Personal growth isn’t like GDP. It’s about quality rather than quantity. So, what areas of personal growth do you like to improve? Take a look in your vegetable patch and see what’s growing there now. Identify what is serving you and what is holding you back. Nature abhors a vacuum so if you remove those stinging nettles and bindweed, you will make space for strawberries, aubergines, or whatever brings you joy.
If you aspire for personal growth, then you have to focus on yourself. Here are five areas of personal growth and how to improve them.
Most of the time, people operate the journey of their lives on autopilot. Over the years, you have programmed yourself to react rather than respond. The strategies that you have adopted in the past have become your default settings. Many of these learned behaviors were set in stone during childhood, and you unconsciously trust these strategies because they have worked in the past—”worked” in the sense that you at least survived whatever life was throwing at you at the time.
Self-awareness will help you recognize these knee-jerk reactions and question them in the context of who you are now. In some cases, you may perceive them to be perfectly appropriate and benign, while in others, you will realize the opposite. You will see that some options that served you in the past are no longer in your best interests as a fully formed adult. Indeed, some of these learned behaviors may be positively toxic and hence, they are significantly holding you back in terms of career, relationships, and life in general.
As this process occurs, it is important not to judge yourself for having let these “ways of being” outstay their welcome. Furthermore, do not regret having used them in the distant past, since it is likely they did indeed get you through some difficult times. The trick is to simply see them as they are, give thanks for what they’ve achieved in the past, and with the clarity you are now experiencing, choose another way—a way that will serve you now and in the future.
One thing we humans love is control—to be in control. Or, at least, we love the idea of being in control. We tend to link control with safety. This is completely understandable, and it’s an example of the logical cognitive brain in action: “If I am in control of events I can protect myself and I will be safe.”
The need for safety is in our DNA. According to Darwin, it’s why we are here today. We are living proof of natural selection. So far so good. However, the development of the human brain is such that we are different from other animals.
We no longer need to fear for our physical safety to the extent that our ancestors did. Not that we are free from fear and its partner anxiety, on the contrary, anxiety is one of the most debilitating conditions in the developed world.
One difference between fear and anxiety is that fear tends to be based on reality whereas anxiety is not. The fact is we spend too much of our time worrying about external factors and future potentials. The important thing is what we focus on. What is it we want to be in control of? What are we in control of?
The answer, of course, is ourselves. Nothing more, nothing less. Of course, external factors are important in our lives, but what’s most important is how we respond to them, how we perceive them, and how much of our power we give to them. All this important work is done inside.
If you want to be in control, focus on your thoughts, your beliefs, and your values.
How many times a day do you curse? Whether it’s under your breath or even in your head makes no difference. The energy is the same: resistance.
What we resist persists. —Carl Jung
When we allow something that “happens” to disturb our peace, we give away our power. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a person who might be irritating you, a technical problem, or even a recurring thought in your head. If you let it trigger you negatively, your emotions are like a ship at sea with no engine power.
Shirzad Chamine, the creator of Positive Intelligence, recommends that we treat unwanted thoughts, perceptions, and irritations in the same way as physical triggers. For example, if you pick up a pan from the stove and the handle is hot, you put it down immediately. Provided your pain threshold is not too high, the burning feeling will disappear within about ten seconds.
Why is it, then, that often something happens that we obsess about for the rest of the day—maybe even several days. Is this logical? It has already happened. We can’t do anything about that. Why expend so much energy on wondering: what could have been different? Why was that person so stupid? Why was I so stupid? Why didn’t I listen to my intuition? What I might have done differently?
Some of these questions, although not useful in themselves, are potential links to positive action as opposed to uncreative ruminating. For example, “why didn’t I listen to my intuition?” might lead to a note to self: “In the future, I should listen to my gut and my heart as well as my head when making an important decision.” Three brains are better than one.
So, use the ten-second rule. Recognize your emotion—frustration, anger, disappointment, blame, self-pity (this is a great one to let go of), or whatever—and focus on it for ten seconds. Acknowledge it, respect it, and let it go. Release it into the ether, and keep your emotional channels clean. This will create space for positivity and practical solutions.
Eckhart Tolle recommends that we ditch the perception that “this is happening to me,” which is a sure-fire precursor to self-pity, feeling like a victim, and, once again, giving away our power.
“Suffering arises from craving; the only way to be fully liberated from suffering is to be fully liberated from craving; and the only way to be liberated from craving is to train the mind to experience reality as it is.”—Yuval Noah Harari
The keyword is “accept.” Acceptance is the friend of peace. So, if you aspire to improve areas of your personal growth, don’t say “no” to things, say “yes,” accept, and get on with your life.
4. Knowing Yourself
How well do you know yourself? How does your perception of yourself compare with how others see you?
The quote “what other people think of me is none of my business” has been attributed to countless famous people. So, how useful is it in terms of different areas of personal growth?
It can be tempting to compromise who we are for the sake of being accepted by others. Cultural issues, whether familial or national, often restrict your confidence to just be yourself.
If you want to know yourself, you need to dig deep and find your authentic self—the real “you.” Listing your core values is a useful way to start. Consciously knowing your values will ground you, empower you, and enhance your self-confidence.
The German philosopher, Axel Honneth wrote that:
“Basic self-confidence has less to do with a high estimation of one’s abilities than with the underlying capacity to express needs and desires without fear of being abandoned as a result.”
Honneth uses this concept in the context of potential traumas in your childhood. Through examination, either by yourself or with the help of a therapist or coach, you can make more sense of how your responses and perceptions of past events created who you are today. Typically, you will have beliefs hidden in the “shadows” of your mind that significantly limit your potential, your self-worth, and your happiness. So, shine a light on them.
Miley Cirus says she is comfortable with her shadows since they “show me that I am standing in the light.”
By knowing yourself, you can establish where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there. You will grow the person you are to fit your aspirations and your dreams.
5. Not Knowing
Part of the personal growth process of acceptance is to accept what you don’t know.
Humans tend to seek solace in knowledge, a bit like a comfort blanket. The idea that perceived knowledge provides security is, of course, a myth. Indeed, a significant amount of “knowledge” and “certainty” is, in reality, just opinions.
To be able to accept what we do not know is a significant step in the journey of personal growth in areas of our life. It allows you to let go and trust, which can remove stress and anxiety. Simply surrendering yourself to whatever is happening and may happen in the future is a liberating experience and when you stop investing energy in futile efforts to “control” and “know,” you’ll be amazed at how your physical energy levels will increase.
Awareness, inner control, acceptance, and true knowledge will enhance your journey to improving different areas of your personal growth. Only by knowing yourself can you grow yourself.
More Personal Growth Resources
- 12 Learning Goals For Personal Growth And Self Development
- 10 Ways to Step Up Your Personal Growth and Succeed in Life
Featured photo credit: Ricardo Arce via unsplash.com