Is learning to code a top priority for you?

We’ve all done it before. You get into something for a few weeks, read a few articles, learn a few things, and then… it fades away…

You lose interest — move on to the next thing. You forget what you learned.

For me, it’s been a lot of things over the years. Sadly, the first one that comes to mind is learning to play the guitar.

I’ve always wanted to play the learn guitar. I bought a nice, middle-of-the-road guitar. I was pumped. This was the time.

I learned a few chords. I learned a few songs! And over the next few weeks, I played those songs again and again.

But then a week went by where I didn’t pick up the guitar at all.

And another week.

And a month later, I had pretty much forgotten all of those songs.

Why does it happen?

Does that sound familiar? I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar before, whether it was learning an instrument, learning to skateboard, learning to draw comics, or learning to weave baskets underwater.

But why does it happen? What makes you lose interest? Why does it seem to happen so damn easily?

How do you overcome the hurdle? Get over that hill?

In order to dig into that, let’s take a look at great, common example: learning to drive.

When you’re 15 or 16, one thing tops most in the exciting things happening in your life: you can learn how to drive and get your driver’s license. It’s the closest thing to a ticket stamping your approaching “adult” status.

But why do you really want to learn to drive? What are the motivations?


It opens up so many new avenues. You don’t need to rely on your parents any more. Fuck yeah!

These are real, and real strong, motivations. Particularly when you’re 16 years old.

So you set out to get your license. You need to get your license. It’s a key to unlocking so much. And how do you start?

You get someone — a parent, an older sibling or friend — to take you out driving. You practice. You take driver’s ed. to learn the rules of the road. You study the book they give you. You practice some more. You usually have to meet a certain number of practice hours. Let’s call it 50. You hit 50 hours. And then you learn how to parallel park — and that’s when you can taste it.

Your formula for success

By this point, you’ve put in a lot of work! You took action. You did what you needed to do to learn the skills you need to pass that driver’s test. And your reward is not only that license… it’s what that license affords you: that freedom. The ability to do more on your own.

There’s a formula that you can tease out of this successful journey learning to drive. When you set out to learn something new, there are two keys to success: motivation and action.

Motivation: the desire for that freedom that a driver’s license provides, to move freely from place to place. To go places on your own. So motivation: check.

Action: you practiced a whole lot. At least 50 hours, in fact. And you also studied. You learned the rules of the road. And then you took and passed your test. Action: another check.

And when you’re learning anything new, whenever you’re successful, if you got back and think about your process, you’ll find those same two factors: motivation and action.

Perhaps, then, these are the ingredients we need to look for every time we decide to try anything new. For instance, say, learning to code.

How can you tell if you’ll successfully learn something new?

You might think: well, that’s just impossible to tell. It depends on too many things. But I disagree. I think it can be boiled down to a few concrete factors. Starting with motivation.

Some of the motivation comes naturally. It comes from what learning SKILL X will afford you. What it will mean to you if you successfully learn it.

In the case of driving, that motivation came in the form of a ton of new freedom.

Let’s take learning to program. If you’re reading this, you have at least some interest in learning to program. But in order to determine how motivated you truly are, you need to dig a little deeper and ask yourself some questions:

  • What are you willing to do to make it happen?
  • Are you willing to get up early on a Saturday to practice? To put in the time?

If not, maybe it’s not that important to you.

  • Do you want to start in a new career in programming?

Or do you just want to learn a few things here or there?

  • If you learn to program, how will it make your life better? What will it help you do? What doors will open for you in your career, in your life?

Or do you just have a fleeting interest because it’s been popping up all over the news?

  • Do you want to be able to build and launch your own applications? Or launch your own startup?

Or do you just want to learn how to write a few lines of javascript?

All motivations are not created equal.

And motivations are what drive your level of commitment. There’s a very important distinction between “sort of interested” and “this is going to change my life!”

TRUTH BOMB TIME: if something’s not that important to you, frankly, you won’t be motivated to put in the time to actually learn it.

It may sound a bit wishy-washy, but it’s the truth. If you won’t derive tangible, impactful benefits from learning something, your chance of success plummets.

And this is not meant to deter you from learning something. It’s meant to open your eyes and maybe help you inspect things a bit closer. What are you really hoping to achieve? What will you gain? Why does it matter to you?

So is learning to code a top priority for you? Here’s how you can find out.

How important to you is learning to code? Is it a top priority?

Let’s do a simple activity and find out.

Write down the top priorities in your life. Then rank them.

Go ahead. Grab a piece of paper and take a few minutes thinking about your top priorities in life. Write them down. And then rank them, writing a number next to each one, with your top priority getting a #1.

Now take a look at your top five:

  • Does money come into play? Is learning to program your way to achieve financial success?
  • What about success in your career? Could programming be a way of achieving that success?
  • What about happiness? What plays into that? Would learning to program make your life better? Make you happier?

If learning to program doesn’t strongly relate to at least one of your top 5 priorities, you probably aren’t motivated enough to put in the time to make significant progress.

And if that’s the case, not to sound dismissive, I suggest you focus your energy on whatever will impact your top 3-5 priorities! That’s where your passion and interests clearly lie. And that’s where you’ll excel the most: because that’s what you care about the most.

If learning to code does relate to at least one of your top 5 priorities, awesome. Teasing out your motivations behind learning something new is a crucial part of the process.

But now you may be wondering… how do you start making serious progress? Read on…

How do you actually learn to program? How do you start to make real progress?

The next step is to take action. To attack your goal. To put in those practice hours and start moving that needle.

Ask yourself the following questions and keep the following thing in mind: there are no right answers. (And I’ll also share my own personal answers with you, below.)

What do you need in order to learn to program?
A computer. If you’re reading this, you almost certainly have access to one. Time to practice. Learning materials. Books. A course. A class.

How do you make consistent progress? What stands in your way?
What’s preventing you from getting started? Make a list of the things that stand in your way. How can you combat each and every one of those barriers? Write down those answers.

How do you overcome obstacles? (There will be obstacles.)
Look back at a time when you got stuck. How did you get unstuck? If you didn’t get unstuck, what would have been the magic solution? what one thing would have saved you?

Where do you get what you need?
How do you pick a course? What do you learn first?

How did I teach myself to code?

Here’s what worked for me — how I successfully taught myself to code:

What did I need in order to learn to program?
A strong desire and a lofty goal: to build a complete web application for a new startup.

And then I needed instruction. When I started out, 10 years ago, I acquired most of that through: trial and error; a lot of Googling; and inspecting other people’s code. These days, there are comprehensive courses that walk you through the entire process. I wish I had a course like the one I’ve created. (More on that in a minute.) It would have made the journey much faster and easier.

How did I make consistent progress? What stood in my way?
I was incredibly motivated to learn, because, in my case, it was either build that application or bust. I put in time every single day to learn as much as I could and practice as much as possible. And day after day, week after week, my experience really added up.

What stood in my way was self-doubt. I was trying to learn something new. Something big. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But I plugged along, and as I gained more and more skills, that self-doubt became less and less.

How did I overcome obstacles? (And there were certainly obstacles.)
I kept at it. Plain and simple. I put in the hard work. I made the time and I practiced. I got discouraged plenty of times, but as opposed to letting that deter me, I tried to see those times as opportunities to learn something new. To learn from my mistakes or learn how to do something better.

Where did I get what I needed?
From multiple places. I got my resolve to stick with it from my strong motivation. I got my knowledge and skills from a lot of sources and by persistent trial and error.

While it still requires plenty of work and dedication, these days, the path to learning to code can be much cleaner and clear-cut.

Where do you go from here?

From Idea To Launch, my new video-based online course & community is now open. It teaches you how you build a complete Laravel web application, step by step. I designed and built the course from the ground up to help you get started right away and avoid all of the obstacles that frequently get in the way.

Each lesson contains a ~10 minute video, so you can take everything at your own pace. And the private Slack community – where I’m always available – will provide all the help you’ll need along the way.

Read more about the course now.

Alex Coleman helps others learn to build web applications with Laravel. His articles and courses have helped over 10,000 developers level-up their PHP web development skills and learn to build and launch their own web applications to the world. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.