by Jay Bransford
While it is true that we all continuously learn throughout life, the concept of self-development implies an intentional effort to develop oneself to achieve a specific goal. So if you want to successfully develop yourself, you obviously first need a goal. But what affects the likelihood of you actually achieving your personal development goal? That’s what we want to look at here: the predictors of success for self-development.
I find it encouraging to remember that even Jesus developed himself, and thus so should I. “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” – Luke 2:52. But did Jesus really have to try to develop himself, of did it just happen? I would suggest that Jesus demonstrated key characteristics of people who are effective at developing themselves. Let’s take a look at 6 such characteristics that serve as excellent predictors of successful self-development:
1. Be Humble/Teachable
Jesus was humble and teachable, looking to his Father as his ultimate source of wisdom and direction. “Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do: for whatsoever things He does, these also does the Son likewise.” (John 5:19) Jesus did not exalt himself. He exalted the Father. Likewise, Jesus didn’t claim to have all of the answers, but instead looked to his Father as the one He would emulate and “learn” from.
God wants us to be humble and teachable so that He can continue to mold and shape us. How is this possible? In John 14:26 Jesus says, “But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” So the Holy Spirit teaches us. HOW do we go about allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us? Or another way to ask it is, “How do we have a teachable spirit?” The bible suggests a number of ways, such as:
Listen to our Elders: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5
Accept Discipline: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” – Proverbs 12:1
Seek Wisdom: “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.” – Proverbs 4:5
Read Scripture: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” – 2 Tim 3:16
Listen to Faithful Men/Women: “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” – 2 Tim 2:2
Listen to the Spirit: And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 1 Cor 2:13
2. Ask Questions/Be Curious
What do you think the relationship is between “asking questions” and “having knowledge”? That sounds like a pretty obvious question, doesn’t it? The more questions we ask, the more opportunities we have to learn something new. The bible is full of examples of people asking questions in order to learn something. Abraham received a picture of God’s grace when he asked God, “How am I to know that I shall possess it [the land]?” (Genesis 15:8). Many of the Psalms begin with a question, such as Psalms 3; 10; 13; 15; 22; 58; 74. The entire book of Habbakuk is based upon questions that Habbakuk asked of God. After the Holy Spirit descended with power on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter’s great sermon started from questions asked by the crowds. And Jesus loved questions! He commended the disciples for asking about the meaning of his parables (Mark 4:10,11). Jesus got angry at the Pharisees when they stopped asking him questions (Mark 3:5). And Jesus gave us an important glimpse into his view of the importance of asking questions when he said, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives” (Matt 7:7-8).
3. Use Your Learning Style
Effective learners know how they learn best. What teaching and learning methods work well for you to remember and understand things? Do you more easily remember visuals/graphics/charts? Can you remember words that you read or repeat out loud? Do you easily remember things you hear? Or do you need to get involved with and/or DO the things you’re learning about in order to really understand it well? Each of those options represents a different learning style: visual, reading/writing, auditory, and kinesthetic. The more you can find learning opportunities that match your preferred learning style, the more likely you are to receive something of value out of those learning opportunities. For example, if you are an auditory learner, you may want to look for opportunities to listen to books on audio or listen to podcasts. Or if you are a reading/writing learner you may prefer to read books and articles, or take lots of notes.
We see examples of these various learning styles being used throughout the bible. God encourages the Israelites to use visuals to remember his words in Deut 11:18, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” The Israelites translated this into the use of Phylacteries which are small leather boxes the men would strap onto their left arm and forehead. Today’s Christians utilize many symbols such as the cross, dove, fish, and others to remind us of biblical truths and stories about God. Jesus loved to tell stories, which utilized an auditory learning style for people to learn and soak in truth. The Holy Scriptures were written on scrolls, and the ten commandments were written on stone tablets – allowing people to learn and remember via written words. And the feeding of the 5,000 is a powerful example of how Jesus gave his disciples a kinesthetic learning opportunity to experience first-hand God’s faithfulness and miraculous provision.
4. Be Persistent
“We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.” – Hebrews 6:11
Learning can be hard work! It often takes a significant amount of time and effort to gain the skills and competency you want to achieve. Whether you are focused on gaining mastery through practice (such as Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule of achieving expert-level skills) or if you are simply persisting at something until you reach that breakthrough moment (such as the moment you were suddenly able to ride your bike for the first time), successful self-development takes focus and determination. Jesus is perhaps the best role model we could ever imagine as he demonstrated persistence until death in pursuit of his end goal.
Jesus’ parable of the sower teaches us a key predictor of success for self-development. That key relates to the integration of new knowledge into our lives. The parable of the sower talks about different types of soil or ground that the sower throws seeds on. The seeds that were thrown on the path, the rocky places and the thorns were all unsuccessful in growing deep roots and achieving long term healthy growth. However, the seeds that were thrown on good soil produced crops that were a hundred, sixty and thirty times what was sown.
How does this relate to our self-development? You can think of new knowledge you gain as “seeds of knowledge” that are thrown out into the vast expanse of your brain. Sometimes we gain new seeds of knowledge by attending a class or reading a book, only to find that soon thereafter those seeds of knowledge have scattered, withered or blown away. We don’t remember a thing. Sometimes we find that our new seeds of knowledge never get a chance to get rooted or applied to new behaviors, and thus they gradually fade away, never to have an impact on our growth or development.
That kind of knowledge is called ‘inert knowledge’ or information that we know but fail to successfully apply in our lives when appropriate. It’s like trying to grow a seed in the absence of any dirt, oxygen or water. Inert knowledge is nearly useless – except for impressing your friends with how much knowledge you have (or how many seeds you have). Self-development is about personal learning in order to affect change in our lives for the better. If we don’t integrate and apply new learning into our lives, which is evidenced through new & changed behaviors, thoughts and attitudes, then we aren’t really developing ourselves. We’re just collecting more seeds by gaining more knowledge. The necessary ingredients for seeds of knowledge to take root and grow are personal reflection, practice, and application into one’s own life. That describes the process of the integration of knowledge. So as soon as you learn something, make sure you reflect on its potential relevance to your life and immediately start applying it to situations in your life. The more times you apply it, the more likely that seed will grow and develop and become a new integrated habit in your life.
6. Share and Teach Others
Perhaps the ultimate way to develop and master your knowledge, skills and competencies as a leader is to teach others what you know. Have you ever been humbled as you tried to explain something to another person, only to find out that your explanation was totally confusing? Teaching requires us to organize our thoughts, knowledge, and wisdom in such a way that is easily understood by others. The process it takes for us to organize and logically structure our explanations forces us to wrestle with what we’ve learned and make sure we truly and clearly understand it. Learning researchers have actually found that of all the learning methods that exist, teaching others is the most effective method to ensure that you (the teacher) best understand and remember the topic. It’s also generally one of the last things that a learner typically does in the learning process in order to really drive the learning home.
Indeed, we are all blessed by God in numerous and wonderful ways in order to be a blessing to others. Sharing and teaching others what God has taught us is one such way to pass on those blessings – or to “pay it forward” in today’s Starbuck’s generation. “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16).
Considering these 6 predictors of success with self-development, what is your likelihood of achieving your developmental goals? What is ONE thing you could start doing today that will increase your chances of intentionally learning and growing as a leader?
**For more resources from the ALLC on Self Development, click here.