The 8 subtle traits that set lifelong learners apart

Graduation from high school or university can actually be the start of learning even more. 

After all, there’s no greater teacher than life experience and learning on your own.

Here are the most important subtle traits that set lifelong learners apart. 

1) Endless curiosity 

First of all in terms of the key but subtle traits that set lifelong learners apart is having endless curiosity. 

There is such a thing as being very curious but only up to a point. 

Endless curiosity, by contrast, is not easily satisfied and keeps mulling things over and looking for more details and insights. 

For example, you are given a tour of an apple cider farm and find it enjoyable and the cider delicious. 

The tour has nothing to do with your career but is purely out of enjoyment of cider and spending time with your family who you’ve taken along. 

In addition to learning about the production process, apple selection and other angles of the business, you take a keen interest in the apple cider industry as a whole. 

Is it growing? Where? What is driving growth or reduction in the space? What demographics does the cider farm market to mainly? 

Are there abilities to start changing up flavors and make even more unique types of cider or succeed with products like watermelon wine?

As long as you’re thinking about it you have more questions and more learning to do

2) Childlike wonder 

Next up in subtle traits of a person who never stops learning is childlike wonder. 

This is different than curiosity, because it’s not intellectual in any real sense. 

Wonder is more of an emotional or spiritual reaction. 

Take two adults seeing a large double rainbow in the sky:

One with a jaded sense of wonder shrugs and says “beautiful, nice,” and then goes back to her cellphone. 

The other with a childlike sense of wonder still intact gasps sincerely “that is so incredibly beautiful.” She then stands there for ten minutes mouth agape and even maybe gets tears in her eyes. 

This is the difference. 

Childlike wonder is a state of being, and it’s a way of opening your eyes to the world around you in terms of natural beauty, people and situations. 

It prepares you to open your ears and more importantly open your heart to new experiences and lessons. 

3) Open mindedness 

Part of this wonder and sense of curiosity includes some necessary open-mindedness

The mind is open to learning new information, seeing new sights and sounds and making new friends. 

Open mindedness only goes so far, of course. 

We all need limits and boundaries we won’t cross, including unethical or harmful behavior. 

But open mindedness in the most beneficial sense is a definite plus. 

This means being willing to hear somebody out even if you don’t agree, taking a chance on a new activity or subject that seems odd to you at first, and so on. 

When you’re open you can actually experience something before reaching any conclusions about it. 

4) Sociable and affable

There are lifelong learners who are more on the introverted side and more on the extroverted. 

But as a general rule, one of the subtle traits that set lifelong learners apart is their affable nature. 

They can get along with almost anyone and strike up a conversation or casual interaction at the drop of a hat. 

Even if they’re shy, they don’t shy away from new experiences and ideas, and they find their own way of continuing to learn in life whether that means going to the library, playing chess every day or learning how to play complex and fascinating music. 

5) Verbal and visual intelligence 

little phrases to sound more intelligent The 8 subtle traits that set lifelong learners apart

Part of the lifelong learners toolbox is his or her verbal intelligence. 

Part of the task of becoming a lifelong learner is being able to listen, read and absorb information in a very thorough way. 

This can extend to learning languages, learning about new religions, exploring new cultures or even researching archaeological digs or geological phenomena. 

The point is that a combination of verbal and visual intelligence is necessary to maximize lifelong learning. 

The verbal comes in with being able to listen and read effectively and communicate back to learn more, and the visual comes with many pursuits and knowledge that are absorbed through keen perception and observation. 

6) Conversational flair

As I mentioned in the last point, conversation is a key part of lifelong learning. 

Even if they are not much of a talker or an extrovert, the lifelong learner is adept at getting something out of a conversation. 

The same goes for remarks they hear or are privy to, including conferences or online presentations. 

Where other audience members may hear the basic teachings or information, the lifelong learner feels called to explore even more deeply, often getting into subjects even more profoundly. 

It all starts with conversation or at least being able to understand and take value from conversations around you, in many cases. 

This brings up the next point:

7) Active listening

Lifelong learners are like bugs with sensitive long antennae. 

They hear everything. 

I remember as a child I wouldn’t hear what my mom told me face to face, but I’d hear every word she said three rooms away down the hall at night when she talked on the phone. 


Because I wasn’t supposed to, which made it more interesting to me. I guess my journalistic instincts were formed at an early age.

But the point is:

Active listening is a hallmark of learning for your whole life. The more you listen the more you know! 

8) Investigative patience

Lastly in terms of the subtle traits that set lifelong learners apart is investigative patience. 

This means that you have patience when trying to find something out. 

For example, when searching online to find out more about how the stock market works or why Northern Ireland had a low-level civil war from 1968 to 1998, you put in the time. 

The first Wikipedia or executive summary piques your interest, but you dig deeper and read some in-depth articles, juggle different perspectives from opinion writers and maybe watch a documentary or two. 

You also put in the time and have the patience to read about potential links between topics and alternative analyses. 

For example, maybe you look at an analysis of the stock market as a reflection or driver of economic growth and then another report which analyzes the stock market as driving wealth bubbles in most nations. 

Or you may look at the Troubles in Northern Ireland through the lens of religion, class demographics, colonialism or military history, gleaning different insights and ideas in each case. 

The bottom line is that you take the time and have the patience to really investigate and learn about things and go beneath their tidy, binary surfaces. 

The limits of learning

There are really no limits to learning. 

Every day is a new experience to observe, learn and think about numerous people, places, topics and subjects that come up. 

Just make sure that you get plenty of rest and spend enough time physically active to counterbalance mental activity. 

At the same time, always keep that sense of wonder and curiosity alive and follow where it leads. 


Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on and visit his website at

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