Personal Growth Can Be a Distraction
I will never forget my first experience with personal growth. It was like a bomb of light went off and illuminated the world in a way that I never imagined possible. Everything looked different. For once, I didn’t know how things worked — it was all a mystery — and somehow, this other ‘world’ was what was really in charge of my life! OH MY GOD!!! I immediately went to the bookstore and bought 20 books on personal development. I was so shocked by the fact that there was this whole space of ‘what I didn’t even know – that I didn’t know’. And it all pointed to how I could finally make my life what I wanted it to be!
Of course my life was different forever following that. My first classes in personal development were like cave-diving for the first time. Edgy, surreal, scary and exciting! And always I was hearing stuff I never thought of — “Wow, I see how it really works!,” “I see what their ‘real’ motives are!” It was a new game with a new vocabulary – transformation, compassion, ‘tough love’, insight, true motives, unconscious commitments, limiting beliefs, victim-rescuer-persecutor, results=intention, power of your word, integrity as power, self as source, responsibility, resistance, revenge, proving, co-dependency, interdependence, etc. Every new word and concept was imbued with power and possibility for making my life better.
So I was hooked! I saw the benefit. I heard the stories of transformation. I had successes in my life. I was a new-born transformation evangelist. I took every opportunity to proselytize that I could! Hell, I became a teacher — as we all learn best by teaching what we don’t know! It then became my preoccupation to became as good as I could at generating “profound learning experiences” for people. The idea being, the bigger the ‘aha’, the bigger the change in one’s life. And providing lots of them is better than few.
I have had the opportunity to teach for years now and as a result, I get to see the same people often year after year. I started wondering, why I would see the same people, basically stuck in the same place, looking for more ‘breakthroughs’ to move them along. Something wasn’t working with the “awareness/insight/breakthrough = improved life” model. It’s not just my students btw. Lots of people are stuck in the same place looking for some awareness to ‘move them along.’
Many of you may have noticed that you had early success with your personal growth, but over time, you got less bang-for-your-buck in terms of how far an awareness translated into improved life. You might have concluded that you needed a ‘big’ one — and the little ones didn’t work so much. Or maybe, you are working only on ‘deep’ issues now, so you can’t expect huge movement from awareness.
Most people want ‘insights’ and ‘awareness’ to make their lives easier. But I have started to notice a different trend; I have started to see where awareness can actually make people’s experience more difficult.
More difficult because in time, they see what they are doing, they understand why they do what they do, they even ‘know better’ — yet they do the same things they did before awareness, get the same results they got before awareness but only now, they know better! This can increase shame and beliefs of brokenness. We often conclude that there is something else we don’t see yet. What is our real motivation? What is the ‘real’ block? Why do we really not believe in ourselves. Yet, even with more and deeper awareness, we don’t make changes in our lives.
At some point we get discouraged and even quit moving towards our goals. We forget goals and strive to ‘fix’ ourselves. We presume if we ‘work on ourselves’ long enough, everything will eventually ‘fall into place.” Many people are addicted to that next awareness-fix, like a drug. And they are settling for that versus making actual movement towards their goals.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE awareness. I am addicted to being present and seeing something that I didn’t see before. I love it! I love when the new possibilities come pouring forth. I love the instantaneous review of prior experiences using the new lens. It sure feels like nothing will ever be the same again!
But I know (generally speaking) that it doesn’t mean anything in my life will be different as a result of what I saw. Humans are a bit more complicated than that.
In our early work with personal growth, we hit ‘low hanging fruit.’ These are areas where we are so clearly going against the flow in our lives that when we see a new way, we have only to stop fighting with the world to move in the new direction. Already there are structures and people to support the “new” way – so it is easy! Plus, it’s new — and we are highly motivated with our new-found power to push though any early fear.
But, built into most people’s early experience is the seed for later difficulties. It is hard to walk away from the first experience of ‘awareness + new action = transformation = better life” without feeling that all of our difficulties are a result of something we don’t “know.” And it is easy to walk away thinking that the “awareness” is the main event. Easy to conclude that we just need to ‘see’ something.
It is really easy for personal growth to become the new distraction from moving towards our goals as we wait to find what we don’t know that is preventing us from moving towards our goals. Recently, I asked a student in my class why he was there, he said, “I want to understand why I am creating distance in my relationships.” I asked him why we didn’t set his goal as ‘creating closeness.’ He seemed rather taken back by that — as if that was a long way off, and he was taking steps in order to even be in that game. If I had given him more insight and understanding that weekend, I would have provided a huge disservice!
So growth is good, its in-fact inevitable. Insights are awesome and liberating. Insights are the doorway to a new possibility. However, what happens next is often not talked about. The step-by-step of going from insight/awareness to new ‘way of being’ is given far less time and discussion. One reason is that the moment of insight/awareness is so profound and magical. It has taken me years to recognize that something else was necessary for change to occur. I too was seduced by the sheer power of awareness to believe that ‘it’ was all that was necessary to change our lives. Another reason that the “how-to” isn’t discussed so much is that it has to happen outside the course room; it has to happen in your life. It has to be a deliberate step-by-step plan of action. This is one reason that I love coaching so much. I get to help my clients turn their awareness/insights into ‘new’ conditioning in the brain. I help them see that the importance of insights is generally overestimated in the face of what is needed to have them actually make a difference. When they start acting, it doesn’t have to be hard, it just has to be deliberate and often; they then create new ways to be.
So do you think you are missing some ‘understanding’ that is preventing you from your ideal life? Do you think you are missing some ‘awareness’ that will make moving towards it easy and effortless? If so, you are probably using personal growth incorrectly.
So ask yourself what you want from your next personal growth course/book/coaching session — if the answer is a feeling or some understanding, then you are distracted. If you are using it to create something in your life, then go for it!