Everyone has experienced the need for personal growth at some point. Plenty of things prompt this, such as a major life transition, a new professional challenge, or simply the desire to evolve as a person. To grow, you need to be prepared to leave your comfort zone, dream big, and take real risks. But dreaming alone isn’t enough. Real change happens slowly, over time, through hard work and dedication. It requires that you combine your biggest, wildest dreams with practical daily actions.
In his book; The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, published in 2012; John C. Maxwell will teach you how to chip away at the challenges you set for yourself and stay committed, even during those frustrating times when you don’t seem to be making any progress at all. Bringing together the tips and strategies of The 15 Laws of Growth, they’ll be an invaluable guide to making your dreams a reality. What’s more, they’ll help you stay mindful along the way and discover potential you didn’t even know you had.
The three most powerful points I took from the book were;
You can’t wander through the jungle without a map and expect to reach your destination. In the same way, you can’t really grow unless you understand where you want to go
You have to put your intentions into practice by taking action – not tomorrow, not next month when you have a gap in your calendar, but right now.
Real growth is slow, incremental, and often frustrating. It involves doing small actions every day in pursuit of your ambitions
Before you begin your journey, you need to know who you are and what you want.
You can’t wander through the jungle without a map and expect to reach your destination. In the same way, you can’t really grow unless you understand where you want to go. But for a lot of people, this is easier said than done; knowing exactly where you want to go is not always obvious. So how can you find out? The best way is to really get to know yourself and what you want. That can be challenging to accomplish, of course. But if you ask yourself these key questions you’ll be on the right track.
First of all, ask yourself if you’re happy with what you’re doing right now. Does your work make you feel fulfilled and passionate? Do you start the day with a spring in your step? Or are you lethargic, tired, and irritable? If it’s the latter, you’re clearly not doing what fulfills you. So what will fulfill you? The answer to that question is as unique as your fingerprints; it’s specific to your personality, your values, and your dreams. In order to identify it, you need to observe yourself closely. Notice when something makes you “light up,” moves you, or gets you especially excited. Think about times in your life that you’ve felt useful and valued by the people around you.
Once you’ve discovered what you want to do, you should stop for a quick reality check. Is your dream doable? Yes, dreams should take you beyond your current reality – that’s why they’re called dreams. But if your dream is to be a professional basketball player, and you hate exercising and have terrible coordination, then your dream is actually something else: a fantasy. An achievable dream should line up with your talents and capabilities. When you’ve established that your dream is potentially attainable, you should ask yourself the next probing question: Why do you want to do it?
This is a really important one. You need to sniff out any hidden agendas you may have. For example, if you say you want to do a PhD because you’re passionate about learning, but in fact you just want to impress people, you’ll run into trouble. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to impress people! But it’s probably not a strong enough motivation to get you through a grueling PhD program. More importantly, you’d essentially be doing it for someone else, which wouldn’t make you happy in the long run. What you need to find is a passion that will make you happy just by pursuing it.
Personal growth won’t just happen by itself.
Your hair grows by itself. So do plants, given enough water and sunlight. But personal, emotional, and spiritual growth is different – it doesn’t just happen naturally over time. Just as plants require sunlight, personal growth requires intention. You have to think carefully about what you want, what direction you’re headed in, and what steps you’ll need to take to get there.
But intention alone isn’t enough. You have to put your intentions into practice by taking action – not tomorrow, not next month when you have a gap in your calendar, but right now. That’s where many people get stuck. They keep waiting for a mythical future moment when they’ll have enough money and time to actively pursue their dreams. Or they wait until they feel motivated or inspired enough to begin.
The problem with waiting for the right circumstances is that personal growth can be scary; you come face-to-face with many of your fears and have to deal with the discomfort of uncertainty and vulnerability. Most people, of course, have a real knack for avoiding scary things. And so that perfect moment when you feel like working on your self-development – well, it never comes. To get past the fear, you’ll need to accept that growth is innately uncomfortable – and that you’ll make lots of blunders along the way because you’re attempting to do things that you’ve never done before.
Once you’ve accepted this, you have to get started. Just do it, even though you’re short of money, have been looking after your kids all day, and really feel like curling up on the sofa in front of the TV. The thing about motivation is that it comes with action, not before it. So in the same way that you grumpily drag yourself to the gym, but come out radiant and motivated to exercise more, you have to start working on your personal growth in order to get the motivation to continue.
To be successful, you need to ask for help.
Knowing what you want isn’t the same thing as knowing how to get it. Knowing that you want to build your dream house is a good start. But to get it built, you need blueprints. So once you know what you want, how do you get it? After all, starting a daunting project is hard. It certainly won’t come naturally.
One of the best ways to start is to ask for help. Others have struggled along the path before you, and they can support you. Speak your dreams out loud, even if it makes you feel vulnerable and foolish. Sharing your vision with the world is a crucial first step toward making it real.
Equally crucial is who you share your dreams, so surround yourself with people who are as committed to growth as you are. The people around you will have a big influence on your success. They’ll either lift you up and support you, or they’ll drag you down with their apathy and unhelpful criticism. Seek out people in your network who are curious, humble, and hungry to learn. When you’ve found them, ask them to hold you accountable in setting and meeting goals that will get you closer to your dream. Having to answer to other people is a powerful motivation for getting things done.
Next, seek out people who are doing what you would like to do. These people will be your teachers. Even if you can’t meet them face-to-face, you’ll be able to find a wealth of inspiration by familiarizing yourself with their work. If your dream is to be an interviewer, for example, and Oprah is an inspiration, you don’t have to go to her house for lunch in order to learn from her. Go online and watch her interviews. Studying the people who are doing what you want to do is one of the best ways to learn!
Sometimes you’ll be very lucky and find someone who’s prepared to intensively mentor you. This is the very best way you can learn. Treasure your mentors. Respect their time by being prepared for each session and ready to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
Become your own best cheerleader.
Other people’s help is very useful, but ultimately you need to support and encourage yourself. Again, this is easier said than done. Often, the loudest critic comes from within. Not everyone is naturally confident. Growing up, many of us have even learned not to believe in ourselves. Instead, we were taught to question ourselves and our abilities. For those who grew up in an abusive environment, internal negative messages will be even louder. Learning to value yourself in spite of all the negativity you’ve internalized won’t be easy – but it is possible, and it is worthwhile.
First, you should start listening to your own internal monologue very carefully. What kinds of things do you say about yourself in your head? Do you criticize yourself for never doing things well enough, or chastise yourself when you make a mistake? If you bombard yourself with negative messages all day it will be hard to stay motivated and feel safe enough to take risks. Identifying these negative thoughts and beliefs is the first step toward changing them.
Once you’ve done this, you can take the second step: beginning the work of change. When you catch yourself aiming a torrent of abuse at yourself for messing up, you can consciously change the narrative in your head. Remind yourself that it’s normal to make mistakes and that you’re courageous for taking risks. It may feel unnatural at first, but with enough practice it will become second nature.
Third, you should stop comparing yourself to other people. Your journey is uniquely yours, and what other people do is just a distraction. You’re the only one you need to compare yourself to. Make sure that you’re living according to your own goals and values – and nobody else’s! Take time to relish your victories, big and small, and acknowledge what it cost you to get there. The fourth and final step is to take every chance you can get to contribute to other people’s lives. Often, when you’re feeling small and insignificant, you can’t imagine that you could make a difference to someone else. The act of getting out there and using your skills for good will not only be beneficial to the world; it will give you new insight into what you’re capable of.
Be patient; real growth is incremental and undramatic.
If you grew up on a diet of Hollywood movies, you’re probably used to seeing change packaged obviously and dramatically: A mathematician is struck by inspiration and scribbles down the answer to an impossible puzzle! A woman chases her lover to the airport and proposes to her in front of hundreds of onlookers!
Dramatic moments like these are perfect fodder for movie-makers. In real life, though, it’s the more conventional stuff – the stuff that usually ends up on the cutting-room floor – that leads to real growth. The movies don’t show the mathematician getting up every morning and puzzling over the numbers without getting anywhere, only to do it again the next day. They don’t show the young woman suffering through countless boring Tinder dates before she finds The One.
Real growth is slow, incremental, and often frustrating. It involves doing small actions every day in pursuit of your ambitions. To be able to keep going when you can’t see any immediate progress requires a lot of patience and stubborn discipline. It also requires that you start valuing the process of learning rather than just its eventual outcomes. Learning and growing are exciting in themselves! If you look at some of the brightest minds, you’ll find they’re the most curious. No matter how much knowledge they have, they’re always eager to know more and are humble enough to keep asking questions.
In order to stay motivated, you’ll need to keep your goals in mind and remember that the bigger and more impressive the vision, the more time it will take to accomplish. Think of tomato plants in comparison to apple trees. Tomatoes will ripen within a couple of months and can be plucked from the vine. But, with the first frost, the plant itself perishes. In comparison, apple trees take years to grow tall and bear their best fruit. But they keep blooming, year after year. Investing time and patience in your vision leads to hardy, sustainable, apple-tree-like growth.
Slow and incremental growth might not give you that cinematic rush of adrenaline. But it could give you something even better: the daily satisfaction of applying your mind to something you’re passionate about, and the knowledge that you’re pursuing your dreams.
To achieve your vision, you need to be strategic and systematic.
Hard work is great, but it isn’t everything. As anyone who’s ever tread water knows, it’s possible to expend lots of energy and still get nowhere. We can run around like hamsters on a wheel, working as hard as possible to achieve our dreams, and still fail to get there. Hard work and busyness in themselves aren’t enough to propel us to where we want to go; to really be successful, we need to strategize and develop everyday systems that help us achieve our goals.
To do that, we need to stop being busy – at least for a while – and take some time to think and create a strategy. For example, at the end of every year, the author reviews the previous 365 days. He looks at all of the appointments and speaking engagements and evaluates them, asking himself which were the best use of his time. He also checks his work-life balance: Did he have enough time with his family and friends?
Accounting for every hour of the last year enables him to build on his successes and make changes for the year ahead, by carefully prioritizing what he’ll do with his time. One year, he realized that his most productive writing and thinking time was in the morning. So he stopped scheduling meetings during that time and saved them for afternoons, when he tended to be less productive.
You don’t necessarily have to review every day of the year to be successful. But you do need to set aside time to reflect on the steps you’ve been taking to grow and achieve your dreams. Has your time been well spent, or have you been going to conferences and returning home with nothing but a headache? Does the way you’ve organized your office help or hinder your progress? Once you’ve thought about this, you can turn to pragmatic systems that support your success, like developing a new way to file papers or going to a seminar to strengthen your skills.
This is a continuing process of reflection and evaluation, which means you’ll need to keep evaluating how well your systems are working. What measurable results would you like to see after a few weeks or months? After an entire year? And how will you be able to measure whether or not you’ve been successful? Setting clear goals – like a specific target for the number of new clients you want to attract within the next quarter – will help to keep you on the road to success.
Painful experiences can propel growth.
We all know that life has ups and downs. And, naturally, most of us would rather avoid the downs. Who wants to experience loss or come face-to-face with unpleasant truths about themselves? As much as we’d like to avoid them, painful experiences can actually help us grow. The author had a heart attack when he was 51 years old. It was an excruciating experience, but it prompted him to start dieting and exercising. In a way, the heart attack saved his life by forcing him to address his health before it was too late.
However, the real change happened not because of the heart attack itself, but because of how the author responded to it. He could have decided that, as his health was bad anyway, he should just enjoy the time he had left and indulge as much as possible. Or he could have gotten angry at fate and wallowed in self-pity. None of those reactions would have helped him live longer, and they wouldn’t have led to any kind of personal growth, either.
Health scares aren’t the only thing that we can’t always control. Many painful experiences, like loss and failure, come our way whether we like it or not. And when we start dreaming big and taking risks, we inevitably start to dare more and fail harder. That can mean that we start to feel as though even more is slipping out of our control. But we can control how we react to pain – and how we interpret what happens to us. Instead of feeling like a victim, we can ask ourselves how this painful experience can help us grow.
What can it teach us? If we’ve made a mistake, what practical steps can we take to make sure the result will be different next time? If we ask these kinds of questions, we’ll gain vital self-knowledge and learn how to develop new strengths and capabilities to deal with the situation. If everything keeps going well, we’ll never have that urgent motivation to grow. Painful experiences call forth our natural creativity and innovation. They turbocharge our growth. So while our instinct might be to run away from pain, there’s a lot to be gained by facing it head-on.
Focus on developing character, and external success will follow.
Imagine that your dream is to start a business. As part of pursuing this dream, you’re frantically trying to get financially solvent. Personal development will probably be the last thing on your mind – who has time for that when there are clients to win over and business plans to write?
But you are at the source of everything you do. If you don’t develop good character, through traits like honesty and integrity, then everything you build will have a foundation of quicksand. Say you develop a promising business plan – it might be an amazing opportunity, but if people feel they can’t trust you then they won’t be willing to invest. You may think that character is something you’re born with, like fingerprints. And that’s partially true. Your early life and the values you grew up with have undoubtedly influenced you. But the good news is that real character is something you can consciously develop. Something so fundamental is actually within your control.
You have to start by focusing on developing yourself from the inside out, not just from the outside in. Add up what you pay for clothing, makeup, and hair appointments. Or a fancy laptop and the latest iPhone. Then channel some of that money into activities that enrich your emotional health and soul. It could be going to a coaching session, listening to opera, or attending an inspirational seminar. Make it a priority to feed your inner life as much as you do your outer. Then make sure that whatever you do is done with integrity; what you believe and what you say you believe should be in complete harmony. If they are, you’ll speak authentically, which will give your words real power. The words you utter will communicate your ideas to others and get them to share your vision because you are genuinely passionate about your beliefs.
Finally, to develop real character, always be open to criticism. Instead of resisting negative feedback, see it as a gift. After all, someone else is taking the time to clue you in to your own weaknesses. Recognize that the job of building character is a lifelong affair and will never be done. You’ll always be a work in progress, which might just be the best possible scenario.
To win, you have to accept loss.
We’ve seen it happen on every playground: a toddler will be playing with a fun toy when another kid runs up and yanks it out of her hands. In response, she emits a roar of rage and despair. We may no longer show our emotions so openly, but many of us experience those same emotions when we have to give something up as adults. But all growth involves loss in the form of trade-offs. Time and other resources are finite, so saying yes to one thing inevitably means saying no to another.
Accepting loss means we can be intentional about making trade-offs. It also ensures that what we lose translates into a greater gain. The author has made seven major career transitions in his lifetime, and in five of those moves he took a salary cut. But he decided that the loss of money was worth the gain in growth opportunities. If he hadn’t been prepared to take those losses, his career would have been much more secure – but also far less personally and financially rewarding than it is today.
Money wasn’t the only thing the author traded. He also gave up security when he changed professions. He went from being a pastor to being a public speaker in the business world, and from being a speaker to writing books, and from writing to founding a nonprofit organization. Each of those moves required him to trade roles he was confident in for ones he was very inexperienced in and not that good at – at least, not initially.
It can be especially hard to make trade-offs when you’re already successful. After all, the higher up you go, the more you have to lose. But getting complacent will prevent you from reaching your full potential. Of course, not all trade-offs are worth it. Your personal values are key here. If you’re committed to having time with your family, then a business prospect that takes up every waking hour will never be fulfilling. If being creative is what makes you feel most alive, then taking a job where you just implement other people’s plans won’t make you satisfied – no matter how high the salary! But when you identify an opportunity that will genuinely stretch you in an enriching way, don’t hesitate to go for it – even if the price seems high.
To really grow, you need to contribute to others.
Ever heard the saying, “No person is an island?” It makes sense because our lives are lived in communities – in families, companies, church groups, knitting circles, and parenting groups. By extension, our successes are never truly just our own because we’re nurtured and supported by family, teachers, mentors, colleagues, friends, and countless others.
Recognizing that, and practicing gratitude, will only help us grow more – as will making sure that we’re not only taking support, but also thinking about how to give it to others. Start by asking yourself what you wish others would do for you. Then make sure to do those things for other people. This can apply to every area of your life. If you wish your spouse were more considerate about doing the dishes, practice being considerate in an area important to them where you might be falling short. If you wish to work in an environment where you’re valued for your skills, make sure that everyone you work with knows that their efforts don’t go unnoticed.
If you’re a leader, you can contribute to the well-being of your employees by creating the kind of work environment you always wished you’d had. Model good leadership that other people can watch and learn from. We live in an era of mass consumption where almost everyone seems determined to get more material possessions, more money, and more prestige. The pursuit of personal growth can turn into just another commodity that people want to hoard and use for their own advantage.
But real growth doesn’t work like this. In fact, it works better if you share it with the world. If the author had wanted to keep his hard-won wisdom to himself, he would never have been inspired to start a coaching business and empower others to deliver his teachings. He wouldn’t have begun his nonprofit leadership academy, which turned out to be one of the most fulfilling things he’s ever done. When he freely gave his insights to the world, he was rewarded by a more interesting – and capacious – career than he ever could have dreamed of.
What I took from it
There’s a lot in life that we can’t control, but the good news is that personal growth is always within reach. We develop ourselves when we take responsibility and commit to using adversity to accelerate our growth. Having a good strategy for tackling challenges and working consistently will enable us to achieve our goals. Personal growth requires loss, uncertainty, and a willingness to make mistakes. But discomfort is a small price to pay for the joy of exceeding your potential, again and again.
Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Complacency is the enemy of personal growth. A useful exercise to jolt yourself out of it is to do something completely new and intimidating. Like joining a tango class. Or signing up for a crash course in calligraphy. Or improvising a story at an open mic. Learning new skills will help you to develop a beginner’s mind – one that’s constantly curious and open.
John C Maxwell is master of the To Do list, but what makes his lists so valuable is the profound wisdom contained in the goals he proposes and the methods he suggests to achieve them. All of us would like to grow: in our character, our relationships, our professional development and our education, but daily demands on our time and attention often get in the way of making growth happen. In this book Maxwell identifies first why it is important to grow, and then how we can apply laws of growth to what we do each day.