1. Have an open mind. Realize that opportunities for learning abound. They are everywhere if individuals can learn to recognize them for what they are. The key is to be receptive to and tolerant of new ideas, new notions and conceptual links, and the potential of embracing new challenges.
2. Reach for resources. Take advantage of the various platforms for delivering information that are available in the field of health/fitness, including books, DVDs, webinars, and social media. Keep in mind that these tools are among the most viable means for obtaining cutting-edge, up-to-date information on key topics and areas of professional concern.
3. Let your feet hit the street. Attend professional meetings, seminars, and conventions that specifically target individuals involved in the health/fitness field. While in attendance at these gatherings, be a sponge for information. Listen, learn, and absorb. Always remember that because your existing job often will not be your last job, it can be quite advantageous for you to expand your "learning envelope."
4. Learn from others. Make a strategic commitment to the fact that everyone you meet is a potential source of useful information. In that regard, everyone with whom you interact (particularly professional colleagues) can serve as a viable learning channel for you.
5. Study the pioneers in the field. Contrary to the perception of some health/fitness professionals, their field of study did not commence the day that they were born. In fact, the body of knowledge related to their profession has evolved over decades of scientific inquiry undertaken by a cadre of dedicated individuals. As the old saying goes, "when you drink the water, remember who dug the well." Considering efforts of these pioneers can provide a wellspring of thought-provoking information.
6. Expand your universe. See the world as a classroom. Look upon the actions, practices, and activities of successful individuals and organizations in other fields and endeavors as a learning resource that can be tapped to add substance, clarity, and insight into your own level of informational enlightenment. Figuratively, as well as literally, the learning opportunities in this area are boundless.
7. Be professionally active. To the degree that your situation and schedule permit, engage in an array of professional pursuits. For example, serve on a committee, be part of a writing team, accept a leadership role, and so on. In addition, share your skills and time with those outside your professional community. Be a volunteer. Make a difference. Experiences matter.
8. Master your listening and observational skills. Learn to listen with both your ears and your eyes. The ability to listen effectively is an essential aspect of communication that requires considerable personal commitment to develop - an undertaking that is more worth the effort. In addition, develop the capacity to thoughtfully observe the world around you and try to learn from the process. Make this attribute an enduring personal habit.
9. Develop a learning "bucket list." Detail a list of short- and long-term learning-related personal goals. Create a basic strategy for achieving each objective. Compile a systematic schedule for fulfilling your overall course of action. Ensure that your plan adequately addresses whatever learning-related strengths and weaknesses you may have.
10. Never be satisfied. It is not enough to simply be aware of the need for and the value of lifelong learning. In that regard, health/fitness professionals should never be content with how much they have learned. They should understand that the ever-evolving body of knowledge is an invaluable asset that should be assimilated and applied on an ongoing basis.
James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.
Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.