Sarah May Bates
Updated November 09, 2014

Where to Start the Process of Personal Growth

If you prefer to listen, you can find the Podcast version, here.

This is for Justin. Thanks dude for suggesting this to help others!! I hope this helps you, as well.

It’s pretty easy to “never deal” with anything heavy, or anything that makes you feel vulnerable in life. You can always find a way to distract yourself, or hide from the tough stuff. Maybe you’ve been coasting through your emotional adult life and perhaps medicating any and all issues and scary feelings that might come up – or numbing them with drinks, TV or just constant distraction. Maybe you’ve never allowed yourself to become vulnerable to another person – you’ve kept it very superficial, and just kind of “pass the time” in your life –never venturing past the top layer. It all feels fine until one day you suddenly “wake-up” and realize you don’t know what you want, who you are, or whether or not you even like yourself.

Maybe something in your life came to a head, like you finally met someone you want to be in love with and that makes you totally clingy because it feels so reliant on whether or not they like you, or maybe you’ve been through a break-up and you feel shattered – like you have nothing, to you, alone. This window of clarity might force you to realize you’ve got some work to do on yourself so that you can actually figure out who you are and what you want in this life. And with work, grow to like that person, and be proud of who that is. But before you can even fathom that part, if you’re just now realizing you’ve been asleep at the wheel of your life for years and are looking at the amount of work you have to do, it can feel totally overwhelming. It’s a lot to think about and where to start? So if this sounds like where you are right now– this is a blog for you.

Know that you have an amazing opportunity because right now you get to choose who you want to be. That you even have this awareness about yourself is the key to the change itself – it shows that you are brave enough to look at yourself honestly, and that’s the hardest part of your personal growth. The rest is pretty fun because it’s all wide open and you get to choose the coolest, most fun, epic you that you’ve ever dreamed of becoming! I know it might not seem that way right now, so I am going to give you are some steps or tools to help you move through this time efficiently. Ready? Awesome! Here we go.

1. Start by Building Stability

Basically a routine for your life that will regulate your chemicals and keep you rational. Because when you’re rational is when you’re most productive. Specific tasks involved in this step:

• Find an exercise you can do everyday.

• Get as many veggies into your diet as possible. Avoid sugars, carb-based meals – and especially processed foods like microwave pizza or chips. Eat healthy and get enough nutrition – even if that means you’re eating the same things all the time. If you don’t know much about what healthy is, I recommend “My Fitness Pal,” it’s an app that tells you what you need more of in your diet.

• Reach out to friends and casual acquaintances and be around people as often as possible. Even if you don’t feel like it.

• Fill your time with as many activities as possible – basically, have an excess of social options so that you are never isolated.

• Avoid unnecessary medication – that includes drugs and alcohol. I don’t mean you have to quit drinking beer on the weekends, but use your own best judgment about how much you should drink. Right now, you need all the happy-chemicals you can get and alcohol can be a major cause of depression and other mood disorders – along with any chemical substances.

I will also alert you that if you have recently ceased all intake of substances, you will likely go through a brief period on an emotional rollercoaster. When combined with life-shock, sometimes it will compound your pain and make you feel like the sky is falling, but it’s just your body losing it’s reliance on the drugs. So if this is you – just anticipate it might happen so you can identify it.

I want to state clearly that you should absolutely not be taking drugs or drinking heavily if you really want to stabilize your mood and maintain a rational mindset. If you suffer from depression, it’s very possible that 99.9% is caused by your substance intake. If you need extra help stopping this, go to a 12-step group. If you don’t like the idea of a 12-step group, all I can say is don’t be a pussy. (Pardon my French.) But seriously, get over it and get in there. They’re actually pretty cool and extremely helpful. Also, a great experience to have at least once in your life – no joke!

2. Add One New Class that Expands “The New You”

You get to choose who you will become, so right now you are going to fill your time with things that “the new you” likes to do. If you have always liked the idea of something – or maybe you have idealized a quality in someone else,

The same rollercoaster goes for exercise. If you have been changing something dramatic, you alter your hormones – so if you notice your body change a lot – like your sex drive dips or you can’t sleep as well, just know that it’s your body reacting to a major change and it will likely level out again.

3. Ingest Health and Inspiration Through Your Ears and Eyes as Much as Possible

Literally attach headphones to your head and plug in good information. You want to flood your life with new and strengthening wisdom. Google “inspiring podcasts” and just fill up your phone. Add things that expand you intellectually as well. Whenever you’re not somewhere where you have to be paying attention (like work or school,) you are going to be consuming positive content: whether that’s an inspiring film, book, speaker, or place. I even suggest falling asleep to inspiring content! It totally soaks in while you catch your z’s!

4. In General, Invest Monetarily in You

If you’ve never done work on yourself, things might seem “not worth it” or too expensive, because it’s not something you’ve ever placed value on before. It’s your job, right now especially, to invest heavily in building the best you possible. Build this foundation right and go for it – all of it! In other words, don’t skimp on activities, specialists, and materials, because they will all pay you back ten-fold in the future. This is the most worthwhile money you will ever spend – because it’s going into you and your person. You literally come out of this with a much more capable, strong foundation that will benefit everything you encounter moving forward. So if there’s a retreat that seems like it will unlock a part of you and your potential, go! If there’s an art opening that might inspire you but it’s on the other side of town, go! Plus, you will get a lot further, faster, if you give yourself the best material to grow from. Why dilly-dally in this stage? Why not shoot through it like a canon? So if there’s something you think will help you but it seems too costly, don’t give yourself any excuses. You should spend everything you would otherwise spend on your exterior, on your inner personal growth – this is more important and life changing than shoes, a car, or a hairdo.

5. Educate Yourself on Obvious Issues

Read books on the topics that snuck up on you. Literally Google how you would summarize your issues: what you feel you want to change and any conflicts that made you stuck in the first place. Find books with high ratings on the subjects and read the “preview” versions. Once you find a voice that appeals to you, buy that sucker! I find one of the most powerful cures to any overwhelming life issue is to educate yourself on the topic as much as possible. Because as soon as you understand the “why” behind a problem, you see that your problem is not rare – it’s universal, and has a logical set of causes. Once you understand yourself, you can easily work on any issue because it becomes logical – like putting together a piece of Ikea furniture. It’s not overwhelming or nebulous, it makes sense. You make sense. You can forgive yourself for having suffered the problem in the first place, and once you forgive yourself, you can work on letting this part of you go. It dispels the power of the issues because they aren’t scary anymore: they’re no-brainers.

Depending on the severity, I also recommend you see a therapist for this part of the process. It speeds it up quite a bit because when you talk with someone, they coax the reflection out of you and the underlying pain gets purged much more quickly. If you do decide to go this route, go to at least four before settling on one – because just like great plumbers, great therapists take a bit of research to find.

6. Be Nice to Yourself

If there’s one thing you need absolutely none of right now, it’s negativity from you. There is a zero tolerance policy for looking down on yourself or talking down on yourself, verbally to others and mentally, in your thoughts. Do not allow that kind of verbiage to play out even for a minute. If you have a bad habit that you’ve got to start to break, the best way to do it is with simple distraction. When that voice starts up with negative-speak like, “You’re never going to be able to do this…” or worse, literally stop the thought mid-sentence and redirect your attention with something that does not allow your brain to continue – for example, a positive podcast or a happy-song playlist. Redirect your attention! That language is not okay, and must be drowned out.

To help speed along your change of vernacular, I suggest you train your mind by journaling daily commitments: basically who you commit to act as and what kind of person you commit to being. They are basically 5-6 adjectives beginning with “I am.” For example, mine are, “I am kind, loving, powerful, happy, balanced, inspired.” Once you decide on those adjectives, you literally adhere to them as a promise to yourself. Each day, restating them in your journal is just a reminder of a commitment you make to yourself to act in line with those qualities. That alone is how you become them. If you would like my journal structure in printed form, you can buy it on Teaspoon of Happy – it’s a daily happiness journal with all this stuff, (it’s what I use everyday).

7. No Dwelling

This is a big one, and if you’ve been hurt by someone it can take a bit of effort, but it’s important that you do not allow yourself to wallow. I don’t mean you’re not allowed to feel your emotions – quite the opposite. It’s more about how to safely feel them so that you do not prolong them or make them worse. The best rule of thumb I can prescribe is mourn when you have to, do it in small doses, and be able to put the emotions away when they get to be too much.

There’s always a moment when you feel very tired when crying – and your body has been exhausted by the feelings. That’s a good time to put the feelings away for another time. You shouldn’t be “twisting the knife” in your belly to purge more intense sadness. It will come out on its own and it’s not good to stay in that emotion for long. Just listen to your body: if you feel sad, let yourself cry, but put it away and decide not to revisit it until another day.

By “put them away” I mean literally redirect your attention to something else, similar to how you might deal with negative thoughts. If you can’t seem to put the emotions away, I recommend a ritual visualization exercise – something you imagine around sealing that thought away for another time. I will try to record a podcast for you to use when you need to do this – so keep your eyes peeled in the coming week! x

8. Do Kind Things for People and Don’t Tell Anyone

Do one thing a day. No joke. This one works wonders!!!! Or do more than one, I say – just make one the minimum. Get in the habit of being benevolent – look for any chance to give someone a gift, donate money, help someone in need, and even better – do totally random acts of good. By that I mean put a five-dollar bill inside someone’s parking ticket, (I like to write something nice on it, too), or feed someone’s meter, or buy someone coffee, or just let someone in in traffic. All of them count.

The best, most fun kindness act of all is something that will make someone’s day. Those ones makes you feel like a million bucks! Seriously it’s like the cool-new-party-drug of happiness. So keep your eyes peeled for something you can tell would be the best thing ever for a person to receive. Why do any of this at all? Because it makes you feel like a great person, which is precisely the awareness you need right now: you’re growing to love yourself. It’s a super-efficient shortcut to doing so.

If you’re thinking, “But I know that I don’t mean it, it’s just because you’re telling me to – so it’s fake, not genuine kindness.” Firstly, that is negative self-talk and you are not allowed to do that, ever, so stop thoughts like that dead in their tracks. Secondly, it still counts. The act is always still valid as good and kind, despite if you don’t “believe” yet that your own intentions are good. Third, you’ll very quickly learn that it’s definitely coming from a place of 100% kindness in you. The only thing that you will shed is the shady, lame voice that is trying to convince you that it’s selfish and you don’t really “mean” it. That comes from an old, bad habit based on false awareness of self. You have an awareness of what will make others happy and you have chosen to act on that awareness – therefore the acts themselves are 100% your creation. There is no such thing as “fake” anonymous gifts of happiness. They are valid no matter what.

Once you allow yourself to start feeling all of the benefits without dismissing them as selfish, you will see that it’s in your natural inclination to act in these ways, because it’s fun. It makes you happy because you naturally like to make others happy. It’s that simple, and not layered at all. Not “true for some and not for others” – it’s universal! And it’s a win-win situation for everyone!

My most recent example is a friend was stuck in a meeting that was hours long, so I offered to do the other work we needed to finish, solo. It made her soooo happy and she was sooo grateful – and guess who got the better prize in that situation? Moi! She got to not do an hour of work. No biggie. I on the other hand, got to feel the glow of being a day-maker. Totally worth it times a million.

Once you start this personal-growth step, you will quickly start looking forward to it, and with a bit of time it will just become your natural state. It will be unconscious. So, right now, as you complete your kind actions, allow yourself to feel good about them. Replay them in your mind and commend yourself on their successes. Savor the benefits and do not steal them from yourself. That is not allowed. You are mandated to relish the feelings of goodness that the acts entitle you to feel! Let me repeat: the feel-good part is mandatory!

9. Decide Your Key Personality Traits of Being

If there was one thing about your old self that really bit you in the bum, you get to decide to change that trait moving forward. Even if it’s something like a feeling you don’t like having – you get to pick what new way you will decide to feel. To do this step, you will have to start to learn about your unconscious behaviors. Most of the time, when you “wake up” at a point in your life, you got there because you were on autopilot and therefore most of your behaviors are likely unconscious.

To begin this process, you will become an objective observer of yourself – outside of your emotions. You are literally going to take objective notes down about yourself and your reflexive actions. What are your knee-jerk reactions? What makes you upset? Just observe and notate the systems that seem to be in place in you, currently. Don’t worry about what they mean and don’t think about how hard they seem to undo – that’s not your concern. A lot of it is very old and false and simply needs to be made obsolete by a shift of focus.

Whatever notes you take, circle the items that you want to change. For example, if you don’t like feeling upset or hurt by others excluding you – circle it. Once you have about a month’s worth of observations, write a list of ideal traits for yourself – literally whatever kind of person you are deciding to grow into. This list should be things that rise above any old unwanted traits, things like, “confident, strong, loving, selfless,” etc. If it’s easier, write them in sentence form.

Keep this list somewhere that you can see it often, and make it your focus for your learning moving forward. Let it guide the decisions you make, including the kinds of people you invite into your life. Choose new friends that embody these qualities and make it a point to avoid people who embody the traits you are trying to shed.

10. First Things First

When you are looking at all of the work you have to do on yourself or you’ve recently gone through a major life change, it’s easy to feel totally overwhelmed and become paralyzed. That’s usually when you start to emotionally spin out of control, like you feel “untethered” and like you have nothing to hold onto. Aside from being painful and exhausting, this state is the opposite of a solid foundation for positive growth. So as a rule for yourself, especially right now – put things in order of necessity and only attend to one item on that list at a time. Your focus is very precious and also very vulnerable at a time like this and therefore you need to be militant about keeping it only on the next and most important thing on your plate. Don’t look around or jump to the future – repeat it to yourself like a mantra, “First things first.”

#1 Most important on your list: Meeting Your Basic Needs

If you’re wondering how to decide the level of importance of things, universally what comes first – no matter what – is meeting your basic needs. The reason is because it controls your emotional and mental balance, and without that you are incapable of being effective at just about everything else. If you don’t take care of meeting your basic needs, you run the risk of moving backwards in your progress and also prolonging your pain.

Taking care of your basic needs means eating enough good nutrition so that your blood sugar is balanced, getting enough rest, getting some kind of exercise and making sure to soothe your emotions with an mental-quiet practice so that you’re not suffering from additional stress, anxiety or depression.

If your basic needs are not met, just that factor alone can cause you to feel like your life is crushing you. Right now, at all times, it’s extremely important to balance your chemicals and be consistent about making sure they stay that way.

If you’re having a tough time right now emotionally, you might have to add on quite a few activities to help counteract the depression and anxiety – for example, cardio exercise, yoga, hiking, breathing exercises, meditation – whatever it is, have your “you-soothing” time blocked out each day and don’t dismiss it as important. Make your mental balance your top priority. That means it comes before birthday parties, tickets to that new show that everyone’s talking about, doing a favor for a friend, or anything else that doesn’t directly affect your survival. Right now, put your stability FIRST. Show yourself with your actions, that you are what’s most important in your life and you are not going to let you down.

As you begin to enforce the hierarchy of “First things First,” it might feel uncomfortable at first, especially if putting yourself first is something you’re not used to. Taking care of yourself is very responsible and unselfish so don’t feel guilty about it and also don’t apologize for doing so. It’s vital to your health and well being which is also in the best interests of those around you. Because your behavior is changing, you might find that others don’t understand you or what you’re going through. And sometimes as a result of their fear or confusion, they will make you feel selfish. It’s not their fault as it’s a totally natural reaction, but know that it’s not your job to make them understand. You don’t control how others think and feel. Right now, it’s your job to take care of yourself and make sure you do what’s best for your mental health and stability.

The last thought I will leave you with, because I feel it is the most important thing to know (especially if you’re at a place like this in your life) is the hardest part is over. What I mean is, when you reach a place where you finally “wake up” and see what’s missing in your life and in who you are – you have accepted reality and faced it, and that is the hardest part of all. The change itself, though it feels daunting, is done a step at a time and it’s very simple. It’s actually easier and easier as you go, and it gets pretty fun, pretty quick. As far as the “work” goes, you have already proven you have what it takes to do it. You have proven it to yourself that you are up to this challenge, just by being able to acknowledge what’s ahead. THAT is what takes bravery and it is the key to becoming everything you want to be. So hold tight to that honesty – be proud that you have been able to look at yourself.

Don’t worry about what is to come in your future and don’t mentally skip ahead, because you will address all that needs addressing, when it’s time. Right now, all you have to do is tackle what is immediately in front of you and take one action at a time. Besides, you have no idea what your future will look like from the place you’re at right now. You are going to go through a whole lot of growth and change and the person you will become one day will create a future that looks a whole lot different than the one you could picture, now.

One of my favorite slogans has always been, “If I got to decide my life I’d always come up shorthanded.” Because that’s why life is limitless and beautiful: it is unknown, and we are writing it with the moment we live in, now. That is what you control and it is where you exist, so commit to doing what’s best for yourself, right now, in favor of becoming the best you possible. Because that is the person that you are meant to be and always have been. It is the truest you that you will now grow to know and love – it’s a truly wonderful time in your life, and one day you will look back on this time fondly.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it, right now but you’re at the cusp of one of the best times in your life, thus far. Trust that the future will unfold in the best way possible, and all you have to do is exactly what you’re doing. Walk bravely and with honesty, and invest in growing yourself and loving that self. Don’t overthink it, just keep your eyes on where you’re going to step next – and keep heading in the right direction. And above all, be gentle with yourself.

Happy Sunday lovely friends! I hope this helped in some way. Sending you my love and vibes of strength and positivity – and don’t forget to smile! xox Sarah May B.

Featured image via Flickr