Learning to learn

Learning to learn

Whatever else in the world is in recession, education is advancing. With the reviews of all education levels between ‘Primary to Masters’ and ‘Life-long-learning’, humans are asking why their world is so distorted and what they can do to better equip future generations. Learning comes more easily to some than to others but even the intellectually hungry find absorbing and understanding difficult at times. Some are born curious, others have to learn the skill. A few are natural problem-solvers; most think it is someone else’s problem.

How do you ‘learn to learn’?

First establish what your purpose is. If it is solely to make money, beware. You risk having a very shallow life. ‘Risk’ because it is not inevitable. A client had made a fortune by the age of 39, enough for the rest of his life. He wanted to become a ‘Mother Teresa’. When he found he didn’t have the skills to do so he remembered that he could make money. So he decided to keep making money and give it all away. He is happily and generously doing that and enjoying life while being useful at the same time.

Happiness is everyone’s purpose. What else should our hundred or so years on earth be for? The trouble is that most people do not realise that happiness is elusive. Pursue it, as the American Constitution suggests, and you will end up discontented, as the United States is now. Give away your time, effort and money to help others and you will find happiness alights on you. But it has to be non-transactional. To give away even quite a small amount of money means that you have to be earning it in the first place. For that you need a purpose. That involves discovering your talents and working out how they can be developed to benefit others. 

Doing so is a prerequisite to finding your purpose and happiness.

Asking yourself all the questions you need to answer to establish your purpose in life is the most important single act of learning to learn. When a ploughman taught me how to make a straight furrow by finding a tree on the other side of the field he pointed my thinking to the future long enough for me to start searching for my personal Tree. I have had seven such Trees in over seventy years of working and over ninety years of living. Without that bit of learning I doubt I would have had such an interesting life – or even be alive today.

Curiosity begins at home. Being adventurous in finding out who you are and what you can do is the start of a journey of immense interest. Curiosity begins at home but it doesn’t stop there. Discovering how you work leads you to wanting to know how other people work, too. To do that we must read people. We all ‘read people’, all the time but we also continue to get it wrong more often than is acceptable or useful. Reading people is an act which combines two skills – observation and creativity. Observation is the ability to perceive and creativity is the ability to perceive relationships, so the two skills are closely linked.

Reading people better helps us to handle them. It does not mean manipulating them, though the line between handling and manipulating is a fine one. It comes down to a matter of intention and we are quite poor at judging our own intentions let alone anyone else’s. As long as our intention is genuinely to benefit the other person more than ourselves we are unlikely to stray into the area of manipulation. To handle people well we must care for them, must learn about them and must help them to stand on their own feet. 

Dependence is occasionally inevitable and we are all dependent on others for some things at some times. But independence is the most valuable asset we can have. To help others achieve independence is the best gift we can give them. We will only develop the skill of handling someone towards independence if we have one other ingredient – a personal philosophy of kindness. That requires us to respect others not for their achievements, not for their stature but for their existence. We don’t know who gave us life though we believe in many sources of it. The only thing we know for certain is that we have it.

Our thanks for life can be elaborate, enchanting and emotional – all perfectly good ways of saying thank you. The best thanks we can give is to help others help themselves.

Learning to do that is an exciting purpose.

It also teaches us how to learn.

Good morning

John Bittleston


I would very much appreciate your views on learning to learn. Please write to us at mentors@terrificmentors.com If we start to examine this now will we save the planet, the bulk of the human race or even ourselves?

29 November 2022