Skills Training – How to master a habit in 66 days

A sustainable business is one that invests in skills training for its staff. That looks great on paper, but it doesn’t mean much if the skills taught during the training sessions lay dormant in the back of your employees’ minds.

Let’s rewind for a moment. A few months back I decided to do something about my sleeping patterns. Having a busy mind, I always found it difficult to settle in for the night while my mind was whirring away. To counter this, I aimed to change two behaviours: the first was no alcohol on week nights (goodbye wine while cooking!) and the second was adding breathing exercises before bed. A month later, I wasn’t any better off and began to doubt the effectiveness of my new habits.

There’s a widely accepted belief that it takes 21 days (or three weeks) to form a new habit. It’s the magic number – a time frame just short enough to be inspiring, yet long enough to be believable. This didn’t happen by accident. In 1960, Dr Maxwell Maltz – a plastic surgeon who first noticed a strange pattern among his patients – published a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. It was in this book that Dr Maltz observed that “it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”

A recent study conducted by the European Journal of Social Psychology found that the number is more like 66 days. Depending on the behaviour, the person, and the circumstances, that figure could be as long as 254 days! So why did I fail at nailing my sleep patterns? Because I didn’t allow myself enough time to make drifting off quickly & easily habitual.

66 is the magic number if you’re considering skills training for your workplace.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you’re considering skills training, it’s not just to make your boss & customers happy, right? Sure, that’s an added bonus which will pay dividends come performance review season. The real reason you’re up-skilling is to increase your job satisfaction and make your own work life easier. But that only happens when you implement what you’ve learned and make it a habit.

Make skills training work for you!

To make learning a new skill set easier, we must first understand the mechanics of forming a habit. First, there is a cue; a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. After that we kick off the routine, which can be physical, mental, emotional or a combination of all three. Finally, there is a reward. This is the carrot that helps your brain figure out if a particular loop is worth remembering in future. Over time and with repetition this loop becomes more and more automatic.

Despite being a little put off by my lacklustre results, the reward of a good night’s sleep kept me focussed on mastering my new behaviours. I kept reminding myself of how good it would feel to fall into a deep, restful sleep quickly… and how good I would feel in the morning. A few months later, I no longer miss cooking with a glass of wine and I really look forward to the part of my night where I can simply lay down and clear my mind for the evening.

Put simply, if you want to get rid of a bad habit, you have to find out how to implement a healthier routine that’ll provide you with the same- or greater reward. In the workplace, that reward may be in the form of job satisfaction, better relationships with your co-workers and customers or an improved workflow – all of which are achievable through skills training.

What skills training delivery method should you choose?

When it comes to up-skilling in the workplace, you don’t need intensive workshops and or week by week mentorship for the majority of training. That method is only okay if you’re looking for a piece of paper that’ll offer you a cheap tax break.

To transform all-important skills into habits, I’ve found it’s worth investing in something you (or your staff) can engage with daily and make a habit out of. I’ve seen more businesses than ever opting for video training – and with good reason. It saves a lot of money, the videos engage viewers to get maximum effect, and those employees are able to revisit the training as often as they like – cementing what they’ve learned and building habits faster.

Remember that there is no magic bullet for learning a new skill. The timeline is flexible, so you should be too. The three key takeaways to keep in the back of your mind when considering skills training are:

  1. Remind yourself of the reward you’ll receive for the skills you’ll learn.
  2. Pick a training method that allows for repetition.
  3. Give yourself two months before you evaluate what you’ve learned.

– Lachy