I have a confession to make; I’m a little bit obsessed with the idea of growth. It may even be more accurate to say that I’m a little terrified with remaining stagnant. I love setting goals, tracking progress and then evaluating success against predetermined metrics. Ever since I learned about the mechanics of management, I’ve been fascinated and more than a little bit, well, obsessive.
All that being said, management tools are just that, tools. They are only a means to an end. That’s why the idea of growth has always been foundational to me. The work involved in improvement, though often difficult has always been worthwhile with a finish line in mind. To be able to look back at the progress I’ve made at some future point, whether that be a new skill, experience or piece of knowledge is extremely fulfilling. However, what I’ve found, is that without an approach to growth it can feel like you’re just completely random tasks and just moving in circles. So, here is the approach that I’ve implemented to help me on my journey of growth and improvement.
The Learning Phase
We all gather information in varied ways. With my background in auditing, we are taught to review
Documentation and Records
Interview Relevant Parties
For me, this has always been a good summary of how we learn. That may include reading books, taking classes, leveraging mentors and observing the masters at work. While I use some amount of all the methods mentioned, my primary and preferred method is reading. We all have our preferred method for gathering information and as long as we are retaining said information we are well on the way to improvement.
The Walk the Talk Phase
It’s not enough to simply take in information without ever applying it. Don’t get me wrong, feeding your mind and intellect is a reward unto itself and have several benefits. However, if your goal is to improve at whatever you’re working on, you have to take action towards that goal. One of the best ways to guarantee action is to choose one behavior that, if completed consistently, will give you the biggest impact on your goal. It’s far better to pick one item that gives 40% improvement than five that will give you a 70% increase. The reason? Because you’re busy and you can learn to execute one new behavior but five…probably not.
There’s the old saying practice makes perfect, but practice also has another meaningful function. Practice informs whether or not the action is meaningful to your improvement. There are several approaches to any problem. However, they won’t all work for you. Therefore, practicing early and often will give you some insight into whether or not your strategy is working. The idea isn’t so much to find the one perfect strategy, but it’s to find the strategy that works for you. The best way to do so is to practice.
The Feedback Phase
Growth and accountability go hand in hand. While difficult, having accountability only to yourself is doable if you are consistently measuring and documenting your progress. Think, keeping a food journal and monitoring your weight. If however, you're not tracking and documenting the metrics to determine your progress, it will be extremely difficult to improve. You need the feedback from your results to determine if your actions are successful or if you need to readjust and try a different approach. We can also secure accountability by publicly declaring what we want to work on and requesting feedback from someone we trust.
The thought of getting feedback can sometimes feel uncomfortable. In some ways, it may even feel like judgment. However, I have found that feedback is one of the single greatest assets to improvement and growth. The reason feedback is so valuable is because of perception and reality. That is the difference between where you think you are, where others think you are and where you are actually at. It is difficult to objectively assess our actions because we are privy to our thoughts and intentions. There is also confirmation biases that are entangled in our general self-perception, that is, we do the ‘right’ thing because it is who we are and when we do the ‘wrong’ thing, that’s an exception. The outside world assessing us have their own confirmation biases and are not privy to our thoughts and intentions so their perspective and perception of our actions are wholly different.
All in all, this boils down to a fascinating stew in which our energy and actions could be interpreted wholly differently from what we intended. And while our intent is important if our actions are not connecting with the intended audience, we may find ourselves at a bit of a loss. Even when that intended audience is our selves. So, if you are trying to improve behavior with the people around you, you need to ensure you have a system that holds you accountable, whether by tracking your progress in concrete terms or getting feedback from someone you trust.
One Last Thing
Growth and improvement aimed at our personal development are extremely worthwhile pursuits. Once we have garnered knowledge, understanding or meaningful skills we are then in a position where we can help others by disseminating what we know. This, in turn, helps us to hold on to as much of what we learn as we can. Teaching can be a great way to connect with those around us and also reflect on where we were and currently are.