5 Steps for Personal Growth
How to get out of neutral and back into high gear.
In honor of the 11the yahrzeit of Rav Noah Weinberg, zt"l, the 11th of Shvat.
The capacity for change is the secret of the longevity and vibrancy of the Jewish nation. Thrown out of one country after another, the Jews were invariably able to pick themselves up, brush themselves off and start building again in a new country. School systems were running, mutual help organizations were reorganized, and communities were reestablished.
What is at the heart of this ability to change and grow?
As children, we expect that growth and change are necessary for development. But somehow as adults, many of us lose that impulse and think of the growth process as something reserved for young people.
You don't expect the behavior of your ten-year-old to remain the way it was when he was five. If it did, you would view that as a tragedy. If your 25-year-old had the same interests as a 15-year-old, you would be understandably upset.
But what about a 40-year old who's acting the same way he did at 35? Is it any less of a tragedy to lose the years between 35 or 40 than it would have been to lose the years between 5 and 10?
Losing the capacity to grow is tragic at any age. Any time you're not growing and changing, you're not living. You're just existing.
What strategies are best to bring about continuous, self-propelled growth? There are five important elements:
1. Setting Goals
Firmly setting goals propels you to change. This is true even if the goal was imposed on you. For example, if you know your parents will disown you unless you have passing grades in college, you'll force yourself to change your study habits. The goal of pleasing your parents will propel you to develop your capacity to understand and retain the subject matter.
The same thing happens if you decide to take a job, or get married. Once you've made your commitment, you'll change and grow in order to reach your goal.
In order to set goals, you have to ask yourself: what do I want to accomplish in life? Do I want to be a good person? If so, what defines "good" and how do I get there? Do I want a happy marriage? If so, how do I make a marriage work? Do I want to raise healthy children? How do I go about insuring that I raise them properly? How do I fulfill my responsibilities as a Jew? What's the best way to earn a living?
One way to begin to develop your goals is to write down ten things that you really want to accomplish; goals that you may have swimming around in your mind. Pick what you think is most important and work out a realistic plan for getting there. Once you are moving well on this goal, pick another and do the same thing. Slowly but surely you'll be able to change everything you want to change about yourself.
2. Take responsibility for yourself.
Deciding that you are going to be responsible for yourself. As the Mishna says in Pirkei Avos: "Im ayn ani li mi li? If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" (Avos 1:14)
You alone are responsible to make the decisions that will direct your life. You are responsible for how much happiness you attain, and how much you accomplish in life. People who tend to blame their situation on others, whether it's their parents, bosses, peers or friends, generally do not accomplish. The beginning of responsibility is to realize that blaming others is a way avoiding the real work of living your life. So stop blaming and start living.
3. Get clarity.
In order to make the choices that will help us set goals, we need clarity on the issues involved.
Imagine yourself taking your brand new, shiny red sportscar for its first ride. As you're cruising along, the guy behind you runs the light and slams into you, completely demolishing the rear end of your car.
Your blood is boiling. You walk over to his car yelling your head off, ready to pulverize the guy. Until he steps out of his car and you find yourself looking up at six feet, five inches of pure muscle.
What do you say? "Pardon me, sir. Just wanted to make sure you weren't hurt. Didn't mean to bother you...."
What happened to your rage? You gained new information: This guy is bigger and stronger than me. Venting my anger could be dangerous!
New information can completely change the way you view a situation. That's why part of taking responsibility for your life is making the effort to attain as much clarity as you can.
When we have clarity, we change.
Determine which issues in life you are unclear about. If you're not moving toward a goal, it means there's something confusing you. Push the fuzziness away. Track it down. What's holding you back? Clarity causes us to act. If you're not acting, you're not clear. Sit yourself down and figure out why.
4. Take an accounting.
Taking an accounting is the primary way of accepting responsibility to follow through on the goals you set for yourself.
At night, plan out what you want to do the next day. The night afterwards, you see whether you accomplished it.
You can do this little by little, even with relatively insignificant things, until you gain control over your time.
How would you like to get up in the morning? Full of energy or moaning your way through for the first fifteen minutes? Do you want to find your socks and shoes where you expect them or would you like to look for them every morning? Learn to take control of your life.
As you get into the habit of planning each day, your mind begins to take control. Instead of confusion or vegetating, clarity begins to shine through. As you use your intellect to pierce through the fog, to see where you want to go and how you want to get there, positive, proactive living -- change for the better -- takes over.
Every goal needs a strategy to make it work. And that takes some thinking.
If you're going to college to get a job, don't expect it to happen by itself. You've got to strategize: How am I going to spend these four years so that when I get graduate, all I have to do is wave my degree and I've got a job?
If one of your goals is to have a fulfilling marriage, what to do you need to do – and who do you need to become – to make the goal a reality?
Whatever the goal, taking responsibility involves developing an effective strategy to bring it into fruition.
Life is filled with unlimited potential. These 5 steps can be powerful catalysts to get us out of neutral and back into high gear.