Personal growth is just that: personal. It’s different for every individual, said Trevor Crow, MFT, an expert on modern relationships.
For her, personal growth signifies striving to understand others with compassion, and looking inward when she judges someone.
“I usually find judging others is closely connected to your own faults. We all tend to judge those things in others that we have.”
For psychotherapist Bobbi Emel, MFT, personal growth means living according to her values every day.
It also means asking these questions regularly: “Am I uncomfortably comfortable? Do I need to change anything in my life or stretch myself in some way to live more closely aligned with my highest values?”
For clinical psychologist Christina Hibbert, PsyD, personal growth is trying to learn from whatever comes her way. “We are each given change — some we want and some we do not. But it’s up to us to decide what to do with it.”
Lisa Kaplin, PsyD, a psychologist and life coach, described growth as recognizing what isn’t working in our lives and then making small, specific changes every day.
What does personal growth mean to you? Your definition may be completely different. Here’s a list to help you uncover your own meaning and grow a bit every day.
1. Mine your life.
When considering what you’d like to work on, Crow suggested “scanning the emotional landscape of your life.” Consider where you’d like to make changes or improvements in the various areas of your life.
For instance, you might decide to focus on your marriage, and talk to your spouse about one way you can improve your relationship.
2. Honor your feelings.
Take the time to honor and recognize your feelings. Doing so provides valuable information into what’s going well or not so well in your life, Crow said.
For instance, “your emotions all register in your body.” Take “an emotional pulse” by “locating where you feel your emotions physically.” Crow gave an example of feeling anxiety in her stomach. “I know when I am nervous when I clue into my stomach clenching up.”
3. Practice gratitude.
“Choosing to grow means choosing to be grateful for every moment,” said Hibbert, author of the memoir This Is How We Grow. Gratitude helps her focus on what is possible and good, instead of focusing on what’s in her way.
4. Be five percent better.
Hibbert suggested asking yourself: “What if I were just five percent better at … (parenting, smiling, being kind or patient or grateful)?” Where would you like to be five percent better? What does that look like?
5. Find ways to relax.
“Relaxation and stress reduction clear your head, which actually increases your emotional and physical energy,” Kaplin said. “That extra energy allows you to pursue personal growth.” You might try meditating for several minutes, practicing several yoga poses or participating in other physical activities that help you relax and recharge.
6. Be mindful for several minutes.
Take several minutes out of your day to be still. Turn off electronic devices, close your eyes, and focus on your breath, said Emel, who pens the blog Bounce and the Psych Central blog Bounce Back: Develop Your Resiliency.
This helps you check in with yourself and your surroundings. And it helps you get to know yourself better, she said.
“You notice things around you and what you think and feel about them [and] you notice what’s going on inside of you.”
7. Set reminders.
Kaplin struggled with back problems for years. She learned three yoga poses to help her stretch and strengthen her back. So that she actually practices them, Kaplin added a recurring reminder to her daily calendar.
“Each day I don’t allow myself to erase the yoga poses reminder until I do them. Not surprisingly my back is so much stronger and I feel better daily because of it.”
“Finding a way to remind yourself of one small personal growth tool daily will lead that tool to becoming a habit and therefore part of your life.”
8. Cultivate a growth mindset.
Hibbert suggested telling yourself: “No matter what happens today, it will help me grow.” You also can repeat: “I choose to grow.”
9. Avoid judgment.
“When you feel judgment arise about how you’re not pursuing any personal growth, allow it to float away like clouds in a gentle breeze,” Emel said. Punishment rarely leads to personal growth. Instead it leads to more guilt and shame, she said.
And here’s another important reminder: “Growth is great, but you’re wonderful just as you are. Never forget that,” Emel said.