Many people talk about their lives as if the events in them were pre-determined, as if some force in the universe had issued a timeless decree by which the order of all things (including their lives) was prescribed and all events controlled by inevitable necessity. If you think about your life as a pre-determined product of forces over which you have no control, then you lose any chance of controlling your life.
The idea of designing one's life is a product of two insights: 1) there is a significant difference between life as it is typically lived and life as it might be lived; and 2) by deliberately changing our thinking, we can live in a manner closer to our ideal than if we uncritically allow our thinking to be shaped by the forces acting on us.
Lifelong learners are skilled thinkers who recognize the different roles that learning can play in life. There is a large difference between being passive as a learner and being active. In a passive learner's life, the only end is that of establishing habits that "work," that enable the individual to "get by." Passive learning tends toward "stagnation," for once I find something that enables me to get by, I then, as a passive learner, lack the motivation to change. What I seek in my learning is confirmation in my present beliefs, in my present judgments, and in my present behavior patterns. I seek a way of defending my status quo.
Test the Idea
In the life of a critical thinker, active learning is a tool for continually bridging the gap between what is and what could be. We then recognize the role that learning plays in our lives: establishing habits of continual improvement, of always reaching for the next level of skill, ability, and insight. Critical thinkers are lifelong learners and take charge of their experience, their learning, and the patterned behavior that defines their lives. They, in essence, "design" how they think and feel, and hence lay the foundation for how they live. They recognize that their thinking will shape their emotions and that their emotions impact their thinking. They use this recognition as a tool in self-deliberation (Figure 8.1).
Lifelong learners design their lives by becoming clear as to what their goals, problems, and options are. They think through their decisions. They give careful consideration to their options. They give explicit priorities to goals. They do not simply react to immediate imperatives, the predictable and unpredictable distractions that occur in all of our lives. They create their own imperatives by bringing their foremost goals into the center of their thoughts and actions, and create their own calendar of actions.
Though our choices are always limited, we all have a much larger range of choices than we generally recognize to be so.