Alex Anderson

The Choice

February 07, 2016 Alex Anderson Spiritual

The greater the agency, the greater the growth

At a recent Stake Conference, one of the general authorities said this, almost in passing. It was a simple one-liner, but you could tell that it was something which this man had either learned or was in the process of learning.

The more agency you put into an activity, the greater you will grow.

In most cases, growth is the product of struggle. Muscles burn with fatigue before they strengthen; exhaustive studies lead to greater knowledge; and sometimes, it takes going well out of your comfort zone to be included in a social circle.

But this thought challenges that idea slightly. Not only must you struggle to grow, but to receive the greatest gains, you have to want to do it. You doing the activity cannot be at the pleading of others; you must motivate from within.

I recall my weight training class. there were the people that had a rhythm and were obviously pushing themselves to the point that their sweat was measured in buckets. There were also those who would spend a significant amount of time at the drinking fountain or fiddling with the settings on the machines instead of moving metal. I wouldn't be surprised if those individuals got different results.

It's like the difference between people who learn for learnings sake and those who just want a grade. There is a professor at BYU who is not only a notoriously instructor, but also has a reputation for teaching an exceptionally difficult course. Getting a B in his class is considered excellent. Fortunately, for those who care only about grades, there are a few other professors teaching the class.

I took his class and found out firsthand that all of that is true. I learned a lot, but it was a challenge. I studied more and harder than I did for any class before, but I wanted to do it that way. I knew what I was getting myself into. It was my choice, so I owned it. In the end, I did excellently in that class. (see above) As such, that class totally shifted my world-view and provided me with a new way to understand everything.

Conversely, there was once a family I taught on my mission who would reluctantly do the things we as missionaries would ask them to do. We would badger them, pester them, hound them, untiil finally they would come to church or say a prayer or read their scriptures.

So, yes. We were good missionaries. We got the investigators to do the thing. But to what end? Did they experience real growth? Was I really fulfilling my duty as a missionary? This could have been one of those circumstances where not doing anything would be the best thing I could have done. Instead, I had them sacrifice their potential for growth by minimizing their agency.

So what's the takeaway?

  • Take ownership. If you aren't going to invest yourself fully into what you are doing, why do it? May I be so bold to say that I bet you could find something better to do. Follow the "No, Yes, Heck yes" pattern for all big choice you have to make. If it's a no, don't do it. If it's a yes, avoid doing it - you won't be as invested. If it's a Heck Yes, go for it! (ps. I may be so bold. It's my blog. I'll write what I want)

  • Okay, what if you aren't really feeling it, but you still have to do the thing. You've committed yourself. Well then, figure out a way to make it a bigger deal for you. Make yourself want to do the thing. This can be tricky, but it makes all the difference.

  • Don't impose your agency upon someone else. I recently learned that Queen Elizabeth I was so incredibly popular and powerful because she provided more flexibility to her subjects than her predecessors. Her relinquishing of coercion and control ultimately gave her more power and influence. When you do the same for others, they will thank you for it.

  • Let people live their lives. Humbly live your own life the best you can and try to make a difference for those around you. Be a friend. Be trustable. Be the kind of person that other people look up to and want to be like. That won't stop people's poor decisions from making you sad, but if you push back against those decisions which others make, they'll push away from you. Influence comes from love and trust. That is what should be cultivated.


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Alex Anderson is a husband, React web developer, Latter-day Saint, amateur rock climber, hobby chef, and spaceship enthusiast. He enjoys learning new things, teaching inspiring things, building cool things, and doing fun things.
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