Here's How You Can Start Your Self-Work Journey—Because 2020 Is the Year for Personal Growth
Experts provide nine tips you can work through.
Think about the things that you spend your time and money on. The first things that may come to mind are objects (like clothes and technology) and subscriptions (like Netflix and The New York Times). While all of these things can bring a person great joy, there are many more personal investments—both financially and time-wise—that often get overlooked. After all, how many times have you told yourself that paying hundreds of dollars out of pocket is too expensive for therapy, but shelling out the same amount of money for a new winter coat is a no-brainer? It’s this thought dichotomy that begs us to ask: Why can’t we dedicate just as much money and time to ourselves as we do to the more tangible things that we want to surround ourselves with?
With that question in mind—and knowing that happiness truly does come from within—we decided to chat with a couple of therapists and one psychologist to bring you a personal guide to self-growth. Keep reading to discover the importance of personal growth and why it’s oh so worth your time, energy, and resources.
What is personal growth?
As the term implies, self-growth is the concept of working toward growth goals for yourself.
“Self-growth starts with the recognition of something that’s not quite working right,” Risha Nathan, an N.Y.C.-based therapist who specializes in awakening her clients to the barriers to happiness in life—along with how to overcome them—tells HelloGiggles. Once you’re able to nail down what isn’t working, you can make a plan to forge steps toward something that will benefit you more. It’s this very process that leads to personal growth.
Why is personal growth important?
No matter where we’re at in life, growth—and being open to that growth—is important. After all, we all have challenges that could be overcome and things that just might be holding us back. “Insight around our issues helps us to take any blame off of others and take ownership over our own adult choices,” Nathan says. “We often have to figure out ways to re-parent ourselves in order to grow past old wounds and shift our story.”
How does self-parenting play into personal growth?
Even if your parents are alive and well, the ability to self-parent is crucial. After all, as Florida-based psychotherapist Jennifer Tomko points out, the goal of parenting is to guide children into adulthood with the ability to make sound decisions for themselves. “As we evolve into adults, we need to begin to self-parent,” she explains. “We are now at the helm of our lives. We can choose how to guide ourselves into a healthier way of thinking. Despite the quality of your childhood, in adulthood, you are now your own parent. You need to soothe yourself, care for yourself, and heal yourself, just as we would want our parents to do.”
Tips for achieving personal growth:
Point blank: You’re in control of your own destiny. Part of realizing this is learning how to bring about the destiny it is that you crave. As a general consensus, people want to grow up to be happy, healthy, and healed from past conflicts that may take away from their sense of self. Playing into that, we asked Nathan, Tomko, and clinical and forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Judy Ho, Ph.D., to reveal the top nine ways we can work toward personal growth. Check them out below.
1. Get rid of the noise.
In order to successfully embark on a path toward personal growth, Tomko says eliminating the noise is a must.
“We often take on other people's problems,” she says, noting that we may find ourselves feeling angry at a cashier for being rude or at a fellow driver that pulls out in front of us. “These emotions that we hold onto become a distraction to being more present in our own growth.”
But it’s not just random passersby that have this effect. According to Tomko, we allow many people in our lives to have this effect on us—whether it’s a nagging mother or an absent significant other—and to get caught up in their actions. Pinpointing these people (and their noise) will help you become clearer on where you stand. It doesn’t mean you have to cut them out completely; rather, acknowledge their noise without letting it affect your own. “If we peel away all of the problems that actually belong to someone else, we are often left with nothing to be overly stressed about,” Tomko says. “If it isn't your problem, then it just becomes noise that distracts us from healthy thinking and progress.”
2. Work on the things that hold you back.
Eliminating the noise of others definitely helps on the path to self-growth, but acknowledging your own thought patterns and personality traits matters just as much (if not more so).
“Our subconscious mind holds onto old patterns because they’re familiar,” Nathan says. “It doesn’t know healthy vs. unhealthy, good vs. bad, etc. It just knows patterns.” For this reason, Nathan says that our insecurities are deeply ingrained in us and often hold us back from fully loving ourselves, which inhibits personal growth. To bounce out of this pattern, she says it’s imperative that we take real ownership of our insecurities and uncover why it is we have them in the first place. “Integrating them in rather than hiding from them helps to shift away from holding onto them and using them against ourselves,” she says.
3. Take a belief inventory.
Part of working on what holds you back requires taking inventory of your beliefs. “The best part about the aging process is the wisdom that accompanies it,” Tomko says. “As we continue to gain new wisdom, we need to reassess the beliefs we once had. For example, I had a belief about the death penalty. But after a healthy discussion with a colleague about her perspective, I realized that I didn't have the same information she had. I then reflected on how I decided my stance on the death penalty and realized it was from my 10th-grade speech class, when I had to choose a side and debate about it. It caused me to wonder what other beliefs I held from when I was younger and that needed to be re-evaluated.”
As a general rule of thumb, Tomko recommends re-evaluating your beliefs—whether they’re outside of yourself or about yourself—at least every five to 10 years to determine if they still resonate with the newfound wisdom from that time period.
4. Journal with self-reflection prompts.
Another great way to work on your self-growth is to keep a journal. If you’re not one who is able to easily free-flow, Tomko recommends using prompts.
“The question is, ‘Where do I start?’ when thinking about our growth,” she explains. “Using writing prompts that you do an internet search on or from a writing prompt book is a great way to get inspired.” Alternatively, she says you can think about popular cliches and see if they ring true to you and your beliefs. “An example is to decide if ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ or ‘out of sight, out of mind’ resonates more,” she says. “Thinking about these things forces us to open our minds to a new thought process that gets us out of [the] autopilot that our brains often function on.”
5. Find and make time for the things you love.
Knowing what you love can help you add more structure to your days, weeks, months, and to your life as a whole. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age—especially in America—folks tend to live to work, not work to live. This often leads to not spending nearly enough time on the things that make you happy.
Recognizing this, Dr. Ho, who is the author of Stop Self-Sabotage: Six Steps to Unlock Your True Motivation, Harness Your Willpower, and Get Out of Your Own Way, says it’s time to create and commit to a joy list. “We all have to-do lists, but do you have a joy list?” she asks. “Jot down 10 things that you can do in under 30 minutes that bring you joy. Whether it's enjoying a cup of coffee, lighting a candle, taking a bath, or putting on some cozy clothes, commit to doing at least one thing a day that brings you joy.”
By blocking out time to perform these activities, you’ll be able to forge yourself toward a happier, more fulfilling life. And who knows? You might just start prioritizing your happiness over your productivity.
6. Be intentional with the process.
No matter what you’re working on, it’s important to be intentional. “Our brains are hardwired to give us shortcuts in our thinking,” Tomko says. “These shortcuts are extremely helpful in our functioning, but they also have a downside. The downside is that we aren't always being intentional with our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.” As a result, many people often feel like they’re simply flowing with the motions of life instead of creating something they’re satisfied with and fulfilled by.
7. Think about changing your narrative.
This comes down to thinking about the conversations and activities you partake in and how they make you feel. “If you’re a person who thrives off of the bonding that goes on over the negativity water cooler, think about the choices you make around what you engage in,” Nathan suggests. “That energy comes back to you, so if you want to cultivate self-growth and love, changing to a more positive narrative helps with that.”
8. Practice kindness and self-acceptance.
Most importantly, it’s essential to practice self-love on your journey toward personal growth. Learning how to ignore commentary from others (as it pertains to yourself), forgive yourself, overcome past narratives, and develop a strong inner core plays into this. “Don’t let other people’s words and actions control your thoughts and feelings,” Dr. Ho says. “Instead, cultivate a strong inner self-concept. Believe in yourself, hold firm boundaries, and stand up for the things that matter most to you. Spend some time cultivating kindness for yourself and affirming who you are, just as you are.”
Dr. Ho’s favorite visualization technique for this is to imagine yourself as a strong tree, firmly grounded into the earth. “Stand tall, even when the weather is rough, when the winds are strong, and when there is rain and sleet,” she says.
Another option is to show up for yourself the way you wish people (siblings, parents, or otherwise) would have for you when you were younger.
9. Be good to your body with the health trifecta: exercise, quality sleep, and healthy eating.
What may seem like health basics are really not basic at all. In fact, in the busy world we live in—even amidst a pandemic—finding time for these things can feel nearly impossible. That said, Dr. Ho emphasizes that aiming to hit this trifecta daily will help you with emotion regulation, decision-making, and mood management. “Daily exercise can be 15 to 20 minutes of stretches or a nice walk if you don’t have time for longer workouts, as long as you move your body and get the blood flowing.”
Additionally, she says to aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep each and every night—even better if you can add a nighttime routine to that. Finally, eating well doesn’t only pertain to the nutrients you’re consuming but how mindfully you’re consuming them.
At the end of the day, Dr. Ho says, “Self-care is not selfish; it is selfless. Without taking good care of yourself, you can’t help others or achieve your goals."