This is the seventh in our special “12 Days of Giving” series running for the holiday season. It’s a little different from what you might think of as traditional presents or giving. We aren’t really talking about stuff you buy or a gift list. Rather, on these 12 days, we will be talking about different gifts that you can give to yourself, or others — those that have a deeper meaning, that can help you live with intention, be happier, be healthier. Soul gifts, you might even call them. Join us on the journey.
“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”—Chinese Proverb
Personal growth is perhaps the single action in life that keeps us moving forward. Growth is life itself: as we move through the time of our existence and our body changes, so does our mind, our experiences, our feelings and our inner selves. Constantly being open to learning, changing and growth is possibly the only thing that keeps us moving on a constantly improving path through our lives.
Personal growth is essential to our life’s journey.
So why is it, then, that so many times it’s relegated to the back seat, the “someday” category, the “when I have enough time I’ll think about it” realm? Yet whether we do it intentionally or not, we are growing all the time. Not putting any focus or intention on it just means that we might not be growing the way we want to, in a way that is positive or healthy. We are also influenced, consciously or not, all the time by people around us, individually and as a society. So, making our own personal growth a mindful part of our everyday lives can reap huge benefits in becoming the person we really want to be — the person we were meant to be.
“You don’t need to change the world; you only need to change yourself.” ― Miguel Ruiz
Focusing on the internal of what we can change and improve within ourselves can actually be a huge relief when we get overwhelmed by all the things going on in the world, especially negative and hurtful things. The truth is that we have very little control over external circumstances, and we can’t change other people — the only thing we really can change is ourselves.
In his book The Slight Edge, Jeff Olson writes, “The greatest gift you could ever give yourself is also the wisest business investment you could ever make. It is also the most critical step in accomplishing any challenging task, and is the one step without which all other success strategies, no matter how brilliant or time-tested, are doomed to fail. What is this mysterious gift? It is your own personal development. Investing in your own improvement, your own personal growth and betterment, is all these things and more.”
Making personal growth a priority has enormous positive impacts on all the relationships in your life: your marriage or romantic relationship, that with your children, your familial relationships, your friendships, your communication with work colleagues and most importantly, with yourself. Do you think it’s not possible to improve your relationship with yourself? I beg to differ.
“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” ―
Our own self is the person that we spend the most time with, by far. Or as Confucius said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Have you ever thought about the self-talk that runs through your mind constantly? Have you ever paid much attention to it? For far too many of us, that self-talk can be incredibly negative; we humans have a knack for being our own worst enemies. “You can’t do it.” “You’re too fat.” “You’ll never find a boyfriend/girlfriend.” “Why are you eating that?” “You probably won’t get that promotion.” “They forgot your birthday because they don’t care about you.” And on and on go the harmful things we tell ourselves, often without even thinking about it or realizing it.
What if, instead, we decided to accept ourselves? Not only accept, but to love ourselves? What if we made the conscious decision to be our own biggest fan, and change that negative self-talk into something positive, constructive and motivating?
I’ve been on both sides of this, and I can tell you without a doubt, from my own personal experience, that the difference and the changes you can manifest in your life through this one simple change are incredible. If it could be bottled, if it came in a pill people could buy, it would be the hottest thing on the planet and people would pay incredible amounts of money for it. But the thing is, it’s already out there — and it’s completely free and accessible to anyone.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” — George Bernard Shaw
So, how do you go about it? The tools and path are different for everyone, but here are a few tools that I personally have found helpful in life, and some that friends have successfully used (I did an informal crowd-sourcing to find out what other people have gotten great stuff out of in the personal growth realm).
- The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed On Your Own Terms by Vishen Lakhiani
- Make Your Bed: Small Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe The World by William H. McRaven
- The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
- The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (there are also instructor-led classes on this!)
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
- The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
- The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety by
Get Up Earlier. Many people find that getting up earlier in the morning to carve out some time for yourself is a life-changing habit. A friend of mine who is a single mom running busy non-profit and for-profit businesses says that this has been the most impactful routine change. “My brain is fried by the time my kiddo is asleep in the evenings, but if I wake up by 4-5am, I get at least an hour of silence to myself and an energetic jump start on the day,” she says. “This practice has transformed my productivity and my attitude going into the day.” Similarly, I recently interviewed media mogul and author Rachel Hollis for my current cover story at Austin Woman Magazine, and she also said that she gets up at 5 every morning to write between 5-7 before her kids get up, and that has been how she has been able to write her books. She inspired me so much with this nugget of wisdom that I incorporate my own practice of starting each day with two hours of writing before I check email, get on social media and involved with other aspects of my day. However, keep in mind that it’s not just the act of getting up earlier that makes a difference — it’s what you do with that time and how deliberate you are with your routine. As this article states, there is no documented difference in socioeconomic standing or productivity between early and late risers. “This happens a lot with productivity advice, where the idea of a change is much sexier than what you’ll have to do to make a change a reality. Making big changes often involves swimming upstream against a tsunami of small habits. This makes it worth questioning exactly why you want to make big changes in the first place, and if you decide to make them, deeply thinking about how you will.”
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone. As Eleanor Roosevelt is often attributed with saying, we should do the thing that scares us. (She didn’t actually say that, but rather “You must do the thing you think you cannot do,” which is kind of the same thing in my book). Following both of these pieces of advice, getting outside your comfort zone is one of the biggest ways to give yourself a needed kick in the butt to jump-start personal growth. This might be trying a new sport, speaking in public, or travel to a foreign land vastly different than your own. I’ve done all of these things, they’ve all scared me, and I’ve grown because of each and every one of them. A writing colleague of mine, Julie Conover of Soul Tripping, highly recommends travel (as do I). “Getting out of your comfort zone, it’s amazing how much you learn about yourself, the world, life,” Julie says. “And for those that are younger and unsure of their life path, or older and looking for a new path, travel opens doors you could never imagine.” Personally, being in uncertain situations that were scary (not unsafe/dangerous scary, but way-out-of-my-comfort-zone scary) have not only pushed me to be and do way more than I imagined — but I was also pretty damn proud of myself after! Check out this video of me below, learning how to do a catch on the flying trapeze. I so loved my first trapeze lesson (even though it scared the everliving hell out of me) that I went back again, to learn a more difficult move!
Journal. The process of writing your thoughts and feelings daily has a wonderful positive effect for many people on lots of areas of life, be it personal growth or dealing with motivation, depression, etc. There are different ways to journal: some people keep a “gratitude journal,” while others journal with art, poetry, etc. I myself don’t have a regular journaling habit (I do it kind of sporadically), but I do keep a running list every week of my specific intentions.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Get a Personal Coach. Many people find that working with a life coach or mentor reaps amazing results. My friend Lynn Kindler is a personal coach, and I’ve interviewed many life coaches throughout the years for various articles. They always have so many fantastic tools and great advice. Life Coach Spotter has a guide on finding a coach, and websites like The Coach Federation and LifeCoach.com offer databases with search options and other resources for getting matched with the perfect coach for you. Lynn says to ask around to friends and your network for recommendations. “Ask people you know who they know and then interact with who you find till you discover the right one for you!”
Talk to a Therapist. The benefits of counseling can be great, and many people find that going to the right therapist for them changes their lives. There are all kinds of styles of therapy, from cognitive/behavior to interpersonal and many other schools. There’s even therapy for helping to set your goals and creating thought processes to achieve them! One of the best gifts that professional counseling can bring is allowing you to see yourself, your life and your mind outside of yourself, to give perspective and clarity. I have seen a number of different counselors at periods throughout my life, both alone and with someone I was in a relationship with, and most of the time (with the exception of one that I thought was not a match for me) I got a tremendous amount out of it — tools that I still use today in my life. One of my favorite therapists ever, and type of counseling in general, is known as Ahimsa therapy, based on Buddhist and Gandian principles of non-harm, compassion and loving kindness (especially towards yourself!) I went to Ahimsa Counseling in Seattle, but there are such counselors in many cities. Psychology Today has a good article on finding the best therapist for you, as does the American Psychological Association. There is also a fair amount of assistance in this realm, with many universities and work places offering free counseling, and many clinics that offer financial assistance and sliding-scale rates. The website GoodTherapy.com has a database where you can search for a counseling professional near you; and like almost anything these days, you can even do therapy online. BetterHelp.com is just one of several major services that can connect you to a therapist to talk to via video chat and other methods.