Each of us has different lessons to learn and unique obstructions to our growth to overcome. On the more general level, however, we all experience a similar variety of existential struggles. Stress, various fears and anxieties, and limiting beliefs are often a manifestation of such existential struggles. I would also like to add to this list a range of social beliefs and convictions which are commonly shared among people and are aimed at making us civilised and obedient. From a positive perspective, they help us to work together as a society, keep the environment relatively safe, and enable us to interact with each other on the decent level. From a more negative one, they can be quite limiting by forcing people to preserve a status quo at the expense of independent thinking and being – being normal at the expense of being authentic.
What does personal growth mean to you? Do you associate it with the concept of individuation or self-actualization? Do you see it as inevitable, meaning that it will occur whether you want it to happen or not? Do you experience a sense of agency or control over the direction you can grow as a person?
I'm sure that each of us perceives personal growth very subjectively and has a unique perspective on this process. Perhaps for some of us growth might be something we rarely, if ever, think about.
When we look at ourselves and our life from a broader perspective, it might become quite obvious that regardless of what we do or don't do, we constantly change and develop. On the very basic level, growth or development is quite synonymous with change. We learn new skills, make mistakes and then correct them, change our beliefs and attitudes as we accumulate a wider range of different experiences. We also grow and change on the biological level – our hair grow, we gain or lose weight, we become more or less fit. It's as if we were in a constant state of becoming – but what is it that we are going to become?
Based on the perceived changes that occur in our life, we can quite clearly say that growth is rather inevitable. Even if we were to decide that we don't want to grow, we will still continue changing at the biological level and keep acquiring new experiences. We might of course try to remain unchanged in the face of new information, but it might become very difficult to keep the same set of beliefs in the face of new evidence.
If growth occurs naturally without our intervention, why bother with a trendy idea of personal growth? There might be several benefits of taking a closer look at our development. First of all, imagine that you suffer from social anxiety. There are several consequences of being blocked by this form of mental state: since we are determined to avoid social interactions in order to avoid our anxiety, we will also avoid certain activities; and since we will avoid certain activities, we will also avoid gaining new experiences; since we will avoid gaining new experiences, we will avoid learning new information about ourselves and the world. Another example: having a belief that learning how to play an instrument is quite pointless. Because of this belief, it might become quite difficult to gain new skills and experiences, and therefore certain paths of growth will be unavailable to us.
These examples are just a small drop in a whole ocean of how we might avoid growth and engagement with life. The reason behind a popularity of personal growth and taking control over the direction we can develop as individuals is simply an increased awareness of the potential obstructions on our path towards happiness and life satisfaction.
Each of us wants the same things: we don't want to suffer and we want to enjoy life. There are many paths to reach this goal. Increasing awareness of ourselves, our weaknesses, mental blocks, and limiting beliefs can help us to reach this goal. If we can't perceive the cause behind feeling unhappy, sad, or depressed, how else could we solve such problem which we are not aware of?
Growth and comfort zone
The idea of coming out of our comfort zone is quite synonymous to personal growth. Your comfort zone is composed of:
- Behaviours: your responses and reactions to the environment. This might include patterns of behaving in certain situations, managing your personal space, how you dress, your routines, what you do in spare time etc.
- Belief system: composed of personal and social beliefs. Personal beliefs are based on your own opinions, interpretations and explanations of yourself and the world; set of values and moral codes. Social beliefs are based on ethical conduct adopted by the people around you (what is right and what is wrong) which you also share and which you might allow to guide your actions; law, what is normal / weird, general etiquette etc. Depending on how far you are on the individuation spectrum, you might be more guided by the social beliefs than by personal ones, or you might have already discarded most of the socially imposed beliefs and you are mostly guided by your personal choices of what is right and wrong. Learn more about individuation and the importance of discrediting socially accepted beliefs here.
- Social network: your friends, people you are familiar with, their behaviours, communication style, humour.
- Information network: the media that you engage with, information that you consume, music, art, books.
- Cognition and mental states: the way you reason, think, analyse, interpret, and explain. These will in turn influence your emotional states, and your feelings and emotions will influence the way you think. Your inner environment.
In short, coming out of your comfort zone equals consciously or unconsciously changing an element (or a few) from the above list. Since the comfort zone is the network of interconnected aspects of yourself and your life, changing one aspect of your life are will inevitably influence another area. For instance, changing the way you think (e.g. you might come to a novel realization about how the world works) will influence the way you behave, and changing the way you behave will influence the way you interact with others. That's the main reason why coming out of the comfort zone can be so uncomfortable. It might often produce stress or even anxiety: when we are suddenly confronted with a completely novel situation or when our perception and understanding change, it might seem as if we entered a brand new world. We might then feel some discomfort, excitement, or fear until we learn how to deal with new circumstances. It is, however, a very temporary state. It's totally worth to bare some temporary discomfort in order to gain a final reward.
What's the reward?
Becoming more than you were before the transition: becoming free to do what you want to do, having new skills, becoming more adapted to the world, feeling more comfortable with who you are, and having more options and opportunities available.
The importance of coming out of our comfort zone and therefore growing and developing in new directions is quite clear. We can either spend our lives doing the same shit over and over again, or we can use our limited time wisely – engage in new experiences, increase our contribution to the society, become more helpful and useful to others, explore and learn more about ourselves, others, and the world itself; and make the most of our life.