You’ve probably read personal development books or posts before and left them inspired to grow, but when you tried to implement the lessons, there seemed like so much to do and all of it felt squishy and not specific at all.
So, despite your best efforts and desires, you quickly reverted back to what you were doing before you read those inspirational writings. I’ve been there, and it’s pretty disappointing. You are excited about growing, but you just can’t make it happen on a regular basis.
Below are are five simple things you can do to buck the trend of reading about personal growth without growing anything except the overall amount of words you have read.
1. Win The Day In The First Hour
Start your day off with a win. It doesn’t have to be big, in fact it shouldn’t be. Just find something you can do in the first hour after you wake up so that no matter how the rest of the day goes, you know you did something to make yourself better. It can be flossing, waking up 30 minutes earlier than normal, or making your bed.
For me, it is super simple, I drink a glass of water first thing after I wake up, which is good for me and gets me going. Whatever you pick, when you do it, you will create positive momentum for the rest of your day. Warning: don’t pick something that you need to summon all of your will power to do.
For example, if you don’t work out, don’t pick starting to work out as your first win. That’s a great habit to form but it’s too big for what we are trying to achieve here. We are just creating a habit of winning to start each day, so pick something you will do when you are busy, when you are tired, or when you just don’t feel like doing much. Pick something easy, but something you aren’t currently doing and get a win early that sets you up to win all day.
2. Learn What Color Eyes Everyone You Talk To Has.
This is about practicing being more present in your interactions with people. “Presence” is a squishy term that gets thrown around a lot. For our purposes, by presence, I mean giving the person you are interacting with the feeling that you are engaged in the interaction.
This is much harder to do nowadays with all the easy distractions we have (phones, computers, TVs, tablets, etc.) on top of our ever present tendency to care way more about us than we care about whoever we are talking to.
So, truly engaging in an interaction is something we have to be intentional about and practice. But the advice you hear regarding presence is almost always useless. For example, focus on what the other person is saying and really pay attention to them. There’s really nothing actionable there. However, learning the person’s eye color that you are talking to is actionable and specific. It also has the side effect of giving the person you are talking to the distinct impression you are paying attention to them rather than whatever else may be going on. And, it turns out, you will be.
It is amazing how looking someone in the eyes actually makes you engage with what they are talking about. That “lost in your eyes” cliche is all about presence. When you are looking intently I someone’s eyes, you inevitably pay attention to them. Once you practice doing this for a bit, it will start to become a habit, and with it, your presence will improve.
3. Do A Little Thing That Scares You.
Fear is basically the best indicator of where your greatest opportunity for growth is. But, fear is also the biggest reason we limit our growth. Courage or bravery to act in the face of that fear is a skill that can be learned, but, like any skill, you shouldn’t/can’t just jump to expert level right off the bat.
You have to practice on some easier steps. And that is fine, and how you get to be an expert. So go and do something that scares you every day, but just something that scares you a little bit. We are not talking quit your job to go be a vagabond here. I am talking about saying “hi” to a stranger while you wait in line at the grocery store. Unless that terrifies the bejeezus out of you, then do something less terrifying.
Just look for something that when you think about doing it, you feel a slight uncomfortableness. Bonus Tip: Once you identify the uncomfortable thing you can do to grow, then count to three and do it. No really, literally count to three and go. If you tell yourself at “three” you will do the uncomfortable thing and there is no other option, you’ll do it. By deciding to start the count, you have decided to do it.
Once you have done this for a while, you will start to be more and more comfortable in situations that used to be scary, and you will start to believe you can do all kinds of things you would never have even entertained before. But no rush, just do a little, slightly scary thing today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.
4. Go Out Of Your Way To Do Something For Someone Else By Noon.
Doing something for someone else will make you feel good. And it will make them feel good. But most importantly, from a growth perspective, it will create a giving habit in you, where you look for and notice ways to help others. As a great side effect, people will start doing the same for you, which will also give you more opportunities to grow.
To start building this habit, do something nice for someone before noon. Do it before noon because that way you won’t get going with your day and just forget. Also, if you do it before noon, you are likely to just do it a few more times throughout the day because you have some momentum going. It doesn’t have to be something big.
Maybe it is getting someone else a cup of water when you go get one for yourself even though they didn’t ask for it, holding the elevator a little longer than you normally would for someone, or asking someone how their weekend was and genuinely caring about the answer, asking some follow up questions, and truly listening to what they say. Once you start being intentional about it, you’ll find it easier and easier to spot those kinds of opportunities. Eventually, it will just be natural, and everyone will be better off for it.
5. Stop Setting Goals.
Stop writing down your three year, five year, and ten year goals. Just stop. I don’t mean stop having a vision for where you want to be or the direction you want to head. But stop setting long term, super specific goals.
Setting those goals does two things you want to avoid if you want to grow. First, it gives you a subconscious feeling of already having achieved the goals. It turns out our brains are really bad at telling the difference between a goal we set and a goal we achieved. Which leads to the second thing, setting the goal itself becomes the goal.
Because setting goals feels good, we just focus on doing that. And we create a cycle of ineffective action, where we periodically just set new goals and then don’t do anything else because we feel good about having set the goals. This obviously will never lead to actually achieving anything tangible. So by the end of it, all you have achieved is setting multiple rounds of goals without getting any closer to your original vision. Here’s what to do instead.
Have muddy, unfocused vision for where you want to go. Just clear enough that you know the direction you need to head. Then, identify some SMALL action steps you can take to move in that direction. Make those small action steps your goals. And go do them.
If you work better under time pressure, give yourself a week or two to get the action done. But don’t spend all your time thinking about your end result and the metrics of what it will look like because that isn’t going to get you any closer to it, you have to take action. And don’t worry about having a not entirely clear vision. Once you start taking action and moving in the right direction, that vision will clear.
In fact, you probably don’t know enough at the beginning to have a realistic clear vision anyway. So there’s no reason to create a completely uninformed expectation that you may never be able to, or even want to, meet once you have a better sense for what it takes to get there. But the muddy vision behind it, the general direction you want to head your life towards will likely stay true. It will give you a compass while still allowing for wiggle room as you learn through experience where you specifically want to go.
So this one is pretty easy. Stop setting specific-long-term goals. Instead, get a sense for the direction you want to grow, a fuzzy picture of where you want your life to be. Then identify what actions you can take today to move you towards it, and do them.
This time will be different. This time you won’t consume personal growth information with the full intention implementing it, only to find that it doesn’t really work once you try to actually do anything with it. Instead, you can take the five steps above, and put them into practice today.