At the start of any new year, I like to do self-reflection on the year that’s passed and think about what I want to accomplish in the coming year. I’m not big on setting New Year’s resolutions, but I do like setting intentions for the year. With those intentions there are always goals that I end up setting for myself. I also pick a word that encompasses the main intention for the year that I can use as my guiding star or compass point. Over the years, I’ve chosen words like joy, grace, hope, and revive. This year my word is learn.
Last year, I used a new monthly planner; each month, it asked me what I had learned the month prior and what I wanted to learn the next. While I was thumbing back through the year, I realized that most of my learnings were in response to a situation or challenge at work or something I was trying to address in my personal life. Unfortunately, they were all mostly reactionary. That’s when it came to me that I wanted to spend 2022 being more intentional about learning new things and personal growth – and thus came my word for 2022.
Heading into this new year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the word learn and how I can approach learning more intentionally and mindfully. As a fan of process, I’ve categorized this idea into phases that I hope you’ll find helpful as you set out to accomplish your goals and learning plan for the year ahead:
1. Identify your gaps
2. Set learning goals
3. Get going
4. Learn and adjust
The first step with intentional learning is to figure out what you want to learn. It helps to know where you are now, where you want to be, and what the gap is to get there. It’s in this gap that the learning objectives become crystal clear, though sometimes, it’s not that easy to see when we’re getting started. The best place to start is with a future-focused look at what you want to achieve or the result you want at the end. Ideally, you picture yourself achieving that result. As Stephen Covey says in still one of my favorite personal development books The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 2 is “Begin with the End in Mind.” An example of this is reading a recipe before cooking or looking at a map of your destination before leaving on a trip. Once you have that image in mind, picture yourself in the process of doing it and consider where you may have struggles. This will help you get clearer on what you need to learn to accomplish the goal.
Another way to consider what you need to learn is to develop your self-awareness. If you haven’t done so yet, take a behavioral assessment (I can highly recommend one - try it for yourself) to identify your natural traits and strengths and where you may have blind spots. Consider asking for feedback from your work and personal network about what areas they believe you could improve on to be a more effective leader, colleague, or friend. The key is to identify what gaps exist between where you are right now and where you want to be to reach your goals. When that is clear, the path forward to learning begins.
Now that you’ve got a clear picture of what you want to learn it’s time to start chopping it into achievable goals. These goal-setting tips are helpful guidelines when it comes down to developing learning goals:
Once you’ve identified what you want to learn and your specific learning goals, it’s time to get started. Think about how you’re going to go about learning and meeting your objectives. As you consider your learning path forward, determine how you best learn. Learning inventories are great, especially before you invest in a process that won’t work for you, like putting your credit card number down for an expensive online subscription that you’ll never use. We all learn differently. Some of us learn by watching others or reading about a subject. Some of us learn better by trial and error in the act of doing. Your personal learning style should drive the path you choose to learn. There’s a great way to get started on understanding how you learn at www.educationplanner.org.
Once you’ve identified your unique learning style, it’s time to make a plan for how you’ll get there. If you’ve set lofty learning goals, get started with just one. You’ll feel such a sense of accomplishment just by signing up for that course, watching the YouTube video, or booking time with your colleague to get their help walking you through how to make that pivot table on your first monthly report. The key here is just get going.
One day I was reading a book that I realized I didn’t like at all. Well into adulthood by then, I had one of those Aha moments where I realized that I had made a personal choice to read the book and that nobody was forcing me to finish it. Not one to typically give up on a goal once I’d set it, it was a complete breakthrough moment to realize I could change my mind and just discard the book. There have been lots of unfinished books in my life since then. And movies too.
The same can be for setting out to learn new things or the ways you’ve chosen to go about learning them. The key point in this phase is to embrace your learning style and adjust if needed. You may end up hating that subscription to MasterClass or decide that you can’t learn in big groups. It’s okay to adjust the plan. It’s also possible that you have established a learning goal that’s not going to get you to the end objective or isn’t something that’s a priority for you to learn anymore. Maybe something in life has come up that’s requiring you to change your goals or learning plans. Learning from your experiences and reviewing what’s working and what’s not is an important step to be sure you’re getting to your ultimate objective. Incorporate a process check throughout your learning path to be sure you’re still on the right track.
It’s likely that you’ve set some lofty goals for yourself this year. Too often we wait to celebrate a finished product and not all the small successes along the way. If 2022 is like the past two years, and I think we’re all concerned it might be, we’re going to need some things to cheer about. As you set out to design and implement your learning plan and achieve goals, make sure you take the time to celebrate throughout the process; don’t wait until the end of 2022. If you followed the steps laid out so far, you broke your goals down into achievable milestones and plotted them out on a calendar and/or into your planning system. You’ll have a path to review your progress, so as you realize achievement on key milestones, make sure that you take the time to reward yourself and celebrate these milestones.
Michelangelo once said, “The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is too high and miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Abigail Adams said, “Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended with diligence.”
As you jump into 2022, I hope you’ll join me in aiming high with intentional learning, and that it gets you to where you want to be at the end of this year. And even if some adjustments are made throughout the year, I hope we all end up enjoying the learning process and take time to celebrate along the way.