Finding a personal growth roadmap is easy; it’s wanting to grow that’s harder.
I spent years trying to improve other people in my life—family, friends, coworkers even. I gave them advice (often unsolicited) on how to live, work and be better. Let’s just say my project failed. Spectacularly. Not because I handed out poor advice (well, sometimes I did) but mainly because the recipients weren’t convinced they needed to change. They were perfectly happy with their lives and didn’t appreciate my meddling.
I then realized I was better off improving myself instead of reforming others, which led me to explore the self-help space and, ultimately, write about it. So here we are. And I’m getting nostalgic.
Nostalgia is like heroin for old people – Dara O Brian
The quote above is one of my favorites. Because it rings truer as I get older. One of life’s little pleasures is to relive fond memories by reminiscing about the paths we’ve trodden.
In the age of Throwback everything—Throwback Thursdays, throwback episodes, throwback songs—I figured I’d do a throwback blog post to mark the completion of one hundred posts on the blog.
I’d like to recap a few posts that hold the essence of what Partably is all about—being better versions of ourselves. While that seems like esoteric mumbo jumbo, personal growth really boils down to this one core philosophy:
Feel better. Do better. Be better.
Obviously, that doesn’t sound like rocket science. But wouldn’t it be nice to get a map to get us there? With some practical advice on which roads to take and which ones to avoid? While also being a fun trip instead of constantly asking ourselves if we are there yet?
Yes, yes, and yes.
So, in the hope of constructing a personal growth roadmap, I’ve cherry-picked and summarized the key self-development concepts published already on Partably. An executive summary of sorts.
But as someone who has written a lot of corporate reports, I know this:
Executive summaries are great if you need to get a general high-level overview. But if you are looking to make concrete changes and take action, then your master is in the details. So, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to visit the embedded links within each section for the detailed posts. (And then, of course, follow it through with action.)
Let’s get started on the personal growth roadmap.
Part 1: Feel better
Ever try to meditate when you have an achy stomach? Or focus on solving a complex problem after binge-watching Squid Games (why?) all night?
It’s hard to aspire to function at a higher level of thought or consciousness when basic physiological and mental needs aren’t met. The whole Maslow’s theory of hierarchy and all that.
Before embarking on any lofty self-development projects, it’d be wise to get your house in order. That's the first step of the personal growth roadmap. This means paying attention to and working out any kinks in the basics—focusing first on what you eat, how much and how well you sleep, and how much you move during the day.
1. You are what you eat
I’m fully aware that I have my own set of biases on the subject of food and nutrition. Far be it for me to offer sound dietary advice. After all, beyond religion and politics, diets are probably the most contentious of subjects.
That said, one of life’s fundamental truths is this: you are what you eat. Quite literally, the cells in our body constantly turnover, nourished (or not) in large part by what they are fed.
Regardless of whether you are vegan or hate veganism or follow/abhor any diet(s), there are universal food and nutrition principles we can all agree on.
- Eat mindfully and moderately
- Understand that not all calories are created equal
- Avoid overly processed food
- Fast periodically
- Don’t use food as a filler when you’re bored
What you put into your body matters. A lot more than you think it does.
2. The science of sleep
Ponder this. In the millions of years of our evolutionary existence, ostensibly, as the most evolved species, why would evolution still necessitate the body to spend eight hours a day, a third of our lifetimes, in a state of unconsciousness and paralysis—aka sleep—when we make ourselves most vulnerable to predators?
The answer is staring right back at us.
Sleep performs critical functions in preserving who we are as a species. Lack of sleep in itself can be life-threatening. It is the 7-8 hours of sleep that directly enable us to accomplish tasks when we are awake. Take away the sleep, and you take away all human achievements and run the risk of complete ruin.
Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.
Shortchanging sleep by proudly proclaiming, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” is worthy of being the textbook definition of irony. Because sleeping less than the ideal number of hours is a great way to die soon.
To get adequate, good quality sleep (roughly 7-8 hours a day),
- Wake up and sleep at the same time daily
- Wind down from metabolically or cognitively intensive activities a couple of hours before bedtime.
- Beware of sleep disruptors such as caffeine
- Naps are great but should be timed right to not interfere with sleep
Guard your sleep.
Better to beat boredom and blahs with sleep rather than mindless binge-watching or doomscrolling. When you wake up, you will be rewarded with better energy and answers to your most pressing questions.
3. The power of movement
Almost all emphasis, especially in the western world, has been on increasing the average life expectancy. Not much thought is given to whether the increased life expectancy is commensurate with an improved quality of life.
As a result, we are becoming a longer-living but disease-ridden population. In other words, we’re increasing our disease-span and not our lifespan.
A majority of these diseases are due to lifestyle factors. Primary among them—being sedentary. The antidote? Any form of exercise or movement.
But the role of exercise isn’t just to boost immunity. And it’s certainly not just for weight loss. There are too many other benefits of exercising worth touting, such as these:
- Promotes mental clarity
- Helps destress and relieve anxiety
- Regulates other physical functions
- Helps develop perspective in life
Exercise should not be something you get to after you finish everything else. Instead, it should be something you must do first to be able to keep doing other things. In short, never tell yourself you are too busy to exercise.
Part 2: Do better
The second part of the personal growth roadmap is to get better at doing.
“Do better” means getting more efficient and consistent at doing the things you ought to be doing while avoiding the quagmire of timewasting.
Here are some tips on creating and sticking to good, productive habits. Sure, just as there’s more than one way to peel an orange or brew your coffee, there are many techniques to develop positive habits. But after experimenting with a few, I settled on the ones highlighted below. These have staying power.
4. Give mornings a try
Although I was a night owl for the longest time, I harbored a schoolgirl fascination for what it would be like to be a morning person. Then, I heard about the Brahm-Muhurt, a Hindu / Vedic reference to pre-dawn moments, a period of 1 hour and 36 minutes before sunrise. During this time, creative and spiritual activities supposedly have significantly more impact than at any other time during the day.
Convinced, I gave early mornings a try. And haven’t looked back since.
The best part of early mornings is that no one else lays claim to your time. You are free to chisel your day into whatever shape you choose.
Becoming a lark, if you’re not already one, does take some effort. Consistency is key. Please read this post for detailed tips on how to become a morning person.
The short form:
- Going to bed early is non-negotiable (see reference to sleep above)
- Don’t snooze your alarm
- Try to stay in well-lit surroundings as soon as you wake up
But the best way to ensure you wake up early is to have pre-planned early morning routines. Mornings are too precious. If you’re going to sacrifice the comfort of a warm bed, you better be “doing” instead of “planning.”
5. Establish Habit Streaks
Relying on willpower to develop a habit will never work because motivation is a fickle-beast—here today, gone tomorrow. Instead, what you need is a system, which is what a habit streak is.
Habit streaks is the name given to a continuous chain of tasks, repeated over a long period. Streaks work wonders by making you consistent and getting you to perform a task whether you feel like it or not. When you try to stick to a habit streak, you are not at the whims and fancies of your mood or the weather and are more likely to get the task done.
A key component of habit streaks is the tracking of the underlying habit.
Management guru Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Tracking a habit by crossing it off a list every day is a sure-fire way to get better at whatever you’re choosing to get better at.
6. Make your day count
The realization that we could have more decades behind us than ahead can be unnerving. The antidote to that is to go to bed fulfilled each day, knowing you did at least a few things to make your day count.
Here are seven universally fulfilling activities:
- Practice gratitude
- Pay it forward
- Pursue a dream
- Nurture relationships
This post explores each of the above practices in more detail. Suffice to say, feeling fulfilled is the key to a happy conscience.
Part 3: Be better
The final part of the personal growth roadmap is to be a better person. After all, that’s the pinnacle of achievement.
No matter how gung-ho and motivated you are, there are going to be occasions when you need to deal with the worrywart, negative Nancy, nervous Nellie, Debbie downer, and any of their other friends lurking within you. Quieting these voices is a skill, and like most skills, it can be learned.
7. Get out of your own way
Self-sabotage is the art of getting in your way the minute you see progress. This could happen for a few reasons:
- Impostor syndrome: You create a feeling of inadequacy for yourself because you don’t believe you’re capable
- Comfort zone: Your mind keeps handing out excuse notes to ensure you don’t leave your proverbial couch
- Overthinking: You conjure up a mental movie of all things that could wrong
The sooner you learn to recognize the above symptoms in yourself, the less likely you will stop sabotaging your progress.
8. When things don’t go to plan
When things don’t go to plan, we can either bury our head in the sand and hope the plan somehow will magically work itself out or figure out ways to confront reality and course-correct.
Plot twists happen in life. It’s never a matter of if but when things will not go as planned. When that happens, instead of kicking and screaming in the face of the unexpected, here are key practices that can transform us from a petulant child into a Zen monk.
- Be grateful for all the things that are working as expected
- Acknowledge disappointment – it takes a lot of work to ignore the elephant in the room. Easier to acknowledge it and move on
- Believe that everything happens for a reason, even when the cause isn’t obvious
- Recalibrate and move on
9. Embrace the suck
Embrace the suck is a military expression to stay the course when things seem pointless or get monotonous or unpleasant. In reality, underpinning the thread of any achievement worth touting is the mundaneness of the steps between conception and completion.
Marketing brochures for workout routines will show you pictures of 8-pack abs but won’t mention the day-to-day grind and sacrifices needed to get one of those.
With ‘Captain America,’ you might have three lines of dialogue the whole day. And there are just a million angles and a million set-ups, and it’s tedious- Chris Evans, actor
To embrace the suck:
- Get started on the tedious task
- Drop the resistance – stop arguing with yourself
- Remember the big picture
- Get support
10. Define your enough
Based on a 2018 Gallup survey of about 1.7 million people from 164 countries worldwide published in the journal Nature, emotional well-being, aka happiness, peaks at about $75,000 in annual income. The figure is slightly higher in wealthier nations - $95K if other factors are considered. Beyond that, there is no discernible relationship between happiness and income.
In other words, more isn’t better. In fact, chasing after more is the number one source of unhappiness in life.
To get off the hedonic treadmill, define your enough.
- Be grateful for what you already have
- Give more – it’s been proven that giving increases happiness way more than taking.
- Distinguish between needs and wants
- Understand the concept of hedonic adaptation – we humans tend to return to a base level of happiness regardless of the ups and downs of our life. Nothing is permanent.
Trying to reform others is like finding out how many chocolate chips are in a cup—a futile exercise that changes nothing. Instead, it’s better to spend time developing oneself.
The thing about personal growth is it’s personal. No one can force you to grow. You have to decide that your life, in its current form, is worth improving upon. Once you make that decision, the rest of the process is just mechanics. It can be as simple as following a personal growth roadmap such as the one above.