In the past, my efforts have consistently been self-improvement projects – during which I tried with all my might to change myself to meet others’ needs or expectations. My focus was on fixing my inadequacies. I thought I had to change who I was or how I behaved to please other people (so that I’d be accepted and liked). I would always fail miserably at these efforts because I would set a goal for the change without being clear on why I was making the change. I would create a self-development checklist of all the “actions” I needed to take and I’d attack the project with great vigor - at first. When I acted in a way that was opposite of the change I was trying to make, I’d beat myself up. I’d expect quick results; so when the quick fixes didn’t work, I’d scrap the whole project.
No matter how much we want to make a change in our attitude, our behavior, or our ways of thinking, the process is still difficult. We easily get stuck in our old habits, swirl in our fear-based beliefs, and get trapped in our outdated (and often inaccurate) patterns of thinking. When we’re stuck here, we can’t see or understand why the change isn’t happening. We want the change, we want to become a better person, but we critically judge and berate ourselves for not being able to make the shift. Or we excuse or rationalize it away – telling ourselves we’re just wired this way so why bother trying to change?
I’ve come to see that personal growth, at its core, is not about fixing our inadequacies. True personal growth, real transformation, is about slowly uncovering and evolving into the person that we already are – at the deepest level of our soul. Personal transformation is about letting go of the false parts of ourselves that no longer fit: the masks we wear to try to please or fit in with others, the self-protective behaviors we’ve been learning our whole life, and the traits we lean on when we feel like it’s not enough to just be who we are.
Real transformation is less about striving to become someone we think we’re supposed to be and more about relaxing away and releasing the parts of us that no longer fit so that our true selves can emerge. This process takes time; we’ve been building our personas for our whole lives so expecting them to change overnight is not realistic.
There are three things I’ve learned to be true about personal growth:
- When it comes to personal transformation, there are no quick fixes, no overnight successes, and no immediate gratification. We can’t just wish our way into a change or snap our fingers and instantly become the person we aspire to be. True transformation takes time. It requires slow, deep, patient work. We need to offer ourselves grace and forgiveness when we revert back to old ways (which we will do, see the next point…).
- Even though we long to become a better person, we will resist the very change we are seeking. We will sabotage our own success, and we won’t always notice that we’re doing it. We are creatures of habit and we find comfort in our comfortable ways of being – even when our behaviors, beliefs, or choices are bringing us or others pain or misery. We’re more comfortable hanging out there because it’s what we know. It takes more effort for us to change than to continue doing what we know.
- Another big disappointment is that there are no one-size-fits-all checklists, approaches, or winning formulas for personal transformation. This is important because we see other people having great success and naturally we want to know what we’re doing. When we try to replicate their process, we fail. We need to realize that what works for other people may not lead to the same outcome for us. We’re starting from a different place, we have a unique personality and we may be trying to fill different needs. We need to honor our uniqueness and individuality.
When we keep these three truths in mind, it creates an environment that supports transformation. We view the whole process more realistically and we find comfort in knowing that we get more than one shot at it. Personal transformation is not often something than happens in a few months; it can take a lifetime to evolve into the person we were created to be. Personal transformation is rarely about learning new behaviors. It involves unlearning our old ways of being, letting go of our fear-based beliefs, and relaxing old habits and patterns.
Transformation is a process, and as life happens there are ups and downs. It’s a journey of discovery – there are moments on mountaintops and moments in deep valleys of despair. (Rick Warren)
When you find yourself in the valleys of despair, remember to give yourself grace and forgiveness. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to make an immediate change. And when you find yourself on a mountaintop, remember to acknowledge your effort, and to celebrate!