The importance of personal growth

Personal growth can be interpreted in a variety of ways – just visit your local bookstore and notice shelves upon shelves are devoted to various examples of personal growth, self-development and how to be happy.

Type “personal growth” into a book search and you will find thousands of books to choose from to help you reach your full potential. Are we really that unhappy?

It’s so easy to treat personal development as something which is optional and so few people ever take the time to actively improve themselves. On the other hand, you may have been developing as a person, but never considered it as something that can be named.

Personal growth and self-development are arguably some of the most important activities you can do. Rather than perceiving this as a selfish act, working on yourself to become a better person benefits those around you, as well as those in your community and workplace.

Many of your actions may already be geared toward “self-improvement”. This self-improvement, however, is mostly unconscious and for the majority of people it’s a case of pursuing “things” and “stuff” with the all-too-common assumption that when we get enough stuff, we will we be happy. You don’t have to search too far to find how wrong this theory is.

Every day we read about seemingly successful people, those who “have it all” and find themselves in a succession of unhappy relationships or life events, which sadly end in tragedy. Charles Atlas, the famous body builder, said, “True success lies in the development of the self”. This is a surprising philosophy for someone who spent their life devoted to developing the physique.

At no point in your life can you stop and say “OK, now I’m successful, I think I’ll take the next 10 years off”. Unfortunately, this is the dream to which many people aspire only to be disappointed.

Your life is now – made up of a series of moments. Live intentionally in the present and you’ll begin to experience the joy and happiness you seek.

In our series of articles on the wheel of life, personal growth sits in the segment with spirituality and lies between the romance, friend and family segments.

On the outside, your life may look one way, but how’s it doing on the inside? In Cayman, people, especially the older generation when asked “how are you?”, will answer “I’m blessed”. Perhaps part of personal growth is realising ourselves, our spirit of who we are and being able to realise what we have.

Materially, we may be wealthy or poor, but if your inner life, your experience with your self, is not fulfilled you will feel out of balance with the rest of your life and may try to compensate for this by seeking substance elsewhere – alcohol, over-working, drugs and unhealthy relationships.

Assess your self

As a starting point, make a quiet time, take a pen and paper and consider the following questions:

What does my true self look like when I take away my house, car, etc.? Hint: Imagine your best friend was asked to describe you as a person, warts and all, and write these words down without editing or judging.

What kind of person do I want to be? Hint: Note down your goals as a person. Do you recall what they were 10, 20, or even 30 years ago? Have they changed or got lost on the way? Now imagine yourself as an older person, what do you want to look like, sound like, and feel like? What’s your older self up to? Is this OK with you or would you like to change this picture?

What am I doing or not doing that’s going to get me to that goal? Hint: Are there barriers in the way that prevent me from achieving my goal, barriers that maybe due to me, or other people? Or if not achievable, how can I modify my goal, or just start with the first step.

If I passed tomorrow, what do I wish I could have done in terms of my own development? Hint: This could be personal aspirations, or goals, which could be material goals, but have our own values behind them.

Answering these questions will give you clues regarding where you could work on your personal growth and which part of the wheel they relate to. Have a look again at the wheel, think about what came up for you and to which segment it relates.

Personally speaking I see my own personal growth as developing my creativity and spirituality, while retaining a healthy body as my 40s progress. Sounds like a big task, but break this down to bite size pieces, such as making some specific changes in eating and exercise patterns, going to a second yoga class, maybe just picking up one of my many unused paintbrushes and just painting something rather than taking an art school course, and suddenly that’s achievable.

Take it forward

Set out your goals, first steps and plan of where and how you are going to carry them out. Enlist the support of a friend or family member to encourage you and review your progress every three months or so to keep you on track.

Just start with small but meaningful changes that you notice, and if it feels strange, remember that change often does. Remember you’re making these changes for long term personal gain so it’s quite natural to feel a little uncomfortable at first, but be persistent, review your plan and adapt. This is your plan for growth, it can change and adapt to your circumstances.

So, if life throws you a curve ball and your attention is needed elsewhere, plans can be placed on hold, this isn’t failure, it’s just this thing called “life”.

Eva Appleyard is a counsellor with the Employee Assistance Programme of the Cayman Islands. For more information about the programme, please call 949-9559.

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