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How learning skills can help your mental health

The benefits of learning new skills are many, including being introduced to new ways of thinking and doing things, growing in confidence, becoming more adaptable, and having more to share.
Learning a new skill can also help with overall relaxation, simply because the process can lift you out of a rut and disrupt usual patterns of behaviour, including those which might be bad for your mental health. Moreover, it can give a busy mind a bit of respite by giving it something different to work on. For a while, it can help you “forget yourself” while strengthening your abilities.

Boosting confidence

It can also be an excellent boost to your self-esteem. Why shouldn’t it? After all, learning new skills might put you on track to meet new challenges. If the skill being learnt has a social dimension, it can help you connect with others and improve your interactions.
Mindfulness is all about creating focus, and learning new skills certainly has the potential to provide that. If a skill is to be fully acquired, often that requires discipline and some absorption in its subject matter. That creates a sense of purpose. Connecting with a concrete or higher goal is satisfying. Merely being involved in an activity does not produce the benefits of improved mental health. Rather, when that activity has a sense of purpose and achievement, it can produce a form of happiness. Psychologists call this “mastery” – the desire to control our lives and make progress.

Learning to let go

Learning new skills can also sharpen the opposite ability: to “go with the flow”, which is the stage we must pass through when we are not competent in new skills but remain committed to their acquisition. To “flow” is a form of resilience – a sense that we can ride the wave towards our goals. Acknowledging you still have things to learn can bring humility, itself a potential source of calm and perspective. The key is not to be frightened or daunted by the scale of what you learn but to embrace the change. Plan your learning while accepting that, on certain days, it may not go as envisaged. Learning itself is empowering and can help your mental health, but so is your approach to learning.
If you are considering learning a new skill within your career life we have some great tips on how to ask your employer for training here.

Make it just manageable

Learning beyond your capabilities is usually stressful and can be counterproductive. The important thing is to achieve goals which are “just manageable”, the psychologist term for ensuring that your challenges are just right for you to achieve.
Learning encourages curiosity. Connecting new ideas is creative and playful – again, it can make your thinking more elastic and adaptable.
Most scientists believe there is a positive relationship between lifelong learning and staying socially active and happy later in life.
Finally, there can be an element of “use it or lose it” to your mental health. Your brain is a muscle, and when you learn, you keep it exercised and fitter. You tone up your primary organ in life’s quest to be fulfilled.

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