How to get what you want by becoming a learning machine

So, let me ask you … are you happy?  Are you where you want to be?  Are you getting what you want?

In this article I’m going to talk to you about getting what you want by becoming a learning machine. But before we talk about becoming a learning machine, let’s talk about the reasons that sit behind getting what you want.

So, what do you really want?

Deep down, I believe the reason we want what we want is about of how it will make us feel when we get it. It’s arguable that ultimately, we don’t really want a new Lamborghini, for example, but the feeling we get from owning or driving that car.

As part of chasing that feeling, it seems likely for most of us, the goal also encompasses a desire to be happier. Tai Lopez relevantly asserts that what we strive for is ‘living the good life’ which he says is about health, wealth, love, and happiness.

But what is happiness? Michael Hyatt defines happiness as the pursuit of a meaningful goal. The point to emphasise here, is that it is not necessarily the achievement of a meaningful goal but the pursuit of it, that makes us happier.

So how do we pursue meaningful goals? Firstly, we need to decide what it is that we want. This sounds surprisingly simple but most of us don’t take the time to sit and really figure out what we want.

Part of the reason for this is that if we don’t have something firmly in mind, we may not know what it will feel like when we get what we want.  While some of us may have a had a burning desire for a particular goal for years, many of us are often clearer about what we don’t want than what we do.

Against this backdrop, this is why I believe that the pursuit makes us happy because we believe we are moving towards the place of getting what we want, even though getting what we might want ironically may not make us happy.  For example, if we believe that buying a house in a certain suburb will make us happy, then we may feel happier as we agree to buy the house (sign the contract etc), only to discover when we get there, that it wasn’t what we wanted.

Determining your goals

In this regard, a good technique for determining your goals (if you’re unclear) is to write down what you think you want. It doesn’t matter if what you write down is ultimately not correct; even 80% right is enough to start. Once you’ve started heading towards your goal, it’s much easier to correct course while you’re in motion then from a static position.

The second part of making progress towards a meaningful goal is to start, and as you do so, that usually means doing or learning something new.  On this point, it is said that we only grow outside our comfort zone.

If our progress is slow and we are not vigorously pursuing our goals, it’s not necessarily because we lack willpower but because our goals are not sufficiently driving us. Tony Robbins says that the problem in this situation is “impotent goals”.

So, once you figured out what you (probably) want and this goal is sufficiently motivating for you to move towards it, the next part is about taking action. This is where becoming a ‘learning machine’ comes into play.

Learning machine

The idea of becoming a ‘learning machine’ involves constantly doing minor experiments and learning in the process. And the learning part is at least as important as the experiments themselves.

Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  And yet, that is exactly what we do.

From a personal perspective, I had put on about 5 kg and spent literally years trying to get it off. Yet, here is the irony, I used exactly the same technique for years to try to lose the 5 kg, believing that when I mustered sufficient willpower I would achieve the outcome, but very little changed – and ultimately, it didn’t work.

It was only when I changed the strategy and learnt that the previous strategy wasn’t working that I achieved the outcome I was looking for.

The key here is to run short experiments – any kind of test of doing something different – for a few days or a few weeks, then paying close attention to the results. On that point, it’s worth noting that while you can be guided by what has worked for others, it’s also important to ultimately determine what works for us individually.

In my previous career, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, in the animal division, and the vets used to talk about something called ‘species variability’. The idea was that while some things work for most animals (eg. a particular drug), they don’t necessarily work for all animals.

I’m sure this is true for the human species too. We hear that something has worked for someone, and we assume that it will work for us to. This may be true sometimes, but sometimes it may not be true. It is only by conducting these mini experiments that you can learn what works for you.

So where to start?

The easiest place to start is the area that you feel is most out of alignment. Going back to Tai Lopez’s definition of living the good life, which of the four factors (health, wealth, love, happiness) appears to require the most immediate attention in your life?

Once you’ve determined that, it is simply a matter of coming up with something you can do that is a simple change you can implement for a few weeks. Importantly, once you finish, take a note of whether it worked or not. If it worked, keep going! If not, run another experiment.

To help you with some examples, check out the following but remember, adapt these to what works for you:

  • Health – try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each day and see what that feels like in terms of how tired you feel and how well rested
  • Wealth – open a new savings account and organise for your employer to transfer $50 every pay to that new account – see how the extra funds make you feel
  • Love – discuss with your loved one what they enjoy doing most with you and schedule that in every week or every month – check the results
  • Happiness – take an audit of all the things you do in your life on a weekly basis and give each item a score from 1 (unhappy) to 10 (happy). For two weeks, consciously spend more time on the items on your list that have a higher number – then see what difference that makes to your happiness.


A key part of becoming happier is to decide what we want. However, to accelerate that process, and avoid Einstein’s definition of insanity, we need to become learning machines. To do so, it’s a matter of regular short experiments which involve trying something for a few weeks, and assessing the outcome. From there, it is a simple matter of continuing if successful or trying a new experiment if unsuccessful.

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