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Why do we stop learning?

We are born with an innate curiosity and desire to learn. As children, we constantly ask questions and soak up new information like sponges. However, as we grow older, many of us lose that passion for learning. Why is that? What causes us to stop exploring, discovering and acquiring new skills as adults? There are several potential reasons.

School Burnout

For many, the joy of learning is gradually extinguished by the repetitive routine of school. The structured environment of classrooms, tests and grades can sap creativity and lead to boredom. By high school or college, students are often fatigued with academics and cannot wait to be done with formal education. This school burnout can make people associate learning with tedium rather than enjoyment. Even as adults, the thought of signing up for a class or studying a textbook may fail to excite us due to those past experiences.

Negative Self-Perceptions

As we grow up, we develop beliefs about our own abilities and intelligence. If you have been led to think you are “not a math person” or “just not good at art,” you are less likely to step outside your comfort zone and try learning new skills in those areas. Negative self-talk and fear of failure can hold us back from acquiring knowledge outside of our predefined strengths. Adults may unconsciously decide they are too old to pick up certain abilities.

Lack of Necessity

Children must constantly learn and absorb information to navigate the world. But as we age, it is easier to rely on our existing knowledge and skillset. If you already know how to cook a few basic meals, you may see no need to learn new recipes. If you have found a stable career, you may lack motivation to learn new job skills. Without an obvious necessity or incentive, it can be tempting to coast by rather than continuing to actively acquire knowledge.

Limited Free Time

As children, we had abundant free time in which to learn, explore and ask questions about the world. But adults are often extremely busy juggling work, families and other responsibilities. When free time is limited, it becomes precious. Many prefer to spend it relaxing rather than learning something new that would require substantial mental effort. After a long work week, vegging out in front of the TV is often more appealing than cracking open a textbook.

Declining Brain Plasticity

There is evidence that the brain’s neuroplasticity – its ability to form new neural connections – declines with age. While neuroplasticity exists across the entire lifespan, young developing brains may be especially primed for soaking up new information. As we get older, it may take more time and effort to learn and retain information. This biological change could thereby discourage older adults from dedicating energy towards active learning.

Over-Reliance on Technology

The information age has made knowledge extremely accessible. Nearly any fact or skill can be “Googled” in an instant. While technology has undeniable learning benefits, it also eliminates much of the need to recall and retain information mentally. Some experts argue that constant technology use impedes our abilities to actively focus, think critically and problem-solve. Over-reliance on smartphones and the internet as our external brains may detrimentally impact neural connections forged through active learning.

Social and Cultural Forces

Societal expectations and social group influence can also discourage learning. Many cultures primarily associate adulthood with working and providing rather than actively acquiring new skills and knowledge. When social groups celebrate entertainment and leisure over intellectual pursuits, individuals may be less inclined to devote time to learning. Retirement is often marketed as a time for relaxation, not enrollment in classes and rigorous mental engagement. Social norms play a key role in shaping our attitudes towards learning throughout life.

Benefits of Lifelong Learning

While many forces conspire to reduce learning in adulthood, making a dedicated effort to keep acquiring new skills and knowledge has numerous benefits:

  • Boosts brain health and may help delay cognitive decline
  • Makes you more adaptable to change, from career transitions to new technologies
  • Provides a sense of purpose and engagement with the world
  • Helps you connect with others who share your interests
  • Allows you to discover new passions and talents
  • Enhances well-being and life satisfaction

Lifelong learning is rewarding at any age. It exercises critical neural pathways and enhances mental acuity regardless of previous academic performance. You do not need to be conventionally smart or young to benefit.

Tips for Cultivating Lifelong Learning

How can you defeat inertia and rekindle that childhood love of learning? Here are suggestions:

Find your motivation

Start by identifying what you hope to gain, whether it is professional development, personal fulfillment or fun. Having a purpose will fuel engagement.

Begin with curiosity

Let your interests guide you rather than judging yourself. Rediscover the joy of following your curiosity without worrying about aptitude.

Focus on process, not product

The process of learning is rewarding in itself. Don’t let pressure for external results like grades or accolades keep you from learning.

Start small

Learning feels more attainable when broken into small bites. Take a single class or commit to 15 minutes of study per day.

Find a community

Shared learning is motivating. Study groups, book clubs or online forums can provide inspiration and accountability.

Mix up your methods

Combine online courses, books, in-person workshops, documentary films, museum visits, lectures and more. Variety boosts engagement.

Make it social

Turn learning into opportunities for connection. Take a class with a friend or learn about your family history.

Apply and practice

Engage kinesthetic and tactile learning via activities, experiments and hands-on applications to cement knowledge.

Get some quick wins

Mastering small, concrete skills quickly can build confidence and momentum. Learn to change your oil or solve a Rubix cube.

Weave learning into life

Integrate learning into everyday routines like listening to podcasts during your commute or reading over breakfast.

Make it fun

Play trivia games, visit museums with interactive exhibits, take recreational classes and seek out edutainment opportunities.

Overcoming Obstacles to Lifelong Learning

Implementing lifelong learning strategies can require overcoming ingrained obstacles:

Defeating internalized messages

Negative self-talk often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Challenge notions like “I’m not smart enough to learn this” or “I don’t have time for a class.”

Finding energy and motivation

Accept that you may need to summon extra willpower to overcome lifelong learning barriers, especially when tired or stressed. But focus on the positive reasons you want to learn.

Pushing past discomfort

Learning something entirely new requires moving beyond your comfort zone. Allow yourself to make mistakes and be imperfect during the learning process.

Balancing obligations

Juggling work and family while learning can be challenging. You may need to temporarily reduce other commitments to make time for learning.

Tuning out naysayers

Some individuals may subtly or overtly discourage your continued learning. Politely disregard unsupportive perspectives.

Changing habits and mindset

Adopting a lifelong learning lifestyle may entail shifting daily routines and ingrained assumptions that knowledge acquisition is just for school.

With persistence, you can overcome any obstacles. View difficulties as merely part of the learning process itself. Reward small successes to build momentum.


While our enthusiasm for structured education may wane over time, learning itself should never stop. The advantages of lifelong learning far outweigh the effort required. By making learning a self-directed journey centered on curiosity and personal enrichment, you can recapture the spark of discovery from childhood. With an incremental, steadfast and fun-focused approach, you have limitless potential to keep growing your knowledge, abilities and perspectives throughout life.