How to Learn Something New Every Day to Stay Sharp (and Interesting)

Life is rarely boring if you're open to discovering new things. Here's how to learn something new every day so your mind is always active—and your conversation always sparkling.

different plants growing under each day of the week garden markerTMB Studio

We spend a lot of years in the classroom acquiring all kinds of knowledge. But as time goes on, we humbly discover on a daily basis that there’s so much more we don’t know. Intellectual curiosity is a wonderful thing: Research shows that people who engage in mentally and socially stimulating activities throughout their lives and learn something new every day reduce their risk for cognitive decline.

You can find a hobby, read through this book list or learn a new language, but those aren’t the only ways to acquire more smarts on the regular. Learning something new every day is an achievable goal we can all get behind. If you’re keen on discovering how to be smarter, here’s how you can make it easier.

Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for knowledge, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.

Benefits of being a lifelong learner

Not only will you improve your odds of crushing it at Jeopardy!, there are many other perks to gaining more knowledge and having a broader perspective. Here are some of the benefits of being a lifelong learner.

It enriches your life

The more knowledge you weave into your life, the more textured the fabric of your personality becomes. People are drawn to those who have interesting ideas, and there’s a good chance you’ll meet new people when you have a broader perspective. According to the Pew Research Center, 74% of adults are considered personal learners, meaning they advance their knowledge about something that personally interests them. And 80% of personal learners say they sought out knowledge in an area of personal interest because they wanted to make their life more interesting and full.

It boosts your confidence

Learning new ideas and skills can work wonders for your self-esteem. When you know that you can learn something new—not to mention retain it and use it later—it gives you that push you need to continue your daily intellectual journey. And when you contribute interesting information to conversations with friends or co-workers, you can take pride in showing them how wise you are. If you’re looking for other ways to boost your faith in yourself, here are 100-plus confidence quotes that will inspire you in your future learning.

It makes you more open-minded

Learning new things helps you develop critical thinking skills that can widen your world. The more you know, the broader your perspective will be, and the more engaged you will become with a wider range of people and cultures. When you know more about the background of a different country, for example, you can have a deeper appreciation for their traditions and experiences. Even if you think you’re already pretty empathetic, being open-minded can help you grow your emotional intelligence.

It helps you advance your career

More knowledge doesn’t just better for your personal growth, it can boost your paycheck too. According to Walden University, only 25% of hiring managers say that job seekers have the skills their company needs. If you want to get a raise, a promotion or want to pivot to a career in a new industry, it’s worth taking the time to acquire any additional skills listed on the job posting. And you don’t need to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree to do that. Free online learning opportunities can help you sparkle in a sea of résumés.

How to learn something new every day

Head Sculpture With Flowers On pink Background. Creative Positive Thinking Concept. Minimal Mental Health Awareness Month. Psychology, Emotional Wellness, Progress, Flowering, Work On Yourself IdeaTanja Ivanova/Getty Images

If you’re stumped for ideas on how to acquire knowledge on the regular, here are a few thoughts on how to do it. And spoiler alert: It doesn’t mean you need to bury your nose in a book.

Be more present

We’re all busy these days, and it’s quite possible that new ideas and concepts we’re exposed to are just flying right over our heads. If you’re in a conversation with someone who is talking about something you don’t know anything about, deeply engage instead of checking out and letting your attention roam elsewhere. Stay present by actively listening and asking questions. If you’re watching an informative documentary on a streaming channel, put your phone in another room. That way, the program will have your full attention. It’s tough to retain information when you’re distracted by something else, and cell phones are perhaps the biggest thieves of our trains of thought. Work on improving your focus without a phone in sight.

Expand your circle of friends

Different people know different things. So when you make an effort to chat with folks you don’t already know, you may find that you’re exposed to a lot of new ideas. If you take classes in person, meeting people will be a no-brainer. If you’re not taking an in-person class, seek out opportunities to be in the company of information-seeking others. Join a book club, go to a lecture at your local community center or volunteer for an organization that does work with which you’re unfamiliar.

Break out of your tired routine

You’re not going to learn something new every day if you don’t bust out of your daily grind. It can be comforting to have a set routine, but it can also close you off to fresh perspectives and new learning opportunities. If change isn’t your thing, start small by taking a new route to work. That change of scenery very well may expose you to a new idea or concept about which you’d like to learn—in fact, visual-spacial intelligence is a type of intelligence that works hand-in-hand with creativity. Over time, you’ll develop a daily habit of learning through exposure to different ideas, locations and activities.

Steps to learning

Learn Something New Trophy Vine Soil Midjourney2023 Ml 1AI Generated Image (2023)/Midjourney

Acquiring knowledge doesn’t happen without a little bit of effort, but it’s well worth the reward. Here are some basic steps to make learning simpler and more streamlined.

Step 1: Decide what you want to know

The world is a big place, with a lot of things to discover, so it can help to narrow down what you’re interested in. Make a list. Was there a class you never took in college—let’s say archeology—that you’ve always regretted? Maybe you’d like to learn more about tech to keep up with your offspring? It’s far easier to retain new information when we really connect with the topic. And who knows, if you enjoy math riddles, maybe algebra will be more fascinating to you now than it was in 8th grade.

Step 2: Set goals

If you want to learn something new every day, then it helps to set an intention on how to make that happen. A huge part of learning—and sticking to goals—is adopting good habits. Goals should be realistic; you’re not going to learn how to speak French in a week—or how to dance Swan Lake that quickly either. Creating a doable action plan can help keep you on track. If setting and achieving goals doesn’t come naturally to you, bone up on even more goal-setting strategies.

Step 3: Set aside time for it

This one can be the trickiest part. If your daily calendar is already jam-packed, ask yourself if there’s anything you can trim away. Do you really need to scan your social media for an hour every evening after work? Maybe you can dedicate half of that time to reading a few in-depth news articles about current events instead. If there’s really no wiggle room in your day, consider listening to an educational podcast on your way to or from work. If you’d rather spend your commute puzzling out your detective skills, consider the best true-crime podcasts.

Where to go to learn for free

Fortunately for all of us, the existence of the internet means you don’t have to go farther than your phone or laptop—and don’t have to write a huge tuition check—to acquire more knowledge. You just need not be distracted by adorable hedgehog videos. Here are some of the best free places to learn new skills and big ideas, according to what you want to know.

To learn a new language: DuoLingo

Maybe you’re not the best at learning how to remember things and that high school Spanish knowledge has gone out the window. Or maybe you just always wanted to learn Italian and never had the opportunity. You can choose from more than 35 languages with DuoLingo, and you can practice in just a few minutes a day. The lessons are broken down into digestible chunks, which makes it easier to fit learning into your lunch hour or an evening to yourself. The free website or mobile app tracks your progress to help you stay on track.

To brush up on existing knowledge: Khan Academy

Khan Academy is an online platform that provides free access to high-quality learning materials. There are interactive exercises, instructional videos and other resources to help you re-learn math, computer science, history, economics, improve your vocabulary and more. The lessons break down complicated subjects into simplified concepts, making them easier to digest.

To boost your personal growth: TED Talks

TED Talks are short and often inspiring free videos that are created and shared by reliable experts in a wide variety of subjects. Watching them will help you stay current on the latest trends and developments in whatever your field of interest may be. Topics range from activism to industrial design and work-life balance, and there’s something for everyone to learn. If you get hooked, you can pay for a membership to unlock access to live events and ad-free podcasts.

To sharpen your professional skills: LinkedIn Learning

Whether you want to build on what you already know or pick up some new career skills, LinkedIn Learning is a web or mobile app platform where you can access more than 20,000 online courses taught by industry professionals. You can start off with a free one-month trial. An annual membership is $20 per month, or you can pay $40 per month if you don’t want a longer commitment.

To learn to code: Codecademy

Coding is one of the most in-demand skills of the 21st century. Even if you don’t want a job in the tech world, there’s certainly no downside to knowing it. Codecademy was created to make coding engaging and accessible for as many people as possible. You can take classes in Python, JavaScript or several other computer-programming languages, or you can choose a career path, and they’ll teach you the skills you’ll need for that line of work. Their basic plan is free, but they also have a Plus plan for $17.49 per month and a Pro plan for $30 per month.


Cathy Garrard
Cathy Garrard is a lifestyle writer and editor who covers a broad range of topics including nutrition, health news, beauty and celebrities. She is also a gardening enthusiast, a bicycle lover and an adjunct instructor at NYU who teaches classes on fact-checking and media literacy.