“Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who do not. When I see a person beginning to separate themselves from the pack, it’s almost always due to personal growth.”
John C. Maxwell (Author, Develop the Leader Within You)
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
Benjamin Franklin (Inventor, American Politician)
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
John F. Kennedy (American President)
People experience pain when they are not fulfilling their needs.
While you have many needs, both physical and psychological, growth is the master of your needs.
True happiness and success is experiencing growth in every area of your life simultaneously, including growth in your levels of friendship, achievement, fulfillment, love, contribution, mastery, and autonomy.
The problem is, when you stop experiencing growth, it can be extremely hard to get motivated to start growing again.
When you get distracted with the pain of a negative circumstance, the actions of negative or manipulative people, or with your own negative emotions, you need to realize that your need for growth is not being met.
We’re wired up to be curious and progressive.
In the beginning, with a new idea or passion, it’s easy.
You can’t get enough learning and growth.
And during those times, you feel positive, energized, and fulfilled.
There’s something you want — and you’re looking for ways to get it.
It happens in the brain first, as part of developing awareness, and then the body starts to connect and organize, in order to mobilize to get what the brain wants.
And, in learning to walk, a baby has a period of more failures than successes, but also a persistent motivation to reach their goal.
And they do.
They never say, “Meh, this probably isn’t for me,” and stop trying.
As adults, we are often less persistent.
We have competing distractions and are often derailed by setbacks.
No cushy diaper to soften the blows. No one to give us a pacifier when our emotions take over. No one to pick us up to be rocked when we give in to fatigue.
Assuming you’re not a baby anymore, you have to rely on your own motivation to continue to grow.
Despite the setbacks that are inevitable.
Despite the inevitable distractions.
And despite the rampant emotions that threaten to turn you into a wailing toddler.
When your progress is threatened, your growth can be stunted.
Your energy and momentum can wane, replaced with the insidious beast of stagnation.
You’re in pain because you’ve stopped feeding your need for growth.
And, that need for growth won’t exist in just one area of focus.
It’s not about walking across the room to get one toy.
It’s about the pursuit of success as measured by multiple areas of progress in your life.
You will never be successful or happy if you don’t master the skill of moving forward — no matter what setbacks or distractions are trying to hold you back.
You Are Wired For Growth
Growth protects against pain.
It prevents you from wallowing in the circumstances of your past.
It prevents you from being crippled by your thoughts and emotions in the present.
And, it prevents you from becoming a puppet for other people.
When you’re seeking growth in all areas of your life, you are feeding a primary need.
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow created a theory around human motivation called the “Hierarchy of Needs“.
Modeled after the different stages of human development, separated by deficiency needs or growth needs, Maslow’s theory states that we are driven to fulfill these physical and psychological needs over the course of our lives.
To be able to meet most of those needs equals human success.
In Maslow’s pyramid, self-actualization or achieving your full potential and seeking personal growth, along with esteem needs of mastery and achievement, are at the top.
In reality, though hierarchical in its structure, we are always seeking to satisfy and master all of these needs, all of the time.
In fact, this hierarchy was later expanded to include cognitive needs such as knowledge, exploration, and meaning, among others.
It impacts every aspect of your life.
Growth, progress, forward motion — are all a part of personal and professional satisfaction, and part of meeting those needs for achievement and potential.
These elements are correlated with increased reports of positive emotions, motivation, creativity, problem-solving, and overall engagement.
Best days included improved mood and psychological well-being, as well as joy and satisfaction.
Growth needs on Maslow’s pyramid.
The flip side of this study — 67% of “worst days” reported by employees — included a lack of progress, an increase in setbacks, and the involvement of “inhibitors or toxins”.
Inhibitors or toxins that derailed a good day included any activities or events that interfered with progress or threatened to sabotage the work.
Not surprisingly, negatives emotions of frustration, anger, and negative mood followed.
This also holds true for your personal life.
Stanford University psychologist, Dr. Carol Dweck calls this a “fixed mindset” — one that avoids challenge, is crippled by setbacks, and gives up easily.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, seeks challenge, recovers more easily from setbacks, values effort, seeks mastery, and in Dweck’s research, reaches higher levels of achievement.
Growth isn’t just challenged by outside events and distracting people.
Your biggest undermining will come from not having control over your own thoughts and emotions.
From allowing yourself to be swayed.
And indulging in defeat.
The One Thing That Will Keep You Growing (And How To Protect It)
As a human, you are wired for growth in all of these areas.
The problem is, you can choose to ignore any of these areas.
And in that, create pain.
This happens when you’ve faced a setback or allowed yourself to become distracted.
Growth doesn’t happen on its own.
It requires your intention and your action.
When you stop pursuing it, you lose momentum and enthusiasm and start feeling negative or defeating emotions.
In other words, you become the pouty baby in a diaper.
You give up.
You stop growing.
The one thing that will feed your need for growth and help you move forward is… FOCUS.
Your focus defines the direction of your mental energy.
It directs and protects your growth mindset.
The only way to build a life you want to keep is to protect your focus and stop giving away your time and energy to things that don’t amplify your life.
Here are 3 ways to protect your focus and keep moving forward…
1. Take control of your time and energy.
Take a hard look at where you spend your time in a day.
Hour by hour.
Take inventory of what you do on a daily basis.
From the time you wake up, to how you start and end your day.
Look for time-wasters and distractions like social media, email, TV, gossip, long and inefficient meetings, travel time, wasted time…
How much of your time are you giving away to tasks that are not creating progress in your life?
Are you sleeping in late, procrastinating through the day, and trying to cram things in last minute on a deadline, or are you up early, prioritizing your day around growth-seeking activities that will bring you happiness?
Are you working on priority items when your mental and emotional energy is at its peak (typically in the morning), or are they an afterthought at the end of the day when you’re too tired to deal with them?
Look at where you are giving away your time and energy to tasks that are not creating progress in your life.
Identify your inhibitors and toxins.
And then, cut them out…
In this exercise, look at where you are giving your time and energy away to people that aren’t supporting growth in your life.
Gossips, nags, complainers, manipulators, going nowhere, energy vampires.
Any of those pop up in your daily itinerary?
Cut them out.
The longer you have them in your life, the less focus you’ll have to cultivate meaningful friendships and love.
Decide that ending your own suffering and nourishing the need for growth is more important.
2. Take control of your perspective.
You can’t control everything.
The unexpected is going to happen.
You lose your job, you fight with your partner, you get sick, your computer dies, your phone falls in the toilet, you miss your flight, your dog runs away, you make mistakes…
When stressful events or setbacks occur, the level of impact will be dependent, in part, on your perspective.
You can catastrophize every bad day and make it bigger than it is.
You can globalize every event and make it more permanent than it is.
You can make up excuses about why you’re too scared to start over or be accountable for your life.
The key to moving forward and staying focused is in how you choose to look at things.
Get some perspective.
Stop being so dramatic.
Stop indulging in the adrenaline high.
Most setbacks are temporary.
You make them permanent by allowing external events to steal your focus from your goals.
When changing events threaten your sense of stability, take a step back.
Entertain a different viewpoint.
Fast forward into your future goals.
Remind yourself of what you’re working towards, and what your purpose is.
Look — every successful person experiences setbacks.
The reason they became successful in spite of those setbacks is that they took those setbacks, reframed them as learning, and used those experiences to create new strategies that would lead to their goals.
Instead of shutting down and giving up, step into action.
Redirect. Set new goals. Create new a strategy.
The longer you become immobilized, the harder it will be to step back into your life and start growing again.
When you can control your perspective and not be reactive to changing events in your life, you will better protect your focus and maintain control over your future.
3. Take control of your emotions.
Your focus is constantly being threatened by external forces.
If you take your eye off the prize for a second, you weaken your defences to an onslaught of distractions that have been circling you like prey.
To steal your focus.
To stunt your growth.
But, the most challenging threat to your focus is your own mind.
This is the root of every setback.
And the cause of all your pain.
Controlling your emotions is one of the most important skills you can adopt to protect your focus.
Because, even if your time management skills are impeccable and you can manage the stress of unexpected external events, if you can’t control your internal environment, it’ll sabotage everything.
I’m not saying be an emotionless jerk.
I’m saying, get cozy with a range of emotions, but don’t be controlled by them.
Develop healthy lifestyle practices and coping skills that will allow you to feel your life while still functioning in it.
Learn how to feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed without shutting down or freaking out.
Seek healthy outlets for expression.
Refuse to feel sorry for yourself and reject negative self-talk.
Don’t let your emotions control you.
Focus on your future self and your future goals and get your head out of past regrets or current pain.
You can only move forward if you focus forward.
Protecting your focus from rampant emotions is the best way to stay on track.
Focus on the areas you want to grow in your life.
Focus on the emotions you want to feel.
And then, build daily actions to make progress towards those goals.
Other people and events might impact you, but if you are fixated on where you’re going you’ll be more resistant to negative thoughts, events, and people.
You have a need for growth. Without it, you suffer. And while the need to grow is innate, developing a growth mindset is a choice. When you adopt and protect a growth mindset, you choose daily actions to increase your momentum towards success and achievement. That momentum can come to a screeching halt when you face setbacks, making it difficult to keep moving forward. But when you stop growing, you start suffering. Protecting your focus will help keep you moving forward in spite of unexpected events and uncontrolled emotions. When you’re dedicated to growth, not just in one area of your life, but simultaneously in all areas of your life, you increase your ability to move into mastery in your life and experience greater levels of fulfilment and success.
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