Forget about goals, focus on your learning habits instead

Lisa Lie
By Lisa Lie | 14 June 2023
Learna founder, Lisa Lie.

Lisa Lie is the founder of Learna 

The start of any new year brings energy, optimism, and such good intentions. We declare our goals and the things we want to achieve for the year, and then …

We find ourselves halfway through the year and wonder what happened.

For most people, the idea of ‘goals’ feels overwhelming and hard. They feel like a big commitment and a pre-determined path. It can get a bit intense. Plus, you can find that things that interested you last year might bore you this year. As you gain different experiences you develop new interests, and things change.

When we’re focused on what we’re about, what interests us and the steps we could take towards the outcomes we want, we can remove the idea of setting goals just for the sake of it and instead think one step ahead towards something we’re motivated to achieve.

Thinking just one step ahead can open you up to rethinking. It allows you to evolve your career and enjoy the process instead of experiencing that feeling of being stuck on an escalator or an ‘expected’ path.

So, how can you make progress once you land what that ‘one step ahead’ looks like for you?

It’s only when you chunk things down and create a focus on continuous small improvements, or ‘learning habits’, that you can find momentum and a different outcome.

Learning one new thing won’t change you overnight, but a commitment to incremental learning can be transformational over time. Each small thing you learn not only teaches you something new, but it opens you up to different ways of thinking about old ideas, challenging what you once thought was ‘the best’ or ‘only’ way, snapping you out of going through the motions.

The hard part is getting into a learning habit. This can be tough because it means breaking out of our usual routines and making self-improvement a priority in our crazy busy lives. We often find ourselves dealing with distractions, other pressing tasks, and the temptation of instant gratification, which can make it really hard to set aside dedicated time for learning. Plus, let's be real, starting something new and trying to absorb new knowledge or skills can feel overwhelming and even make us doubt ourselves. But, if we acknowledge these challenges and make a conscious effort to overcome them, we can gradually build a learning habit that becomes second nature, leading to continuous growth and a real sense of purpose.

Here are a few things I’ve seen that help shift your perspective:

Free yourself from goal attachment

Shifting our focus from goals to learning habits frees us from the pressure of a specific destination. There’s no more ‘win or lose’ mentality that goals create. By letting go of rigid expectations, we open ourselves up to new possibilities, unexpected paths, and a greater appreciation for the journey itself.

Keep it small

Small changes often seem to make absolutely no difference until you cross a threshold (usually in the form of recognition from others, putting learning into practice and sometimes self-reflection).

By keeping things small we remove the overwhelming feeling and learning becomes satisfyingly achievable and quick – the dopamine hit of incremental gains is real too.

Focus on the habit

As James Clear (the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits and the popular 3-2-1 newsletter) said, “It’s your commitment to the process that determines your progress.”

Build a learning habit you look forward to. Find the best time of day for 5-10 minutes to learn something that will help you move towards what you want. Learning can take on many forms, the trick is to make it easy (quick), book it in your calendar like an appointment (obvious habit reminder) and connect it to the outcome you want (make it important to you).

Rigid goals can feel overwhelming and hold us back from exploring new possibilities. By committing to small, incremental learning steps and making it a habit we enjoy, we can experience continuous progress and find a sense of purpose along the way. Let go of the pressure of specific destinations, keep it small, and make learning a habit you look forward to—because it's the process that actually shapes our progress.


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