How To Be Consistent In Your Learning - Smart Effective Learning

How To Be Consistent In Your Learning and Prepare For A More Meaningful Trip

It’s no coincidence that the most successful people in any discipline are the ones who show up every single day.

Whether it's getting up early, making time for reading or simply putting in the work, day after day...

The winners in life and learning are those who have built the habit of doing what they do, every day.

In this post, you'll learn:

  • Why being consistent is so important to helping you achieve your travel dreams
  • How to be consistent in your learning so you're ready for a life-changing trip
  • How to create rock-solid habits that make it easy to maintain a consistent learning routine

By applying what you discover here in your own learning, you'll be able to learn things more deeply ​so that you can get under the skin of the places you travel to through their history and culture.

So let's dive in...

Why Is Consistency Important?

There are 3 main benefits to following a consistent routine when learning a new skill or subject:

  • Consistency makes your learning much more effective
  • Consistency makes learning a new skill easier
  • Learning consistently allows you to progress much more quickly

And, we all want to learn faster, more easily and more effectively, right?!

Practising consistently makes your learning much more effective because you can constantly continue to build upon what you’ve recently learnt.

  • Learn something today
  • Review it and build upon it tomorrow

“Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”

John C. Maxwell

On the other hand, If you're not consistent, you’ll find that you spend a lot of time ‘re-learning’ things you've forgotten, rather than working on new material.

The result?

After all the time, money and effort you've invested in your trip, you'll still come away with a shallow experience that you quickly forget.

And we want to avoid that at all costs!

On the other hand, when you study consistently it's easier to master what you’re learning and you improve much faster.

By learning a little every day, you quickly start to become familiar with the new material. You can remember what you’ve been learning more easily because you’re repeating it more frequently and patterns soon begin to reveal themselves.

Pretty soon, you’ll find you’ve begun to develop a rock-solid understanding of the material.

You have a deep “sense” of what you’ve learned and how it works, and you’re able to apply it instantly to new scenarios, without having to think back through every single step.

This is the kind of learning that enriches your travel adventures and unlocks life changing experiences.

But it is something that can only happen with consistent practice. You simply can't do it with just an occasional random study session.

The 3 Factors That Influence Your Ability To Be Consistent

If consistency is so important, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Well, it’s simply really…

Being consistent is really hard.

Whether it’s learning a new language, going to the gym, waking up early or sticking to a new diet, showing up every day isn’t easy.

In order to understand what it takes to be consistent (and what role “good learning habits” play in this process), we need to understand a little about why we behave the way we do.

To perform tasks we rely on one of (or a combination of) the following three things:

  • Motivation
  • Willpower
  • Habits

1) Motivation

Motivation is what gets us started. It’s the reason we decide to learn something new in the first place.

Motivation can come from a positive or negative stimulus.

For example...

  • you might decide to learn Spanish after visiting Spain and falling in love with the culture (positive)
  • Or perhaps you decide to learn Spanish because not being able to communicate with the locals ruined your last trip (negative)

Either way, your motivation is your starting point in learning something new.

2) Willpower

Motivation is enough to get you started, but it can fade surprisingly fast.

In the next stage of your learning, you’ll begin to need willpower to back up your motivation.

Even if you’re incredibly excited about your new learning project, a day will come - sooner rather than later - where your motivation wanes a little or you don’t feel you have enough time for your learning.

This is where willpower kicks in.

Willpower is what will drive you through the first couple of weeks of your new learning plan until it becomes a habit.

If you want to make learning a part of your daily or weekly routine, you’ll need some willpower to make that happen.

As an example, imagine you’re starting a new fitness routine…

Have you ever done this before?

Even if you succeeded, I bet those initial weeks were really difficult.

Normally, the first couple of days are easy enough. Your motivation is so strong when you begin that it’s easy to keep going for the first 2 or 3 days.

The real challenge comes a few days later when your motivation begins to wane. This is when you need to will yourself to continue.

In the short-term, willpower is a necessary and very powerful tool. But it has one fatal flaw…

It’s incredibly mentally exhausting.

If you rely on your willpower alone to become a more consistent learner, you won’t experience the results you desire.

The truth is that willpower doesn’t work in the long run.

Willpower can sustain you for very short periods of time but it will run out quickly - normally within a matter of days.

That’s why in order to truly become consistent at anything, you need to build habits.

3) Habits - The Secret Behind Rock-Solid Consistency

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things.

They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react.

They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power Of Habit​​​​

What is a habit? And what makes a habit different from something you accomplish through willpower?

The Cambridge English dictionary defines a habit as:

something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it

Psychology Today describes habit formation as:

... the process by which new behaviours become automatic.

The key points here are that habits are things you do on a very regular basis and they are behaviours which become automatic.

When you make something a habit, it becomes so natural to you that you do it without consciously thinking about it.

It’s a really important brain function and one that we use every day in a myriad of situations.

What if you could make daily learning time an automatic behaviour? What kind of impact would that have on your life?

Imagine yourself…

  • Sitting down at the same time every day to learn the basics of a new language so you can connect with the locals on your next trip
  • Getting into ‘the zone’ immediately because you’ve trained the habit of concentrating when you learn
  • Learning rapidly and enjoying it more because you can just relax and learn without using all your mental energy working up the willpower to study

How much of a difference would it make if you could easily sit down and learn something for an hour every day without life getting in the way?

A lot?

Ok, then let's breakdown how habits are formed...

The 3 Stages Of A Habit

So, we’ve established that the key to becoming more consistent is to build habits. But how do you go about creating them?

Every habit has 3 elements and to create new habits, we need to consider each of these elements in turn.

The 3 stages of a habit are:

  • Trigger
  • Action
  • Reward
how to be consistent the 3 steps of habit formation

Every habit has a trigger (or cue) which causes that habit to start.

Once your brain receives this trigger, you’ll start to take action and perform the habit.

At the end of the action, you need to give yourself a reward of some kind. This reward is what tells your brain that this habit is going to be worth repeating!

Every habit follows this structure in some form or another.

For example, if you had a habit of ordering fast food, your habit structure might be something like this:

  • Trigger: You feel a bit down or tired in the evening after a long day at work. You don’t feel like cooking.
  • Action: You call your local pizza/fast food place and place your order
  • Reward: The junk food you eat causes the release of key “pleasure” neurotransmitters - such as dopamine - to the brain, meaning your brain feels rewarded for the actions you’ve just taken and will seek to repeat them, even though you know it's not good for you!

How To Be Consistent in Your Learning? Build Strong Habits!

Our goal is to take this pattern and use it to create a strong learning habit.

The action step of the habit is already pretty clear - we want to sit down and begin a new learning session.

Before you go any further, take a moment to think about this in detail and imagine what it might look like.

  • Where will you do your learning?
  • What time of day will it be?
  • What tools (pen, notebook, laptop, etc.) do you use?

Next let’s tackle the trigger for your habit…

Any number of things can trigger a habit:

  • A certain time of day (e.g. in the morning, I have breakfast)
  • An emotion (e.g. when I’m feeling tired, I order pizza instead of cooking)
  • Being in a particular place (e.g. when I sit down in a particular chair, I read)
  • A routine (i.e. after I finish eating breakfast, I brush my teeth)

Have a think about your day and when you’d like to do your learning. Then choose an appropriate trigger that fits with your current lifestyle.

Finally, you need to add a reward!

You may be be tempted to skip over this part, but don’t! It’s the most important step of all.

how to be consistent reward yourself

You’ll only be able to turn something into a habit if your brain gets that hit of positivity to tell it that this is an action worth repeating!

Your reward could be something as simple as a nice cup of coffee or the feeling of happiness that comes with completing a chapter of a book.

You just need to do something that sends a quick burst of dopamine fuelled happiness to your brain.

Here’s an example of what a simple morning learning habit might look like:

  • Trigger: Finish breakfast
  • Action: Clear the table, take out your pen, notebook & laptop and begin your learning session
  • Reward: Enjoy a nice cup of your favourite coffee

It really can be this simple!

The trick is to be conscious about it and do try and do it every day until the behaviour becomes automatic.

Habits aren’t created overnight and it will take some time for these actions to become automatic.

The latest research suggest it takes more than 2 months for a habit to become completely automatic.

However, if you persevere through the first few weeks, you'll find it becomes a very normal part of your routine to sit down and learn every day.

How Else Can I Use Habits To Improve My Learning?

In this post, we used the example of creating a habit to sit down for a learning session at the same time every day.

But there are lots of other ways you can use habits to become a more effective learner.

Here are a few ideas...

  • If you tend to get distracted while learning, try to build habits that remove those distractions (i.e. make a habit of turning off your phone or leaving it in another room, etc.)
  • Build a habit of going to sleep and getting up at a certain time each day so you can get the sleep you need to tackle your learning full of energy
  • Create a habit for taking notes and reviewing them so that you don't forget what you've already learned

How exactly you decide to use habits in your learning will depend on your specific learning goals and your current lifestyle.

But remember...

Habits affect everything we do and they're a fundamental part of how we live each and every day of our lives.

You ignore them at your peril.

Because if you're not consciously taking control of your habits and how they impact your learning...

Then there's a good chance that the bad habits you don't realise you have are holding you back from achieving your full potential.

So... now it's over to you!

Building a habit isn’t easy. It takes time and there will be days when you slip.

But invest time in creating habits to aid your learning and you set yourself up for long-term success.

Make "putting in the time" to learn automatic, and the results will look after themselves.


Resources Related To This Article

The Anti-Tourist Club

Smart Effective Learning

The Anti-Tourist Club is a training and support centre for curious adventurers who want to do travel differently.


It is where anti-tourists like you and I come together with a common mission:

To put learning at the heart of our adventures and unlock the kinds of meaningful travel experiences most tourists never have.

Click here to find out more

The Power Of Habit

Charles Duhigg

If you'd like to learn more about the impact habits have on your life and the science behind how to create and change habits, I strongly suggest Charle's Duhigg's book "The Power Of Habit".


What are your 3 key "takeaways" from this article? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Image credits:

John C. Maxwell photo - Wikipedia commons

Charles Duhigg photo - By Ohio State University Center for Operational Excellence - https://www.flickr.com/photos/fishercoe/8676474160/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49451344

James Granahan
 

James is travel addict and life-long learner from Ireland, who speaks 5 languages and has travelled to more than 25 countries (and counting!) Through his blog, Smart Effective Learning, James helps curious adventurers create the lives they want with travel and learning at the centre of it.

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