by William Cottringer
Personal growth can be greatly stimulated when you ask yourself five critical questions and then struggle to get the right answers. This process requires you to use critical thinking, creativity, open-mindedness and above all else, brutal honesty. Here are the five questions:
What can I really control?
It seems to me that the process of growing up involves the gradual realization of how we have wasted so much time trying to control uncontrollable or irrelevant things. Once we start becoming more aware of the illusion of control, we begin to see the few things we can in fact control. Then we go about learning how to best influence the most important things on this short list in more positive, productive ways.
At the top of this control list is the need for more self-management. Especially critical, is the area of controlling our own interpretations of things that happen to us and our reactions to those interpretations. Our interpretations are often wrong and reactions ineffective. The smart reversal of focusing back inwards toward ourselves to better manage these interpretations and reactions is the first real step in personal growth. Unfortunately this important shift usually isn’t a smooth one or one you can hurry along, but it does start with the question.
How do I sabotage my own success?
The fear of success is insidious. Probably most of this type of fear is based on some major assumptions of what might happen when you become successful. What will you have to do to achieve it? What will you have to give up? What will it be like? What will you have to do to maintain it? What will happen to you if you lose it? Your mind can go fairly wild with anticipation, before you even become successful at what you are trying to do. In this sense you are preventing your own littler successes from happening, which could have led to bigger ones.
Facing your darker side is not pleasant or easy, but you will never get anywhere until you take ultimate responsibility for where you are or where you aren’t. You can’t begin to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be until you see who created that gap- yourself. Once you take ownership for all your own best self-sabotaging behaviors you are ready to try and answer the next question.
Why Don’t I apply all the good things I learn and know?
Some day I would like to download my brain to retrieve all the fabulous learning that has passed through it. For nearly forty years I have been taught, guided and motivated by the best of the best from the cliffs of Big Sur to the red rocks of the Australian outback. But why did so much of that good stuff not take? Why do we learn so many good things and then not apply them? If I had applied one tenth of the things I knew were right and good, I would have blissfully dissolved in Nirvana by now.
I suppose we all have to come to grips with the question of why we keep pushing the dessert away. My own answers seems to have most to do with my insatiable need to avoid boredom and stir up new excitement. I always need a new challenge and being able to do something well is anti-climatic. In the end, though this is a question you have to look yourself in the mirror and ask and keep asking until you get your answer. Some say it is later than you think, so what are you waiting for?
For whom (or what) am I doing all this?
It usually takes a very long time to understand why you need to give yourself permission to do something just for yourself and for its own intrinsic worth, without any regard for other people or reasons. It takes even longer to start doing that. Long ago I learned that you couldn’t make another person happy, only unhappy. But that still didn’t keep me from making a mad effort to achieve things with the main intention of trying to either please or impress someone else. This was my attempt to “prove” my worth. The sense of satisfaction and accomplishment never seems to come to you when you are really doing something for someone else or for some ulterior motive.
A major growth surge occurs when you shift focus from the outside to your inside. When you stop doing things for the wrong reasons and cease competing against others and start doing them for yourself, competing against yourself, you finally start getting a genuine sense of satisfaction. And you also start winning more. The early injunction we all get against selfishness is what keeps you from making this shift. You have to shed your guilt first.
What is the best I am capable of?
Many of us dream of greatness but only a few take the first step to develop a detailed plan to get there. Even less endure the difficult voyage that is usually involved. Part of the reason for this status quo is the catch-22 position that we perceive. On the one hand we are teased into believing we can do anything we put our mind to. On the other hand there are subtle warnings everywhere that tell us not to set our goals too high so we won’t doom ourselves to unnecessary disappointment and failure. So to be safe we often settle for far worse than second best. Of course the rest of the reason is we can only accomplish real greatness when we cease trying to do it all for the wrong personal reasons.
The truth is you are capable of doing anything you think you are capable of doing. But that doesn’t mean it will just happen by magic. If you are not willing to be flexible with your goals and how you can achieve them, to make difficult choices, exchanges and sacrifices, take risky chances and persevere long enough to make your dreams come true, then they won’t. This is competition against your own self at its best. The icing on the cake is when you start accomplishing things for no reason other than it is the natural thing to do.
Having the courage to ask these five critical questions and then making the effort to find answers will open a large door ahead to your personal growth. Real growth then occurs when you become free to de-personalize it.
William Cottringer, Ph.D. is a business consultant, college teacher and writer in St. Louis, MO. He is author of You Can have Your Cheese & eat It Too. He can be reached at (314) 531-2000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.