“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~Marcel Proust
If you are reading this post, you are probably a lot like me — a seeker.
You want to grow as a person, understand yourself and others better, and figure out how to live a joyful, fulfilled, and purposeful life.
And maybe like me, you’ve tried it all over the years. You’ve read hundreds of self-help books, taken courses, explored metaphysical or alternative options, practiced the “law of attraction,” and followed the guaranteed-for-success formula of the newest self-help guru du jour.
I’m not putting this down at all — we need to explore, experiment, and separate the personal growth wheat from the chaff. We each must experience our own journey of self-discovery to discern what is truly life-changing and what is merely fluff and magical thinking.
Over the years, I’ve become more practical in my approach to personal growth strategies. I practice what works. I focus my energy on actions and beliefs that have a proven track record of improving my quality of life and my state of mind.
Here are 10 strategies that have worked well for me . . .
1. Be present
As much as possible, keep your attention focused on this moment right now. Immerse yourself in what you are doing, even if it’s tedious or boring. Pay full attention to the person you are with. Savor what you are doing without allowing your mind to dwell in the past or ponder the future. When you do plan for the future (as we all must), create a loose template — a flexible plan or goal that allows you to stay open to all possibilities. When you are living outside of the present moment, you are truly “wasting time” because the past and future aren’t real. Only the present.
2. Disengage from the opinions of others
This was life-changing for me. Once I stopped worrying about what others would think of me, how they might judge me, or how my decisions might disappoint people, I was free to become myself fully. I was able to be authentic. There is so much pressure from parents, peers, society, and the media to conform to certain standards and ideals. But we each must create our own “personal operating system” that is a reflection of our true selves. Real happiness is impossible when you fake it through life in order to make others OK.
3. Go deep rather than wide
Rather than trying to do many things and cram my life full of activities and achievements, I now focus on fewer things but I focus deeply. When I work, I strive to be engaged in the task at hand and remove other distractions. When I travel, I go to fewer locations but spend more time in one or two. You don’t learn much or experience the depths of joy from just scratching the surface.
4. Redefine failure
I don’t like to fail any more than the next person. But I’ve learned to accept failure as a necessary element in success. You encounter failure because you had the courage and creativity to try. Failure teaches us how to do better the next time. We can spend our lives avoiding failure, but then we take no risks — which confines us to the status quo. If you want to live a big life, you must embrace failure, knowing that it can and will happen. You gratefully accept the gifts that failure offers and so you can move on to success.
5. Rewire your brain
The science of neuroplasticity shows we have a huge reservoir of potential for learning, change, and growth. This is particularly meaningful related to how we think about ourselves and how our thinking impacts our motivation and outlook on life. If our thoughts are constantly negative and self-critical, we are training our brains to accept these thoughts as true. But by practicing positive thinking, thoughts of self-love and self-respect, we can retrain our brains to believe these things. Practicing positive thinking isn’t just feel-good nonsense. It actually changes your brain chemistry and changes how you feel about yourself.
6. Stop struggling
So much of life feels like a struggle. Someone says or does something to hurt us, and we respond with anger or defensiveness. Something bad happens in our day, and we get frustrated and agitated. Our children aren’t doing what we want them to do, so we feel compelled to worry and fret over their decisions or actions. In many (maybe most) of these situations, a path of non-resistance is the best way to go. Instead of fighting against the person or situation, just observe and offer no struggle. Events usually take care of themselves without forcing them, so let them unfold.
7. Simplify everything
Life is becoming increasingly complicated and demanding. We are overloaded with information. We keep buying stuff. We take on more commitments and obligations. It’s suffocating. Less is truly more. Less feels liberating, open, and light. Get rid of stuff, streamline your schedule to the few most important things, release people who are sapping your time and energy. You need emotional and physical space and time to actually live your life rather than racing through it.
8. Define your values
To live a fully-actualized life, we need guideposts to help us make decisions and set goals. Our core values are those guideposts. These values are the most important principles for your life, and every major life decision and action should support or reflect these values. If you don’t define your own values, then you look to others to help you decide what’s important. Or you bounce around trying to “feel your way” through decisions or a direction for your life. When you know your top 5-6 values, you know exactly what you do and don’t want for your life.
9. Have a beginner’s mind
You are never too old, too smart, too experienced, too rich, too powerful, or too creative to learn something from every person you encounter and every life experience. Approach each new relationship with wide-eyed anticipation, like a child. Allow yourself to try something brand new, where you have no experience or skills — and then savor every aspect of learning. Not only does this expand your capacity for joy and personal fulfillment, but it also makes you a more interesting, approachable, and attractive person. As Forrest Gump says, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
10. Show kindness and good manners
Kindness and manners are underrated. It’s so easy to simply be kind to people, to speak warmly, to smile and acknowledge them. It is so easy to say “thank you,” to hold a door open, to offer to help. Even in the face of anger, life difficulties, and ugliness, we can elevate ourselves and those around us by being kind and decent people. When you practice kindness, you inspire others to do the same, and it creates a small but very powerful ripple effect.
What about you? What personal growth strategies have been the most useful and practical? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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