Human Resources

How Habit Formation is Key to Developing New Skills

September 19, 2023
4 minutes

At tilr, we focus a lot on skills development. That focus is typically on the organizations and how they can use skills inventories, skills data and skills gaps to structure learning paths that align employees skills development with the needs of the organization. But this focus misses out on a critical element of the equation - and that is employees willingness and ability to learn. 

At the heart of any skills development program is the element of habit formation. Employees and their Managers can meticulously plan paths and programs to acquire new skills, but it's the daily actions and routines they establish that truly propel employees forward. 

This blog post is dedicated to the topic of habit formation and its profound role in skill development. Let’s explore how habits form and the steps employees and their Managers can take to support it. 

Consistency in Learning

Consistency is the cornerstone of forming any new habit. This means, establishing a habit of regular learning ensures that employees consistently dedicate time and effort to acquiring and improving their skills. Whether it's setting aside an hour every evening or a few minutes each morning, consistent learning helps reinforce knowledge and create a strong foundation for skill growth.

To achieve consistency, employees can:

  • Create a daily or weekly schedule for skill development.
  • Allocate specific time slots for learning, making it a non-negotiable part of their routine.
  • Use reminders or calendar notifications to stay on track and ensure they don't miss their dedicated learning time.

Overcoming Procrastination

Different people experience and manage procrastination in different ways. But the reality is that it is something most people struggle with conquering. When learning becomes a habitual part of one's daily or weekly routine, it becomes easier to overcome the initial resistance to starting. Employees can leverage this habit to bypass procrastination by making learning an automatic response to a specific cue, such as sitting at their desk or opening a learning app.

To tackle procrastination, employees can:

  • Identify their most common procrastination triggers and develop strategies to counteract them.
  • Break down learning tasks into smaller, manageable steps to reduce perceived effort.
  • Use the "two-minute rule," which involves starting a task for just two minutes to overcome initial inertia.

Skill Maintenance

Maintaining acquired skills is as crucial as acquiring new ones. Especially because different skills decay at different rates.  Habitual practice ensures that skills remain sharp and readily applicable in real-world situations. Employees can establish a habit of regular skill maintenance, such as practicing coding exercises, reviewing language proficiency, or staying updated on industry trends.

To maintain skills effectively, employees can:

  • Create a skill maintenance schedule that includes periodic reviews and practice sessions.
  • Set up reminders to revisit skills at specified intervals to prevent skill decay.
  • Incorporate skills into their daily work or personal projects to reinforce their application.

Incremental Progress

Skill development can be overwhelming when approached as a massive undertaking. Habit formation encourages employees to break down skill development into smaller, achievable steps. By making incremental progress a habitual part of their routine, employees build confidence and motivation over time.

To facilitate incremental progress, employees can:

  • Identify specific learning objectives or milestones they want to achieve.
  • Create a roadmap with clearly defined steps to reach these objectives.
  • Celebrate each milestone reached to maintain motivation and track progress.

Behavior Reinforcement

Habits have a natural built-in mechanism of positive reinforcement. When employees consistently engage in skill development activities, they experience a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This positive reinforcement strengthens the habit, making it more likely that they will continue to engage in skill-building behaviors.

To harness behavior reinforcement, employees can:

  • Acknowledge their achievements, regardless of their size, to reinforce positive behavior.
  • Use rewards or incentives to celebrate milestones and maintain motivation.
  • Reflect on the benefits and personal growth that come from skill development to reinforce the habit's importance.

Time Efficiency

Habitual learning can be more time-efficient than sporadic, lengthy study sessions. Short, regular sessions are often more effective for retention and skill improvement. Employees can leverage habit formation to integrate brief learning moments into their daily routines without feeling overwhelmed.

To optimize time efficiency, employees can:

  • Set a specific duration for each learning session (e.g., 20 minutes).
  • Use microlearning techniques to cover small, focused topics during short sessions.
  • Make efficient use of available downtime, such as commuting or waiting periods, for skill development.

Long-Term Commitment

Habit formation fosters a long-term commitment to skill development. Instead of viewing learning as a temporary task, employees develop a mindset of continuous improvement. This commitment to lifelong learning is essential in today's rapidly evolving work environment, where skills can become obsolete quickly.

To maintain a long-term commitment to skill development, employees can:

  • Embrace the idea of continuous learning as a personal and professional growth strategy.
  • Stay updated on industry trends and emerging technologies to remain relevant.
  • Set long-term learning goals that align with their career aspirations and personal development objectives.

By understanding and applying these principles of habit formation, employees can cultivate effective learning habits that empower them to acquire, maintain, and improve their skills over time. These habits become the building blocks of their professional growth and success.

Habit Stacking

We’ll spend more time unpacking this idea because it is an interesting and innovative one.

"Habit stacking" is a productivity and habit formation technique that involves integrating a new habit into an existing routine or habit you already practice consistently. The idea behind habit stacking is to use an established habit as a cue or trigger for a new habit, making it easier to incorporate the new behavior into your daily life. This technique leverages the power of association to help you remember to perform the new habit consistently.

Here's how habit stacking works:

1. Identify an Existing Habit: Begin by identifying a habit or routine you already do consistently. This could be something as simple as checking your email first thing in the morning when you start work.

2. Choose a New Habit: Determine the new habit you want to incorporate into your routine. It should be a specific and achievable behavior that you'd like to develop as a habit. For example, read one support article from a software vendor that helps you better understand how to use the system.

3. Link the New Habit: Next, link the new habit to the existing habit by specifying when and where you will perform the new behavior. This creates a clear association between the two habits. Using the same example, your habit stack might look like this: "After I check my email first thing in the morning, I will read one support article.”

4. Start Small: Keep the new habit simple and manageable, especially when you're just starting. Over time, you can build on it or increase its complexity.

5. Repeat and Reinforce: Consistency is key to habit formation. Repeatedly perform the new habit immediately after the existing one. The more you practice this habit stack, the more automatic it becomes.

Here are some benefits of habit stacking:

  • Efficiency: Habit stacking allows you to make the most of your existing routines by incorporating new habits without significant extra effort.

  • Consistency: Because it's tied to something you already do regularly, the new habit is more likely to become ingrained in your daily life.

  • Reduced Decision-Making: It eliminates the need to decide when or how to perform the new habit, as it becomes a natural part of your routine.

  • Progressive Growth: Over time, you can stack multiple habits onto the same trigger, creating a chain of positive behaviors that contribute to your personal or professional development.

Habit formation emerges as the linchpin that bridges the gap between intention and action in skills development. It's not just about creating a career journey for ourselves or for our employees. It’s about embedding learning into daily routines and making it an inherent part of our professional journey.

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