Learning new skills: the secret to a happy, more confident you
If you thought you left learning behind in your GCSE textiles class, think again. Learning is a lifelong skill, albeit one we get rusty at with age. But – while it’s easy to fall out of the classroom habit when life takes over – it’s also a shame, since learning is like gold dust for the soul.
Even better, you can tap this magical juice via a torrent of workshops, courses and outings available with Virgin Red, the new rewards club from Virgin. Here’s why learning is quite so powerful when it comes to confidence and happiness – and how to make the most of it as a Virgin Red member.
Sharpen your cognitive abilities
Feel like your brain is turning to mush as you get older? It’s not paranoia, it’s a fact – but learning new skills can help reverse the process. Whether you’re discovering a new language or getting to grips with a surfboard (watch those waves!), research shows that the act of learning boosts your brain’s "cognitive reserves". Cue: a more alert, focused and responsive you.
Dial up your confidence
Think of learning as a special sauce for confidence. Once you start getting into the swing of your new skill, your self-esteem will bloom – as you surprise yourself with what you’re capable of. “Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy. It can also be a way of connecting with others too,” Vanessa King, positive psychology expert at Action for Happiness tells Psychologies magazine. “As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress.”
Make happiness your truth
Given learning is so closely tied to confidence and cognitive development, it makes sense that it sparks happiness, too. This 2008 study shows that dopamine, the body’s pleasure hormone, is closely linked to the learning process. This is especially true if you get into a state of flow where you’re deeply focused on the task at hand – to the point where you lose all track of time.
Start small to widen your world
Really then, learning new skills is about expanding your horizons. Rather than being stuck in the same old routine – something we’re more apt to do as we grow older – learning means you find new meaning in life. You build up new abilities, and by doing so discover new things about yourself and the world at large.
You don’t have to embark on some huge new project to access this power of learning, either. Any little skill will do – in fact, it may be better to start small with skills you can realistically tackle in day-to-day life.
This approach chimes with Sir Richard Branson’s latest autobiography, Finding My Virginity; a book that’s all about the thrill of trying something new for the first time.
“If you’re not sure what you fancy trying, start small,” he says, in tips inspired by the read. “There will be many options on your doorstep. Go to a library – check out a cookbook and try making a few recipes, or loan a book in a genre you would never normally read.”
Also, he says, “Persevere. Don’t give up on something straight away – it’s rare that people are good at something the first time they try it. When I tried to surf with Sam on his gap year, I fell over more times than I can count. It’s tough work swimming out to big waves and using a lot of energy to just fall over, time and time again. But eventually you stand up, and what a feeling! The feeling of achievement is so worth the feeling silly as you learn.”
When he puts it like that, it’s easy to see how your world can expand and rise up like a balloon – one little skill at a time.
Supersize your skill set with Virgin Red
At Virgin Red, there are all kinds of skills in the mix to begin learning with, with help from our friends at Virgin Experience Days. Here’s just a flavour of what you can spend your points on:
Learn a new language – 5,250 points
Spanish. Mandarin. Greek. A myriad of adventure awaits with Virgin Red’s online language courses – ready for you to take on the world.
Learn the art of jewellery making – 26,000 points
Learn how to make chocolate truffles – 5,250 points
Who’s for chocolate? Tickle your tastebuds with this online truffle-making session from expert chocolatiers. Naturally, you get to eat the fruits of your labour, too.
Learn to play golf – 17,500 points
Learn the basics of PT – 5,250 points
Mooting a change of career? This online diploma in fitness and anatomy could be the leaping off point to a bold new you.
Learn how to race a dumper truck – 8,750 points
Discover more skills you can learn – from the wild to the wacky and the downright wonderful – via Virgin Red, the new rewards club from Virgin that revolves around you.