What is Personal Growth?
Personal growth is the ongoing general process of improving oneself, typically resulting in more emotions of pride, confidence, and satisfaction. Personal growth also leads to more connection with the self, others, and more energy to meet your life's goals.
In this blog, I'll share a general four-step process for making improvements in your life, no matter what they are. I will also discuss how you don't need permission from others to begin to make changes today.
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What is the Process for Personal Growth?
Achieve personal growth through these four general steps. Each step is much more intricate, but the overall process is helpful to conceptualize. The four general steps are:
Self-reflection: Be honest about what you need to change. What you identify will likely be a behavior, like reducing junk food consumption. It might also be emotional, like reducing anger.
Learning: Learn about what you identified in step 1. For example, if you need to reduce anger, learn about what anger is and what others have done to reduce their anger.
Achievable Goals: Give yourself something specific to work towards, like feeling more calm and relaxed daily. Create action steps to work towards the larger goal, like setting aside time for daily meditation.
Attempt & Adjust: Implement the techniques from step 3, then change the action steps as needed.
Personal growth is more than external success.
You could work on something related to your behavior, like achieving concrete marketing goals in your business. But to do so, you will probably identify another goal to work on, like believing in yourself more and saying kinder things to yourself. And when you achieve your marketing goals, you will probably notice that it impacts you internally. You will feel accomplished, proud, and even more determined.
Personal growth involves observable behaviors, yes. But it also involves an inner change. It requires a willingness to challenge oneself, step outside one's comfort zone, and commit to continuous learning and improvement. Ultimately, personal growth is about becoming the best version of oneself and living a fulfilling life.
You will be the one to decide what "the best version of yourself" is. And you will also be the one to decide what a "fulfilling life" is. These two things are ever-evolving and never static. There is always room for growth and no such thing as perfection.
Why is personal growth important?
Personal growth is not only allowed but also necessary for our overall well-being and fulfillment.
As you change your life, you will access more of your body's "safety state." The safety state is your body's natural biological capacity to feel safe and then optimize its resources for "health, growth, and restoration," as Dr. Stephen Porges often says. He is the creator of the Polyvagal Theory, the science of human connection.
Personal growth connects to accessing more of your safety state. As you grow, your defensive activation (like flight/fight) reduces, allowing more safety in your system. Accessing your safety state improves your body's physical and mental health.
Physically, your body will utilize its natural homeostatic functioning while in its safety state. Oxygen and other resources are used optimally for improved general health and even healing.
Mentally, you will feel calmer, more confident, and more curious about yourself. You will be more compassionate toward others. You will experience deeper and more meaningful connections with yourself and others.
You can access your safety state through the process of self-regulation.
You're allowed to make positive changes in your life.
You don't need permission from others to make positive changes in your life. It might be nice to have approval and support, but this is also unnecessary.
You are in control of your own life, and you have the power to make decisions that will benefit you. Whether you want to start a new hobby, improve your health, or work on your relationships, the choice is yours.
No, it's not easy. And yes, it's a long process. But no one will do it for you. And no one has the power to permit you to begin. That is entirely up to you.
It's always possible to start. You don't need to wait for someone else to tell you it's okay to make a change. And if you do, welp, you have something to work with in step 1.
Take Responsibility for Your Growth.
Personal growth is a journey that requires taking responsibility for your development. You don't need permission from others to pursue your goals and aspirations. You have the power to shape your future and make positive changes in your life. Instead of seeking validation from others, focus on your growth and take proactive steps toward achieving your goals.
Are other people to blame for aspects of your life? Undoubtedly. I am sure that your parents, spouse, family, society, religious institutions, and more all have some level of blame for who you are today, for better or worse. That may be valid. And your current life context is a normal reflection of that.
Regardless, you are still responsible for making change.
Both of these can be true at the same time. You can blame whoever you like. That may be valid. But you are also responsible for making a change. It is your life. It's not theirs. You can make your own choices. And that can start right now.
Set clear goals for personal development.
It sounds like a daunting task. I'm asking you to take responsibility for change. And I am also telling you that you don't need someone else to permit you. This line of thinking might be very different and feel out of control.
The solution to this is to focus on clear goals and action steps.
Setting clear personal development goals is crucial to make progress and achieve growth.
Step 1 is to identify areas where you need to grow. Do so with honesty and compassion.
Step 2 is learning new information, like learning more about your body's Polyvagal state and how it keeps you stuck.
Step 3 is to identify a large-scale goal, like increasing relationship satisfaction.
Use action steps to meet your goals.
But large-scale goals can be overwhelming and must be broken into smaller action steps.
These action steps should be measurable and achievable. With clear goals and practical action steps, you'll be more motivated and focused on your personal development. You'll be able to track your progress and see how far you've come. Here is an example of a goal and an action step:
Goal: "I want to live with more calm and stillness in my life."
Action step: "I will start each morning with no electronics for one hour for one week."
The practical action step leads to the larger goal of increasing calm.
However, it may not. This action step might be too much for you. Or prove ineffective at helping you reach the larger goal of more calm and stillness.
And that's why taking small, mindful steps toward personal growth is important.
Take Small, Mindful Steps Toward Personal Growth.
Personal growth is not a one-time event but a continuous process requiring consistent effort and dedication. Taking small, mindful steps toward personal growth can help you stay focused and make progress toward your goals.
Try things out and change what you need to.
And that brings us to Step 4: Attempt & Adjust.
Try out the action step you created, but do so mindfully. When you use it, ask yourself how you feel. When you exist without electronics in the morning, here are some questions to help you experience the action step mindfully:
Does this feel more like goodness or badness?
Do you like it or dislike it?
Does it feel more calm or less calm? Is there another emotion that comes up for you? Is that emotion tolerable?
Does the action step help you to breathe easier and think more clearly?
When you find that your action step proves ineffective, be honest about it and then try another action step. For example:
Goal: "I want to live with more calm and stillness in my life."
Revised Action Step Option A: "I will start each morning with no electronics for thirty minutes for one week."
Revised Action Step Option B: "I will walk for 10 minutes every day before my lunch."
You will need to step outside of your comfort zone. Do so in ways that are challenging but manageable. As you master those, then find new difficult but manageable action steps.
Surround Yourself with Supportive and Positive People.
Surrounding yourself with positive people takes work, but I have a realistic solution for you.
When you surround yourself with positive and supportive people, this helps to provide you with co-regulation. Co-regulation is the biological process of giving and receiving safety cues from one another. Co-regulation activates your body's safety state, which is foundational for personal growth. This co-regulative benefit multiplies if you connect with people with similar goals and provide mutual support, especially in person.
The people in your life influence you.
The people you spend time with can greatly influence your mindset, beliefs, and actions. Seek out individuals who uplift and inspire you, believe in your potential, and support your goals and aspirations. These people can provide encouragement, guidance, and accountability as you navigate your personal growth journey.
Surrounding yourself with positivity and support can help you stay motivated, overcome obstacles, and maintain a positive mindset. You deserve to be surrounded by people who believe in you and want to see you succeed.
Distance yourself from those that deserve it.
Don't be afraid to distance yourself from negative influences and seek out those who will encourage, challenge, and support you. Find the right people and prune what needs to be. There may be people in your life that you cut out entirely, and there may be people you choose to spend less time with as you reprioritize.
Finding people in person is ideal, but virtually is a great option.
Finding people in person is best, as face-to-face contact provides the safety cues of co-regulation. You can find people locally with similar goals by searching for your interest in your area and connecting with established groups.
Finding others online is a great option if this is unrealistic for you. Countless groups can be found online, in discussion forums, or social media groups. Make sure you vet what groups are out there, be bold, and leave them if they are not a good fit for you.
You might be looking for a group of people making changes in their lives and actively recovering from trauma. In that case, the Stucknaut Collective private community might be a good fit for you. The Collective members can connect and work through trauma recovery courses. It's a paid group, so everyone there is motivated, and there is zero toxicity or negativity. It's a safe space to connect and further your personal growth, especially in trauma recovery.
To join the Collective, subscribe to the Stuck Not Broken: Total Access Membership.
Strengthen Your Personal Boundaries
When your body shifts into a defensive state, you may compromise your personal boundaries and values to get out of the situation. If you can relate, check out this blog to learn what you can do about it.
Q: What is personal growth, and how can it benefit me?
A: Personal growth is an ongoing process of self-improvement that leads to increased satisfaction, confidence, and connection. By taking responsibility for your own development and implementing the four-step process of self-reflection, learning, setting achievable goals, and attempting and adjusting, you can make steps toward more personal development.
Q: Why is personal growth important for my well-being?
A: Personal growth is not only allowed but necessary for your overall well-being and fulfillment. It enables you to access your body's safety state, reduce defensive activation, and improve your physical and mental health. As you grow, you'll experience greater calm, confidence, curiosity, and compassion, fostering deeper connections with yourself and others.
Q: How can I set clear goals for personal development?
A: Setting clear goals is crucial for making progress and achieving personal growth. Begin by identifying areas where you need to grow with honesty and compassion. Then, learn new information related to your growth areas. Next, break down your larger goals into smaller, measurable, and achievable action steps. With clear goals and practical steps, you'll stay motivated, track your progress, and witness the positive changes you've made.
Quotes from this blog:
Personal growth involves observable behaviors, yes. But it also involves an inner change. It requires a willingness to challenge oneself, step outside one's comfort zone, and commit to continuous learning and improvement.
You're allowed to make positive changes in your life. You don't need permission from others to make positive changes in your life. It might be nice to have approval and support, but this is also unnecessary.
Surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people can help you stay motivated, overcome obstacles, and maintain a positive mindset. You deserve to be surrounded by people who believe in you and want to see you succeed.
Justin Sunseri is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Coach specializing in trauma relief. He is the host of the Stuck Not Broken podcast and author of the book Trauma & the Polyvagal Paradigm. He specializes in treating trauma and helps individuals get "unstuck" from their defensive states.