Scott H Young

Lateral Growth


I believe personal development comes in two main forms, vertical and lateral. Vertical growth is the kind I post about most frequently. This is the kind of reach-for-the-stars of growth we experience with setting goals, disciplining ourselves and focusing. The tools of vertical growth are perseverance, goal setting, discipline and motivation. Vertical growth lets you expand in your skills and abilities, making you stronger and better equipped to handle challenges.

Growth, however, is very addictive. Being obsessed with my own personal development lends me to this fact. When you start achieving things, when the feedback from the world goes from negative to positive and you feel the power that can only come from taking responsibility for your life, you get addicted to that feeling. I’m not talking about the negative context of addiction either. Those kinds of obsessions are unhealthy and need to be dealt with. I am referring to the addictive feeling you get from just being incredibly happy, motivated and enthusiastic about life.

This addiction can sometimes lead us to have a one dimensional focus. In our pursuit of either vertical or lateral growth, the benefits of doing so become so overwhelming that we completely neglect this aspect of our own growth. Although this is vastly superior to the typical zero dimensional volume of growth most people experience, it is still mediocre when compared to the results and experience of someone who can pursue both vertical and lateral growth.

Lateral growth is a rather unique form of personal development. Lateral growth involves expanding our consciousness by including a larger variety of experiences. Although in negative and extreme circumstances this can lead to experimentation with drugs and yield undesirable consequences, most of the lateral growth we experience will be of a very positive and supportive nature. By improving your lateral growth you create a greater emotional, mental, physical and spiritual foundation from which to build your vertical growth.

Lateral growth experiences can take the form of hobbies. Pursuing artistic passions by spontaneously taking a painting class would be pursuing your lateral growth. Learning to play a musical instrument or pursuing another creative hobby is another example. Even trying a completely different sport, learning or mastering a new game and exploring a new idea are all lateral growth concepts.

Lateral growth also comes from the relationships with other people. Building friendships and close relationships with other people is also a form of lateral growth and expansion. Mastering your communication skills, reaching out and helping other people or any method of human interaction will undoubtedly raise your lateral growth. The people with the highest development on this spectrum usually have very good social skills, empathy and communicate very effectively.

Lateral growth also impacts your own spiritual awareness. In its purest form, lateral growth is basically improving your understanding and conception of reality. Where the purest form of vertical growth would be improving your effectiveness and force in reality. The highest level of lateral growth would correspond with a perfect understanding and conception of all aspects of reality. Of course this level of understanding would be impossible to attain, that standard would be the ultimate manifestation of lateral growth. As you can see, the highest possible attainment of both force/effectiveness and understanding/conception would be that of an omnipotent and all-powerful deity, I believe that the true limits of our personal growth are virtually unlimited.

In my own brief existence, I have not had nearly enough lateral growth in many areas. The past few years of my own life have been focused on mastering my own vertical growth. I believe the decision to pursue vertical growth first, was the correct route for myself. By vastly improving my effectiveness and force in reality I have greatly increased my power and capacity for pursuing lateral growth.

Leaving for university has given me a wonderful opportunity to improve my own lateral growth in many areas. For my next whole year in university I am going to considerably lighten up on my goal setting and focus on an attitude of expressed creativity and curiosity. I have several aims for my own lateral growth, but I will not bore you with the person detail of my life. Instead I’d like to focus this post on what three characteristics I plan to utilize to achieve these aims.

Curiosity

Of all the characteristics I believe are fundamental to pursuing lateral growth, curiosity will be the forefront. Every lateral growth experience I have had has been the result of a willingness and desire to explore the unknown. Joining toastmasters and meeting some very enlightened and intriguing individuals was a decision based on my own curiosity. Many of my passions have come from a strong curiosity to explore new ideas.

Curiosity is also a representation of your open-mindedness. Close minded people are those who are unwilling to view the world in any way other than that they have decided it to be. I am frequently living in a state of paradox where I simultaneously hold two completely conflicting concepts of reality in my head. Although this state is uncomfortable if held for too long, it is necessary to improve your own lateral growth. Between thoughts on subjective reality, accelerating returns or even the mind blowing notion that the entire universe may have been created from a paradox that we had a hand in, are often completely conflicting. By not deciding prematurely, I have been able to operate with increased flexibility in the world around me.

Curiosity is necessary for relationships as well. When someone behaves in a particular way, most people begin to jump to conclusions about that persons intentions and begin to generalize. Although generalization is a human ability that cannot be turned off, the need for a strong curiosity to override those previous assumptions is necessary to create new relationships.

Courage

If there is one aspect that is necessary for both vertical and lateral growth, it is courage. Courage is the ability to use your intellect and true judgement rather than the animalistic trappings that rule your mind. By exercising courage you are essentially asserting your control over the emotions in your life, rather than have them control you. Courage is critical for your own lateral growth.

The most obvious aspect of courage with lateral growth is the ability to conquer the fear of uncertainty. All lateral growth requires venturing into areas where we cannot predict the outcome. Forming relationships, venturing into new hobbies, exploring new ideas all have an inherent risk that cannot be analyzed. Although this risk is almost always insignificant, courage is critical in overcoming this fear in trying something new.

Another aspect courage comes into play is the fear of rejection. Any social interaction comes with the price of humiliation, rejection and embarrassment. This fear is one of the most powerful drivers of human behavior. Public speaking is a greater phobia than death itself. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, “that means more of you would rather be dead than standing right here.” Fear of rejection looms over much of our lives. No wonder most guys find it so hard just to ask for that phone number…

Building courage is the same as any other skill. Progressive training and patience. By slowing increasing your exposure to the fear you can break down its logical base. Implementing a plan to tackle your fears in an incremental process can slowly remove them from influencing you. Steady and incremental improvements are critical to building this courage.

I know that I was very nervous doing my first Toastmasters speech. This was in an environment that was entirely supportive, and the group was fairly small. Just a few months later, however, I had to organize a fifty minute seminar with four other class members. Due to poor time constraints, the introduction, conclusion and all the individual speaker introductions had to be made up completely on the spot. Creating an overarching thesis for the subjects of globalization, the war in Afghanistan, Scientology and the history of architecture in five minutes and present it to a room full of people who are half asleep would have terrified me earlier. Through continuous conditioning I managed to present with confidence and clarity.

Most of us have weak muscles with respect to our courage. Instead of continually pushing ourselves, we shrink back and atrophy. Just as you lose strength when you don’t exercise, you lose courage when it isn’t being pushed. Courage is essential for all aspects of growth, but it is especially important for lateral growth.

Flexibility

Spontaneity is an essential ingredient in your ability to pursue new opportunities. Although vertical growth tends to be cautious of taking paths that distract you from your aims, lateral growth emphasizes a route that thrives on new opportunities. With a flexible attitude you can easily take on new opportunities that could improve your growth.

Opportunity is critical for lateral growth. With vertical growth, you are already aware of what you aim and motivation is. The very essence of lateral growth is in uncovering elements of reality and your environment that you were completely unaware of before. This means that you cannot pursue lateral growth in a completely directed manner. Lateral growth can only come from snagging opportunities on the periphery of your current position.

Let’s say that you notice a flyer for cooking classes posted to a telephone pole on your walk to work. This is now an opportunity that has come by your periphery. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, however, you will have to make a rapid shift of your current time and energy investments. This flexibility with your resources to pursue opportunities as they become available to you is necessary for your lateral growth.

If you are in an elevator and you find yourself attracted to the other occupant in an eight floor ascension, you only have a few minutes to create a connection with this person before your opportunity is lost. Without the flexibility to quickly adapt and take on this new event, you may have lost the chance to form a relationship. Flexibility is critical in pursuing new opportunities, which are the cornerstone of lateral growth.

Curiosity, Courage and Flexibility are three elements that are essential to pursuing lateral growth. The areas you have for pursuing lateral growth are wide. Perhaps you want to improve your relationships with others and created deeper and more meaningful connections. You may want to explore new hobbies and passions to add new fascinations and interests to your life. Traveling and enriching yourself in the cultures, history and locales of places around the world could be your emphasis of lateral growth.

I plan on pursuing lateral growth to the fullest extent in my upcoming year. Having greatly improved many areas of my vertical growth, a strong appreciation and involvement in the sheer volume of opportunities that await me is now possible. I plan to involve myself in many different hobbies and activities, meet many new people and create a large amount of acquaintances, friends and contacts. I also want to build deeper relationships with people rather than just superficial encounters. I also want to use this time to remain highly sensitive to new opportunities as they arise. Who knows, I may even get a girlfriend… ;)

Don’t let your vertical growth betray your need for lateral growth as well. Goals, discipline and motivation can have an addicting quality that can cause you to forget about this other necessary aspect. If you have pursued a lot of lateral growth, then by all means, set those goals and start improving your own force and effectiveness in your world. But if you have been setting goals for years and feel rigid and unmoving, maybe its time to take an interesting detour in life.

Lateral growth is an essential part of your own personal development. If you have been caught up in frequent goal setting and constant disciplined improvement for the past few years, you may need to explore this other aspect of your own development. The rapid speed you move at with setting goals and vertical improvement rarely comes to a natural stopping point. You may need to slow down a bit and consciously divert your resources into this new area of your life.


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5 Responses to “Lateral Growth”

  1. Peter Kua says:

    Great article. I can certainly relate to what you said about the need to grow laterally. I was an IT geek who ate and slept IT until I found myself burning out. Nowadays, I write (radicalhop.com/blog), practice Tai Chi and yoga. These “detours” as you call it have had a positive reenergizing energy. Now I’m more focused than ever in my life’s goals :)

  2. Scott Young says:

    Good thoughts Peter,

    I really try to emphasize that personal development is about getting the most out of life. Goals, habit changes and productivity are a means not an end. Remembering lateral growth can be important to really achieve that.

  3. [...] development. Vertical growth is goal-setting, discipline, shoot-for-the-stars type of approach. Lateral growth is the curiosity, learning, explore-the-stars type of approach. Another way I like to describe the [...]

  4. Tony says:

    These lateral growth articles are the bomb. I have been pursuing vertical growth for some time, but have now been doing a lateral growth month. I do not know exactly where i want to go for the moment and therefore at the vertical development became a source of frustration and fellt some apathy the last 2 weeks. This month lets me explore new territory and discover new things and it kind of pulled me loose. Your way of looking at things is really helpfull, thank you :)

  5. Divya says:

    Hi Scott,
    I think all your articles make for an interesting read and are spot on …you’ve obviously had valuable life experience and have an in depth understanding of the important bits…could you possibly advice me about something?i have been preparing for a difficult exam which would allow me to practise my profession in a country other than mine for a while now…I’ve noticed that if I set a goal for myself ,I get consumed by the idea of achieving it;however this particular exam required so much effort and the results are so unpredictable that I had to think of it as a part of life and not the reason for my living to lessen disappointment later…do you think this is the right approach as it didn’t work and I didn’t pass..do you think a rounded approach to life with a keenness to learn new things and pursue hobbies is important while striving for vertical growth is important or must we focus on only vertical growth at one time as I don’t imagine I’d be able to do it..however trying to do both at once didn’t give me the desired result…many thanks

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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