How to Stick to Your Learning Goals?

January 2020, it is the time of year where people make resolutions to enroll in an online program, learn a new skill, prepare for a whole new career, etc. Fast forward February, it is possible some people are far from achieving their newly-set goals and others haven’t even started yet. But that is no surprise! Studies show that a staggering 40%-80% of online students drop out of their online courses! So, if you’re one of these 40-80%, you’re not alone and we’re writing this article to help you! In the next lines, we will be sharing with you the top eight tips and tricks to stick to your learning goals and make sure you end up in the positive outlier of this statistic this year.

So, let’s go! The Top Eight Tips & Tricks to Stick to Your Learning Goals:

© Knowledge Officer

1.You must believe it is possible

Remember the good old saying ‘the impossible is nothing’? Well, it’s not true. The truth is that even those people who have made seemingly-impossible accomplishments actually believed they were possible. They simply saw possibilities others could not see. 

To achieve your learning goals, you must believe they are achievable in the first place. You want to learn software engineering in 5 months, is that possible? This is the first question you must have an answer to. A great way to get the answer? Look around for people who have had the same goals and actually achieved them. Do you see any? Or do you need to modify your goal? If you find people who have achieved your goal, connect with them, ask them how they have done it, learn about their obstacles, and pick up on their advice.

2. You must believe you can

Knowing that a specific goal is possible is not enough though; you must believe that it is possible for you to achieve it. In this respect, you will be burdened by all your past trials and errors. But this is not the end. Research, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, shows that if you are aware of others’ struggle stories to succeed, you are more likely to succeed in achieving your learning goals, especially if you experience the same type of struggles.

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, states, ‘To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.’ You need to have evidence to believe that you are the type of person that can achieve the goals you have set out for yourself. Having difficulty making time for studying on a daily basis? Look for people who have had similar problems and have overcome them. What have they done? Having difficulty remembering what you have learned? Look for people who have struggled with the same issue and thrived. What do they have to say? If they could do it, then you can too, you just need to prove it to yourself.

3. You must get real

Knowing that you are actually capable of doing something and actually doing it are two different things. To actually have a chance at achieving your learning goals, you must make sure these goals fit into your life and schedule. If you sleep eight hours a day, commute for two, work for eight, do some house and personal care chores for two hours a day, how many hours a day does that leave you to learn? Will learning daily be the best option? Or maybe over the weekends? Will learning offline be the best option? Or would an online program be a more realistic option? 

No matter what choices you make, make sure they fit into your life and schedule. Make sure you will actually have the ‘time’ and ‘energy’ needed to pull through with your goals. A good way of making sure you have the ‘time’ and ‘energy’ to achieve your goals is to stop ‘inventing’ time and energy. So unless you have some extra time for sure, you most probably will need to do less of something to do more of something else. Maybe you’ll need to spend less time on social activities to focus on your learning or spend less time in the gym to spend more time on your learning. Sad truth but life is about choices!

4. You must set systems, not goals

Of course, you still need to have your goals set. It is just that the goals are not enough. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology has shown that people are much more likely to achieve their goals if they clearly plan ‘when’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ they are going to implement them. In other words, you are much more likely to achieve your learning goals if you plan ahead what, where, when, and how you’ll study. We call that setting a system.

An important part of setting the system, as mentioned earlier, is that you get real about the time and energy that you can really put in every day to achieve your goals. Another important part of setting the system is merely organizational. To achieve your goals, do you need to buy a few tools? Book a course? Buy a couple of books? Prepare a study area at home? Regardless of what you need, make sure you get these administrative tasks off your shoulders from the very beginning so that you can start implementing your goals fast and follow a very steady routine heads-on. With a system in place, pursuing your learning goals will not start with two hours of sailing through the mists every day but simply two minutes of plug and play.

5. You must make your system unbreachable

It is possible that you may set up the entire system but never really follow it as something always comes up! It is possible that there is always a deadline at work or a dinner with friends you don’t want to miss. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, has excellent advice on how to make your system unbreachable. He calls for the creation of ‘bright-line rules’.

A bright-line rule is something like, ‘I don’t go out on weekday evenings (because this is study time)’ or ‘I sleep before 11 PM (because I need to study early morning)’. As simple as this is, it works, because as James Clear puts it, ‘bright lines shift the conversation in your head from one of sacrifice to one of empowerment.’ So next time you’re offered up an invite, you are not thinking about how you can sacrifice to please others, but rather how you’re going to simply stand your ground to please yourself.

6. You must build goal-supporting habits

Humans are creatures of habit. If you follow your system day in, day out, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes part of what you do and part of who you are. How much time you’ll need varies greatly depending on who you are and what goals you’ve put for yourself but studies show that it takes from 15-254 days to build a habit! Yes, it varies this much! 

Yes, it is hard to build up a habit, but once it is in place, the benefits are limitless. Think of willpower as a muscle; it gets fatigued as you use it throughout the day. You cannot build your life-changing learning goals around the use of a muscle that has a built-in failure feature. Habits save you the trouble of resorting to willpower. So you should aim at making your learning a habit, not just a goal. The recipe for habit building is simple; it is ‘repeat, repeat, repeat’! And with a plug and play system in place, the repetition should not be very challenging.

Well, what happens if you break the repetition cycle? It is simple! Have a failure check-in system in place. As part of setting your system earlier, jot down a list of ‘if…, then….’ rules. As in, ‘if I do not study for two hours in the morning, I’ll study for one hour in the evening instead of watching my favorite show.’ Having these ‘if…., then….’ rules in place makes it easier for you to keep your habit-building momentum in the face of common daily setbacks and emergencies.

7. You must remind yourself of your goals

We’re human; we forget things, even our goals. In a world where your senses send 11 million bits of data per second to your brain, 90% of which coming from the eyes, your best bet is ‘visual cues’. So relying on your memory to keep you on track is not very helpful; writing your goals down in a list and slipping it into a drawer does not get you anywhere either. The best-laid goals are the ones you have hung on a wall in clear and bold formatting that you can see every day.

Not only that but you also need to remind yourself of ‘why’ you chose these goals in the first place. It might be an image of a ‘future you’ you want to become, a ‘future job’ you want to have, regardless of what it is, have this image hung on the wall next to your goals. You may be surprised that these images will not only remind you of ‘why’ you chose your goals but also ‘how’ it felt to have some of your needs unmet.

Another way to use ‘visual cues’ to your benefit is to make the process of pursuing your goals easy by removing all obstacles in your environment and adding all the triggers you may need. So, if you’ve been in the habit of binge-watching TV in the few hours you’ve dedicated to studying, a good visual cue to remove would be the ‘TV’ and a good visual cue to replace it with would be some ‘books’ or your ‘laptop’. If you’ve been in the habit of scrolling through social media feeds in the few hours you’ve set out for studying, you should be uninstalling your social media apps and installing some productivity or learning apps instead!

8. Never underestimate the power of small

‘I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.’

Bruce Lee

When you’re still starting out, you may find it hard to plan out ‘enough’ time to achieve your goals or may feel like you’re achieving ‘little’ progress. But do not get discouraged; mathematical analysis shows that even the tiniest of gains, if kept consistent, can lead to exponential growth in the long-term.

As James Clear outlines it, in the beginning, becoming 1% better or 1% worse makes no difference, but when it is kept consistent throughout the year, the impact multiplies. And while you may have started as being only 1% better at the year start, you may end up being 37% better by the end of the year. So focus less on ‘achievement’ and more on ‘consistency’. And remember, first and foremost, you are never out until you’re out!

Now that you have gone through these tips and tricks to help you achieve your learning goals, we hope you experiment with them and find them helpful. We sincerely hope you succeed in learning what you have set out to learn at the beginning of this year. And if you have a busy schedule and are looking for self-paced on-the-go experiential learning, join us at Knowledge Officer to get one step closer to achieving your learning goals this year. Happy successful learning 🙂

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Also published on Medium.