Does personal growth ever feel a tad impossible?
When I first began my journey of personal growth I was struck by this overwhelming feeling of dread as it seemed so hard. I was constantly having to face my fears, address my weakness, change my way of thinking, and alter my perceptions.
I mean, come on, that’s not easy!
What has become very apparent, and possibly the most useful thing that I’ve come to realize is that personal growth is hard, but it’s hard for everyone.
In the below 6 points I’ve addressed some key areas of resistance that I have come across in my own personal growth journey. Each point is followed by a little nugget of advice from me to you — either an actionable tip or a way to reframe your thinking.
All of these points have been integral to my making positive progress in my personal growth and development.
Understand, you are not alone in this.
Personal growth is most likely the greatest struggle I’ve had to come up against in life whilst being the most fulfilling.
Here are 6 reasons why personal growth feels so darn hard and what you can do about it.
1. Wilful Tolerance Is Hard To Stomach
Have you heard the phrase ‘white-knuckling’?
It’s a term used to describe an action that someone is forcing themselves to make when, in all honesty, they don’t really want to. Now, that’s not hard to relate to, is it?
I’ll never forget the period of time where I wanted so badly to overcome social anxiety that I forced myself into uncomfortable situations that made me feel… well, uncomfortable.
And, I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t that the point?”
You’re not wrong.
Exposure therapy, as the professionals like to call it, is a brilliant way of helping us overcome our fears. And there are two ways of going about this –
- Gradual exposure
Flooding is not for the faint of heart. This is for those who like to dive straight in, go the whole hog, and immerse themselves fully in their fear straight away… no baby steps. For example, someone who has a fear of crowds might use this flooding technique by walking straight into a busy town square at pique time on a Saturday.
Gradual exposure is preferable for most. Because let’s face it, if we have a dreaded fear of something then not many of us will be comfortable with the flooding technique.
No, in this instance we’re talking baby steps. Building ourselves up to full immersion. Exposing ourselves slowly over time.
With the same example above, gradual exposure might involve first walking into a semi-busy café, then a pub, then a shopping center, and THEN the square.
Do you catch my drift?
Either way, when we’re looking into our own personal development it usually involves exposing ourselves to a few fears and addressing some weaknesses. In order to be successful in this endeavor, guess what?
That’s right, you’re going to need a bit of willful tolerance.
What this means is exposing ourselves (using either method) to these uncomfortable situations or realizations without resistance. This is hard, which is why personal growth is hard.
Purposefully putting yourself into a place of discomfort? How could you not resist?!
The problem is that when we white-knuckle or bulldoze our way through a situation simply because ‘we know we should’ the likelihood is that we won’t gain the results we hope for. And that is because we never fully let our guard down. We never fully embrace the struggle and we don’t learn that we are in fact safe… that this fear can be overcome.
Let me give you an example that I personally resonate with.
As mentioned, I suffered from anxiety for a long time — over a decade. All I wanted was to be rid of this fear because hey, shock horror, I wanted to feel comfortable socializing with my mates. It’s not too much to ask, is it?
With that I used to force myself to go to gigs, concerts, theatre shows, go clubbing, take workshops, and so much more in the hope of desensitizing myself to the experience.
The theory was strong but, as you might have guessed, this wasn’t successful until I made one very important mental shift… from white-knuckling to practicing willful tolerance.
The difference is as follows in the above example; either you go to the party and stay there despite constantly looking for the exit and ways to ‘escape’ or you embrace that you feel uncomfortable with a willingness to feel this way in order to make positive progress.
This is different from white-knuckling because you are allowing yourself to sit with the fear in order to prove that it doesn’t control you in the long run.
What To do About It?
The reason personal development can be so hard when it comes to overcoming your own personal fears and objections is that facing them is emotionally tough.
Bulldozing your way through will not help you. You’ll put yourself through unnecessary stress, my friend. Instead, you must practice willful tolerance.
In order to overcome the fear or address a weakness that perhaps brings you shame, you must be willing to tolerate the pain and struggle.
Think to yourself, “I embrace this pain and discomfort willingly in the knowledge that it will teach me not to be afraid. I will not look for an exit. I will not pray for it to be over. All I need to do is immerse myself willingly and accept this as part of my process to a better me”
2. Fear of Failure Can Be Paralyzing
No-one knows the paralysis a fear of failure can induce more than me. Trust.
In fact, it’s that exact fear that fueled my first anxious episode and continued to be a source of anxiety for me for too many years to follow. It really doesn’t matter what we’re trying to achieve, there is always a risk of failure.
Personal development is no exception. In fact, there is almost no greater form of success than to be victorious in improving ourselves as human beings, so really, it’s a pretty big ask.
We’re talking about changing who we are as people. At the moment, right here and right now, you are this type of person. Perhaps you aren’t happy about that. You’ve had a light bulb moment and recognized that life could be different — that life could be better — if you changed.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong but that for many people is going to feel a bit scary.
We might think to ourselves, “What if…”
“…I fail, what will people think of me?”
“…I don’t hit my goal, will my life always be like this?”
“…I don’t overcome that fear, I’m destined to a life of misery”
It can be applied to anything. We can be afraid to fail at pretty much anything you can think of — being a good mother, losing weight, passing exams, teaching ourselves a new skill, being a successful entrepreneur, thinking better of ourselves, waking up early every morning, or simply just trying to be a good human being.
Fear of failure is struck into the hearts of us because it is too often associated with feelings of shame and embarrassment. I get it.
But let’s put a few things into perspective, shall we?
Failure is unavoidable. Yes, you’ve heard it enough now to know that this is true. In every success magazine ever written have been uttered the words “FAILURE IS THE PATHWAY TO SUCCESS”
Truly, it is my favorite topic to write about but I’m going to keep this succinct (there’s too much juicy goodness to get through!)
Personal development is always going to be tough for those who struggle with a fear of failure.
Because you have to get started with the uncertainty of success. Trying to better ourselves is perhaps the greatest of achievements when successful and can feel like the ultimate failure when not.
So, yes, failure is unavoidable. But you know what that means? It means you’ve had the guts to try in the first place. You’ve got the grit and determination to take action… many can’t even make themselves take the first step!
I won’t argue with you; it can feel easier to avoid failure at all costs. If you don’t try then you can’t fail, am I right?! This is the exact thinking that makes self-improvement feel impossible.
So, let me offer you a suggestion…
What To Do About It?
Embrace it. You will fail. Changing who you are is too damn hard to get it right the first time. It requires persistence, determination, and grit. It requires thick skin and resiliency to failure, not an avoidance of it.
The person who can run toward the challenge, unsure of whether they can succeed or not, will be able to take these knockbacks and learn from them. This is progress in the journey of personal development.
Those who don’t accept failure as an element of personal growth will standstill. Remaining exactly as they are… and that pain is far greater.
I now take the complete reverse approach. I thrive in uncertainty and I will take risks whether there is a chance of failure or not. Over the past few years, I have failed (oh boy, have I failed!) at setting up businesses, building careers, in relationships, in my own development… I have FAILED. But each and every failure has led me to where I am now and for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.
Nothing hurts more than standing still and not making progress. The pain of failure pales in comparison.
So fail. Fail proudly and fail often for one day it will be your success.
3. Self-Motivation Isn’t Easy To Pull Out of Your Backside
Self-motivated individuals are those people who I both admire and seethe at. They make it look so easy!
You know the exact types that I’m talking about… They post their five am workout on Instagram, they somehow manage to parent three children and work ten hours a day and eat healthily and learn a new language, and, and…
Honestly, it’s impressive.
But let me tell you something, most of us find it difficult to self-motivate, and if we can’t self-motivate it’s going to be pretty tough to see any real personal development. Why? Because it’s up to us to improve. It’s our own responsibility to see to it that we change for the better.
This means, even if you have ten different coaches for every tiny aspect of your life, you’re still going to need to be self-motivated.
Here’s the problem — most people think that they have to wait for motivation to strike before they can take action.
How wrong they would be.
If you ever catch yourself believing this to be true and whispering to yourself, “I just need to find some motivation” then you might be waiting a long while, my friend.
Motivation is the result of action not the cause of it like so many believe.
Action is the cause of motivation and inspiration. Doing the work whether we feel like it or not encourages us to do more. Why? Because your action yields results and results make us feel good. Your action inspires you because things are happening that are exciting your brain and making you think.
Even if it is born from resistance, from making yourself sit down and do the work, the knock-on effect is still the same — you are far more likely to feel motivated to keep going.
What To Do About It?
Do one small thing. Anything.
Either one of two outcomes will occur; you’ll either be left feeling a tad happier with yourself for at least doing SOMETHING or — you guessed it — you’ll feel motivated to keep going because, why not?
On the days where I can’t think of anything worse than sitting down and writing a four-thousand-word article, I sit down and allow myself to only write two hundred words. The truth is, I never stop at two hundred. Ever.
When I moan and whine about going for a run, I get my kit on and tell myself that I only have to go to the end of the road and back… I never stop at the end of the road. Ever.
One small step is all it takes to get the momentum going. And, don’t get me wrong, that tiny little step is tough when all you want to do is veg out in front of the TV for four hours… but motivation will follow.
Personal development is tough because self-motivation is tough, but it’s incredibly necessary for making worthwhile progress.
4. You’re Trying To Break Habits of A Lifetime!
Think about this, if you will… You have spent an entire lifetime programming yourself to behave a certain way and to feel certain things in response to life. Your brain is now wired into this way of thinking and acting because it has had years and years of working this way.
Now, all of these responses have become habitual. They work on autopilot. That’s right, you don’t even have to think about it — it’s just done. There is a silent captain of your ship trying to do their best to conserve your energy for the
This little captain is only trying to help mind you.
In most areas of life, these habitual habits are an extraordinary human aid in optimizing energy and focus. However, when you’re trying to CHANGE, these habits are tough to break.
Whether it’s learning something new and forming new habits or trying to break old habits and replace them with something more beneficial… it’s a long process.
There are no shortcuts. This is what makes this personal development business so tricky, nothing is easy and nothing is quick. After what is most likely decades of forming physical and mental habits, they are not going to be altered overnight.
But, that doesn’t mean they can’t be changed eventually.
Breaking bad habits is notoriously difficult.
Anyone who has tried to give up smoking or give up junk food will tell you. Or ask the nail biter over there, still chewing away.
These people aren’t failures (as we’ve just mentioned, they are quite the opposite simply by the fact that they are trying) they are simply trying to break a habit of a lifetime.
Whether it’s physical or mental, these habits take active interruption.
A little poke of the captain to say, “Hold on there mate, I don’t want to do that actually. I want to do this instead” And you might be met with resistance, maybe even a bit of hostility from this captain because you’re taking him out of his comfort zone.
And that’s why self-improvement isn’t easy — because the likelihood of changing these habits of a lifetime without resistance or road bumps along the way is minimal.
Yet, it is not unachievable.
What To Do About It?
Persistence is key. Altering your habits means rewiring how you think and how you behave so it was never going to be a walk in the park, was it?
Habits are difficult to break and replace for the exact reason of them being what they are — habitual. We do them without thinking. It takes constant effort and a heightening of awareness to even be able to recognize that you’re doing them in the first place!
So the trick here is to just keep going. Persistence will pay off. Regardless of setbacks you must get back up and start again.
This is the only way to rewire your brain to think and act differently.
At the end of last year, I made a point of calling any person I needed to get in touch with. Not WhatsApp, not text and not email, but call them. Because I have a terrible resistance to making phone calls.
They fill me with dread and make me feel genuinely sick to my stomach.
Yet it means that I don’t get quick responses, I am easy to ignore and I don’t chase people the way I should. My instinct is to send an email — this is one of my unhelpful habits. Keep a nice distance and email them.
After two months of calling I can not say that I have easily replaced this habit. Sometimes I can’t help myself and I jump straight into my Gmail. But for the times when I am able to pick up the phone, I always get what I need far quicker and far easier.
Personal development relies on our tenacity to keep going even when our instincts are telling us to behave otherwise.
5. Starting From a Negative Place
So you might think well ‘duh’.
“Of course, I’m wanting to improve because I feel awful about the current state of things and I want to be a better version of myself. This version of me sucks, Emma!”
Firstly, I hope that not too many of you actually believe this to be true about yourselves. For those who do, I want you to know that you do not suck. Everyone has the potential to be better. Everyone has the potential to improve.
So you are not alone and you certainly don’t suck.
This point is vaguely woven in with the first section of this piece — willful tolerance.
Only it’s about how you begin your process of personal development. The thing is, self-improvement can feel like an uphill struggle at the best of times but it’s even more vertical when we start from a negative place.
You can phrase your desire for transformation in two ways:
- I’m unhappy with who I am, it makes me miserable
- I know I can be better and that it could change my life for the good
I hear you, they are pretty much saying the exact same thing. But there is one killer difference… one comes from a place of positivity and the other a place of negativity.
Not long ago I wrote an in-depth article about mental strength and I discovered something that I hadn’t come across before, the difference between resilience and mental strength. Resilience allows you to keep going whether you’re happy about it or not but mental strength is when you can find the positive in a negative experience and move forward with a go-getters outlook.
This is so important!
For the longest time, I wanted to be outspoken, loud, fun, and exciting. I hated my introversion and I was ashamed of this aspect of myself because it made me feel as though I was boring.
From this, I wanted nothing more than to be considered outgoing, crazy, and lovable assuming that the extravert tendencies were the only way to do this.
I wanted so badly to be different.
But I wasn’t focused on using what I had to improve, I only wanted to change what was effectively the essence of who I was.
So I forced myself to laugh loudest, speak up, act the fool and be the life and soul of the party.
I only felt miserable forcing myself to live behind this facade.
Personal growth is that much harder when you’re trying to fight against the essence of who you are.
As soon as I was able to accept that I am in fact an introvert (and proud of it) was I able to realize that I am fun and exciting… just in a different way. I’m a great listener and I have great support. I am loyal to a fault and I like to have deep, meaningful conversations.
This was a huge leap in my personal development journey!
When I was driven by self-loathing it was hard to grow and develop because I was trying to develop someone that I wasn’t. But when it came from a place of acceptance, things slowly began to slot into place.
What To Do About It?
If you are unhappy with who you are then by all means use it to drive you to make a healthy change. However, do it from a place of positivity.
Find the acceptance and the optimistic spin on how you feel so you can move forward with a desire to be a better version of yourself. Do not be driven by self-loathing, believe me, it doesn’t work.
Personal development is an uphill struggle so give yourself the best possible start by beginning from a place of positivity.
6. It’s A Slow Journey
Personal growth is a journey with no quick fixes and no short cuts.
Unfortunately, we live in an instant gratification culture where we want what we want and we want it now. And that’s understandable! After all, I only need to place an order on Amazon for literally whatever I want and can get it delivered by 9 am tomorrow.
Society has progressed with a new attitude, we don’t expect to wait.
But where personal development is concerned, you’re in it for the long game and this is what can lead to people giving up.
My anxiety first showed its ugly face when I was 16 years old. I am now 30 years old (Shhh… don’t tell anyone). Of course, I am so pleased with my progress because a decade ago I found it difficult to leave the house. So, have I improved, I think so!
Yet every day I feel the fear and I feel the dread of doing even the simplest of tasks. I am still figuring out how to cope and manage in a way that will allow me to be the confident young woman I know I am capable of being.
With this in mind, I am further down the road of personal growth where this aspect of my life is concerned but I have not reached the final junction.
We can always learn more.
We can always do better.
This, of course, is an obvious problem for those who wish to see laser quick results.
Unfortunately, they’re going to be hot out of luck. It’s tough to keep going and it’s tough to make such small improvements from day to day because we don’t get that gush of pleasure akin to winning a gold medal. That instant gratification of receiving thousands of likes on an Instagram post.
We’re talking about being a better person… That’s going to take time.
What Can You Do About It?
To reiterate a few points before; embrace the struggle, be persistent and tackle small achievable goals. These are great rules to live by.
But, my personal favorite is this… you must celebrate the small victories!
When working hard to achieve a personal goal it can be deflating watching the months, or even years, pass without a huge AHA moment. However, this process is gradual. It will take time. So, during this time you must congratulate yourself on the small wins.
For me, it would be making that phone call or sitting in the middle of the row at the theatre or getting on a bus! It would be speaking up at a conference or telling someone when they have upset me. These are all small things that make a massive difference to my personal growth journey. Because I don’t find them easily.
They may be small but they are mighty.
Motivate yourself to keep going by acknowledging your little victories, no matter how small. You’re on the path, remember that and celebrate.
Personal Growth Is Tough For Everyone
I don’t want you to give up, whatever you do.
Feeling as though you aren’t making quick progress is agitating, I get it. Yet you must remember that that fact that you are trying in the first place is a victory in and of itself.
This is a slow and steady transformation and those who are persistent and motivated by a willingness to make a positive change will reach their end destination.
I can certainly vouch for that! It can feel like a lonely journey but the truth is that the personal growth industry has exploded. Now more than ever, people are actively seeking to better themselves either for a different life or for inner peace… whatever the motives, you are not alone in this journey.
At 30 years of age, I can happily say that I have made decent progress but I know I’m not done.
The resistance you feel is there because this is important to you. If your personal growth wasn’t met with hesitation then you’d have to question how much you really want it, right?
Change is tough but it is achievable.