Personal Growth

For most of us, we stop learning from an intellectual (mental and emotional) perspective when we leave school. We become so engrossed in our lives (working and doing everything else) and following the natural (typical) lifecycle (child > youth > adult) that we forget to devote time to active learning.

We don’t have to keep things in our heads any more. We can look things up whenever we want. Our friends aren’t demanding enough, so they don’t push us. It seems like work to grow intellectually. We are not going to use it, so why attain it. What are we going to use it for? We perceive no need for intellectual growth, so we don’t acquire it. We’re not inclined to inform others, and because we’re not acquiring intellectual growth, we are not attracted to those who do. We settle for uninteresting friends/jobs, and when we settle for that, we perceive no need to grow. That is coasting, which is the opposite of growth.

The thing is, an ongoing liberal arts education of some kind is missing from our lives, so we must take it upon ourselves to pursue our own education on a regular basis. This doesn’t happen by default — only by design.

So why should we partake in active learning?

  • So that we’re always moving forward. When we’re not moving forward, we’re moving back. That is the opposite of growth.

  • When we don’t exercise our mental muscles by way of learning new things, we lose it (just like physical muscles). When we don’t use our minds, like muscle, they’ll atrophy. We need to keep using it to stay sharp and on the edge.

  • Learning new things is part of our Play, which is time spent away from work doing things we care about. Learning new things engages us to play more. As a result, we return to our work more renewed and inspired to do better.

  • Intellectual growth is extremely important because it gives us the confidence and the flexibility to deal with almost any situation.

Given the benefits of intellectual growth, how should you grow mentally? First, you need to realize that you want to do it. This is your “Why”. No one can make you do it (nor should they have to). Only you can do it based on your own choice (you must want to). That requires being proactive and also requires an understanding of how change works.

Once you’ve decided this is something you want to do, then there are ways of setting up systems in place that ensures you do these things without thinking about them. In other words, they become habits.

Here are some ways to grow your mental muscle:

  • Write Morning Pages every day as a way to find out what has your attention so you can figure out what to do with it later and be present in your work. You need to empty your cup before you can fill it.

  • Keep a website/blog to write about things that interest you. Build your home on the web. Share things you’ve learned. Share your expertise and process with others. We learn by teaching/sharing, and we share/teach by learning.

  • Learn new skills. These could be personal or work skills. How can you grow professionally? What skills do you need? What things outside of work do you want to learn more about? Do you want to learn how to take better pictures with your phone? Do you want to learn how to solve problems creatively using visual thinking? When you learn new skills, not only do they make you more marketable, but they give you more self-confidence.

  • Meet interesting people. Do interesting things. Be interesting and be interested. Stop seeing people who leave you drained. When you meet someone, ask yourself how you felt after your conversation with them. Did you find yourself depleted of energy or did you feel energized? That will inform you whether to continue seeing them or not. Always work to increase your network. This is not about quantity, but quality.

  • Learn to look farther by standing on shoulders of giants. Develop the right friends with whom you can exchange views and learn on higher levels of intellectual acuity. Such friends can often push you to get out of your comfort zone. Learn to separate out fact and opinion. We’re all entitled to our own opinion (not to our own facts). Learn to identify what’s factual and what isn’t. We need to be able to engage in healthy argument/debate with others in terms of intellectual development without self-editing. Don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind. Let the other person respond to it.

  • Keep a personal journal to reflect on things. Enter something in your journal briefly every day. Spend a few minutes in the evening to reflect on your day’s accounts (including conversations with others). What was the best thing that happened today? What could improve? Look back at your journal from time to time. You’ll find that your tastes have changed and you’ve evolved (and grown) over time. You’ll see how far you’ve come. It’s not always easy to see things in the short-term. Things become a lot clearer when you look at it from a distance (time). You can only connect the dots in hindsight.

  • Do interesting things. Learn to value experiences over (material) things. Do things out of your comfort zone. When was the last time you did something new? When was the last time you did something that scared you (and moved you outside of your comfort zone)? After you did it, did you feel relieved and happy? Stretch yourself. How do you know your limits until you stretch yourself? You won’t. This is all part of your mental and emotional growth.

  • Read a minimum of one book a week. I shared my thoughts on reading earlier, but here’s a quick recap: read classic inspirational literature (nonfiction), and classic and contemporary fiction. Read about design, history, science, the arts, biographies, sports, politics, philosophy, warfare, science fiction, etc. Above all, diversify your reading; read fewer things, but focus on the quality.

  • Watch great films. You can learn a lot about the world (and be entertained) through motion pictures, a powerful visual medium. If you need recommendations for films to watch, start with AFI’s list of 100 greatest American movies. You could see The Criterion Collection for recommendations on the greatest classic and contemporary films from around the world. You can also check out films I enjoyed watching.

  • Build your vocabulary. Why? Because language controls discussion, discussion controls relationships, and this influences everything else. Use metaphors when creating vocabulary. When you see a word you do not know, find the word in the dictionary, find the meaning and pronunciation, and learn to use the word immediately. Then, once a week, go back to the list of words you came across during that week to review and use them. I use Mental Case for this. I have collections for different words. For instance, I have a collection for learning. I use it to learn words/images about different things such as photography, consulting, abbreviations I come across, different laws (Moore’s law, etc), international flags, foreign words commonly used in English, pronunciation for difficult words, internet slang, etc. Doing this on a regular basis leads to a better understanding of these things.

  • Listen to great music. Start with artists you like, and use services like Spotify and Apple Music to explore similar musicians for suggestions. These services help you discover music outside of your normal comfort zone as well. You can also check out what I listen to. Music is a great equalizer and knows no boundaries.

  • Use a personal wiki to save interesting things that you come across from time to time. Keep a list of shops/restaurants you want to visit some day in the future. Keep a list of great hotels at which you’ve stayed in the past and those where you want to stay again in the future.

Look at the problems in your life through the lens of challenges/opportunities for growth. Find ways to solve those challenges. Have lots and lots of ideas. Practice divergent thinking.

Whether it be books, music, films, or whatnot, you’ll want to see a lot of things to figure out your own tastes, what you like, dislike, etc. This goes back to divergence and convergence. Once you know what you like, then you can focus on experiencing fewer and better things.

Of course, devoting time to personal growth (Play) means you won’t find this time by default unless you create it by design. Personal growth is an ongoing, essential activity in your life. That means you want to block time for it each week. Work and Play often go hand in hand.

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