side hustle opportunity you didn’t know you had in you, or you might feel empowered to push for that promotion to take on new responsibilities. All of this wouldn’t be possible if you didn’t develop your confidence initially through skill building.
Make the most of learning new skills
Learning skills is great, but consider your “why”. There will be benefits whether it’s for work or play, but knowing why you’re pursuing these skills will keep you on track, motivated and eager to keep going when you’re strapped for time or maybe are losing momentum. Maybe you just want to pass the time or reduce stress, or maybe there’s a particular career you’d like to be in that requires these skills.
Similarly, consider the skills you want to explore and the topics that interest you. Do you want to learn another language so you can communicate with locals when you travel? Maybe you want to stretch your creative muscles by learning graphic design or perhaps you already have skills in a certain topic and you want to advance to the next level of expertise.
Lastly, consider your learning style. Visual learners may absorb information best in video format or with infographics while a learner who takes on information best by reading about it may benefit from books, online articles and research. Podcasts and audiobooks are also great ways to learn about a subject and are perfect if you want to learn while carrying out other tasks.
In order to really reap the mental health rewards of learning, stay open and receptive to the experience, and try not to pressure yourself to do everything perfectly. There will be ups and downs when you learn new skills, and there are sure to be challenges along the way, but it should be fun and enjoyable to reduce stress, build confidence and increase adaptability.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.