The most successful people strive to embody a growth mindset — a mindset that embodies the idea that we can always be better, that we should be constantly learning. But to help us achieve our goals in life and at work, learning must be purposeful.
But purposeful learning doesn’t just mean deciding you want to learn something new. It’s a path with many steps towards the summit.
Building daily learning habits is the number one way to grow professionally and personally. As Daniel Pink, author of Drive points out:
“Goals that people set for themselves and that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy. But goals imposed by others — sales targets, quarterly returns, standardised test scores, and so on — can sometimes have dangerous side effects.”
Historically, learning has occurred in big, bulky one-off experiences. Think…
- A professional development day, which is a one off, that’s not revisited
- A training session, which goes into detail once, then moves on
- A course, which covers a range of topics, that aren’t revisited
- A lecture, which covers one topic, in depth, then moves on
- A series of workshops, which end and aren’t revisited
- A book club where you read and discuss a book once, then move on
- A class, where you cover information once, that’s not revisited
Chances are you’ve attended one of these and forgotten everything you covered, talked about and discussed. But when learning is at the centre of your mindset, you’ll have the foundations and motivation to build positive learning habits.
Be open-minded about acquiring knowledge. Learn something small and put it into action every day. But that’s easier said than done. That’s why I’m bringing you a list of ten habits you can develop to become devoted to achieving mastery and learning every day.
Steps to build a daily learning habit
Although intrinsic motivation opens the door to learning, it doesn’t make learning happen. Motivation engages you with the process — as James Clear states, it’s the ‘plan for implementation’ that makes the process effective.
These ten steps provide a plan for turning learning into habit.
Use these simple steps to adopt the behaviors you need to give yourself an edge — both now and in your future.
1. Create a master timeline of your goals
Bill Gates explains that;
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Think of your goals for a five, ten, and one year period. What do you want to learn and achieve by each point in time? What’s your vision?
Write your vision down. Then understand that you won’t hit those targets exactly as you envision them now. Opportunities, life, and new knowledge will change your course.
So why do it if it is going to change? Taking the time to think about your goals will give you a sense of purpose and help you make the right decisions at challenging points in your life, because you’ll have a clear idea about what you’re working towards. This will also give you emotional security and help you feel like you’re on the right path, as well as reducing anxiety about what’s ahead.
How do you get started? Block your timeline into chunks such as months or categories. Then decide what series of skills you need to acquired along the way to meet your goals. Then order them within the blocks.
This is your master timeline. The idea here is to relieve the pressure of expectations from the overwhelming nature of the big picture while using the whole picture to guide you.
2. Design with simplicity
Big goals come from big ideas and often lead to big plans. This is not news. It comes from our tendency to overestimate what’s possible within a given timeline.
A more effective approach is to design with simplicity in mind.
For example, rather than deciding to read an entire book and implement what you’ve learnt from it, set yourself the simple goal of reading one article a week and really practicing its tenets deeply.
Take your learning in short bites. Focus on one thing at a time. Get it right, then move on to the next thing.
3. Don’t try to create more than 3 new habits at one time
Another common temptation is to bite off more than you can chew. Trying to integrate multiple new habits simultaneously is a recipe for disaster.
Our brains can only hold a small amount of information in our short-term memory. In fact, that’s why the rule of three is so effective. When you chunk information into threes, it’s more likely that people will remember it. By the same token, don’t try to develop more than three habits at a time.
A habit is the result of intentional and deliberate action performed repeatedly, with purpose, until it becomes a standard behaviour. Before you can create a habit, you have to retain it as a reminder in your short-term memory.
Attempting to develop too many habits at once will muddy your success rate. Focus on just three, master them, then start on the next set of habits to develop.
4. Start with phases and sprints
Development sprints are so successful because they’re very focused on outputs in a short amount of time. They really help focus the mind on your goals.
Once you have your theme for the month, break it down into even smaller phases of learning opportunities. Change your mindset from thinking about going “an inch wide and a mile deep”. Instead, really dive into working towards the big picture by taking and repeating small actions.
Make sure you work in short sprints — five to seven days at the most and then reflect. This will help you identify what does and doesn’t work so that you can make small changes as you go, without wasting time. All the while really focusing on learning new things.
5. Visualise your process working
Define your timeline: visualise what you’re working towards in the future.
Define your target for the month: visualise the specific skills and habits that will lead you towards that future.
Define the actions that will build those skills: visualise what it will look like within your day to day life and schedule.
I’ve attempted numerous visualisation techniques over the years, from quantum jumping to basic meditation. To keep up with building habits, making progress, and visualising your goals is hard.
Keep visualisation easy to do and in-the-moment, when you can, for specific reasons. And don’t put too much pressure on yourself from the start.
As Marian Wright Edelman stated;
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
6. Get going and learn
Take action, get going, and learn. It isn’t enough to get excited and buy the books and courses when you’re motivated. It’s about the action. You have to do things every day.
Keeping it simple and having a plan for your vision will help make this happen.
Just as in business where a large portion of the work is done during the design and development phase, steps 1–5 are your foundation to build on. Now that you have the planning down, it’s time to take action and do the work.
7. Make each habit do-able in sequential steps
Bite-size information and bite-size learning are important, but it’s more important that you actually digest the information you read.
When you think about habits, choose actions you can complete in five minutes. What a 5 minute task looks like for you — or how long it takes you to read an article — won’t be the same as it is for someone else, so think carefully about what you can achieve in that time. But to begin with, keep your learning habit under five minutes and then take on longer bits of information when you’ve got into the rhythm of learning in short sharp bursts, and you’ve found the sweet spot for you personally.
In order to amplify bite-sized learning, make sure you base everything around sequencing. Build upon one topic at a time with knowledge that relates to a previous piece of information. Whether it’s related sideways, horizontally, or vertically to the information you are consuming, there should always be a link.
8. Share your learnings with others
Accountability is an effective piece of the learning puzzle. When someone else is aware of your goals and aspirations, you tend to be far more successful.
As Thomas Oppong states in his post This is How to Increase The Odds of Reaching Your Goals by 95%;
“When you are accountable to someone or a group of people for doing what you said you would do, you can easily get stuff done because you engage the power of social expectations.”
Not only that, collaborative learning is often more fun. Everyone knows that learning alone is hard to maintain — the fun and social nature creates more momentum.
9. Embed learning in your daily routine
You have to design all of your learning so it fits around your daily routine. Don’t try and create a new way of living your life.
I’m not saying don’t try to make a change, but design habits so they fit around your lifestyle.
Think of it this way. You need to build a bridge from where you are to where you want to be in one month, one year, and ten years. You aren’t hopping on a plane and flying straight there. The bridge is built with the blocks of new information and habits, and held together with the mortar of your daily life.
Don’t try and compete with work tasks — take advantage of the opportunity to capture your own attention and remind yourself to learn instead. Use whatever tool, medium or process fits the most simplistic use-case.
Ask yourself how you can use your everyday habits to build better ones? Be tactical and use technology to enable the flow of learning.
10. Reflection and continuous re-design
Because each step has been broken down, you’ll be able to easily identify any points of weakness. This is done by reassessing all nine steps on a regular basis.
The other gain around continuous reflection and re-design is the way it propels you through failure. For example, if you realise that you’ve missed your daily learning habit four days in a row, then break it into something smaller that’s more easily consumable. This stops you beating yourself up and stops you giving up.
In addition, if you have your master timeline mapped. You can place trust you are still heading in the right direction. The macro longer term aspiration will still be in motion — you must not forget.
Once you take action every single day, you will then have a more positive mindset and psychologically be in a much better place. This will allow you to then execute on what you want to learn.
So how can you start?
You’ve already started!
Reading this article is a sign that you’re at least in the pre-contemplative stage of making change. Once you’re done thinking about it and ready to take action, there are many tools that can help you implement the daily habits of learning.