You read all of the books, you follow all of the popular coaches on Instagram, and you find what they say thought-provoking and inspiring – but none of it has seemed to significantly change how you show up in your everyday life.
You’re putting in hard work and it doesn’t seem to be working. What’s the deal?
If you feel stuck in your personal growth, you should evaluate how much energy you bring to your efforts and how you measure the results.
How can you approach personal development?
Do you have a genuine desire for growth, improvement, and to be a better person? Are you thinking about all the things you aren’t doing right and need to change?
Are you able to hear both? Which one is more loud? Which is the one calling the shots?
Is it the second voice saying how much you suck because you always get really defensive if a client or boss brings up a teensy tiny thing they’d like you to do differently or that your natural inclination is to pull back in relationships when they get serious?
This is the sneaky force behind personal development. We believe that if we can only learn how to be better people, we can let go of our bad feelings and start to feel better.
The reason your personal development isn’t working is that you’re not using it to grow, you’re using it as a way to escape the discomfort that comes from not being perfect.
When you approach personal development this way, you don’t feel better about yourself when you make changes – you only find more things to fix. You will never be able to achieve it.
You’ve misdiagnosed the problem.
It’s like deciding your plant is turning brown because you are under-watering it. Then when you give it more water and it doesn’t get better, you think you need to try harder instead of considering another possibility like it needs more sunlight, the soil is old, or the pot is too small.
Your plant watering skills will be fine. The reason the plant isn’t getting any better is that you’re solving the wrong problem without realizing it. Put down the watering can, and let that poor plant bask in the sun.
You believe that personal growth is a problem because you have flaws that need to be fixed. Your efforts to solve this problem don’t provide you with any relief because the Actual Problem is, you don’t have a good relationship to your flaws.
Many people subconsciously believe that personal growth looks like this.
Step 1. Step 1.
Step 2. Fix it
It looks more like:
Step 1. Write down a list of things that you don’t like about yourself or your life (like the fact that you procrastinate everything until the last second, you tell other people yes when you mean to say no, or that you keep holding yourself back from your dreams because you’re scared).
Step 2. Don’t try to change any of those things yet.
Step 3. Consider why you want them to be changed in the first instance. How does that make you feel? How do you interpret that? How do you think you would feel if you didn’t do those things anymore?
This is where the real work lies.
It’s more effective but harder because you have to be willing to give up on your pursuit of perfection. When you’re operating under the belief that perfection is what will create the feelings you’re looking for, it can be hard to divorce that belief.
If you don’t feel like your personal development is working, take a break from fixing and explore where you’re expecting yourself to be perfect and how it makes you feel when you’re not.
Recognize and celebrate your achievements
Most of us have difficulty noticing or fully celebrating how far we’ve come because it can be hard to see small, subtle changes over time, and our brains are not naturally wired to look at what we’ve accomplished.
Sometimes it is difficult to recall where you started when we make changes over time. It’s not like a weight loss journey where you can look at your “before” and “after” pictures and see the difference.
Do you remember ever feeling a dull, irritating pain somewhere? You might have broken your finger, or your shin was scraped by a coffee table. The first day it was sore and tender, and then each day it felt better until you didn’t notice it anymore, right?
Most of the time we don’t wake up and think, “hey! My bruise is gone!” The physical pain subtly fades and as it does, it fades out of our consciousness too.
Journaling is one way that I enjoy reducing this effect. Journaling doesn’t bring me much catharsis or relief in the moment, but I love being able to look back on snapshots of what I was thinking and feeling so I can fully appreciate the difference between then and now.
Another reason it’s hard to see our accomplishments is because of the way our brains are naturally wired.
There’s no survival benefit to celebrating accomplishments so the brain doesn’t do it naturally. If you don’t find that your brain gravitates towards appreciating how far you’ve come, all that it means is that you’re not yet practiced at it.
To find something to be excited about, you must intentionally go out of your ways.
When you think about the personal development work you’ve done, is it Really Is it true that not much has changed? Is that true? Or do you just not believe anything has changed because you’re still not perfect and so it’s not good enough?
When you judge your progress by if you feel good enough (and then you don’t) you assume nothing is changing.
What is your threshold for an accomplishment that is “good enough” to celebrate? If you force your brain to come up with an answer to that question it sounds like “I don’t know what’s ‘good enough’ but it wasn’t that.”
There’s nothing wrong with the work you’re putting in, your measuring stick just needs to change.
If your brain wants to say your success was luck, a fluke, and you could have done it better, that’s only one way to look at it.
Is there anything else that could be true?
Are you proud of how you present yourself?
Do you have a special way to celebrate something you did?
Do you remember asking for help?
Do what you believe is worth celebrating and not what society says is. Money, success, power, status, and material objects are all things we learn we “should” be proud of. Effort, determination, and creativity don’t always make that list, but you can decide if you want them on yours.
At first, it’s hard. It may feel awkward, forced and clunky at the beginning. Any time you learn a new skill that your brain isn’t practiced at, it’s difficult. And when you’re worried about being perfect, if you feel bad at something you’d rather quit than experience the discomfort of getting better at it. You can do it.
It’s normal to get in a rut with your personal development, but if you find that it’s making you feel worse more than it makes you feel better, it’s time for a change! Try working on the relationship you have with the things you wish you could change about yourself instead of quickly jumping to fix them in hopes that’ll make you feel better. Recognizing how far you’ve come, and not just how far you have to go, can also help you gain some perspective.
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