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Learning vs. Personal Growth … they are not the same!

Updated: Nov 9, 2018

When speaking of personal growth there is a very tricky and deceptive distinction that must be clarified: learning can feel like growth but it isn’t.

Someone can be a learning junkie (I am) and learning sure can make you feel as-if you are growing. In one sense you are growing, but what you are growing in is knowledge.

Personal growth as I am defining it, is more than that. It is growing in your life. It is growing forward towards an outcome. It is growing in service to something.

If what you learn is not in service to an outcome then I would say it is not really growth. Here’s why. Service to an outcome requires action, which requires a change in behavior. It is when we change our behavior that we can say we have truly grown.

Without a change in behavior what feels like growth is simply learning.

I know lots of people that are forever and always adding to their knowledge (learning) but not taking that knowledge into action toward an outcome. The reason for that is in order to take that knowledge into action they have to change. Change is a dirty little word most people hate. It’s so much more fun to “learn and stay the same.” You get the “high” of learning without having to make the effort to be different, which feels risky (because it is).

People who are truly living their value of personal growth will always be in service to an outcome. This is key. The outcome drives everything. The person will learn in service to the outcome. The person will shift their mindset in service to the outcome. The person will change their behavior in service to the outcome.

When you don’t actually want to change you become a learner only. The changes inside you from learning are fun and stimulating but non-threatening because who you are being in the world is the same.

When your focus is simply to learn and problems crop up, then you view those problems from a completely different mindset.

You wait. You do nothing as long as the pain of changing is worse than the pain of the problem. When the pain of the problem becomes big enough you address it to reduce or eliminate your pain. Here, problem solving has nothing to do with being in service to a greater good or outcome. It’s all about making something bad or unpleasant go away.

This is a critical distinction. Here’s an example. You are a personal growth person. The outcome or vision you are committed to is having a conscious committed partnership with your spouse. You imagine what you want and you get clear on what you value. This helps direct your learning because maybe there are skills you need to gain before you can be the person in this vision of the relationship that you want. You commit time and energy to this vision. It guides you. A problem crops up. Your partner is not holding up his or her end of the commitment.

From a personal growth mindset, you begin by refocusing on your desired outcome.

Next, you initiate conscious action to address/solve the issue with your partner so you can move toward your vision. You are addressing the issue in service to something greater. You know there will be pain or discomfort that you would rather avoid but the vision or outcome dictates everything. The purpose of the conversation is not to make your partner wrong, but to get back on track with the agreed upon outcome. That is the agenda that drives the conversation.

This is very different from someone who enjoys learning but doesn’t want to change. This person (let’s call her Jane) knows what she wants in a relationship. Jane talks to her partner and shares her desires. But (this is key) she does not commit to the vision. She just “wants” it. When issues crop up Jane’s initial response is to avoid them. She may deny or minimize the issue and say it’s “not that bad”, make excuses, diminish the value of what she wants, etc.

Eventually the pain of the situation will become great enough and Jane will finally say something. But she is now almost certainly in a place of blame and upset so she will be “guided” by nothing greater than her own self-interest. Since there is no agreed upon vision to serve her, this communication between Jane and her partner is likely to breakdown with each blaming and judging the other.

Learning is fun. I can’t imagine a day without learning something new. Personal growth happens when we put what we have learned to work in our lives. By taking action on what we are learning we end up getting much more of what we want in life.

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