On the Job

How to create new learning habits

Habits can be a great tool for everyday life. We don’t have to burn brain cells or spend energy deciding how to get to work, the best way to brush our teeth or which pant leg to put on first. We’ve already created a habit out of all these actions and can safely go on autopilot and not consciously think about our routine.

Having too many routines, though, can actually hurt our learning. How can we expect to recognize, create, and grow into new career opportunities if we’re taking the exact same approach every day?

Try one — or more — of these approaches to break out of the status quo:

1. Regularly and consciously disrupt your routine. Pick one usually static element of your day — what you have for lunch, how you take your coffee or the route your drive to work — and change it up. A simple switch can be unsettling, if not uncomfortable, but it’ll snap you out of conformity and maybe even help you question other routines in your life that could be improved.

2. Take on a new form of communication. Research shows that learning a new language improves learning across the board. That’s why multilingualism and computer programming are encouraged in kids. But your new language doesn’t necessarily have to be a foreign tongue. Instead, try sending a text rather than making a phone call, or doing live video instead of emailing. Each medium helps inform the language it creates: emoticons, for instance, only work in texts, but they exist because you can’t show your facial expression as you would over a video call.

Changing the way you communicate forces you to express yourself differently and challenges the routine approach you use to connect to others. Try an alternative way of communicating at least once a day and watch how it changes the way you express yourself in other areas.

3. Connecting with another curious learner as an accountability partner. Studies show even the most independently motivated people make more progress toward their goals in a group setting. Find another person or two interested in your own growth and make a commitment to help them stay on their learning path as much as they commit to you.

Your accountability partner doesn’t have to be interested in the same focus or even have the same learning standards as you. In fact, it may actually be better if you aren’t aiming for the same goal so you don’t compare outcomes and progress against each other (or, as some thought leaders have put it, the “compare and despair” dilemma). The purpose isn’t to compete, but to mutually encourage each other to grow and develop.

4. Teach someone else what you already know extremely well. The cliché about teachers learning as much as the student exists for a reason: Showing someone else the knowledge you take for granted makes you solidify your own wisdom. Communicating your ideas to a novice also requires translating what you know in new ways. The process automatically improves how well you know the information you have — while simultaneously increasing your ability to learn from others, too.

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