Make 2020 the year you learn something new, and you’ll reap the benefits (regardless of your age) says Hilary Wilce

New year, new start! Most of us feel like blowing off the cobwebs and turning to something new after an indulgent festive season. But while children and young people get this automatically as they begin their new term at school or college, adults don’t always find it so easy to do.

So why not vow to yourself to make 2020 the year you learn something new? In fact, scientists who have looked closely at the many benefits of learning say it’s one of the best things we can do for ourselves. And I know this from personal experience… 

When not writing this column, I sometimes run Writing From Wellbeing workshops, which encourage people to meet their hopes, dreams, fears and memories through writing exercises. Without exception there are participants who arrive at a workshop frazzled, scattered and worried, and then leave smiling, determined and energised from the buzz that learning and sharing something new has given them.

But here’s what the educational researchers say learning something new will do for you. It will: 

Change your brain’s structure, improving the density of its white matter, or myelin, which is known to improve performance on a range of mental tasks.

Make you smarter. Learning new things is known to help you learn other new things more quickly.

Help keep dementia at bay. This may not be your priority right now but why not invest for later?

Be fun – having fun is a known part of good mental health and resilience. Some new things will obviously be fun – learning to kite surf, say, or play the ukulele – but anything can be made fun by a skillful teacher, even basic accountancy or the classification of German verbs.

Give you a sense of confidence and achievement.  

Help you grow as a person by keeping boredom at bay, making you more interesting, giving you added skills and wisdom and helping you connect better with your children and their studies.

Give you new experiences, and help you see the world in a fresh way. An engineer I know who has taken up geology says his field study weekends have been some of his best holidays ever, and he now enjoys looking at landscapes with new understanding and insight.

Help you extend your workplace skills and give you more earning power. Your heart might not sing as you sign up for a course in systems security, but it will when you see the tangible benefits.

Help you change career. You might, through studying, become a counsellor, archeologist, doctor, or the head of your own design business – I know adults who have done all these things and been thrilled by the change. 

Make you more creative because learning something new means your brain is sparking, so that ideas spring up and feed each other.

Give you a better social life. Whether you’re learning to rock climb, speak Spanish or be a potter, there will be teachers to help you and colleagues to support you, and even doing a distance degree at home will give you online hang-outs and organised summer schools.

It will make you happier. Why? Because it will help you feel more competent, effective, connected and purposeful – and all these things are basic human needs.

So make 2020 the year you take a weekend course, join a club, book an evening class, sign up for something at work, or plan a learning holiday. Make it something you really want to do – and then get going on your own 2020 learning journey. You absolutely won’t regret it.

Use Your Brain Power

Use Your Brain Power

10 things I wish I’d known when my kids were young…

With three children now into adulthood, Hilary Wilce reflects on her experience as a mother and shares her retrospective wisdom

6th form – ask the experts

Invaluable advice from experienced teachers for every stage of education. Here we talk about Sixth Form, when important decisions have to be made. Frewen College – Hazel Lawrence, Head of Sixth Form  At this stage our kids are young adults –...

A Dietary Alternative?

Hilary Wilce shares new research into ADHD from King’s College  Anyone who has to cope with an impulsive and hyperactive child – and that’s hundreds and thousands of parents and almost all teachers – will know how challenging it is...