Personal Growth: A Modern Guide for Lifelong Learners

Personal Growth: A Modern Guide

What is personal growth?

Personal growth solves problems that make your life more fun, interesting and rewarding. There are two types of growth:

  • Personal
  • Spiritual

I talk about personal growth here, so I go through that in more detail on this page.

The most important thing to remember is that it’s your job to improve. No one else will do it for you. Why do you want to get better? There’s no point in improving if you – or someone you love – don’t get any value from it.

Your goal is to help yourself, and to improve your quality of life. Become someone others can trust and turn to for inspiration about their own problems.

Self-improvement is one of the best ways to do that.

(If you’re looking for some help with that, check out my coaching services. I love helping people become the best versions of themselves.)

Why invest in personal growth?

When done well, personal growth compounds, meaning your life expands as you step outside your comfort zone. And the more you help yourself, the more you’re able to help someone else and pay it forward.

Overcoming your fears has a positive domino effect: it spills over to other areas of your life. This creates a flywheel effect where you start to generate more and more momentum.

The core way personal growth provides value to you as a person is through better self-confidence. You prove to yourself that you’re more capable. By challenging your beliefs, you start to become the person you want to be.

It’s different from other kinds of “quick fixes”: it comes from within. You decide what matters to you and act on it. Personal growth takes courage.

In every other facet of life, others tell you what’s cool or popular and worth achieving. You’re fed norms, hopes, fears and dreams from family, friends, teachers and strangers on the internet. It’s much harder to resist that kind of influence. (Think peer pressure, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts). Which is why it’s crucial to have an honest and deep conversation with yourself.

Here’s the difference in a nutshell:

On those platforms, you have to seek approval from others. But with an inner scorecard, approval comes from you.

This should excite you for a few reasons:

  • You have a choice about what to care about.
  • You’re aware of your choices.
  • You want to choose your own response.

All three of those are critical ingredients for solving real-life problems, making personal growth suited to helping you get better.

Creating a personal growth strategy

Now that you’re convinced personal growth is a good idea, you need to create a strategy.

A personal growth strategy is a plan for building a more fulfilling life by setting goals, turning them into projects, and choosing to pursue what matters most to you. Put differently, you’re learning more about yourself and solving problems.

If you build relationships where they support your projects and encourage you to tackle new challenges, you will grow as a person. If you do nothing, all the fancy degrees and inspirational quotes won’t do you any good.

Better still, if you can inspire others to become more aware of their choices, and provide them with examples of what’s possible, you’ll create a positive feedback loop. If you can see it, you can be it.

But before you start running after your dreams, you need to do three things:

1. Begin with the end in mind

Everyone benefits from knowing what direction they want to go in life. Or, just as useful, learn where they don’t want to end up.

The first step is simple, but not always easy. Begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?” The answer to this question will steer the direction of your life.

Now you may already have a clear end in mind. You know you want to go to college, travel the world, find a partner and start a family.

If you’re not lucky enough to know what you want out of life, you’ll have to use your imagination. What would your ideal life look like? In 5 years from now? 10 years? 25 years? What are you doing? Who are you with? Where do you live?

If you’re struggling with these questions, imagine you’re attending your own funeral. You walk in to the service and the coffin is wide open. Who is mourning you? How do you want to be remembered? What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Don’t just do this exercise in your head – write down every detail.

In personal development jargon, you’ve just used a powerful visualisation technique to better understand who you want to be. The Funeral Exercise reveals important values, people you hold dear, and can even shed light on your bigger mission.

In short, you cut the fluff and get to know what actually matters. Few people regret that they’ve spent time with their loved ones or learned a valuable skill. (If you’re curious, here are the 5 most common regrets of the dying).

I know it’s not exactly uplifting to think about your death, but it’s a good reminder to make sure you live your life to the fullest. Ironically, your mortality is your best friend. It encourages you to act today rather than tomorrow. And if you want to live a fun and meaningful life, that’s exactly what you have to do.

Of course, your dreams and goals may change as you get older and gain new experiences. In fact, you can count on it. But without the end in mind, you don’t know what you’re striving towards, and so you don’t get where you want to go.

Determine your goals

So, how do you determine what goals matter to you in the short-term? Have an open and honest conversation with yourself on a regular basis. Ask yourself these five questions to gauge your direction:

  1. What do I want to have?
  2. What do I want to give?
  3. What do I want to be?
  4. What do I want to do?
  5. Where do I want to go?

Your first step is to spend two minutes on each of these questions. Brainstorm as many things as you can! I like to write out my answers on index cards, but you can use your smartphone or computer as well. As a rule of thumb: If it’s not written down, it can’t be achieved.

Your next step is to choose one goal from each question, so you’ll have one thing you want to have, give, be, do and one place you want to go.

Make sure that whatever you choose feels right for you. This is your life, not anyone else’s. If you feel a bit scared and excited, you’re on the right track.

Next, you set a deadline, so you get a specific, meaningful, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive goal. But a “smart” goal is only the beginning. The real power comes from turning it into a project. Let’s talk about that next.

Deep dive: Read 10 Personal Growth Goals Worth Pursuing and How to Create SMART Goals That Won’t Make You Look Dumb [with Examples].

Turn your goals into projects

Once you’ve decided what goals are important to you, it’s time to flesh out your project.

Most goals are obscure and not actionable. They need to be broken down into smaller (often more doable) parts. To make progress on our goals, we need to define the problem we’re working on. It also helps to have a clear idea of what “done” looks like (remember to begin with the end in mind?). When you put these two pieces together, you gain traction and move forward.

If you’re like me, you dive straight into things you’re passionate about. You forget to shape the project. As a result, you go down rabbit holes. Tangents are funny and sometimes productive, but they are more often a sign of fear. To avoid getting stuck, look at one of your goals and shape it into a personal project that can be completed during an 8-week period.

Claire Emerson of People Love Projects offers a great framework for shaping your personal projects. She recommends the following questions:

  • What is the desired outcome or result of this project cycle?
  • What is the problem you’re solving?
  • What is the solution you’re trying?
  • What does done look like?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, break it down further. It needs to be realistic and doable during an 8-week project cycle. Focus on the “done” part and define what success means to you.

This is your roadmap – your first personal project. Create projects that address each one of the questions, and you’ve started to embark on your personal growth journey.

Choose how to do it

This is where you get to work on your project! Will you do it on your own or together with someone else?

Speak to someone who has already solved your problem. What did they learn and how can you use that in your own project? Get several different perspectives on how to do it.

Pick an approach that suits your learning style and leverages your unique strengths. You’ve got to do a bit of trial and error here. But for each (successful) project, you learn more about what works and what doesn’t. The trick is to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Sounds simple enough, but it’s easy to overlook.

Over time, you’ll hone your skills and expand your comfort zone. Your personal projects will push you further. And your efforts start to add up, and eventually they’ll bear fruit.

Deep dive: Discover the Hidden Power of Your Beliefs

Building a fulfilling life

The key to building a fulfilling life is to choose a mission that means something to you. To build self-confidence through your personal projects and pursuits. To unashamedly add your unique voice to the world.

That’s exactly what I did in the early days to build my personal blog. I shared what I learned, my ups and downs, my own journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

My work connected me with readers interested in the same topic, and because we helped each other, they stayed and many became new friends or colleagues.

While the number of self-improvement blogs has increased significantly since then, and the online world looks different than it did in 2012, the basics are still the same.

This leads me to a critical point about your growth:

To build a fulfilling life, you need to put in the effort.

There’s no way around it. Everything has a price and you need to figure it out (and see if it’s worth the cost for you).

You may have heard about the “overnight successes”, but I agreed with Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky, when he said: “Our overnight success took 1,000 days”.

This hits the nail on the head. We have to be willing to put in the work. And accept that we can’t control the results. We can, however, choose our response and focus on the process, hoping it will give us the type of life we seek.

So, the first step is to learn skills that compound over time because simply reading about personal growth and talking about it isn’t enough.

This isn’t Idol, where only a lucky few get to stand on stage and sing their hearts out. Where there’s only one “winner” in the end.

You need to show up and do the work. In today’s media landscape, you don’t have to ask for permission. Instead, you work on your personal projects on your own terms. (Remember all those questions you answered earlier?)

Another option is to do what everyone else thinks is great. Follow the herd and do what’s popular. Impress others with your cars and boats, so you will get validated and admired.

The benefit is that you’ll probably get attention and status (at least for a while). But the downside is that it costs money and it isn’t guaranteed to build a fulfilling life. Living by an external scorecard isn’t the key to a meaningful life.

Play your own game instead.

The last way to get successful is to learn and master what other people have already figured out. By that, I mean you connect with people who already live the kind of life you wish to live (or, at the very least, pursue similar personal projects to yours). Maybe you team up and do something together, or maybe they inspire you from a distance.

Either way, using your network is a fantastic (and usually free) way to get access to other people’s experiences, knowledge, and skills for your project. In some cases, that’s all you need to do: ask.

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits of personal growth, how to create a strategy, and the ways to build a fulfilling life, let’s go over the different ingredients of personal growth that matter most: relationships.


Relationships enrich our lives.

Now, it works much better to work with other people, and to do that, you need to first understand how people work and what their motives are. Although what drives them may be different, there’s a common truth:

People want to be seen and understood.

So, practice listening to other people and give them a chance to tell you what they want.

Reciprocity is another powerful motivator that plays an important role in our relationships. For the most part, this is how reciprocity works: I’ll help you out with something, and you’ll help me out with something else. This works most of the time. Of course; there is the odd exception to this rule. You may not get reciprocated immediately; it can show up in other ways, later.

What are relationships made of?

Every relationship consists of three parts:

  1. Goal: What do I want/need from this person?
  2. Relation: How do I want to be perceived by this person?
  3. Self-respect: How do I want to perceive myself?

By going through these questions, you start to see which relationships are helpful and which ones are not. Take some time to reflect on your past, current and potential relationships. Which relationships have drained you and turned toxic? Which ones have nourished you and helped you become your best self?

When you look at your relationships, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Relationships can be split into four different types:

Win-win relationships: We both gain something from the interaction.
Lose-lose relationships: We both lose something from the interaction.
Lose-win relationships: I am worse off than you.
Win-lose relationships: I am better off than you thanks to the interaction.

Strive for win-win relationships across all life domains. Renegotiate any lose-lose relationships, although they require more work to fix. If that fails, they need to end.

Personal growth on social media

Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay.

The average American spends more than two hours a day on social media. Its widespread use and barrier to entry make it a perfect candidate for your personal growth efforts. To effectively use social media, there are three things you need to bear in mind:

Follow your envy

Choose which people you follow with care. Who do you look up to? Who could be a peer, a mentor, or a coach?

Let the “envy” show you what you’d like to do more of. Whose work do you admire? Whose lifestyle appeals most to you? Remember to stay critical: social media is edited versions of others. But your envy and admiration can open your world to different ways of life.

Beware of evil trolls

Unfortunately, social media can become toxic and unproductive. For this reason, be mindful of the time you spend on the platform and have a clear idea of what you want to get out of your social media use.

People turn nasty on social media, because they can’t see the other person behind the screen. If you’re finding the “evil trolls” too much, take a break from the platform and instead opt for closed groups and smaller chats/communities where the conversation is more civil and productive.

Find your tribe

Humans are social beings. The Internet in general and social media in particular, have made it easier for you to connect with communities and people that share your values, interests, and ambitions.

Spend time exploring different online communities and see how you can become a part of them. Finding your group of people to help you with your creative pursuits, business aspirations, and life-long pursuits will be one of the most important things you’ll ever do.

Start building great relationships and leave a legacy you can be proud of

As you can tell, personal growth is a large discipline with a lot of variety.

It can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you’re just getting started.

Don’t try to do it all at once.

Pick one or two personal projects and start there. Test a few ideas, see what starts to get good results for you, and then work from there.

It’s so much better to do one thing consistently and well than to try to do it all at once, only to crash and burn and give up.

If you don’t know where to start, look at your values. What’s most important to you? What habits or personal projects are you most excited about?

Combine that with your signature strengths, and you’ll have a much higher chance of success.

As a final parting thought, remember this:

The best personal growth solves real-life problems, builds meaningful relationships, and creates a better world.

You’re Not Alone in This

Now is a good time to think about what you want to get out of your personal growth journey. What goals do you want to achieve? What’s stopping you? What challenges do you have right now?

Bottom line: There’s not a “right” way to live a rich life. You need to try things out, and learn more about what works best for you. But there are some basic principles that help you along the way.

Compare Yourself to Yourself

You will be tempted to compare yourself to others. You’ll look at them and make a snap judgment. And you’ll have a verdict: they’re either better or worse off than you. But your comparison is neither fair nor helpful.

Trying to compare yourself to others is a huge mistake.

Until you do anything, get up right now and write up a Post-it for yourself:

“Compare yourself to yourself.”

Stick it on your computer, or maybe an extra copy or two around your office or someplace else where you’ll see it often.

It isn’t always easy. But any of us can do it if we keep working at it, and you’ll find that it transforms your life.

Want more personal growth advice you can use?

Personal growth drives human prosperity. It always has, and it always will.

Even if you’re working with habits or personal projects, the right actions are still what makes the difference. Actions that:

  • Challenge your beliefs.
  • Help yourself and other people.
  • Leave the world a better place than you left it.

And if you want to master the art of personal growth to live the life you want, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve helped people just like you since 2012.

Let’s grow together

Every week, I give you ideas and insights that in one way or another are actionable towards your growth. I hope my writing challenges, inspires and motivates you. (Unlike most every newsletter in the world, you can simply just hit reply to talk to me.)