Whether it's January 1 or the middle of the summer, there's never a bad time to decide to make a change. That decision is often accompanied by a commitment – or a resolution – to go and learn something new. You already know the bad news – we don't readily keep our commitments to ourselves, especially when building a new habit is for our own good. But the good news is that learning has never been more accessible, flexible, affordable, wide-ranging and encouraged in the workplace. It's the perfect time to build a learning habit.
So what does that mean? Rather than viewing learning as a one-off resolution, what we need to do is build learning into our daily lives. We need to become self-directed learners. This has never been more important as learning is necessary to thrive in our fast-changing world. We all need to keep our skills fresh and stay relevant.
How to build a learning habit in 6 simple steps
Luckily for you, we've compiled six easy hacks on how you can bring your A-game when you're ready to build a habit of learning:
1. Open your mind
One of the things that stops us from learning is our own belief in our ability to learn. You look around and see others who you believe are more talented than you are. Psychologist and author Carole Dweck calls this a fixed mindset, which means believing you've either "got it" or haven't, and that no amount of learning is going to close the gap.
Instead, you can cultivate a growth mindset – the belief that you are in control of your own abilities, and can learn and improve.
2. Understand yourself
I hate studying in the morning and no matter how hard I try, this never seems to change. I'm now well aware of my preference and so I've adjusted my study time accordingly. This awareness is part of metacognition – the personal awareness and understanding of our own decision-making and thought processes. This is when learners plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their own learning behaviors.
The key here is to develop strategies to help you reach your goal, whether that is adjusting the time of day you devote to your learning, changing the format of your learning or even shifting your learning environment. Don't forget that if you try a new strategy and it ultimately doesn't work for you, feel free to change it again! Keep trying and refining until you find yourself making progress.
3. Keep a deadline in mind
What's motivating you to develop this new skill or pursue this new knowledge? You need to understand what benefits you want to get from your learning and by when. Maybe you have a job interview next week so you want to brush up on your interviewing skills, or you're meeting international colleagues next quarter and would like to sharpen up your German language vocabulary or comprehension.
Understanding your own motivation is critical if you're going to learn something new. A great way to keep your learning on track is to set a SMART goal with the deadline in mind. Try setting your learning goal with the end in mind by setting your SMART goal backwards, and starting by establishing a deadline and working back from there.
4. Use your friends, family and co-workers
Adding a social element into your learning can not only be highly effective but can also just really fun! We're at our best when we're collaborating. You can learn with a group of friends or colleagues and help each other along the way.
You can engage your family, friends and colleagues in the learning process and if you know that some of your coworkers have already made learning a habit, go out of your way to spend time with them. It's been shown that learners who interact with others are more likely to succeed.
Are you an energetic type who simply can't sit still? Then you're going to love this particular learning hack. Whether it's running, weightlifting or yoga, exercise has been acknowledged as a way of improving your ability to learn. It's no secret that many highly successful people complete a workout every day. Along with numerous improvements in overall physical health, exercise can also help improve our mental capabilities.
A study by the University of British Columbia showed that aerobic exercise can lead to increases in the size of the hippocampus – the part of your brain manages that both memory and learning. Incorporating daily exercise into your routine is a simple way to accelerate your learning. So make sure you carve out time for that morning run or weekend strength-conditioning boot camp – you may find that building a learning habit has positive spillover effects across all areas of your life.
6. Find your flow
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." This interpretation of a famous Aristotle quote nicely highlights the fact that in order to achieve excellence, an action must be done repeatedly to the point that it can be considered a habit.
The lesson here is that in order to build a habit you need to create a routine. Try to do a couple of hours at a specific time every week and fit it around your current lifestyle. Whatever you do, try to avoid getting overwhelmed by making your learning habit compete with other important things in your life. This is the fastest way to disrupt a new habit so that it never fully forms. Instead, make your learning complementary to your existing habits.
For example, if you start your weekend with a leisurely cup of tea, some toast and an hour of fun social media scrolling, make it a point to tack on just 15 minutes of online coursework or skill development before you finish your breakfast. Building in easy opportunities for microlearning breaks down the big picture so that you move closer towards your goal without becoming overwhelmed.
Building a learning habit starts with you
Building a habit of learning doesn't have to start out as a New Year's resolution to have a positive impact on your life. Remember that you can start anytime in any area you want to improve. These easy hacks are here to help guide you and keep you on track as you commit to learning a new skill. These tips also help you to personalize your learning experience and make the process easier but, at the end of the day, building a learning habit starts with you.
It's clear that motivation is a requirement for self-directed learning success, and when you apply these six learning hacks in a professional setting, it's important to have the support of your L&D team and your manager as well. Organizations must support, prioritize and invest in their own people to build that engagement and help them to learn in their own way.
Learning about how to create powerful learning habits doesn't have to stop here. Check out the on-demand webinar I recently co-hosted with neuroscience expert and learning designer Charlotte Hills, called Nine Practical Tips for Using Neuroscience to Power Learning.