4 Ways to Ignite Personal Growth

It is easy to identify those who are investing both energy and resources into their own personal growth. There is an aura about them that, though you may not be able to put your finger on it or articulate it, overflows that they have spent time investing in their own growth and development so that they can have influence in the life of another.

I remember one such person in my own life. He just had an effectiveness about him that drew me in. I wanted to be around him and have my thinking and behavior changed.

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Photo courtesy of Idea go | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I had just moved into a new role as Vice President of Academics at Northland. I had never served in a role such as this and I was nervous and overwhelmed to say the least. This coworker, my up-line, stepped in to mentor me.

I recall meeting early every Monday before work and hammering through Visioneering by Andy Stanley together. As I listened to him in conversation, I would pick up habits or traits that he mentioned that resonated within me. As I got to know him, I realized that these patterns within his life were agents to help keep his “saw” sharpened.

Keep the axe sharp

I have heard the analogy, and I am not sure who it originated with, but it goes something like this: you can be effective in cutting wood with an axe if you have have the necessary skills, but your skills will be diminished if your axe is not kept sharpened. Though production is necessary, so is taking time to keep the blade sharp. A dull axe does not cut effectively. It fact, it will hinder the very success you are seeking.

Through those weekly meetings, as well as other times of interaction, it became apparent that this individual kept his “axe” sharp. And in several respects, it shaped me as a leader moving forward. His influence with me will not soon be forgotten.

I need to step in here and mention that, as a believer in the gospel of Jesus, I am reminded daily of my own need for full and utter dependence on the Spirit of God to enable me in what I do and how I am to be with others. It is through His power and His enabling.

And part of how God shapes me is through the use of disciplines in my own life that not only benefit me, but benefit those with whom I rub shoulders or lead.

4 ways to ignite your own growth

And so today, I would like to offer you four disciplines in my own life that, as I look back, are providing me with a sharper “blade” in being productive and persuasive with others so as to serve them well.

Reading for leading

I am a shameless promoter of reading. I blog about it. I get that look when I tell my kids “Hey kids, remember that….” 

“Yes, dad,” they reply, “readers are leaders. We know.” And it is true.

At the very least be an avid reader of God’s word – pure truth. And beyond that, add to your collection articles and books that add new growth to what might be stale thinking.

Ralph Waldo Emerson made an interesting statement about reading,

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

Reading gives me ideas. Reading solidifies some concepts and dismantles others. One reason that I read, and set goals for reading, is that it provides a benefit to others. 

It provides a shaping mechanism in conversations.

I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been talking with someone or doing lunch, and in the middle of the conversation, God brings an idea into my head for that moment to encourage, sharpen, or provide feedback to the other person. 

It is not coincidental. Your mind can store a lot more than you think it can, and ideas and concepts read can be retrieved for use even when not memorized. I want to be of benefit to others and add to their own thoughts in a way that generates within them new fodder for pondering.

If you are not a reader, start with some goal. One book every couple of months. Six books a year. I hear you – “I just do not have time!” I get that. I would also say, “How is your wood cutting going when your axe is dull?”

I know what I am like when I am reading and when I am not, so I have a benchmark for comparison. I do not like the non-reading me. I feel shallow and simple in my ideas. Ruts. But perhaps you have never taken the challenge before and so do not have a point of comparison.

Try it out. See what happens.

I know you are thinking, but are you really?

In a culture that craves sound bytes and the next image to Snapchat, we are losing our sense of the notion of deeper thought. We have become so used to being distracted that we have forgotten what is means to mediate, ponder, and think critically.

Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, makes a sobering argument:

Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities, and commercials.

And in in a day of emphasizing productivity (and it’s a good emphasis!), I can easily get out of balance and become content with just being busy. 

The problem is that we all are busy. Anyone reading this post not busy?

As I stated in a prior post on journaling, it hit me that I was failing to put time in my week just to think. To force myself to view my mission statement for both my life and my vocation. To look at the “big rocks” and unearth current practice to solve how things could be better or more effective.

If you are not doing this, you might be headed for drift in your life. I know I was. And so once a week I am now building time into my week to ignore the electronic notifications and get myself aligned.

And that leads to my third suggestion..

The value of the journal

As I mentioned in my post two weeks ago, 3 Ways Journaling Can Be Valuable for Your Thinking, I got an idea from a podcast I listened to and purchased a physical, I-have-to-actually-write-with-a-pen, journal.

Remember those?

It is truly assisting me in eliminating drift in my life. Writing, whether you are more comfortable typing or actually jotting down ideas, is becoming a lost art. 

Why? Because it is hard work. But in working through the hardness of it, I am realizing how refueling it is for me and a release of energy and original thought. I am working through key areas that need change, taking time to write down the roadblocks, then for each roadblock, composing a solution, a next step of sorts, that is going to move that key area forward.

Sometimes I do not know the answer and have to collaborate with others. Other times I can see what needs to be done. Regardless, it keeps these foundational areas from eroding. My writing has forced abstract thinking into tangible solutions.

And many times my writing is just a dumping ground for thoughts that need to be fleshed out and are now out of my mind.

Looking ahead

And finally, one final discipline that I am using more frequently is using time during my the weekend to look ahead at how the week ahead can be best managed. Typically I have managed things more day-to-day in terms of what is best to work on in any given day.

But there is great advantage to looking at the full week ahead.

And realize, God may just show up and put a wrinkle in your plans, but I think there is a biblical principle for stewarding our time well, to the best that we can see at that moment.

Matt Perman, author of What’s Best Next, wrote an article that offered a weekly planning checklist.

Take a few minutes to review it. I have looked over a few of these types of lists, and this one came out on top because of its simplicity. I did not want “50 Steps to an Effective Week” type of thing.

If you are like me, I get up and feel as if I am on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport. I just get on…and it takes me somewhere.

I am tired of feeling like that with my week, where what is most urgent gets most attention. I need more intentionality in my week, to structure, as God enables, a purposeful week with purposeful targets, both with people with whom I want to connect as well as with what tasks need to happen.

Let’s wrap it up

And so these are four ways that are igniting my own personal growth. Days turn into weeks; weeks turn into months; months turn into years. One day I will give an answer to my God for how I used my time, developed my creativity, and influenced others. It is all about His kingdom and His agenda. And He desires to use each of us, in our own context of living, to carry out His design.

What are you doing in your context of living to bring about more intentionality and purpose? Maybe give these four ideas a try. They are igniting growth for me.

I’d love to hear from you — what are ideas do you use to ignite your own personal growth?

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