The Keys To Personal Growth 

I am a reader. I always have been and hopefully always will be. In a good week I digest and absorb several books that help me to grow personally as well as in my chosen profession as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word. In a tough week when things don’t go as planned I manage to read, work through, and apply the truths I discover from one book. Setting aside regular reading time has been a habit of mine since I was in high school. There is very little that can derail that decision made many decades ago. Reading is, for me, one of the keys to personal growth. I read to grow and not to entertain myself. 

I remember a quote I wrote down from James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh which said: “People are anxious to improve their circumstances but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.” 

If you focus on goals, you may hit the goals — but that does not guarantee personal growth. If you focus on growth – growing as a person in all aspects of life — you will grow and then always hit your goals. Most people can see the gap between where they are and where they want to be – who they need to be. The distance between here and there is a growth gap. And we all need to work through how we are going to bridge that gap. 

Here is the one thing that is certain: To bridge that gap, to grow personally you have to be intentional. Personal growth, development, and maturity do not happen by accident. 

In my research over the years I have discovered a number of misconceptions about personal growth and development that often hold people back from being as intentional as they need to be. 

1> People assume that growth is automatic.

They assume that they will simply grow and mature without any or much effort as they just live life daily. When we are children, our bodies grow automatically. A year goes by, and we become taller, stronger, more capable of doing new things and facing new challenges. I think many people carry into adulthood a subconscious belief that mental, spiritual, and emotional growth follows a similar pattern. Time goes by, and we simply get better. The problem is that we don’t improve by simply living. To grow, develop, and mature, we have to be intentional about it.

Musician Bruce Springsteen commented, “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.” No one improves by accident. Personal growth doesn’t just happen on its own. And once you’re done with your formal education, you must take complete ownership of the growth process, because nobody else will do it for you. 

If you want your life to improve, you must improve yourself. You must make that a tangible target. In other words, grow up and be responsible.

2> People think that they simply don’t know how to go about growing personally.

You hear people say, “I don’t know how to grow.” So, they never develop a personal growth plan. Go ahead, ask most people, “Do you have a personal growth plan?” Guaranteed, most people will say no. Most people simply don’t have a plan for growing and improving. Why? Mainly because they don’t know how to grow.

As a result, many people learn only from the school of hard knocks. Difficult experiences teach them lessons “the hard way,” and they change — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The lessons are random and difficult. It’s much better to plan your growth intentionally. You decide where you need or want to grow, you choose what you will learn, and you follow through with discipline going at the pace you set.

As you begin your own personal growth program you will begin to get excited about the potential that you begin to see. Your potential. You will begin to see growth opportunities everywhere. Your world will begin to open up. You will accomplish more. You will learn more. You will be able to lead and help others more. Other opportunities will begin to present themselves. Your world will simply expand. 

The decision to grow and develop as a person will impact your life more than any other decision you will make in life. 

The third reason many people don’t set a plan for personal growth and development is that they are waiting for the “right time.”

3> It’s not the right time to begin.

John Maxwell tells the story of his father telling them a riddle which went like this: Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left? John, like most of us, answered “One.” To which his father responded: “No. Five. Why? Because there’s a difference between deciding and doing!”

Frank Clark, American politician, said, “What great accomplishments we’d have in the world if everybody had done what they intended to do.” Most people don’t act as quickly as they should on things. As I was pondering this thought in October, 2019 I read the following, “The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it.” How true! 

Years ago I received several prophetic words about writing books. I can honestly say that a week does not go by that I don’t think of those prophetic words. But, the longer I waited to start writing the less excited I became and the harder it was to actually start. I was waiting for the “right time” and it simply never came along. 

Maybe you are waiting for a good time to start growing. Now is a good time. Maybe you are waiting until you need to grow — I mean, really need to grow — so as to get that promotion you have been wanting. Maybe you don’t feel any pressure or even a slight desire to grow personally. Regardless, whether you feel prompted to or not, now is the time to start growing. A quote, one of many I collect, states” “Life lived for tomorrow will always be a day away from being realized” (Leo Buscaglia). The reality is that you will never get much done unless you go ahead and do it before you are ready. 

If you’re not already intentionally growing, you need to get started today. If you don’t you may reach some goals, which you can celebrate, but you will eventually plateau. Once you start growing intentional, you can keep growing and keep asking “What’s next?”

4> I’m afraid of making mistakes

Growing can be a messy business. It means admitting you don’t have the answers. It requires making mistakes. It can make you look foolish. Most people don’t enjoy that. But this is the price of admission if you want to improve and mature.

Years ago I read all of the books that Dr. Robert Schuller published. In one of them he wrote, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail.” I have since asked, I am sure, several thousand young leaders and disciples of Jesus the same question. Those words encouraged me to try things that I believed – even knew – were beyond my capabilities. 

If you want to grow, you need to get over any fear you may have of making mistakes. As author and professor Warren Bennis asserts, “A mistake is simply another way of doing things.” To become intentional about growing, expect to make mistakes every day, and welcome them as a sign that you are moving in the right direction.

5> I have to find the right way (the best way) before I can start.

Similar to being afraid of making a mistake, the desire to find the “best” way to get started in a growth plan is a killer of any potential growth you might have had. Don’t go looking for the best way before you start on your growth journey. Just start. 

You have to get started if you want to eventually find the best way. It’s similar to driving on an unfamiliar road at night. Ideally, you’d like to be able to see your whole route before you begin. But you see it progressively. As you move forward, a little more of the road is revealed to you. If you want to see more of the way, then get moving. The same is true for personal growth and development. 

We are looking at the key to personal growth. There are many. But people defeat themselves before they even start.

1> People assume that they will automatically grow as they live

2> People think that they don’t know how to grow

3> People are waiting for the “right time” to begin a personal growth plan

4> People are afraid of making mistakes

5> People are looking for the best way (the perfect way) before they start

6> People don’t grow and mature because they don’t feel like doing it. 

This is something I read some time back. It was written long before Nike Shoes coined the phrase “Just Do It.”

Just Do It

We hear it almost every day; sigh, sign, Sigh.

I just can’t get myself motivated to … (lost weight, test my blood sugar, etc.) And we hear an equal number of sighs from diabetic educators who can’t get their patients motivated to do the right things for their diabetes and health.

We have news for you. Motivation is not going to strike you like lighting. And motivation is not something that someone else — nurse, doctor, family member — can bestow or force on you. The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. 

Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation, and then guess what. After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.

You are more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action. So, act! Whatever it is you know you should do, do it. Once you get started you will find the motivation to stay with it because it is making such a difference in your life.

You may not feel inspired to aggressively pursue a growth plan if you haven’t started yet. If that’s the case, please trust me when I say that the reasons to keep growing far outweigh the reasons to start growing. And you discover the reasons to stay with growth only if you stick with it long enough to start reaping the benefits. So make a commitment to yourself to start and stick with it for at least twelve months. If you do, you will fall in love with the process, and you will be able to look back at the end of that year and see how far you have come. 

7> People believe that others are better than they are.

In other words, others can do it but you can’t. So, you feel intimated by the knowledge, skill, and ability of others and so you just don’t go there. You don’t challenge yourself to learn from them because you are intimidated by their position, success, education, and knowledge. You just give up and don’t relate. 

You need to intentionally pursue personal growth, and the best way to grow is learning from others who have been there and done that. Yes, you will feel like you are always behind and trying to catch up. Yes, they are better, smart, and more successful than you are. Get over it. Get over comparing yourself with others. You need to learn to be comfortable with being out of your comfort zone. It will always be well worth it.

8> People don’t pursue personal growth because it appears much harder than they thought it would be.

I don’t know any successful people who thinks growth comes quickly and climbing to the top is easy. It just doesn’t happen. People create their own luck. How? Simple. Preparation (growth) + Attitude + Opportunity + Action (doing something about it) = Luck

It all starts with preparation. Unfortunately, that takes time. But here’s the best news. You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight. If you want to reach your goals and fulfil your personal potential, become intentional about personal growth. It will change you life. 

The sooner you make the transition to becoming intentional about your personal growth, the better it will be for you, because growth compounds and accelerates if you remain intentional about it. 

Here’s how to make the change from accidental growth and change to intentional

1> Ask the big question now

The first year I started to engage in intentional  personal growth (1963 as I entered the last year of high school and was mentored by the school principal and my home room teacher – two men who believed in me) I discovered that it was going to be a lifelong process. During that year, the question in my mind was “How long will this take?” A number of years and several full-time university degrees later the question changed to “How far can I go?” That is the question you should be asking yourself right now — not that you will be able to answer it. I started this journey and adventure 58 years ago, and I still haven’t answered it. But it will help you set the direction, if not the distance.

Where do you want to go in life?

What direction do you want to go?

What’s the farthest you can imagine going?

Answering those questions will get you started on the personal-growth journey. The best you can hope to do in life is to make the most out of whatever you’ve been given. You do that by investing in yourself, making yourself the best you can be.  The more you’ve got to work with, the greater your potential — and the farther you should try to go. Give growing your best so you can become your best.

2> Do it now.

For you to succeed at personal growth and development you need a sense of urgency. So, the words “do it now” are good to remember and to repeat. Do it now! Growth is that urgent and that important in your life. 

The greatest danger you face in this moment is the idea that you will make intentional growth a priority later. Don’t fall into that trap! Late in 2009 I read the following:

Can there be a more insidious word? Later, as in, “I’ll do it later.” Or, “Later, I’ll have time to write that book that’s been on my mind for the past five years.” Or, “I know I need to straighten out my finances … I’ll do it later.”

“Later” is one of those dream-killers, one of the countless obstacles we put up to derail our chances of success. The diet that starts “tomorrow,” the job hunt that happens “eventually,” the pursuit of the life dream that begins “someday” combine with other self-imposed roadblocks that lock us on autopilot.

Why do we do this to ourselves, anyway? Why don’t we take action now? Let’s face it: The familiar is easy; the uncharted path is lined with uncertainties!

So, you need to start today! Do it now. 

There are two more things you need to do to get started… 

Making the change from coasting through life – personal, relational, and professional – and being intentional about growing, learning, and maturing include:

1> Asking the big question now

2> Do it now

3> Facing the fear factor

The five fears that you will need to overcome to move forward into intentional, daily change and growth are:

A> Fear of failure

B> Fear of trading security for the unknown

C> Fear of being overextended financially

D> Fear of what others will say or think

E> Fear that success will alienate peers

Which of those fears most impacts you? You can certainly relate to one of the five more than the other four. But it really doesn’t matter which fear affects you to most. We all have fears. But here’s the good news. We also all have faith. 

The question to ask yourself is, “Which emotion will I allow to be stronger?” Your answer is important, because the stronger emotion wins. I want to encourage you to feed your faith and starve your fear.

4> Change from accidental to intentional growth,

People tend to get into ruts in life. They get in an easy grove, and they don’t try to break out of it — even when it’s taking them in the wrong direction. After a while, they just get by. If they learn something, it’s because of a happy incident. 

Don’t let that happen to you! If that is the attitude you’ve developed, then you would do well to remember that the only difference between a rut and a grave is the length!

How do you know if you’ve slipped into a rut? Take a look at the difference between accidental growth and intentional growth:

Accidental growth Intentional growth

Plans to start tomorrow Insists on starting today

Waits for growth to come Takes complete responsibility to grow

Learns only from mistakes Often learns before mistakes

Depends on good luck Relies on hard work

Quits early and often Perseveres long and hard

Falls into bad habits Fights for good habits

Talks big Follows through

Plays it safe Takes risks

Thinks like a victim Thinks like a learner

Relies on talent Relies on character

Stops learning after graduation Never stops growing

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

If you want to reach your potential and become the person you were created to be, you must 

do much more than just experience life and hope that you learn what you need along the way. 

You must go out of your way to seize growth opportunities as if your future depended on it. Why? Because it does. Growth doesn’t just happen — not for me, not for you, not for anybody. You have to go after it!