How Differentiate Learning From Growing

When we think about professional and personal development, we usually think about taking courses, reading self-help books, attending professional training, having a mentor, etc. These often come into play as we realize that professional and personal development lead us to self-actualization, the highest point in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow explicitly defines self-actualization as “the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for the individual to become actualized in what he is potentially capable of achieving.”

With an attentive focus on growing as opposed to just learning, you can achieve your own self-actualization, stay motivated, and accomplish things you long thought you couldn’t. A focus on growth makes you more willing to accept both challenges and mistakes with the understanding that you may need to try several times to reach success. On the other hand, if you focus only on learning, you can develop a habit of procrastinating when it comes to reaching your goals. You can build up a resistance to challenges and completely avoid failure by always moving on to new tasks and never achieving the original goal.

Further, full attainment of self-actualization requires that learning be applied in service to a goal or end. It’s not just learning for learning’s sake.

How many times have you met someone who spends considerable time and money acquiring knowledge, but never applies it? We probably all know someone like that. These people might have their “knowledge compass” pointing in the direction of learning, but they don’t continue to follow that compass so as to reach their specific goals. They are satisfied with lesser achievement and seem to be satisfied simply learning.

That could be because they have a self-imposed limitation. For instance, they might be thinking, “I am not good enough to apply my learning and move up to a higher level.” As a result, they just go around in circles, rarely making progress toward specific goals.

Others, however, have a more useful compass. Their compass not only points in the direction of learning but also indicates the desired action and implementation that can result from that learning. Remember, a goal without an action plan is only a dream. The powerful belief that supports these people in the use of their more useful compass is, “I am good enough and I am eager to apply my learning in order to go forward to where I deserve and want to be.”

So, what is your habitual pattern? Are you only a dreamer or do you make things happen? Reveal the answer by asking yourself three questions:

1. What is my goal in learning?
2. How do I implement what I have learned so far?
3. How am I progressing toward my goal?

Your answers will tell you whether you are on the correct personal or professional development path to attain your goals. If you are not on the correct path, you need to assess whether or not you are applying your learning in service to your goals.

Each step on your path to success is a victory. The more victories you collect, no matter how small they are, the more your confidence level is enhanced. Collect as many victories as possible to have the self-confidence to learn, grow and realize your full potential.

For instance, if you decide you want to get your MBA, you might want to first commit to reading books or articles about your chosen field, completing an online business course or religiously reading the Business section in The Economist each week. As a result, you will not only benefit from the learning involved, but you will also experience increased self-confidence. You will acquire the self-confidence to make your compass a valuable component in your self-actualization arsenal. This compass, tailored just for you, will get you where you want to go.

So, if you are looking for personal and professional growth, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the mere accumulation of knowledge is enough. You must engrain that knowledge and use it as the basis for productive, directed action.

Simply put, here are the ABCDEs of productive action:

A. Set a goal that is achievable in a doable amount of time.
B. Learn what needed knowledge is missing from your assortment and formulate a plan to get it.
C. Apply your new learning to your goal.
D. Stretch yourself and move on to new challenges and goals.
E. Repeat A, B, C and D.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

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