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Being a learner is one of my top strengths and an activity I definitely love. According to the Gallup Strengthfinders 2.0people exceptionally talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, energizes them.

To grow we need to, automatically, learn. And not all learning will make us grow. In the past, my goal was to mainly accumulate knowledge. In the last ten years, I have shifted and now I focus on growing and effectively applying what I learn.

As we become older, we have to make learning and growing intentional. The first 18 to 25 years of our life, we grow physically and intellectually without much deliberation. When we go to school, we learn our ABCs, colors, Math, languages, science, etc.

Once we finish our formal education, it seems that we now need to make a conscious effort to grow personally and professionally. To avoid becoming stagnant we have to shift into intentional learning.

Author John C. Maxwell in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, talks about having a growth plan and going from accidental to intentional learning.

People who choose accidental growth do not have a clear plan, wait for growth to magically appear, and their learning happens only after the results were not as expected. They talk big, play it safe, and stop learning once formal education is over.

People who choose intentional growth, on the other hand, have a clear plan with a timeline, consciously seek for learning and growing opportunities, and often learn even before results unfold. They follow through, take risks, and never stop improving.

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential…these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” – Confucius

Here are the steps to start an intentional growth plan.

1) Change the question and mindset from ‘how long will this take? to ‘how far can I go?’

I have been a victim of wanting to be a master overnight. I wished I could be fluent in a language after a few lessons. Or that I could write beautiful stories like authors who have been refining their craft for years.

Objectively, we know that we need time and practice to become proficient in any ability. For learners, like me, we need the thrill of going from novice to adept, so this can be especially frustrating for complex skills. 

Like with many of the things I approach, I like to break it down into really small actions where I can see progress.

For example, as part of improving my blog posts and website, I wanted to understand the whole search engine optimization (SEO) concept. I set a doable routine for myself where I was going to read articles or watch videos on the topic for 30 minutes 3 times per week. I started with the definition of SEO, looked at examples, and then experimented with my own posts. When the concept finally clicked in, I was delighted.

“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

2) Do it now

I have written about procrastination and how to overcome it. If we wait until all the conditions are perfect and all the planets are aligned, we will never do anything.

It will never be the right time to put together your growth plan. You will never have enough time to take that online class you know you need to make it to the next level at work. There will always be something in the way.

This year, I started to attend Toastmasters, a non-for-profit organization where people learn skills mostly related to public speaking. I attended a few meetings as a guest before finding a club I liked. Once I registered, I delivered my first speech in the immediate next meeting. Why so fast? Because I wanted to do something (even if it was not even remotely perfect) right away, instead of waiting until I could find the time to write and practice the ‘perfect’ speech.

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” – Unknown

3) Face your fears

When we go in this path of intentional learning, two main fears will appear: the fear of not performing at the proficient level, and the fear of new tribes.

The fear of not being competent can be addressed following the suggestions in points 1 and 4.

When we embark on the journey of intentional learning, we will undoubtedly move from starting point A, to point B, to point C, etc.  People who started with us in point A may decide to accidentally grow only, or to grow in a direction different than ours. So, when we get to point B, we may know only a few people from point A. When we get to point C, there may be no one we know.

This can be especially challenging for some people, and even more if the tribe we are leaving behind is of those closest to us. It has nothing to do with how we feel about them, or how they feel about us.

We start to see it in everyday situations. When we talk, there may not be many topics in common. Some may even question our decisions on putting so much effort into something, in their eyes, useless (especially if there are no immediate results).

This transition between tribes could feel lonely for a while. And then, almost by magic, we start meeting new (to us) people who are already in point B, point C, etc. And we build a new tribe.

It has taken me a long time to accept that not everyone has the same growth goals I have. I now enjoy becoming part of new (to me) tribes and even building new ones. I still keep my close friends and I am devoted to my family. My concept of tribe is now more fluid, and I have adjusted my expectations of the people I love; some are growing with me even if in different directions, others are not. And both are fine.

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” – Abraham Maslow

4) Seek learning opportunities instead of accidentally stumbling upon them

This is where something like the individual development plan (IDP) or equivalent document many companies have come handy.

If you are an entrepreneur or your company does not have an IDP process or document, create your own. It does not matter what the document is called. In a nutshell, we want to identify our current skills, knowledge, and experience. We then outline our potential next immediate job and the one after that. Next, we determine which skills, people, and knowledge we will need to get us to those stages.

And then, we create and execute a plan to become proficient in those skills, build and deepen strategic relationships, and gain knowledge on the area of our interest.

As part of my goals at work, I had one related to the main items on my own IDP. This was my way of making them public, keeping myself accountable, and setting the example for others on my team.

“We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” – Oprah Winfrey

The key in executing our intentional growth plan, like any other goal, is consistency. Doing something every day, every week, every month has a compound, cumulative effect that often comes all at once. Time will go by whether we take action or not.

Let us say that you are interested in improving your skills associated with emotional intelligence. You decide that you will start by reading a collection of articles on the subject, so you get a 150-page book. You decide to start small considering your current workload, so your goal is to read 5 pages every day. That may take 5-15 minutes, which seems perfectly doable. You would finish the book and have acquired knowledge on emotional intelligence in 30 days. If you continue at this pace, you would have read 10-12 books in one year investing 5-15 minutes every day. This is the beauty of the compound effect and the consistency.

When will you start or update your intentional growth plan? What are other tips or strategies you use to intentionally grow? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese or French.

My mission is to help women transform their inner voice from critic to champion, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential achieving what they want most for themselves, their families, communities, organizations, and teams.