Personal growth and education, in general, are often focused on changing yourself. The implied assumption is that your natural being is not good enough and it needs to be forced into something else to create happiness and success. In order to see improvements and growth, we often think we need to be hard on ourselves.
What is Personal Growth?
We think that we need to be the taskmasters of our own lives, consistently pushing and encouraging ourselves to work harder, be better, and push deeper.
I will admit that being a good taskmaster has been very useful in my life. It has helped me to do well in school, attend a top tier graduate program, and work at a high level in my career. But there are times when the focus on effort and pushing through fails. Often it can even be counterproductive altogether.
After experiencing burnout and the negative effects of pushing myself too hard, I’ve been fascinated with finding a different way to approach personal growth and learning. Here are five approaches I have found to help release the pressure of forced action and to create inspired action instead.
5 Different Approaches to Experiencing Personal Growth
1. Be Curious
Curiosity is the antidote to stress. When you find yourself in a situation where you would normally push yourself to take action, be curious about what is going on for you.
Why are you holding back? Why is this an area that you want to change?
Why are you procrastinating on something?
These questions should never feel like an interrogation, but instead should be asked with openness and a sense of exploration. When we resist change, there is almost always something lurking beneath the surface. Embracing curiosity can help you to better understand yourself, which will help you to move forward more fluidly.
Instead of beating yourself and barreling through obstacles, think about how you can remove obstacles altogether. For example, I was recently struggling to make progress on a bunch of different goals in my life.
I would push through my list each day to check off what I had committed myself to doing. But I was completely exhausted. I could have kept pushing forward, but I realized that finding time was actually becoming an obstacle for me. I decided to take off some of the items on my list.
Yes, perhaps I wasn’t as productive as I could possibly be, but with the obstacle of trying to fit everything into one day gone, I was able to smoothly focus on the remaining work.
Flow is an experience of deep concentration during an activity. But flow can also be a feeling of smoothly transitioning from one activity to another. When you experience flow, you don’t have to pressure yourself to do anything. Instead, you move from a place of inspiration. Flow can’t be forced, but it can be embraced.
When you start to feel a sense of flow, instead of following your initial plan to the letter, let yourself be flexible and follow where your inspiration leads you.
4. Celebrate Progress
When we are focused on changing ourselves, nothing ever feels like enough. You might have made major strides in one area of your life, but if your focus is on the bigger transformation, you might not take the time to recognize how far you have come.
When thinking about my work, I used to completely write off the positive things I did and fixate on the negative areas that weren’t where I wanted them to be yet. But once I started to actively recognize my successes every day, I built significantly more confidence and excitement. These two feelings are much more motivating than the feeling of not being good enough.
5. Connect Back to Your Why
If you find you are forcing yourself to do something, you may have forgotten about why you wanted to do it in the first place. Or sometimes you find that your why is not strong enough, and that is part of why you’re resisting action.
Daily actions can feel mundane and futile. A daily writing session might feel unimportant and like it doesn’t really matter in the bigger scheme of things. But if you can connect that daily writing session to the bigger vision of writing a book, or an even bigger vision of changing someone’s life through your words, you will start to feel more motivated.
Stop Forcing Your Personal Growth
Connecting with a deeper personal mission will always take you further than guilting or shaming yourself into action.
If you find yourself saying “I should” do something or “I have to” do something, I encourage you to take a pause. Before you use those mandates to force yourself into action, try one of these approaches instead.
Guilting yourself into action can only get you so far. But tapping into your own internal motivation can help you sustain action and create even more transformation change in your life.