Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Cath Duncan from Creative Grief Studio and Remembering For Good.
In our high-change world, those who are most successful in their work are the people who are committed to developing themselves by giving themselves goals or new levels of mastery to reach for.
Successful employees don’t wait for their annual performance review and their boss to tell them where they need to grow – they’re committed to life-long self-directed learning and they’re deciding and driving their own development directions. And it’s a given that, as an entrepreneur, no matter how good your mastermind or business coach is, it’s ultimately up to you to take responsibility for your own personal and professional development.
Here’s how you can drive your own career with a self-directed learning plan:
1) Discover Your Natural Strengths and Interests
You’ll learn fastest, enjoy your work the most and make the most progress if you’re learning and working in the areas of your natural strengths and interests, so base your self-directed learning program on your natural strengths and interests.
Start by thinking of the times when you’re so involved in what you’re doing that you lose track of time. What are you doing when you feel that way? Think about the activities at work that give you the flow experience, and then think of activities outside of work where you get that flow experience. These are the activities that you innately love doing, so they’ll be the areas where you’ll do best to invest your time and energy when it comes to developing mastery. A variety of personality profiling tools can also be really helpful for discovering your natural strengths and interests.
2) Get Clear On Your Vision
We’re all learning and growing all the time – we can’t not learn. The difference that creates success is deciding and directing your learning direction. If you don’t know what you want your work to look like in 1 or 2 years from now, you’ll be likely to have your career direction determined by other people or circumstances, rather than your personal values and desires, so get clear on the picture of work you’re aiming for.
What activities would you ideally spend your day doing? Who are your ideal clients? What does an ideal work week’s schedule look like? What kind of impact do you want to be making through your work? What are the values you want to express and affirm through your work? (Here’s an exercise to discover your values.)
3) Look for the Gaps
When you know what picture you’re aiming for, you can come back to where you are right now and notice where the gaps are between where you are now and where you want to be. This provides the focus for your learning program.
What’s missing in your work right now? What do you want more of and what do you want less of? How much more/ less do you want? How will you know when you have it?
4) Set Your Learning Goals
Considering the gaps you’ve identified, set yourself learning goals that will enable you to bridge those gaps. Remember to check your learning goals against your strengths and interests. If it’s not in the arena of your strengths or interests, can you rather outsource or insource help and get someone else to bridge that gap for you?
A key to successful self-directed learning is in setting the right mastery goals. Csikszentmihalyi studied the flow experience – that space where you’re “in the zone” and it feels like you’re able to perform accurately, easily and effortlessly without much conscious thought. He found that one of the factors that created flow was when people were tackling learning goals that were within a sweet zone where the challenge was not too easy and not too hard, but “just right.”
So if you want to trigger flow experiences, feel naturally motivated and perform your best, then set yourself learning goals that challenge you just enough to trigger both anxiety and excitement. And then, as you make progress, to keep hitting that sweet spot, keep adjusting those goals to challenge yourself a little further all the time.
5) Design Your Plan
Design a self-directed learning plan for yourself by deciding what sources you’ll learn from, what programs or classes you might wish to sign up for, who you’d like to be mentored by, and what other sources of social support and accountability you’ll build into your learning program, in order to achieve your learning goals. As you design your program, remember that you’ll learn best if you create a program that allows you to learn on three levels:
- Learning from other people who are ahead of you. This helps you to stay inspired of the possibilities and to discover more about the territory you’re heading into before you get there.
- Learning with other people who are at a similar level of development. This helps to normalize your fears and ensures that your learning is highly relevant and meets you where you’re at.
- Teaching other people who are just beginning. This helps to reinforce the foundational basics and to remind you how far you’ve come. Plus it has the added bonus of growing your leadership and influence and motivating you through the good feeling of giving back.
Want to avoid getting suckered into buying every new program, overwhelming yourself and never using any of it? Just go back to your self-directed learning plan and check – does this offering fit with my learning goals?
6) Schedule regular reviews
Decide some parameters for tracking and measuring your progress and mark your calendar with an appointment with yourself or your coach to review your progress regularly. Schedule reviews as often as once a month, because the review and feedback loop is fundamental to learning. You might wish to gather feedback from others, record performance statistics, or just reflect and record your own judgement of your performance and progress.
What we measure is what we focus on and what we focus on is what we grow, so be sure to find quantitative or qualitative ways of measuring your progress and focusing your growth.
Elle B says
Hey Cath, great article! I was just reading about Benjamin Franklin, who educated himself just this way. He set himself a program of study and followed it, reviewing himself from week to week.
I think a lot of us keep such a plan in our heads, but never get it on paper. I’ve been victim of this: “Want to avoid getting suckered into buying every new program, overwhelming yourself and never using any of it?”
Thanks for the boost!
Andrew @ Blogging Guide says
Great advice here. I agree with discovering your natural talents and interests because it is good to make this the foundation of whatever else you will be doing. If you will not build on what you are passionate about then you will easily lose focus and interest and it’s not good if that will happen.
Ainslie Hunter says
Cath I think the key is to plan your learning courses. There are so many amazing courses for us to take and it is easy to want to buy them all. But that is just wasteful and completely ineffective to learning.
I also like how you recommend teaching others. It is great to watch kids teaching others – really powerful for the student in the teaching role.
Tyler Shannon says
About a year ago I knew i wanted to do something more, but didn’t know what. I felt overoverwhelmed by the options and not knowing which I should choose. I sat back and took a look at the things I really enjoyed, my strengths, and got a vision of what my perfect day would be like. Doing those three things helped a lot. If you know yourself and where you want to be the options aren’t overwhelming at all.
Ruben Berenguel says
As a language self-learner, the best advice I would give is getting a schedule. You have to find a minimum set of fixed hours to be sure to keep on advancing your knowledge.
Also, as I outlined in How to train your brain to flip to a new language (a guest post I wrote for a blog about the Irish language), you have to take advantage of spare minutes. If you are waiting for a traffic light to turn on, use it to review some grammar (in the example of languages), or identify items near to you in your target language.
Little by little, everyday, wins always.
Cath Duncan says
Glad you guys enjoyed the post and found it useful. And thanks for your additional tips – there are some goodies in there!
Archan Mehta says
Thanks for the post.
You can also attend conferences and seminars. It is important to network, so you meet like-minded people. They may turn out to be your friends, philosophers and guides. Attend trade shows and become a member of your local chamber of commerce. Read books that are not at all related to your major or your work. Cultivate hobbies and interests that are exotic. Leaving your comfort zone can be a great learning experience too. Too many people only learn in their own niche and don’t spread their horizons wide. It is important to read voraciously, deeply and widely, because life comes to us not as divisions but as a whole number. We lose sight of this fact because we are too self-absorbed in details and functionalities. Specialists are useful, but generalists can have a more interesting life.
If you specialise too narrowly, well, that limits your choices. Cheers.
Michael A. Robson says
It’s funny cuz for #4, I swear my goal is just “get way smarter, way way smarter, systematically” with 21tiger… I love reading these books, and whenever I have “I wonder why…ABC?” questions I start asking around, and go on Amazon looking for a book to answer that question.
You’re so right. You have to have a clear goal, or how can you know if you’ve achieved it!?
Hey Cath Duncan I really liked your post and I found that your tips will solve my problems. Thanks to share….
MI.Ameer Ali says
Excellent. Really the post is perfect.
Millie Hue says
I totally agree when you said that we can improve more if we are aware of what our strengths and weaknesses are. I will share this tip with a friend of mine since she said that she feels stagnant now. This is because she has been doing the same thing for six years now. We could go on a workshop from time to time to refresh our minds and skills.