Let’s Talk About… Growth

By Jeremy Godwin.

Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast about improving your mental health and wellbeing by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on one specific topic and is full of practical advice for improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing.

This is Episode 37 and this week I’m talking about growth – I’ll be discussing the role of personal growth in living a better life and exploring ways that you can incorporate a growth mindset into your day-to-day living. Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below or continue reading for the article/transcript version. Let’s talk!

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Just before we begin today, a quick reminder that you can find the complete transcript for every episode at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes (just find the episode you’re after in the list and select the link in the ‘Read’ column), so if you ever find yourself wanting to make notes about what I’ve said you can find it in the transcript. You can also sign up for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/subscribe to have new posts land in your inbox each week, so you can read each new transcript at your leisure. OK, on with this week’s episode!

Introduction

Whether you care to admit it or not, you are not the same person today that you were yesterday — and you are definitely not the same person you were a year ago, let alone a decade ago. The world is certainly not the same as it was in the past, and since a huge part of life is tied up in how we respond to the world around us then surely it must stand to reason that as the world changes so do we. There is, however, a big difference between ‘change’ and ‘growth’, which is what I’ll be discussing this week.

Choosing to grow means consciously choosing to be a little bit better each day, which is easier said than done. Every single experience that we have changes us in some way, but whether or not we choose to grow from it is up to us — in the words of Karen Kaiser Clark;

“Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.”

Karen Kaiser Clark

What is growth?

Growth is about developing and improving; it’s about wanting to be better and taking action to make it happen. It’s about improving all aspects of your life: your relationship with yourself and your intimate relationships, as well as the ones you have with family and friends; it’s also about how you make a living, how you achieve your aspirations, your creative outlets, your connection with your broader community, and so on. It all ties in to having healthy self-esteem and being satisfied with the person you are as well as the person you are becoming. It’s about having the humility to know that you’re not perfect and that there’s always room for improvement, combined with the drive to be the best possible version of yourself. Why is that so important? Because what’s the point of life if not to be better? 

In Episode 35: Insecurity, I talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in which Abraham Maslow suggested that once we’ve got our core needs managed — safety, security etc. — we start to focus on higher level needs like love and belonging, and ultimately on self-actualisation; that is, achieving our full potential. The desire to be better is common among many of us; for example, in the U.S. alone, the self-help industry is valued at over $10 billion a year and growing (source: https://medium.com/s/story/no-please-help-yourself-981058f3b7cf ), which is a fairly massive amount of money but it’s also a pretty clear indicator that there are a lot of us who are seeking to improve ourselves.

I think in most things that happen in life we really only have three options: grow, stagnate, or regress. Let me give an example of what I’m talking about: My partner loves gardening, and as I’ve seen our garden take shape more and more over the past couple of years it’s interesting to note the similarities between the effort involved in gardening and in personal growth. If you put in the work to tend the soil, plant the seeds and then nurture them, then eventually beautiful things will grow… but if you don’t put in the effort, then things will stagnate and eventually even go backwards because over time nature will reclaim all the work that was done if you don’t stay on top of it. Making things grow takes time and patience and nurturing, but from small beginnings big things will grow. It doesn’t just happen because you decide to make it happen — it takes work. But that work has a massive payoff: a better life.

How does personal growth help you to have a better life?

I’d imagine that for most of us, a ‘better life’ involves good mental health and wellbeing (well I hope so, at least!), and good mental health isn’t just a case of suddenly deciding one day to think positively and being done with it (although it’s undeniable that how you think has a direct effect on your mental health — more on that in a minute); it’s a case of putting in the effort every day to improve every aspect of your life and wellbeing: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social and financial. 

How you relate to the world and how you relate to yourself will have a direct impact on your overall life satisfaction… which might sound like some huge philosophical discussion, but really it all comes down to common sense: if you want a better life, then strive to be better. Again, it’s not as easy as just making the decision (because everything involves hard work) but it does require you to start by making a decision that having a better life is a priority for you and for those you care about, then making choices every day that align with that decision — in other words, having a growth mindset.

I talk regularly in this program about three foundations for both good mental health and for living a happier life: be kind, do no harm, and give more than you take. If you apply those three philosophies to personal growth, and make the choice to keep them front-of-mind in everything you do, say and feel, then you’re going to be taking major steps towards growing as a person — which can only have positive benefits for you and for those around you. Growth is about consciously choosing to be a little better every day as well as looking at how you can grow from the things that happen to you: the good, the bad and the ugly — that’s what is meant by a growth mindset in this context. 

In my case, I know without question that the years I spent dealing with depression and anxiety forced me to grow… I mean, what was the alternative?! If you don’t consciously grow then you stagnate, or worse yet you regress (especially if you resist growth). Could you imagine where we’d all be if we had resisted the changes that have happened to our society over the past decades and centuries? I mean, imagine a world where we still hadn’t evolved beyond dial-up internet — ugh, gross! Change is inevitable, both on a personal level and in terms of society, so it just becomes a question of whether or not you want to be dragged kicking and screaming into tomorrow or if you would prefer to maintain your dignity and evolve into something better. I’m hoping it’s the latter! And so with that in mind, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode… 

How can you incorporate a growth mindset into your daily life?

Like most things, ‘growth’ starts with choice — the choice to be a little better every day. Realistically that’s a decision that only you can make for yourself, but if the alternative is to feel stuck or (even worse) to go backwards, then hopefully making the choice to pursue growth is a logical one. The idea of ‘growth’ is about finding sustainable and healthy ways to grow, so let’s talk through some of those now.

Let’s start with letting go of the past. Don’t cling to the past — things change, and you either accept it and grow or you resist it and suffer… I’ve talked a lot about acceptance (Episode 36), baggage (Episode 7) and letting go (Episode 32) before and those topics even had their own episodes for good reason — because when you hold on to things from the past, they block you from having a better life today and tomorrow. Let go.

The next point is learning from the past. This one I talk about very often in Let’s Talk About Mental Health and it’s a big part of self-awareness in terms of understanding where you are today and how you got here, so that you can then make choices that steer you in the direction you want to head in the future. I’ve talked a lot about my own journey with working in the corporate sector in a past life and then realising that it wasn’t right for me, and so I’ve had to learn a whole bunch of lessons from those experiences then put in place changes that have helped me to change course — I went back to university and completed a degree in my chosen field, I put in time and effort to explore different options, and now I’m doing the kind of work that makes me feel fulfilled… none of that would have happened if I hadn’t have learned from the past and then made changes, because I would have just ended up repeating the same mistakes over and over again — if you don’t learn from your mistakes, then you’re doomed to repeat them. 

Speaking of mistakes, be okay with making mistakes. I talked about this back in Episode 2 because we so often have this ridiculous notion of needing to be perfect or being terrified of doing something that makes us look stupid, but that’s bullshit and all that does is hold you back from trying new things. In the words of Jessie Potter, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” You’re never going to grow or achieve anything new unless you’re prepared to get a little messy.

Next, be clear about what you want to focus on in terms of growth. Take time out for reflection (check out Episode 12) and really work on your self-awareness. Be honest with yourself about your strengths as well as your opportunities for development; we all have aspects of ourselves in which we could be better, even if we might try to deny them. Think about your overall health and wellbeing as well as how you interact with others and the wider world, and consider all aspects of your self: for example, how you might be able to grow physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, socially and financially. 

Do the work every day. Find self-development tools and resources that work for you (and use them often). There are lots of different options out there, but as I said earlier use qualified sources please! Why do you think I often mention my background in studying psychology and sociology, and why do you think I make a point of quoting reputable sources for research? Because there are far too many people — mostly well-meaning — who are providing advice based on opinions rather than fact. The danger is that you can wind up putting time and effort into a so-called ‘solution’ which either doesn’t work or, in the worst-case scenario, actually does more harm than good. I don’t know how or why we ended up in a world where so many people are questioning hard facts and evidence but I really don’t think we want to go back to a world where we try to cure ourselves with leeches because we think that being sick means that you have too much blood in your body (or maybe it’s ghosts in your bones, who knows?!)… seriously though, find reputable sources. Oh, and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune… the other day I saw an ad for a gratitude journal that was nearly $80 and that is just utterly ridiculous! You don’t have to spend a fortune to be a better person. I have a whole bunch of episodes in my back catalogue that you can go through and check out for addressing specific development areas and it’s all free; go to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes to get started. Find what works for you.

Get to know your learning preferences and incorporate them into the work you’re doing. We each have our own ways that we like to learn, such as visual/auditory/kinaesthetic, and there’s lots of stuff on the internet to help you find your dominant style(s) (you can find one at: https://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/), so take the time to understand what works best for you and then apply that to the self-development work that you do. For example, I’m quite visual and even though I love reading for pleasure I find it exhausting from a learning viewpoint, so self-help books just don’t cut it for me. Instead I tend to rely on videos and other media that are more engaging — for example, if you like Brené Brown’s stuff then I highly recommend her TED Talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ as well as her excellent film ‘The Call to Courage’ on Netflix. Find what feels most engaging for you.

Do things that make you feel uncomfortable often… and every now and then do something that terrifies the shit out of you. You do not grow by remaining where you are and doing the same things that you’ve always done… that is the definition of stagnating. Get outside of what makes you feel comfortable, try new things and challenge yourself.

Cultivate positive growth-focused relationships — which is a really nice way of saying not to spend your time around shitty people. We might as well talk about the elephant in the room: there will no doubt be people in your life who are growth-focused and other people who will try to hold you back or even drag you down. You choose who gets your time and energy, and if a relationship of any kind isn’t constructive and mutually-supportive then something has to give, because you just cannot let other people drag you down. If other people don’t have your best interests in mind then give them a chance to change and if they don’t then be prepared to walk away in order to avoid any damage that their behaviour might do. You need to surround yourself with positive relationships that are focused on growth.

Know that you will never know everything and that every experience has something to teach you. There was a song from the Netherlands submitted for Eurovision 2020 called ‘Grow’ which has a really simple lyric that I think explains what I’m talking about (and it gives me a chance to quote Eurovision so, you know… happiness for me!): “The more I learn, the less I know, through every high and every low, I’ll grow” (Grow by Jeangu Macrooy). You will never stop learning, and even the unpleasant stuff that happens in life has just as much to teach you as the good stuff (if not more).

Focus on what you want instead of what you don’t want. There’s a good reason that I don’t focus that much on mental illness in this podcast, but more on mental health — what you focus on is where your energy goes, and the more you focus on positive stuff then the more positive stuff you’ll have to focus on (something I talked about back in Episode 31: Mindset). You need to focus on what feels right to you and what makes your heart sing. I found when I was studying psychology that I was far more interested in the things that we can do every day to help ourselves to grow than I was in the idea of treating disorders; there are plenty of people qualified to do that and who enjoy that work, so instead I choose to focus on what I enjoy and what makes me feel passionate: personal growth and self-development. That doesn’t mean that I think you can magically cure yourself if you have an illness (I don’t) but it means that I know with all my heart and soul that ‘health’ is an inside job, one that benefits from external assistance but which must be driven by the self. We can all be shown a thousand different tools to improve different aspects of our health — physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, financial — but it’s what you do with those tools that makes the difference.

Be part of the solution, instead of focusing on the problem(s). Growth isn’t just about you as an individual; it’s also about the contributions you make to the world. Unfortunately, there continue to be far too many people in positions of power who are using their own hatred and greed to cause society to stagnate and even regress. Instead of focusing on the things that divide us, choose to focus on what unites us and consider how you can contribute to a better world. Which may sound out of place in a podcast about mental health but I assure you it’s not, because we’re each affected by the external world just as much as we are by what’s happening internally — and you cannot have one without the other. You are part of a community and we’re all united by our humanity, regardless of what we look like or what we believe, so the idea of sustainable growth involves building greater unity rather than tearing others down.  

See the world and learn from it (virtually if you have to, especially thanks to Coronavirus). Expand your horizons and learn about different ways of living and different points of view, and ask more questions and explore, and look at how our shared history unites us. For me, my favourite places in the entire world are museums. Now, I know it’s potentially a sensitive issue with some of them but putting aside the ethical implications of empire and colonialism for now, museums for me are places of absolute awe and wonder because they are tangible evidence of the growth of our species. We are here today because of everything and everyone that has come before us, and when I talk about ‘learning from the past’ I mean that in terms of both your own past as well as our collective past; the good, the bad and the ugly of human history has so much to teach us and it challenges us to grow. We have a lot to be proud of and if we each choose to be better everyday then we will have even more to be proud of in the future — and that starts with each of us making the decision to grow, to be better.

Remind yourself regularly what you’re doing and why. If you want to be better, tell yourself that every single day and let that drive you to make better choices. Self-improvement and growth is an ongoing journey and it’s one that you’ll hopefully be working on for the rest of your life, because wanting to feel better and be better is actually a really rewarding way of life so keep on reminding yourself what you’re doing and why. 

Keep going. Don’t give up when the going gets tough — that’s when growth is more important than ever. Right now we’re knee-deep in a global pandemic that is challenging everything we’ve ever known, and the only way through it is through it. When we come out the other side, let’s be better for what has happened — let’s grow from this. Because the alternative is unthinkable. In each of our lives we will inevitably face difficulties, but they are part of the experience of growing. In the words of M. Scott Peck;

“Moments of guilt, moments of contrition, moments when we are lacking in self-esteem, moments when we are bearing the trial of being displeasing to ourselves, are essential to our growth.”

M. Scott Peck

Summary and Close-Out

When it comes to growth, what it all boils down to is this: change is one of the few things in this life that we can rely on — it’s as inevitable as taxes. But the difference between ‘change’ and ‘growth’ is choice: change will happen whether you like it or not, but it’s up to each of us to choose to grow in response to circumstances and events. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be perfect; I just want to be better. I want to know that every day I am moving forward in some increment, no matter how small, rather than just treading water or, worse yet, going backwards. And to do that, ultimately, is my choice. If we want to be better then we have to make the choice every day to put our personal growth at the forefront of everything that we do, say and feel so that we can all make the most out of this thing we call life and, hopefully, leave this world just a little bit better than how it was when we entered it. 

That’s nearly it for this week. Each week I like to share a quote about this week’s topic and encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is a Chinese proverb, and it is:

“Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid of standing still.”

Chinese proverb

Next week, I’ll be talking about relationships. I’ll be discussing how our intimate relationships can affect our mental health and wellbeing, and how to build and maintain better relationships regardless of whether you’re single or attached.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Monday morning in Australia & New Zealand, Sunday evening in the UK, Ireland & Europe, and Sunday afternoon in the US & Canada.

You can find past episodes and additional content at the website which is letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au. You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth.

If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice and tell someone you know about the show (because word of mouth really helps new people to discover the program).

Thank you very much for joining me today – look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2020 Jeremy Godwin.

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