Dr. Elayne Daniels

Let’s get personal. In a growth-related way, that is. What steps toward personal growth would you take if you knew that a little could go a long way? And what if you knew that, by unarresting your development, you could energize movement into positive growth and possibilities?

It’s easy to want a better life. Heck, every human is pummeled by comparisons to those who just seem to have it all. If you don’t believe me, one minute on social media will land a convincing punch.

Who doesn’t fantasize (or even stress) about how to become “better” — at work, play, love, relationships, earning, creating, you-name-it? 

It’s not always so easy, however, to take responsibility for manifesting that better life. The quick fix would be so much easier, wouldn’t it? Somebody has to win the lottery. Why not me?

And yet, while life-elevating personal growth doesn’t just happen, it also doesn’t have to be a daunting immersion in TED Talks and self-help books. 

It can actually be accomplished with small steps — small, enlightening, courage-building, skill-developing, what-took-me-so-long steps — taken in the right direction.

Yes, you heard that correctly. 

You can start taking steps toward personal growth today — no college admission required. 

Consider this article your first step.

Personal Growth, Self-Growth, Self-Improvement, Self-Development, Personal Development: What’s the Difference?

Let’s acknowledge the obvious and the not-so-obvious: All this self-this, personal-that stuff gets confusing. It all starts to sound the same and inevitably ends up as a muddled mess of interchanged terms.

There are distinctions, however. And, in the interest of simplicity, we’ll narrow it down as follows.

Personal growth, self-growth, self-improvement, and self-development all refer to a self-directed effort that has no time constraints. They begin with a realization, even a yearning, in the direction of self-betterment. And they manifest in your time, no one else’s.

You can, for example, take stock of your life on a regular basis. Or meditate on your areas of weakness and desired strength. You can read self-help books, work on time-management, journal, set regular goals, commit to a disciplined sleep schedule.

All these efforts are self-motivated and self-driven. You can (and ought to) always “work on yourself.” No time limits. No external pressure, other than the external cues that tell you your life could use some work.

Personal development, on the other hand, while not completely mutually exclusive, has this one distinction: It usually requires external help. Hiring a life coach, psychologist (hi there!) or enrolling in a course that ends on a specific date are examples. (For greater clarity on the distinctions, read here.)

Because personal growth is the focus of this article, we will focus on small, self-guided steps toward a better life. 

Benefits of Personal Growth

Before telling yourself to take small steps toward personal growth, it makes sense to know why you want to. Your quest, after all, is backed by more than simple curiosity about self-help trends.

Let’s say you’re motivated by a desire for improvement. Unearthing patterns of complacency. Evolving your character. Leaving negative thoughts and behaviors behind you in pursuit of something better, more genuine.

Personal growth is an inside trek, to be sure. But its rewards extend to all aspects of your life.

Here is a short list of some of the benefits of self-growth:

  • Greater self-awareness and self-esteem.
  • Better relationships, both personal and professional.
  • Development of new skills.
  • Overcoming fears.
  • Gaining confidence.
  • Development of a growth mindset.
  • Greater self-accountability.
  • Mental clarity.
  • Heightened creativity.
  • Deepened self-trust.

10 Small Steps Toward Self-Growth

Inertia is a difficult force to overcome, even when you have a specific goal in mind. “Tomorrow” is a tempting starting point, precisely because it always exists.

And it’s all the more difficult to become “unstuck” when mobilizing seems to require a superhuman effort.

So get inspired by small things – unobtrusive, no-judgment, anyone-can-do-these small things – that you can start doing now toward improving you.

As you get comfortable with and energized by your deepening self-awareness and willingness to take action, you’ll reinvest that motivation into bigger efforts.

Here are 10 small steps that you can take toward self-growth and personal improvement now:

  1. Start journaling.

    Perhaps keeping a diary is one of those things you did as a teenager or during an emotionally trying phase in your young adulthood.

    It doesn’t have to be a once-and-done.

    And it doesn’t have to follow the same old formula of lined pages and penned prose.

    Journaling is a path to self-discovery. It helps to bring thought patterns and feelings up from the the subconscious into the conscious. 

Once there, thoughts and feelings reveal messages you can understand and respond to. r

Make the experience fun, colorful, uninhibited. Get colored pencils and glue stick. Try writing and

drawing with your non-dominant hand. Follow your intuition in the moment. Write. Color. Reflect.

Listen.

If you don’t know where to start, try these self-growth journaling prompts or a journaling app.

  1. Plan ahead.

    If procrastination and/or feeling rushed is one of your “stuck” patterns, then assure yourself little victories by planning ahead.

    Start by preparing for your morning the night before. Lay out your clothes. Clean the kitchen and have the coffee maker set. Basically, remove from your morning those tasks that leave you feeling frazzled before your day even starts.

    This small adjustment to your routine can free up mental space and set you up for a less-stressed, more productive day.
  2. Step out of your comfort zone.

    Any kind of growth, from physical growth to personal growth, involves stretching, movement, change…and discomfort. “Growing pains” didn’t get their name by accident.

    Stepping out of your comfort zone, cliché as it sounds, isn’t about taking risks for no reason.
    It is, however, about challenging your concept of what you’re capable of. It’s about challenging your concept of safety-vs.-risk, permanence-vs.-change, stagnation-vs.-growth.

    I mean, try something that makes you feel vulnerable, even humble. Try growing a plant from a seed. Take a weekend for yourself and go somewhere you have never been. Tackle a project you consistently put off.

    It’s not about the final outcome. It’s about getting over the mental hurdle of approaching new, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable situations in the name of self-growth.
      
  3. Change up your exercise routine.

    Just the phrase “exercise routine” can make you feel stuck. You have an activity you’ve always loved, maybe even excelled at, and it becomes all you know and do.

    You know thatt we all age, and that life throws new demands at us.

    Maybe your body is asking for a change or you’re simply dreading the same-ol’-same-ol’? A little shake-up can be good.

    To shake it up, consider taking a ballroom-dancing class or trying goat yoga just once. Even changing how you do what you’ve always done can reap new benefits.
  4. Take yourself on artist dates…even if you’re not an artist (yet).

    Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, promoted the idea of “artist dates” as a self-guided opportunity for play.

    The intention isn’t that you have to go to art museums or art supply stores or take painting lessons. Rather, it’s that you give yourself at least a weekly outing to explore with an open, curious mind.

    An artist date could be as simple as walking along the beach at sunrise and watching the interplay of tide, sky, and marine life. It might even involve making a sand castle, complete with flags and a moat.

    It could be visiting a boutique in a small town and studying handmade objects de arte. Or going to a bookstore and looking through big picture books for inspiration or pure enjoyment.

    What matters is that you open yourself to the childlike purity of play. Abandon rules and constructs that would tell your senses what to take in or enjoy. Just give yourself the freedom to explore and discover.

    Your grateful spirit will know what to do with the information.
  5. Have “no complaining” days.

    How would your day go differently if you had nothing to complain about? And what if you could decide that you had nothing to complain about?

    What if, at the very moment you would normally grumble or fire off a complaint, you whispered a statement of gratitude?

    For example, consider the experience we’ve all had of opening the refrigerator door and stuff falling out. Maddening, especially if what falls out spills and makes a mess.

    Your choice at that moment is to react or to shift your perspective. You can fire off an expletive – or you can take a deep breath and whisper a positive statement. “How blessed I am to have all the food I need and a refrigerator to hold it.”

    Sound silly? Try it when you’re tempted to complain about a situation or other person. You’ll find that the exercise requires self-control, which often means stretching beyond learned habits.

    New habits – and new growth – happen when we stretch beyond the limits we have set up for ourselves.

    And conditioning yourself not to be a complainer will create shifts in your relationships and the very people drawn to you.
  6. Dish out compliments.

    Everyone loves to receive compliments. They’re good for the soul, remind us of our value, and feed our self-esteem.

    But wait, there’s more! Did you know that being on the giving end of compliments has its own rewards?

    Giving compliments shifts the way you see things. It cultivates a spirit of gratitude and trains you to look for good in people and situations.

    And, perhaps best of all, it sets into motion a ripple of positivity. Good energy generates more good energy.

    You don’t need a reason or reward for complimenting someone. Just be sincere.
  7. Read.

    Fiction, non-fiction, biographies, poetry, self-help – it doesn’t matter. Just. Read.

    The list of benefits is long and includes better memory, increased neural connectivity, reduced stress, and better sleep.

    And it goes without saying that reading will expose you to new information and ideas, possibly challenging long-held beliefs and biases.
  8. Make heartfelt amends with no expectation of anything in return.

    What does making amends have to do with personal growth?

    A lot, actually.

    The ability to make a sincere amends speaks to a tremendous amount of introspection and humility.

    Hurting others, intentionally or unintentionally, ultimately scars the offender, as well. It takes a lot of energy to “cover up” lies or inflicted wounds – energy that could better be used for good.

    Use of the word “amends” was made popular by steps 8 and 9 of the Twelve Step Program for addiction.

    While the Twelve Steps have a structured way of approaching amends, the concept applies to personal growth, as well.

    It’s about bringing your actions into alignment with your values. And that can be accomplished only through fearless and uncompromising honesty.

    Sometimes taking the initiative to approach someone with a description of and sincere apology for your offense can be incredibly healing. That is, of course, if your actions line up with your words.
  9. Cut back on social media.

    Social media may not be going anywhere anytime soon. And it’s not without its benefits.

    But, the effects of social media on the psychology of humans, individually and collectively, is mind-blowing. Devastating, actually.

    Tragically, technology has forced a pace to life that isn’t sustainable for mindfulness and self-growth.

    It sucks us into comparisons, knee-jerk reactions, and the consumption of often false information.

    If you’re committed to taking small steps toward personal growth, one of the best moves you can make is limiting your social media use.

    With this in mind, when you do use it, be aware of how you think, feel, speak, and behave differently both with and without it.

Yes, making any kind of positive change in your life involves intention and a conscientious effort. However, getting “unstuck” doesn’t have to knock the earth off its axis. 

Believe it or not, even recognizing the need for change in certain areas of your life is a form of self-improvement.

And taking action on that recognition, one step at a time, can accumulate big benefits.

Call it “one small step for (hu)man, one giant leap for humankind.”

Dr. Elayne Daniels is an international coach, consultant,  and psychologist specializing in eating disorders, body image, and High Sensitivity. She is anti-diet, Intuitive Eating certified and passionately believes comfort in your body at any size is your birthright.  Contact her here for more information.

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