Self-improvement methods often work a lot like other commercially sold products – “selling” you on a way to make yourself a better person. The problem with this approach is that it begins with the notion that there is something inherently wrong with you – even the name even suggests it. If you believe this, then you will probably feel negatively toward yourself, and possibly even feel shame for who you are. Instead, “personal growth” offers a more agricultural model. It suggests that you nurture and grow a healthier self.
The basics of personal growth are:
Accept yourself: All people are inherently flawed. So, no matter your struggles, weaknesses, or perceived flaws, you are no less for them; and you are lovable as you are.
Practice: Bring to mind a nursery filled with babies. Allow yourself to feel warmly toward them. Now imagine seeing yourself as a baby there. Feel the same warmth toward your baby self as you do toward the other babies. Mentally move the image of your infant self into your body, preferably your heart area. Allow yourself to feel the warmth in your chest and then imagine it radiating throughout your body.
Care about your pain: You, like the rest of humanity, deserve understanding and compassion for your pain and difficulties. So, just as you’d feel for someone else’s pain, be empathic and compassionate to your own.
Practice: Imagine someone else with struggles similar to yours. Be aware of the empathy you feel toward them; and your desire to help ease their pain. Now practice relating to yourself in this same way.
Visualize a better future: Imagine the future you would like for yourself. It’s best if you include what you would like to do differently and how you would like to feel.
Develop a plan: Work backward from the image of your future self, thinking about what you need to do to make this happen. Make sure your plan includes small, manageable steps and that you ask for help or advice, as needed.
Take action: Follow your plan. Keep in mind that if you are especially critical of yourself, you will probably feel like quitting – and if you don’t do that, you will still feel unhappy with yourself. So, choose to be gentle and compassionate with yourself, but also firmly encouraging to do what is necessary to grow and change.
Congratulate yourself: Give yourself the recognition you deserve for your efforts. If this doesn’t feel comfortable, it might help to think about how you would appreciate, and perhaps even celebrate, someone else’s efforts and successes. Doing it will feel good and will help you to persevere in the future.
Each one of these steps takes effort. So, choose the one that you think will offer you the greatest opportunity for growth right now. Work with it. Then, when you are ready, move onto another step. As you do this, remember that much like gardening, nurturing growth takes time and loving effort.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness