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Daring Greatly - Winning via Learning

"...Run in such a way as to get the prize..." [1 Corinthians 9:24]

When You're Not Winning, You're Learning

Ever heard that phrase? I’ve heard it, and I like it. We live in a time that loves winning, and finds losing increasingly hard - and some people don't know how to lose well. The bible calls us to run the race to win:

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever."


(1 Corinthians 9:24–25).

Paul talks of running the race to win, but does that mean we’ve always got to be winning? And who wins all the time, anyway? The key to a winning mindset, that causes continual growth in our lives, is a deep commitment to learning.

Intentional Change & Learning

Core to Intentional Change Theory (ICT)are a series of non-linear discoveries, some of which we have covered in this blog series already:

  1. Discovery #1 - Having a clear picture of who you want to grow (change) into and become (See blog 1 & blog 2 for more info).

  2. Discovery #2 - Having a clear picture of where you are right now. (see blog 3)

  3. Discovery #3 - Putting these two clear pictures together, an intentional path for growth and development otherwise called a "Learning Agenda" (link to read more) is devised.

Just to note - I added a blog, especially from a Christian perspective, that forgiveness is absolutely essential to personal growth and change - read "No longer driven by guilt" here.

The picture here is a brilliant imagery that emphasizes the above well. We always launch out in life from a certain place (we're in the yellow jacket). We face a decision: where am I headed next? Often there is more than two options. But this is where defining who we are called to grow into becoming is so important. What is brilliant about ICT is the emphasis, once you've got your called future and real self clear, on growing through a "learning agenda". As author and theoretical founder Richard Boyatzis notes,

"a learning agenda focuses on development. A learning orientation arouses a positive belief in one's capability and the hope of improvement. This results in people setting personal standards of performance, rather than "normative" standards that merely mimic what others have done." (p.615)

He contrasts this learning orientation to a performance orientation, which evokes anxiety and doubts within. Why does a performance as opposed to a learning agenda do this?

Addressing Performance Anxiety

If you're always trying to attain a certain performance "gold standard" at school, university, or in the workplace, you're constantly experiencing a gap between your actual abilities and your required (or perception of) abilities to get the desired results. If this "gold standard" is another person, you've got the increased challenge of trying to do it exactly like that person does it - which is nigh impossible, and freaky if you can perfectly mimic someone else. Compared to a considered personal learning agenda, this performance "gold standard" approach to growth and change emphasizes the gaps (or gulfs) between you and your required performance levels - evoking anxiety and producing strong and potentially debilitating self-doubts.

The truth is, the more we lack agency over our growth, the more we tend to be drowned in anxiety and doubts. ICT argues, especially with respect to personal or group growth and change - you've got to have personal agency in the whole process:

  • Define honestly where you want to be (your ideal self, in Christ as Christians).

  • Then define honestly where you are right now.

Then you've got a pathway to chart, which is walked down one growth step at a time. The wisdom here is simple - if you're going to learn, you're going to have to start with what you do and don't know, and build from here. The performance "gold standard" model only ever starts with the (usually) big and audacious performance objective you've got to reach, not set by you, and usually in record time.

I would say though, the biggest challenge to intentional change is not in the setting of a learning agenda, but in the maintenance of a learning agenda. This is where Nehemiah is a fantastic biblical example for us.

Maintenance is the challenge

In Nehemiah 2, we see Nehemiah scoping out the wall to work out what needed to be done (setting the learning agenda). We also see him scoping out the motivation levels in his potential team of workers (his fellow Israelite's). Learning Agenda Insight - You need to scope out not simply what you need to learn, but how much resource you've got to learn with at present.

He then set about organizing and maintaining the work from Nehemiah 3 onward. Check these out:

  • He refused resistance internally when it came (Nehemiah 4:4-5). Learning Agenda Insight - Without conviction growing is important, you'll give up. You develop this with and from God - as He speaks into your personal growth with His promise and power.

  • He knew there was progress (Nehemiah 4:6) - Learning Agenda Insight - Our learning needs to be measurable and visible. The rebuilding of walls is easy to measure. Our growth may not be. However, think about it like this: you may want to grow your relationship with God, so how much time per week, for example, do you spend currently and could you spend with God, in meaningful ways that inspire you and build your relationship with Him?

  • He was committed before God in prayer (Nehemiah 4:9) - Learning Agenda Insight - Prayer is foundational to our growth.

  • He re-motivated himself and the building team (Nehemiah 4:10-14) - Learning Agenda Insight - growth requires maintenance. The easiest bit is starting a growth project. The hardest bit is maintaining it in the face of challenge, resistance, and lack of motivation. This is what separates out those who grow and those who don't, in the end.

  • He adapted the learning agenda, deciding half his team would continue rebuilding and half were to be ready defend their work from dangerous enemies (Nehemiah 4:16) - Learning Agenda Insight - growth requires adaptation. Real life is messy, and constantly throws us curve balls.

  • He made their growth as a city a moral issue (Nehemiah 5) - Learning Agenda Insight - growing is not simply a change of lifestyle. It's a change of identity. There will always be parts of us that are resistant to change and growth because we like things the way they are. This could be because we're lazy, we're stuck in a rut, or we're simply enjoying the pleasures of our current lifestyle, and it's sinful appeals, too much. But true growth comes through confronting who we are, repenting, and becoming who we're called to be. Hard, but by God's grace, the most richly rewarding part of growth for sure.

So Nehemiah gives us great insights into how to maintain a Learning Agenda.

Dare to Learn This Week

As you set about Daring Greatly this week, Dare to Learn. Dare to not only set a Learning Agenda for personal change, but dare to maintain it, paying close attention the wisdom of Nehemiah's journey above. This week in particularly, I want to encourage you to take some time to think:

  1. How is God calling me to "run the race to win"?

  2. What learning development does that call me to start doing?

As you get clarity in these answers, take heed the biblical wisdom not simply to set this agenda, but maintain it in the face of the inevitable challenges that will come ahead!


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