Many Hear, Some Learn, Few Change
On the journey of personal development, it is very tempting to become a scholar—a person well-versed in theories, but lacking the will or ability to put them into practice. In the areas that count the most, we must grow from merely being an astute learner to an experienced practitioner.
Let me show you how.
Many years ago, I read the book Personality Plus, by Florence Littaeur, on the recommendation of my friend and mentor Reverend Peter Rahme. I read it on a trip to Italy, and I fell in love with what it offered. Littaeur explains the four personality types as described by the Greeks (Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, and Melancholy).
Reading this book was like hearing a moving sermon or a mesmerizing speech. I was completely inspired and intrigued by what I had learned. I remember trying to analyze myself and the people on the trip, traveling in the group with us. It explained so much about me and those around me. I was simply astounded. And I remained at that stage for weeks.
If we are not careful, that’s where most of us stay after we learn something new that we fall in love with. We are fascinated by the revelation we receive, and we swoon at its impact. But the impression it made on our lives will quickly fade, unless we are intentional to take the steps required to go from hearers to doers.
We must aim to take new principles of personal growth to a higher level of consciousness: the practitioner level. If you covet growth in any area of life, you know it is very easy to fall into the trap of simply listening and taking notes, or at best, applying the information for a short time. If we want lasting results, we must make a lifestyle of practicing what we are learning.
I love to talk to people and learn from them, whether it be mentors, coaches, speakers at seminars, or others. In fact, one of my strengths from StrengthFinders 2.0 is Learner. If you have the Learner strength like me, you will find that you love the process of learning. And I do! But do you see where the potential trap may lie? Excelling at learning is only the first step of change. If we are not careful, we will stop at this very first stage, before we successfully put principles into practice.
Below are the five stages we must go through to attain the of application I refer to as the practitioner level.
Hear it and love it.
The next time you hear an idea, a thought, or a teaching that you love, remember that’s only the first step of growth. Don’t stop at hearing only. It’s true, some never even make it to this initial stage. It takes a person searching and seeking to spot a potentially life changing nugget. We have to be ready. Usually we have to have gone though pain. Pain of not knowing. Pain of failing. We have to be aching for growth. And many times we have to have gone through joy. Joy from previous changes we have made that brought us victory. Joy of growing and becoming better people. And so, when this pain, or when this joy rises enough, we start looking for more.
And when we encounter a life impacting truth, I hope that we will stop and write it down. Remember that ideas we learn or think about are very fragile. It has been said that thoughts and ideas are like soap bubbles next to jagged rocks. It does not take much for them to disappear forever. Create a system to record the ideas that you hear and love.
Take time to understand it.
Going from loving an idea, to truly understanding its nuances takes some deliberate actions. What does it truly mean? In what situations does it really apply? When can I use it? In what other ways can I apply it? For this level of understanding to happen, many times we must take active steps. We may research more, ask more, or read more about that topic to truly understand its multiple facets. For me, after reading the personality book, I sought other books. I researched and talked to people who knew about it (and I still do).
But let’s not stop at this level of understanding.
Be intentional to marinate on it.
Taking in a new principle is like marinating meat, letting it soak in all the flavors for a little while. You may let it sit in the marinade for hours, maybe even a day or two. It is the same way with learning. We must let what we’ve learned surround our thoughts for a period of time, so it can infiltrate the crevices of our subconscious minds. So while our understanding may have been complete (or so we thought), when we sit on an idea for a longer amount of time, we really allow ourselves to grow deeper in that new knowledge. Practically speaking, read and meditate often on what you are learning for a few weeks or months. When I hear or learn a new idea I think I would like to apply, I place it in a specific area of my growth file, so I can read it and reread it. Leave it for a few days, then read it again. In this marinating stage, I also aim to discuss it with others to gain their perspectives so I may further deduce it’s meaning.
To use the marinating analogy, if we were to stop at the previous level (take time to understand it), that would be the equivalent of rubbing salt and pepper on the outside of your steak right before you grill it. But when you marinate the meat longer, there is a pervasive penetrating process that prepares the mind for life-changing application and not just surface-level awareness.
Begin to apply it…and don’t forget it.
Application usually starts slow. I remember bringing this knowledge of the four personality types to our company many years ago and sharing it with others. We started giving the personality test to all our new hires, and used it for team-building and understanding each of our strengths and imperfections. Application is invaluable.
But too often, we stop. Our great zeal begins to fizzle away, just like a soda becoming flat over time. How can we prevent ourselves from forgetting the life-changing principles we acquire? The great Biblical sage, Solomon, addressed this very issue when he said in Proverbs 3:3, Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; bind them about thy neck, write them upon the tablet of thine heart. Such wise counsel. If something is around my neck, it will be close to me always. I will see it daily when I look in the mirror. I never understood this verse until I started seeing how easy it is to forget and completely stop using great lessons I had previously learned and even started applying.
What does that mean practically? Write down the great lessons and values that you are already applying, otherwise in one, two, or three years you may find yourself not practicing them or even aware of them anymore.
Become a practitioner of it.
This last step denotes a certain depth of knowledge, consistency of application, and an intuitive level of usage. Becoming a practitioner of what we learn reminds me of when I was in medical school and first studied the causes of chest pain. It is an extensive list. Some of them are deadly. Some are simple and benign. I stored that list in my brain, but I was not a practitioner of that knowledge until many years later. See, since that first day I saw that list I have learned countless cases of different presentations of chest pain. I read many sources about it. I worked in the ER on patients coming in with chest pain. I did CPR as a medical student and as a resident training doctor, on patients dying because of lung clots and heart attacks. I worked in the ICU and put people on ventilators because of brain damage from bad heart attacks. I have seen chest pain in 10 year-old children who fell while playing, 16 year-old girls experiencing anxiety, a 20 year-old man who had a missed childhood heart diagnosis, a 30 year-old with inflammation in the lungs, a 40 year-old with extremely high blood pressure, a 47 year-old smoker with angina, and 65 year-old with an unusual heart rhythm because his heart was failing.
When you come into my office today and complain of chest pain, I am now at a totally different level of understanding. I am not that medical student anymore with only head-knowledge. I have become a practitioner. I can sense things. I can go beyond the facts and data, and just look at you and tell what’s going on many times. It is the same with other clinicians. And it is the same for you in your line of work, I am sure.
This is the level that we should aim for in our personal growth, my friend. In so many other areas of wisdom and knowledge, I am not at the practitioner level. Though in others, I am. For example, in the area of applying the knowledge of the four personality types, I believe I am there. While I have room to grow, I use these human personality principles daily and frequently to help understand myself and others. Yes, getting to that level takes time. It also takes repeated attempts, failures, observations, reading and maybe writing. But most of all it takes engaging life while carrying that truth within us. I can’t say that I have become a practitioner of everything I learn. But my aim is to get there, at least in the most important lessons of life.
As you lead yourself and others forward, do not settle for mere surface knowledge. Drink deep from the wells of wisdom. Dig up jewels from the depths of life. Then hang them around your neck, and take them with you on your way…all the days of your life. And may God bless you with wisdom in your life and in the lives of others.
For Further Reading: