The Key to Your Success is Lying in Front of You
Ten proven techniques to become a learning ninja and guarantee success in your life
If there’s one book that I found simple-to-read and most impactful this year, it has to be Atomic Habits by James Clear.
You are living under a rock if you haven’t yet heard of this book. It recently became the #1 New York Best Seller (July 2020).
I have read this book twice already and ended up highlighting 50% of the book and hundreds of notes, questions, and reflections.
Atomic Habits isn’t the only book on this subject, but it’s an easy read, easy to apply, and filled with research and stories you can immediately resonate with.
Although I started reading this book out of curiosity, I soon realized that most of the techniques James mentioned about building or breaking habits in general, could easily be adapted to building learning habits.
Continuously learning myself and designing learning for others is my main job. I work as a Learning Designer with one of the top Management Consulting firms; therefore, I have been formally trained to design experiences that help others learn and grow most efficiently and effectively.
I call myself a learning person. If you ask my family and friends about the kind of person I am, they will describe me as a curious and passionate learner (at least I hope so). I love learning new things, continually expanding my circle of knowledge and competence, and thus, attracting new and unique opportunities. Learning is the reason why I have achieved whatever I have achieved in life.
So it is natural that I continuously look for ways to make learning for myself and others efficient. That’s precisely what I did when I was reading this book.
James’ book revolves around four laws of behaviour change that I have adapted to learning for this article.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the four laws and the ten techniques.
Created by Krishna Khanna
1st Law: Make Learning Obvious
The 1st Law is to make the learning obvious. When you integrate learning into your environment and make the cues visible, it becomes easier to learn.
1st technique: Create a learning scorecard
Most people are in two categories — either not focusing on learning at all or learning a lot more than they can handle at a time.
The people in the second category (I am one of those) are passionate learners. We like to keep expanding our knowledge and developing more skills. However, it‘s not the perfect path. I am usually learning multiple things at once — some for work and some for personal goals.
I often fail to stop to question whether what I am learning is right and adding value to my current goals. One of our most significant challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are doing.
This is where having a Learning Scorecard helps.
- Take a notepad and pen or any digital tool you are comfortable with and start by listing all the skills you need to develop or are currently focusing on.
- When you have a complete list, look at each skill, and ask yourself, “Is this worthy of my time and effort, unworthy, or neutral?” If it is worthy, write “+” next to it. If it is unworthy, write “–”. If it is a neutral, write “=”. (Column 2 in the table below) If you still find it difficult to rate a particular skill, here is a question I ask myself: Does this skill cast a vote for or against my desired goals?”
- You can go even a step further and add the ‘prioritization’ level to each skill. Ask yourself, “Does this take me closer to my goals in the short-term?” Simply put a Yes or a No (Column 3).
2nd technique: Create implementation intentions and stack with existing behaviours
Now that you have figured out the skill that is most urgent and impactful for your personal and professional goals, it’s time to be intentional about it.
James refers to it as an implementation intention, which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. You are more likely to continue if you have a specific plan for when and where you will practise the new skill.
Most of us fail to develop the skills we want due to a lack of clarity. Once you set an implementation intention, you don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike.
Use this simple sentence to apply this strategy:
I will [PRACTICE] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
You can even go a step further with the Habit Stacking technique, which was created by BJ Fogg. Habit Stacking is attaching your desired learning time after something you already do each day.
After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
- After I pour my morning coffee, I will read one new blog post or two pages of my book.
- After I sit down for lunch, I will plug-in the new episode of the podcast I like.
Strategies like implementation intentions and habit stacking are among the most practical ways to create obvious cues for your habits and design a clear plan for when and where to take action.
3rd technique: Redesign your environment to make it conducive for learning
You probably already know this — all our habits are initiated by some kind of cue. You notice the cue and are immediately triggered to perform the behaviour. A lot has been written on this by psychologists already.
The same principle can be applied when you want to build and sustain learning habits.
If you want to make learning a big part of your life, be deliberate in making it a part of your environment. The most persistent behaviors usually have multiple cues.
- If you want to finish a book, put it on your work table or your bed for easy reminder and access.
- If you reach for social media apps as soon as you pick up your phone, move the apps to the second page or third screen and bring the apps that help you become a better version of yourself to the front.
- If you have your social media sites at the top of your Bookmarks, move them behind learning sites like LinkedIn Learning, Medium, Blogs, etc.
- Add dedicated learning time in your calendar every day, perhaps 10–15 minutes first thing in the morning or during lunch.
2nd Law: Make Learning Attractive
The 2nd Law is to make learning attractive. When we like something, we are likely to keep doing it.
4th technique: Combine your learning time with something you already do and enjoy
James calls it the temptation bundling technique, which is linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do. If
- Do you like walking or cycling or pumping at the gym? Perhaps you could plug-in an audiobook or your favourite podcast and learn something while you are it
- Can’t eat without watching something on your TV or laptop? Maybe you could watch a 5-minute video to learn a solution to a problem you have been trying to fix or a Ted Talk to learn a new idea
With the [HABIT I WANT], I will [HABIT I NEED].
5th technique: Join a community of practice
Join a culture or community where your desired behaviour is normal. New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day.
We often imitate the habits of three social groups: the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige).
- Want to learn how to code, join a community of coders
- Want to develop your design skills, get in touch with other people who are also working on this skill or join a community of experts to learn best practices
- Partner with someone in your family and learn together
- Partner with a colleague and share what you learn with each other every week
6th technique: Begin to see learning time as an opportunity instead of a burden
Most people see learning as a burden that something they have to do. Learning is a gift that keeps on compounding.
Now, imagine changing just one word: You don’t “have” to. You “get” to.
- You get to learn something new or polish your existing skills and unlock more opportunities.
- You get to read one book a week/month and have more ideas to talk about
- You get to listen to one podcast each day and utilize that time to expand on your knowledge and your network.
By changing one word, you shift the way you view learning.
Bonus Technique: Learn at the right time
James didn’t talk about this technique in the book, but he sent it to my email as part of bonus material.
Learn when you are high in energy, and when you have the least distractions. For most people, it’s either early morning before work or just before sleeping. However, as the day progress, we are burdened with unexpected meetings and deadlines. The entire day goes by spending more time responding to everyone else’s schedule and less time working on what matters most to us.
3rd Law: Make Learning Easy
One way to make learning easy is to reduce the amount of friction associated with it.
7th technique: Prioritize good over best
“The best is the enemy of the good.” — Voltaire
When it comes to practising during our learning journey, we often get stuck at the planning stage. James refers this to being in motion. Planning is undoubtedly critical, but it doesn’t result in any tangible outcomes without concrete actions. Motion makes us feel that we are making progress without the risk of failure.
When you want to learn something or develop a skill, you should quickly find ways to apply it and create something, even if it’s not good in your eyes. Then learn some more, practice, and improve with feedback.
For example, I could take a 6-months long course on Graphics Design, but unless I start creating graphics from the very beginning and get into the habit of creating, I won’t get too far in my journey.
8th technique: Remove frictions from the path of your learning
Modern humans prefer things that are easy and require the least effort. We live in an age of abundance and comfort. Technology has made it easy to book a cab, order food, get entertained, and so on with the click of a button.
The same principle applies when we want to learn something.
So to ensure that you continue with your learning journey, remove frictions from your environment. Make it part of your environment or bring your learning to devices you already use, such as your phone, tablet, and laptop.
Instead of going to the other part of the city to attend class, find something near your home or on your way back to or from work. Better yet, do it online if you can.
9th technique: Follow the 2-minute rule
We often make big plans to change something about ourselves but soon quit them altogether or make very little progress. We find the best courses to learn something but fail to follow through till the end.
I have been a victim of that. I often try to learn multiple skills at a time or try to change more than one habit about me. I often fail. To counteract this tendency, James suggests Two-Minute Rule, which states
“When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
James says that most habits can be broken down into their two-minute versions:
- “Meditate for 15 minutes” becomes “Meditate for one minute.”
- “Complete a LinkedIn Learning course” becomes “Watch one lesson.”
4th Law: Make Learning Satisfying
Satisfaction usually means achieving a personal or completing a task at work. However, if the outcome is delayed, we often lost motivation. One of the critical components in habit formation is enjoying an immediate reward. The more instantaneous the reward, the more likely you are to learn that a behaviour is worth repeating in the future.
10th technique: Play the long game but kee eyes on the immediate, visual reward
We repeat the behaviour when we are rewarded for it, preferably immediately or in the short-term. We prioritize immediate rewards over long-term rewards.
The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided. — James Clear
The first three laws increase the odds that a behaviour will be performed this time. The fourth Law increases the odds that action will be repeated next time.
To build and stick with learning habits in the long-term, find a visual, immediate reward, even if it’s small. The most effective habits are the ones that make you feel good at the moment and lead to the results you want in the long-run. It’s not just about the results. The feeling is essential. Without it, you have no immediate reason to repeat the behaviour in the future.
- Create a weekly or monthly learning tracker and check-off days to get a sense of achievement and feel satisfied immediately
- Apply the learning and create something, even if it means a best practice or a tip on Twitter, a post on Facebook/LinkedIn, or an answer on Quora
- Create a short-term plan on how you’re going to apply what you learn in your work or personal life and keep it where you can often look at it
No matter how consistent you are with your learning habits, you won’t feel like learning on some days, which is OK. However, make a rule that you won’t miss following your learning plan twice in a row.
Keep learning, keep sharing, and keep growing.
Created by Krishna Khanna
Originally published on medium