Question Your Beliefs
“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” — William James
How do you know you are developing as a person? What are the signs that reflect growth is taking place? While it’s an overused cliché, people will often say, “I have grown from this negative experience.” What are they referring to specifically? To be honest, I don’t think the person knows either. What they’re really saying is they have faced a difficult experience and assume growth has taken place, but it is not always the case.
As an example, many years ago, I coached a young woman who had undergone treatment for ovarian cancer. In one of our conversations, she mentioned having grown from the experience of facing death, so I asked her what were the signs of her growth. The question confused her because she couldn’t put a finger on it. I sensed she believed that difficult experiences naturally lead to personal growth. While I don’t discount it is possible, the point I’m trying to make is how do we measure the growth? What do we compare it to? How do we know we are developing as an individual? This is what I wish to focus on in this article, so you have a better sense of how to measure your personal growth.
A measure of one’s growth is noticeable when a situation that previously triggered us no longer has the same effect. For instance, if we were triggered by people who are rude or obnoxious and we experienced anger, a measure of growth is whether we have overcome those negative feelings. Naturally, through the passing of time, we are likely to grow as individuals regardless, meaning who we were at age 15 is not the same person we are at age 30. In other words, growth invariably takes place throughout our life, irrespective of whether we are actively working to improve ourselves through reading, attending courses, or working with a therapist or coach. These are ways in which personal growth is accelerated to suit us. So, if we want to know whether we are growing as a person, we ought to think back to a situation that once triggered us to see if it no longer has the same effect.
Another measure of growth can be seen when we question our beliefs and societal truths. We gain our beliefs through our parents, caregivers and loved ones, but rarely do we question and update them. However, our beliefs are the canvas upon which we paint our existence. What we believe dictates the manner in which we move through life, where our life journey can be difficult or as unencumbered as we choose. By questioning our beliefs consistently, we upgrade our mental software, similar to how a smartphone has regular performance updates. If we move through life carrying the same beliefs, we will meet with resistance when our beliefs don’t match the growing times we are living in. For instance, this is evident with those who object to using gender pronouns or question whether climate change is real.
Not All Growth Is Linear
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin
Is this resonating with you so far? Can you see that just because you experienced difficulties, it doesn’t mean you have grown from it? In fact, you may have accumulated negative beliefs from the ordeal, and so it’s important to continually question your beliefs to see whether you are developing. This brings us to the question of where we experience periods of growth followed by periods of discomfort. Life is cyclical. I liken it to a raging wave coming towards land and as it reaches its peak; it crashes into the shoreline and recedes into the ocean to start the cycle again. The same phenomenon also takes place in life, whereby we experience difficulties and hardship, followed by integrating these lessons. This is why people focus on chaos in their life when difficult experiences show up. Instead, we ought to focus on the soul lesson because the experience will hopefully pass and the lesson becomes embedded in our psychobiology. This is a fancy term to describe the interaction between our biological system (Mind and Body) and our behavior.
Another measure of our personal growth is where a person questions their role within the universe. When someone experiences pain and suffering, it is natural to ask what is the purpose or meaning behind it. After all, it is unpleasant to have to deal with these conditions, particularly if they keep coming up. So, a person might undertake a quest to find the answers on a deeper level. They may take up a spiritual practice, whether it’s meditation, yoga, gratitude, prayer, or working with a mentor. These are some examples, but there are hundreds of other ways they will search for meaning to localize the purpose of their pain and suffering. But meaning is contextual and subjective. Granted, a coach or mentor can set you on the right path, but only you can ascribe meaning to your particular situation.
Ultimately, if we want to know whether we are growing as a person, we ought to ask the right questions, which I’ve outlined throughout this article. Second, not all growth is linear but multidimensional, meaning sometimes we may take two steps forward and one step back. However, we are still growing, but our progress may be slower than others. Namely, every person’s level of personal growth is different because there are important life lessons that need to be learned. Therefore, we cannot judge a person based on their current life circumstances. Our task is to be open and compassionate, including ourselves, because we will naturally make mistakes. However, as long as we are moving forward and learn from our mistakes, growth is assuredly taking place behind the scenes.
Considering this, I invite you to revisit the questions throughout the article and answer them in your journal, smartphone, or on a piece of paper. How do you know you are growing from an experience? What are the indicators of your personal growth? How do you measure the growth compared to previous years? If you were to ask someone close to you, what would they say about how you have grown? These are the type of questions we ought to ask ourselves to see whether we are developing or naturally growing as a person. Ultimately, recognizing the signs of our growth requires that we measure our growth instead of believing we are naturally growing.