This is the first article in my three part series about how we can make personal growth a permanent part of our lives. In this article I am going to go over the cornerstone of maintaining personal growth, which is in making gradual and steady improvements.
The most essential element to long-term personal growth is to continually optimize. Personal growth shouldn’t be done in random spurts of enthusiasm and action, but long term and steady progress. Attempting to overhaul your entire life all at once likely won’t last. Instead we need to make consistent and constant gradual changes that will impact over time.
When most people win the lottery, they have spent all of the money they won within a year or two. This is because money was never their problem. These people never learned how to properly handle money, so they become poor within a short time of their windfall payment.
Motivation works very much like money in this case. Many of us win our own jackpot of motivation and enthusiasm after a particular moment. Because we have never learned how to properly spend that enthusiasm and motivation we end up drained and poor again in no time at all.
Instead, we need to focus on making little but constant improvements throughout our life. If someone starts out poor and becomes a self-made millionaire, they are far more likely to keep their money than a lottery winner. Random, quick bursts of improvement are not going to give us the permanent changes we seek.
This theory of steady and progressive improvements is not a new idea. Simply understanding that we need to make steady improvements over random bursts of innovation is a little different then actually living this way. So, how can we take this practice of making steady and incremental improvements and make it a standard by which we operate our life?
Step One: Commit to Change
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature,
nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits
in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
- Helen Keller
This may seem a little odd, but few people rarely commit their lives to change. We don’t want change and risk. Instead we want comfort, stability and security. As a result, we spend most of our time trying to keep our life stagnant.
Our lives are always going to be changing. Instead of recoiling from that prospect, we need to embrace it. We need to embrace that there is no permanence in our lives. Furthermore, we need to embrace the idea that change is inevitable, even if we try to avoid it. By making this commitment, we are also asserting that we are going to help guide that change so it brings us more good than bad.
Personal growth won’t work for people seeking stability. People who want to just make a quick change and keep everything else the same won’t be able to make permanent changes. Remember, as Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
Step Two: Act
The second step is to start making those small improvements we see. These improvements don’t need to be huge, they just need to be consistent. This could be as simple as reading for fifteen minutes a day, or buying healthier foods.
This step is really not that difficult. Whenever you see yourself doing something you think could be done better, just start. Instead, some people try to start with their most difficult problems right away. Then when they have trouble, they give up altogether. By keeping the steps small but noticeable, we can make lasting changes.
Step Three: Evaluate
The third step in being consistent with improving our personal growth is to be constantly evaluating our progress. My favorite process for evaluation is to do a weekly review. In this review answer the three following questions:
1) What went right?
What things did you improve this week? By giving yourself credit for these small improvements you encourage yourself to make future improvements.
2) What went wrong?
What things could you improve next week? By identifying the areas you believe you have to grow, you will be able to start making gradual changes to improve them.
3) What now?
Now you need to ask yourself what you plan on doing for the future. By identifying what you are going to do in the next week to improve, you are ready for those improvements.
A weekly review certainly isn’t the only way to evaluate your progress, however. Shorter daily reviews, keeping a journal or even meditating on your day can all serve to evaluate your progress.
These evaluations are crucial. If you aren’t evaluating your progress, you won’t be able to see your own growth and you are far more likely to slide back to your old habits. Gradual improvement is generally fairly hard to see in the short term but huge in the long term. By evaluating our progress we can allow ourselves to see these little improvements.
Step Four: Measure
There is an old adage that says “Whatever is measured, improves.” This truism has a lot of significance to our own commitment to constant personal growth. Simply by measuring something, we have a lot better grasp over our effectiveness and efficiency with it. We can see this is especially true with money. If you are careful with keeping track of all of your finances and budget properly you have a lot more control over how you spend your money, then if you aren’t even sure how much you have.
The process of measuring takes the subjective process of evaluating and makes it objective. Instead of just reasoning where we’ve seen improvements, the results are tangible. By knowing exactly how much we are improving (or getting worse!) we have a lot more control over where we emphasize our personal growth.
I have found the power in measurement to be very strong myself. When I started my 30 Day fitness goal, I wanted to have a few objective standards to track my progress. I know that many doctors use a pushup test as a general gauge of strength. When I first began the challenge I was able to do thirty consecutively. To measure my results I planned on increasing the number of pushups I could do by one each exercise period. Now I currently can do fifty-eight.
Keeping track of that steady improvement is important to ensure I actually am improving. If I had just done as many push-ups as I could do until I got tired, I likely would have stopped improving after the first week of my exercise program. By measuring my progress, I could identify exactly how much progress I was making.
Long term personal growth can only come from our commitment to steady and consistent improvement. By taking the four steps of commitment, action, evaluation and measurement, we can make steady improvements in our personal growth that will transcend the temporary boost we get from an inspiring seminar, book or audio program.
In my next post in this series I will talk about how we can manage and use motivation for the long term. We need motivation to do anything, but the key is to control it so that we can use it for the kind of consistent growth I’ve outlined above. Stay tuned!