How to achieve personal growth

When I speak with my clients, they are often frustrated or disappointed with a situation in their life as it is. The problem they have is that they are not sure how to get to the place they want to be – and getting there is a journey of personal growth. There’s a lot of talk about personal growth, but what’s interesting is that we all have a different understanding of what that means. Then again, maybe that’s the point – the bit that makes it personal. We have our own unique perception of who we are and who we want to be – the difficult part is working out the steps that will help us create that change. In my blog, How to achieve personal growth, I look at a concept to which all of us can and perhaps should aspire.

How to achieve personal growth. Lady enjoying a bike in the fresh air and countryside.

What is personal growth?

If we want to know how to achieve personal growth, we need to understand what it is. Ok, so far, so obvious, but when asked this question, most people will reply that it is about learning—learning something new, in order to bring about positive change. I would question whether it’s about learning something new, even if that can be a part of the process, and more often, better understanding something about ourselves. For me, personal growth is about self-improvement, creating better behaviours and actions that result in improved experiences and results. And to create better behaviours, you first have to recognise the ones you already have.

I’ve read any number of articles that suggest that personal growth is about improving our own bad habits – controlling anger, overcoming laziness, drinking less, becoming more polite or responsible. This seems very negative and indicates that there is a flaw or fault within yourself. I see it differently. Personal growth can be about developing the skills and confidence that you need to achieve a better outcome and reach a good stage in your life.

How to achieve personal growth through IMPACT

One way to achieve personal growth is through my own IMPACT model: six stages of transformation based on six powerful concepts.

  • IMPACT
  • MEANING
  • PATTERNS
  • ACCEPTANCE
  • CHALLENGE
  • TRANSFORMATION

I realise this is a shameless plug for myself, but I have worked with over 3500 people in my career and feel I have a valuable contribution to offer you. The first stage is below, with stages two to six in the following sections.

1. Conversations With IMPACT

This first stage encourages you to think of personal growth as a reflection of your existing conversations, those you have with yourself (your self-talk) and those you have with others. Knowing how to achieve personal growth starts with identifying which of your existing conversations will support this goal and which will hinder it. Conversations that undermine or even prevent personal growth lack important qualities and characteristics. Whereas conversations that make the difference – Conversations With IMPACT – contain the positive characteristics and qualities we need.

Activity: start by listing all of your existing conversations, which can be both personal and professional. Then, using a 0-10 scale (0=very negative, 10=very positive), score how helpful you think each conversation will be for your personal growth. Think about whether you trust a person and whether they offer good ideas, for example. As a general rule scores:

  • 7 or above are conversations that should definitely play a role in your personal growth journey
  • 5 or 6 are conversations that could play a role, but with the exercise of caution
  • 4 or below are conversations that should definitely NOT play a role

Based on your scores, compile a separate list of those you will speak to about supporting your personal growth. Another option, of course, is to speak to a professional coach or therapist either instead of or as well.

2. The role of MEANING

To achieve personal growth, we need to know whether ours is currently in good shape or not. Why is this important? It is important because personal growth makes a valuable contribution to our thriving and surviving, the most crucial goal of all human beings. Poor or stalled personal growth threatens this goal, which is not good.

If our personal growth is an issue, making sense of it can reveal the causes and the solutions to get it back on track. This is critical because, without causes, there can be no solutions, only guesswork and misdiagnosis. Luckily, we all have an in-built system that can tell us about the current state of our personal growth: our emotions. Emotions are really messages sent from what I call our ’emotional self’ containing vital information about our thriving and surviving. It follows that:

  • difficult emotions such as anxiety and depression are how our emotional self expresses its concern about our thriving and surviving
  • positive emotions are how it communicates its happiness and contentment

And one of the ways we can have less of the former and more of the latter is to invest in our personal growth. The Meaning Map activity in the next section can help.

The Meaning Map

The Meaning Map connects emotions to the areas of our lives essential for personal growth. Completing the activity will help you identify which areas you can focus on.

Using a 0-10 scale (10=an area in great shape, 0=an area in very poor shape), choose a number that captures how you feel about each area listed below. 

  • Identity: self-esteem/worth, role and status
  • Home and family life
  • Relationships
  • Work/Career/professional
  • Health (mental and/or physical)
  • Financial
  • Lifestyle
  • Social and cultural
  • Environment
  • Past, present or future

As a general rule, scores of:

  • 7 or more indicate areas in great shape that will already be boosting your personal growth. Just keep doing what you are doing
  • 5 or 6 indicate areas that are in reasonable shape but will need some focus 
  • 4 or below indicate areas in very poor shape. These will definitely be undermining your personal growth and will require immediate attention

What did you discover? Has the activity helped you to identify the areas of your life you need to work on for your personal growth?

3. The importance of PATTERNS

Personal growth is built from patterns of thought, behaviour, feeling and relating. If personal growth is the destination, these four patterns are the journey (more of this later). If a client asks me how to achieve personal growth, I will ask them how they…

  • Think
  • Behave
  • Feel
  • relate

…followed by “And are your patterns consistent or inconsistent with achieving personal growth?” If they are, we strengthen and nurture them. But if they aren’t, we update or replace them. Either way, we might want to end up with a set of patterns that look something like this:

  • thought: I like who I am and aspire to be the best version of myself
  • behaviour: I commit to social and cultural activities that make a difference
  • feeling: I make the most of feeling good and tough it out when I am not
  • relating: I surround myself with people who supportively challenge me and avoid those who don’t

A note on unhelpful patterns, those that undermine personal growth. Like it or not, they will have started for positive reasons i.e., they gave us something at the time, so when we try to update or replace them, they tend to dig their heels in. This is why so many New Year’s Resolutions fail. The way to ensure that new patterns of personal growth become established is to make them more emotionally persuasive than the old ones. To build up a detailed picture of your existing patterns, complete The Pattern Builder activity in the next section.

The Pattern Builder

Answering the questions below can help you build a detailed picture of your patterns and whether they are consistent or inconsistent with achieving personal growth. 

  1. When, where and with whom were you when you decided to focus on your personal growth?
  2. Were there any stressors or changes occurring in your life when you made the decision to focus on your personal growth?
  3. Thinking about any issues caused by a lack of personal growth, how long have they lasted?
  4. What significant persons are present or absent when you feel a) positive and b) negative about your personal growth?
  5. Where are you when you a) positive and b) negative about your personal growth, e.g. at home or at work?
  6. Can you identify when you go from feeling unhappy with your personal growth to feeling happy about it? What stages do you go through?
  7. Are there times, even brief ones, when you feel 100% happy with your personal growth? What is different about these times?
  8. What do you think other people know about your personal growth, e.g. friends, family or colleagues? Do they know about it at all? Are they supportive or not?
  9. What are your beliefs about your ability to achieve personal growth? For example, I will never succeed or I feel very confident?

The Pattern Builder activity is worth repeating as doing so can help you to build up a helpful level of detail that you can act upon.

4. The power of ACCEPTANCE

The critical role that personal growth plays in helping us thrive and survive means that we don’t really have a choice in striving to achieve it. Put another way, we need to reach a place of acceptance regarding personal growth as something we do. If we can’t or won’t accept but still expect a life of happiness and fulfilment, we open up what I call a Fantasy-Reality Gap.

A personal growth FRG is where we expect the outside world to be the sole provider of what we need to make the life we want. The bigger the gap, the more trouble we are in because FRGs represent unsustainable ways of living. Examples of personal growth FRGs include those that are financial, career or relationship-based.

Acceptance prevents or closes FRGs because it means we are willing to turn inwards to ourselves when, inevitably, the outside world lets us down. Instead of becoming frustrated and angry with the outside world, we feel positively challenged and stretched by our efforts to live our best lives. The key to acceptance is seeing it not as resignation i.e., giving up on our dreams and aspirations, but as the first stage of our journey towards them.

Activity: look back at The Meaning Map and consider whether you accept that happiness in these areas will come from your personal growth or whether you are waiting for the outside world to deliver it.

5. The CHALLENGE of personal growth

I said above that personal growth is about taking ourselves from where we are now in life to where we want to be. And that is a challenge. Many people fail to achieve personal growth not because they are incapable of it but because they fail to make the concept of challenge work for them. Instead of the right amount of challenge, they either have too little or too much of it. New Year’s Resolutions are a great example of this.

Many years ago, I coined the phrase The Goldilocks Principle to help people find their sweet spot of challenge. Taken from the famous fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Goldilocks Principle suggests there is an optimum level of challenge that makes progress towards our personal growth possible. The Principle can be stated like this:

  • not too little challenge, not too much, but just right.

So how do you find the optimum amount of challenge? The answer is resources. Unhelpful levels of challenge are always about a lack of resources. Identify the resources you need, and then add more of them until you reach your optimum level of challenge. I designed The Challenge Audit activity below for this purpose.

The Challenge Audit

Look at the nine categories of resources below, and then complete the steps underneath.

  • RESOURCES (information, knowledge, technology) Do I have what I need? If I don’t, can I find them myself, or does someone else have what I need?
  • SKILLS & ABILITIES Do I have what is required? If I don’t, can I develop them independently, or will I need support?
  • CONFIDENCE & BELIEF Do I have enough? If I don’t, can I build these qualities on my own, or will I need the backing of others?
  • WELLBEING Do I feel resilient? If I don’t, can I increase my own resilience, or will I need encouragement?
  • SUPPORT Do I have enough around me? If I don’t, where does it exist, and who will provide it?
  • MOTIVATION Do I feel sufficiently energised? If I don’t, can I galvanise myself, or will I need inspiration from colleagues and peers?
  • TIME Do I have spare capacity? If I don’t, can I create it individually, or will I need to collaborate?
  • ENVIRONMENT Am I in the right environment? If not, can I change my existing surroundings, or do I need to be somewhere else?
  • STRATEGY Do I have the right strategy? If I don’t, how will I acquire it? On my own or through co-operation

To establish if you have the resources you need to achieve your personal growth, choose a number between 0 and 10 (0=none at all, 10=all that you need) that represents how much of each you currently possess. As a general rule:

  • Scores of seven or above indicate you have an ample amount of a resource
  • Scores of five or six indicate you have some of a resource but will need to obtain more of it soon
  • Scores of four or below indicate you are severely lacking in a resource and need to acquire more of it as quickly as possible

If you have more high scores than low ones, there is a good chance you are making The Goldilocks Principle of Challenge work for you. However, if your scores are on the low side, the opposite will most likely be true. Whatever you discovered, you now know what resources you need to preserve or find more of.

6. How to achieve personal growth: T is for transformation

The final stage of my IMPACT Model is Transformation, which I see as both a journey of personal growth and a destination. It is a journey because in reading this blog, your starting point is behind you, but your destination is still up ahead. It is a destination because you want your journey to come to an end when:

  • who you are is who you want to be
  • what you are doing is what you want to be doing
  • the life you are leading is the life you want to be leading

Successful transformation requires that we keep our journey and destination of personal growth connected, and there are two ways you can do this. The first is to have a clear image of your final destination and future life (using the areas from The Meaning Map). Once you have this, you can work out the journey to get you there. The second is to have what I call a ‘helpful approach to transformation’. How do I achieve all of this, I hear you ask? Don’t worry; it’s all in the sections below.

The Destination Finder

My Destination Finder activity can help you visualise your desired destination and the journey to take you there. Consider the areas from The Meaning Map that are most important for your personal growth and then follow the steps below.

  • Step One: establish your current reality: how is your life right now? Describe yourself, what you do, and the life you lead.
  • Step Two: now establish a desired future for yourself (your destination). Who would you like to be, what would you like to be doing, and what life would you like to be leading?
  • Step Three: establish a timeline of when this transformation might occur, i.e. when you have reached your destination. Is it a month, 6 months or a year?
  • Step Four: take some time to deepen the ‘vision’ of your destination. Make it a multisensory experience: imagine, engage and fully ’embody’ this future state for yourself. Some questions you can ask are: What is happening? What do I see? Who am I now? What am I doing? What has changed? How have I changed? Speak as if your desired future were a reality, i.e. “This is who I am, this is what I am doing, and this is the life I am living.”
  • Step 5: from this future state, look back and describe the journey you took to get to your destination. Travel back through the stages you went through, speaking in the present as if you are there, e.g. “To get to this stage, I achieved this,” or “To get to that stage I achieved that.”
  • Step Six: Then bring yourself back to the present—the now—and explore what this exercise has given you in terms of learning, understanding and insight. What actions will you take to start the journey that will take you to your desired destination?
  • Step Seven: approach this exercise as a work in progress. Repeating regularly will help maintain your progress.

A Helpful Model of Transformation

Below are two approaches to transformation: helpful and unhelpful. Before you set off on your journey towards your destination, it is crucial that you know which one you are using. If it is the ‘helpful’ approach, then you’re good to go! However, if you identify more with the ‘unhelpful’ approach, then you will need to do some work on this before setting off.

A Helpful Model of Transformation:

  • Acceptance of one’s current reality and a commitment to doing what it takes
  • Time and patience
  • Positivity – towards oneself and from others
  • Self-belief and trust in one’s abilities
  • Turning setbacks into opportunities
  • Useful ideas, a sound knowledge & effective resources
  • Skills – practice and repetition
  • Alignment of realistic goals with effective strategies
  • The right type of support and encouragement
  • Positive emotions that help rather than hinder
  • A resilient mindset

An Unhelpful Model of Transformation

  • Impatience and the need for a ‘quick fix’
  • Unrealistic goals and expectations
  • Low self-esteem/self-worth
  • Perfectionism, self-sabotage & self-criticism
  • A lack of knowledge, information and resources
  • Erroneous ideas
  • A lack of self-belief
  • Poor motivation
  • The right goal, but the wrong strategy
  • Not enough support or the wrong type of support
  • Difficult emotions

How to achieve personal growth: getting support

I hope you have enjoyed my blog, How to achieve personal growth. If you would like support, I’d love to hear from you. My IMPACT Model and IMPACT Programmes have helped many people achieve their personal growth (read my testimonials).

To book an initial consultation, visit my Make a Booking page. You will have the opportunity to tell me about what you are going through and find out how I can support you. Even if you choose not to work with me, I promise your consultation will give you more ideas, knowledge and insight than you had before.

Here is another good article on personal growth.