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The foundation of personal growth. What is it?
This was THE main question. It still is. I ran a survey/interview with a series of questions. The foundation of personal growth is what the survey meant to get at with different questions. You can learn more about the survey here.
I was curious about what the foundation to personal development and growth was as well as what people thought it was.
Because there’s really no one agreed upon rule. Everyone in personal growth will tell you that you need to focus on this or that to be successful or happy. You hear so many different things.
“Your goals should be your priority.”
“No, your motivation. Your motivation gets you where you need to be.”
“You need to have desire. It has to come from within.”
“No, your habits. Habits are everything. They compound and they’re your daily actions!”
“No, it’s all about your people skills. It’s about who you know and if they like you!”
“Just think positive and believe in yourself! That’s what you really need!”
“Confidence is what you need. If you’re confident, you can do anything!”
“You just need to be really disciplined. If you can’t do what you tell yourself you’re going to do, you can’t achieve anything.”
“It’s all about your energy. You can and need to control it to get to where you need to be and feel how you want to feel.”
These all make sense. And I think they’re all extremely important to personal growth, but I don’t think they’re the foundation. I’ll get to all that and why I don’t believe the above are foundational in more detail.
The Importance of Working on and Having a Strong Foundation
Building and having and maintaining a healthy strong foundation is SO important, yet extremely overlooked.
It’s very easy to overlook because we want to get to the fun stuff like making money, reaching impressive achievements like getting into a top school, graduating or getting our dream job, getting into a relationship, making friends and having people like us, looking good.
We tend to focus on the symptoms, the external things. Why? Not only is it more exciting to us because it’s pleasurable, but because it’s easier to measure.
We’re also hardwired, as human beings, to a) survive and b) reproduce. So it makes sense a lot of sense to mainly focus on making money, to have the career or business of our dreams or just have financial freedom and love, to find a partner or just want to attract people according to your sexual orientation.
These two are the top two focuses in personal growth and education and usually relate to our biggest goals and aspirations.
The thing is…
You wouldn’t fill a dirty house full of nice things, right? You’d clean it first. Filling a dirty house with nice things doesn’t suddenly make it a nice, clean house. It’s still a dirty house.
It’s the same thing with our lives. We want to make our lives all pretty and nice looking on the outside. Make it look good on paper, but it’s not the same on the inside.
I went to seminar where Tony Robbins spoke at. He claimed that he spoke with many millionaires, rich “successful” people who were unhappy, depressed, and unfulfilled with their lives.
They were incredibly successful. They’ve achieved their amazing goals.
Self-made millionaires. Life on full blast. Unhappy.
This is a lot more common than we think. Even to lesser extremes.
I remember the realization I had when I closely observed a family friend who I highly looked up to. He was always so motivated, ambitious, and extremely confident. He worked really hard and was kind of like a coach and mentor to me. I didn’t know someone close to me that was at the level he was at. I aspired to be at the level that he was at.
After spending more and more time with him, I noticed that he was far from perfect though. He was in a (what seemed to be) dysfunctional relationship and he was also overly critical and judgmental of others. He also seemed easily irritable and perhaps a bit of mood and anger issues.
Now, I still think he is an amazing and inspiring person. I am also not belittling him or judging him. Everyone has their flaws and blind spots. I am nowhere near perfect, just like everyone else. I was just making observations from my perspective.
Many of us know or can think of someone like this. (Or maybe we are in that boat ourselves.)
They’re extremely confident, they can talk to anybody. Everyone loves them. But if you take a close look, they have poor self-esteem and engage in self-destructing behaviors and involve themselves in toxic friendships and relationships.
Or they’re rich and successful, but they’re stressed, unfulfilled, and unhappy with themselves and their lives.
Or they have so much potential, so many opportunities. They have everything going for them. But then they eff it all up or they’re unmotivated and sluggish about life.
What that showed me was that being ambitious and motivated and confident aren’t all that. Of course, they are important. I still aspire to be at the level of ambition and confidence that my friend is at.
But those aren’t the things that give you happiness and health, health including mental and emotional health as well as healthy relationships.
You can be all those things, motivated and confident, but that is just very surface level personal growth. Yes, he was able to reach a lot of his goals, and get places, and get things done and talk to anyone.
But that level of personal growth is very surface level.
Foundations are a natural element in life. It’s how life works, how nature maintains structure, how we learn, how anything grows. It’s how anything is built.
Think about any kind of building and architecture. Without the foundation, there is no building. You can change the structure of the building, but you’ll mostly have a different building.
Without the seed and the roots, trees won’t grow.
In school, we learn about basic math, science, and English (or whichever language you learned in school.) Things that will teach us about how the world works around us. When we learn these things, we always learn about the foundations, the basics, the building blocks. And then we build upon those foundations with more advanced intellectual knowledge, learning and skills.
We should do the same thing with ourselves, our lives, and our personal growth. Of course, our foundation will likely never be perfect, but we should try to build it and strengthen it.
Consequences of lack of or weak foundation
When we fail to work on building an adequate foundation, we’re only failing ourselves. We’re setting ourselves up for instability and problems like the ones mentioned above.
Too many people focus too much on the action level stuff or they focus too much on the symptoms or the leaves of the tree or the external, surface stuff.
They focus on motivation, goal-setting, habits, accomplishing their goals, but then what? They’re stressed, anxious, unhappy, unfulfilled, depressed, anxious, lonely, etc. Or it doesn’t work. Or it doesn’t last. This can become a cycle.
It’s what a lot of us do when we start the new year and set new year’s resolutions. We set all these goals, we’re so motivated, we’re super excited. But by the time February or March rolls around we’re back at square one.
“This time it’ll be different.” “This is my year.” We say this to ourselves again and again.
People will also overestimate how much achieving one goal will change. They think that getting the career of their dreams will change everything. Their life will be complete. Once they’ve achieved their goal(s), then they’ll be happy.
“If I’m successful, then I’ll be happy.”
Success is happiness, right?
We tend to confuse success with happiness. We’ll wonder why we’re not happy despite our successes. Or we’ll blindly call ourselves successful when we’ve been slacking in our lives just because we want to think positive and we’re happy so therefore we’re successful.
We can also confuse happiness with pleasure and happiness with wellbeing.
We “pleasure” ourselves by going shopping, buying a house, a new car, traveling, partying, etc. and we call that happiness. That gets exhausting to upkeep because we’re depending our happiness on external pleasure.
Some of us also expect to be happy 100% of the time which is unrealistic because happiness is an emotion. If you never experienced life’s negative emotions, would you even really be happy?
Negative emotions are also essential to living a fulfilling, successful life. They may be negative (they don’t feel good), but they can sure be useful like courage, acceptance, grit, discipline.
It’s not very healthy to mask, avoid, and repress the emotions we experience either. This is just part of the human experience.
There’s also a thing called happiness anxiety.
This is where we get anxiety from reaching our goals so we’ll knowingly or unknowingly self-destruct because we’re uncomfortable with change, success, and happiness. We may also feel like frauds, imposters, or just plain undeserving.
This brings us to our next point.
“More money, more problems.”
Most of us have heard this phrase before. (or mo’ money, mo’ problems.)
What this says is, “I don’t have a strong foundation that can uphold all this money.”
With more money comes more responsibility. With more responsibility, requires a stronger sense of sense. A stronger self-reliance. A stronger identity. A strong foundation.
If you don’t know how to handle the little money you have now, you’re not going to know how to handle a lot of money later.
It’ll be too stressful, you’ll self-destruct, you’ll lose it all, it won’t be enough, you won’t be happy, and it surprisingly doesn’t solve all your problems. You’ll have “mo’ problems.”
We often see this happen to celebrities who can’t handle the quick fame and fortune. They turn to drug addiction, hang around the wrong people, make poor decisions, get too confident, and we see their downfall as they self-destruct.
This is especially true for people who win the lottery. Most people who win the lottery eventually end up the same from before the won the lottery or worse off.
One of the things is that problems don’t disappear once you reach a level of success. Yes, people are able to reach great levels of success, but they either can’t handle the success or they can’t handle problems in general.
People think that money will fix all their problems. They think that losing weight will change everything.
People who don’t work on the foundation and focus on change from deep inside will lose weight and then gain it all back or will lose weight and become narcissistic.
When it becomes a cycle it’s just like building the same shabby house again and again over the same weak foundation.
I think the ability to handle problems is HUGE for a foundation. Because we will have problems no matter what, regardless of who we are and what we accomplish. That is just life.
Now, let’s look at common responses from the survey and why each is not the foundation of personal growth.
Motivation excludes a lot of people. I don’t believe we should focus all of our attention on motivation. It comes and goes. We need to learn to work around not being motivated.
As Stephen Kind famously quoted, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
I think you can go much deeper than desire. Desire is also not enough. You can want something really, really bad, but still not take action on it. It’s very simplistic. A lot of people desire a lot of things, but few acquire those desires.
There was a teacher that I read about in the book Mindset who worked with troubled students who had no interest or desire in their education. This teacher practiced giving unconditional love to her “bad” students and they started doing better.
Their grades improved significantly and they became actively involved in their education. So these students didn’t work on their “desire” to learn because they just didn’t want to or maybe they did deep down, but something was blocking that desire. This teacher went a lot deeper with these students and because of that they were able to improve.
You can be determined, but for the wrong reasons. Determined to prove people wrong or to please others and make them happy. Determination out of fear. Determination and motivation can have unhealthy reasons and a lot of which contributes to the feeling of still feeling unhappy and unfulfilled regardless of reaching goals and success in life.
Studies also show that being fueled by negative emotions makes you less likely to succeed in your goals. You can also be determined, but never get anywhere regardless of determination.
Goal setting can be pretty surface level. Oftentimes, like I spoke about above, people will have goals and will reach those goals and it’s not enough, they’re still not fulfilled or happy. Goal-setting alone will not suddenly make you able to achieve all your goals and success.
Like I told the story about my friend who was extremely confident, there was a lack of a strong solid foundation for true happiness and health. Confidence is surface level and it can be a great start to believe in yourself, but it will only take you so far. Overconfidence can also hinder you instead.
Consistency is great, but it’s not a foundation for personal growth. Being consistent will help you with habits and reaching your goals, but will they be the right habits and goals? Consistency is part of the process, but so is change.
Discipline is a great skill to learn and build. And it’s a greater focus than motivation which normally comes and goes. The truth is most of us are disciplined in one way or another in our day to day lives.
We can be disciplined in the wrong things. Self-discipline consists of doing the things we set out to do even if we don’t feel like it. Discipline makes it easier to achieve our goals, but it doesn’t necessarily help with deeper internal work like happiness, toxic relationships, poor self-worth and the like.
I didn’t see a lot of responses that said energy, but the main reason I mention it is because one of the biggest names in personal growth spoke about it a lot. Tony Robbins. I talk about my experience here in more detail. My boyfriend brought up a good point about it though. It doesn’t seem to be too healthy to not fully experience your emotions and repress them instantly with “positive energy.”
The Foundation of Personal Growth
When I look at the foundation, I liken to it affecting our identity at its core. Many, many people define themselves by what’s outside of them – their job, their house, their cars, their partner, their friend, their looks, their body.
And most people base their goals and personal growth on those external things which is not a bad thing to do unless it’s the sole focus and there is no deeper work involved.
With a foundation, there should be stability. It should be something that you can count on.
If you were to take everything away from someone, who are they really?
Some people are nothing when they have nothing because they tie their identity to those external things. This is sometimes why people become suicidal after losing a job, or losing a house, or after a breakup, or losing friends.
I want to be the kind of person who is secure in who I am and my abilities, capabilities, and potential regardless of what I have or don’t have.
If you have nothing, who are you really? I really think that personal growth should focus more on being whole and happy apart from that.
If you are nothing without all the things you have, you are nothing with the things you have. Just like Iron Man says to Spiderman, “If you’re nothing without your suit, you’re nothing with it.”
There was once a millionaire who was asked, “If you lost everything, what would you do?”
His answer really changed my perspective.
He said, “I think that would actually be quite fun.”
This person was so secure and wholesome in who he was that if he lost everything, he would just build it back up again. He knew who he was and what he was capable of that it didn’t matter what he had or didn’t have. He had a strong foundation because he didn’t tie his identity to what he had.
We also see these amazing inspirational videos and stories of people who have disabilities and have missing limbs, yet they are able to accomplish amazing feats.
Because it’s not about what they have, it’s about who they are at their core.
These people didn’t even need their limbs or the ability to use their legs to get to the level they wanted to be at.
It’s not about what you have, how much money you have, the people you know, (yes those things do help), but it’s about who you are at your core.
The great thing about that is that you can change your identity. This is what personal growth is about. You can literally change who are at your core.
And you may say, “Well, I love who I am. I don’t need to change.” Well, that’s great. Change only what you want to change. You can become more of who you are. You can become who you genuinely want to be. And it’ll still be you. You can and should love who you are and who you can become.
You don’t have to be what you think you should be or just because you already are that way. It’s your choice. Who you are is your choice.
There is so much beauty in that because becoming who you want to be is you. That is the highest level of you, being you. If you become the person who you truly want to be deep down, that is authentically you.
So, what are the main components of a strong foundation?
Confidence in the ability to deal with problems and life’s challenges
Confidence in the ability to think, learn, choose, and make appropriate decisions
How this can show up: Lack of confidence, anxiety, self-destruction, addictions, bad habits, procrastination, lack of resilience, poor decisions
To be deserving of life, happiness and success
Confidence in our right to be happy and in the belief that achievement, success, friendship, respect, love, and fulfillment are appropriate to us
How this shows up: lack of discipline, lack of motivation, lack of confidence, unhealthy relationships, unhappiness
So, what is the foundation of personal development?
There were a few great foundation ideas that I came across.
Your mindset is where it all starts. And of course, it can be changed.
Your mindset makes up your thoughts and beliefs which is a huge part of who we are and our identity. How we think and talk to ourselves is extremely important in having a healthy relationship with ourselves.
Words are important and they do affect us significantly whether we want to believe it or not. Our thoughts and beliefs are what leads to our actions, decisions, and behaviors.
Mindset is a great foundation, but it can be a little limiting.
The downside of mindset as a foundation is that there isn’t much direction with it. How do you work on your mindset? Think positive? Tell yourself affirmations in the mirror?
You can work on having a growth mindset taught from the book, Mindset which is essentially changing your beliefs on change and growth, being resilient, and knowing that you can develop, change, and grow yourself and any skill, and learning how to treat failures and setbacks. It’s being open to growth.
It can also be a bit confusing for people who have a great mindset on the surface. When we think of mindset, we often think of being motivated, disciplined, ambitious, etc. We become single-minded.
Oftentimes though our emotions and what we feel are a lot more influential in what we do and how we behave. And as we’ve seen above, sometimes even with a great mindset, we can lack foundational strength.
Education & Knowledge
Education is a subject I am extremely passionate about. I get so excited thinking and talking about it. You’re already on the right track for education since you’re reading this!
The more we learn, the better we are equipped to deal with life, the likelier we are to pursue happiness and success.
Education is what allows for growth and advancement for anything and everything in life!
Everything we do is learned. All of our thoughts, habits, and behaviors are learned. We learned to be who we are.
The ability to learn and unlearn is essential to building a strong foundation.
To achieve anything in life, there are only two things that are stopping you:
- Physics – it has to be physically possible
- Knowledge – if it is physically possible, the only obstacle is knowledge. Nothing else.
If you have the right knowledge, you could do anything that is physically possible. You could argue that action is what is required, but that argument fails to understand that following through, learning discipline, building habits requires knowledge first and foremost. The ability to take action requires knowledge. Taking action is learned.
You could also argue that limiting beliefs and emotions are required, that no amount of knowledge can help you if you don’t have the right beliefs and emotions. This also misses the point that beliefs and emotions are based on knowledge. These things are learned.
If you have any problem, any goal, the only thing between you and the other side is knowledge.
This is what I believed to be the foundation of personal growth when starting this survey and mini-series. Now, I’m between education/knowledge and self-esteem.
The self-esteem we’re talking about here is not the limited basic definition of how much you like yourself. We’re using the widely accepted definition of self-esteem created by self-esteem expert, Nathaniel Branden, which is “the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness.”
Self-esteem makes up who you are. It’s defined by everything you are and do. All of your thoughts, emotions, and actions affect your self-esteem and vice-versa – your self-esteem affects your thoughts, emotions, and actions.
It affects your quality of life as well as your competency of dealing with life.
Self-esteem is essentially your mental and emotional health.
Self-esteem is your relationship with yourself.
Working on building your self-esteem sets up a strong and healthy foundation that affects everything about you and your life. It’s also likelier and easier to build and have strong, healthy, deeper relationships with people.
True self-esteem work gets at the core and root of your identity.
Thoughts & Emotions (Mental & Emotional Health)
A strong mental and emotional health is a strong foundation.
Your mental health affects everything you do and everything you feel. It affects your beliefs and how you think.
This, however, can be combined or included with self-esteem because mental and emotional health is a major component of self-esteem. Like I said, self-esteem is essentially mental health.
I always tell my friends and anyone who wants my advice with relationships and life that your number one priority should be your mental health, always, above all else.
Someone said this to me when I asked them what they thought the foundation to personal growth is and I loved it. Someone who has love, has everything. Love in the general sense – for themselves, for others, everything around them. More than anything, love is happiness. Love is deep and it comes from within. It is a choice and something you feel.
The thing about love is that it can take you very far in many things, but it can be limited to areas such as career, finances, and personal achievement. Love is a major factor in the foundation and it’s a great starting point.
Building a strong foundation is vital to living a happy, successful life. If we have a strong foundation, we’re more likely to adequately cope with life’s challenges and problems and to believe we are deserving of happiness, love, and success, all of which leads to a better relationship with ourselves, greater relationships with others, resilience, confidence, reaching goals, and more.
The foundation of personal growth is self-esteem because it affects who we are at our core as well as all areas of our lives. It includes mindset, mental and emotional health, education, and love. Education is the top fundamental to building a strong foundation.
Hopefully this challenged or changed your perspective in pursuing personal growth and success. Share your thoughts down below!