When it comes to personal growth, there are thousands of books and millions of web pages devoted to helping us become our best selves. I know this because I’ve read through many of them.

Nearly everything that’s been published can be summarized in two powerful takeaways. I don’t mean to brush off the value of the personal development industry. But at its core, the two most important things to understand are: We will not change/grow/improve unless we want to. And no matter how badly we want it, nothing will happen unless we take action.

The personal development market is a $10 billion dollar industry. It’s not going away. It will continue to grow and attract more and more people. And its number one selling point? Hope.

Every single personal growth related item centers around selling hope to the consumer. They are given a solution that gives them hope in fixing a problem.

That’s great. I have no problem with the idea of giving people hope. In fact, I’m a fan of it. But I can’t count how many times I’ve read a book or an article hoping for the solution, finished reading, and walked away, never thinking about it again.

That’s not the author’s fault.

It’s mine.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that if I don’t test their solutions, I have significantly less hope of improving my situation.

So how do we fix that?

It starts by understanding that personal growth is possible for everyone. Then it requires acknowledgment that your success is dependent (almost entirely) on whether you take action.

How Badly Do You Want It?

From my own personal experience, the biggest enemy of action is contentment. The more content I am, the less likely I am to take action to improve my situation. Even being a little unhappy is often not enough to inspire true action. Unless we bottom out, we’re rarely inspired to put forth the effort that true growth requires.

Here’s an example. I’m never more committed to a diet and exercise plan than I am in the moments after I overeat junk food. I feel lousy. I get mad at my lack of willpower. I am ashamed that I sacrificed what I really want for short-term pleasure. As a result, I double down on my resolution to eat healthier and lose weight.

It’s when I’m most disappointed in my circumstances that I am most enthusiastic about changing them. Sound familiar?

So, when the topic of personal growth comes up, the most powerful indicator of success is an honest answer to one question. How badly do you want to improve?

The true answer to that question will always give us the best idea of how committed we are to taking action.

Personal Growth Has No ‘End’

One of the most challenging (and most intriguing) aspects of personal growth is the reality that there is no end. Within reason, I can endure just about anything as long as I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But self-improvement is not something you can work on for a month or even a year and then stop. It should be looked at as a lifelong journey you’re embarking on. To continue to grow means you must continue to pursue those lessons, honor those commitments, and maintain those new habits.

That’s not to say the pace won’t change. There have been times when I was entirely focused on my development and others when I’ve had no choice but to prioritize other things. There will be setbacks. But slow and steady is still better than stalled. The only time you lose the personal growth game is when you stop playing.

So, while it’s critical to understand that our development is neverending, it’s also inspiring to embrace the opportunity that comes with it. We don’t ever have to remain the person we are today. We always have a choice to put in the time and effort it takes to get better.

Growing For Ourselves

Like any other new habit, focusing on self-improvement is most effective when we understand why we’re doing it.

Often, we start digging into our own personal growth because there is something about ourselves we don’t like. It could be an unhealthy habit or a social shortcoming or ignorance on a specific topic.

Whatever the reason, we decide that we’re going to tackle this thing for ourselves — to make us happier, wiser, or more confident.

In this case, our motivation comes from our own desire to feel better. We are discontent enough to commit to changing our situation. This is a powerful reason to pursue personal growth, and if the discomfort is persistent, it can be enough to keep us on track.

At some level, every successful self-improvement project boils down to our own need for growth. But that’s not to say there aren’t other motivating factors as well.

Growing For Others

Our own well-being might be at the root of every desire to learn, grow, and improve, but there are likely other people who also inspire us. Whether they are our spouse, our children, our friends, etc., there is a common desire to become our best selves so that we may best serve those close to us.

I’ve often found myself pushing ahead when the going gets tough, not for me, but for my family. Strange as it might seem, we’re usually much quicker to quit on ourselves than on others. There’s something about letting others down that doesn’t feel right.

The key takeaway is that the driving force of our motivation to grow — whether it’s ourselves or those close to us —  is not important.

What is important is that there is a driving force and that we acknowledge it. Because things will get hard.

And when that happens, it’s critical to remember your why (and, in this case, your “who”).

The Role Courage Plays

The pursuit of a new skill or the process of breaking a bad habit is challenging. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be talking about it.

What’s interesting is that the skill or habit itself isn’t always what gets us hung up. What gets us into trouble is the need to step outside our comfort zone to do it.

Whether we want to improve our public speaking skills or quit smoking, if we want to grow, we must stretch ourselves. It’s not what we’re used to. And anything that’s not what we’re used to makes us uncomfortable.

So, in addition to our motivating factors, a successful personal growth journey requires courage.

Courage is important because the next steps in our journey are often unknown. And venturing into the unknown is pretty scary. Courage doesn’t mean we won’t be afraid. Courage means we will press on despite those fears.

Failure, ridicule, embarrassment, frustration, anxiety, struggle, and pain are all part of the path to personal growth.

But so are success, accomplishment, rewards, confidence, recognition, pleasure, and fulfillment.

Courage is the bridge between them.

Applying What We’ve Learned

Stretching ourselves beyond what’s comfortable is a huge step in the right direction. It requires courage. Mustering the motivation to take action is difficult as it is. When you then pile on the potential for embarrassment, frustration, and pain, and it becomes almost impossible. Yet, that’s exactly what we need to do if we’re going to reap any of the rewards.

Applying the lessons has always been my biggest challenge when trying to develop new habits and skills. I’m great at the reading, understanding, and planning parts. The doing is what gets me jammed up.

Of course, that part is most critical for results. We don’t grow without taking action. But taking action requires energy. It requires sacrifice. And it requires discipline.

No wonder that’s where our personal growth plans end up breaking down.

Unfortunately, I have found no magic solution for applying what we learn during our personal growth journey. There are books offering systems for creating habits and ways to motivate yourself, and those kinds of resources can help.

But ultimately, the success (or failure) of any sort of personal growth venture boils down to one thing: a commitment to just doing it.

At first, it will feel awkward. You will be uncomfortable. You’ll have days where you fall on your face. That’s all part of the process. By understanding and embracing those parts, you’ll be prepared to push through them.

Why We Can’t Give Up

Struggle, frustration, and setbacks are part of the growth process. We’ve established that here in this post. And if you think back to how you’ve ever grown at anything, you’ll probably remember times when you struggled.

The struggle is inevitable, but it’s not the key. The key is in not giving up. We never fail at anything until we stop trying. Until then, all we have are various paths to success. Some are longer and more divergent, but as long as we keep moving on them, we will eventually find one that works.

And that’s why quitting should not be an option. It’s okay to reframe your goals, especially as you learn more about yourself and what you want. It’s okay to cut the parts that aren’t working or are no longer relevant. If done with purpose, culling our misguided ventures can be beneficial. But giving up on personal growth entirely is a mistake.

It’s my belief — and I acknowledge I might be wrong — but it’s my belief that our primary purpose here on earth is to learn, grow, and improve ourselves. The opportunities for personal growth are endless. The benefits are undeniable. And the tools, materials, and information have never been more accessible to so many.

It won’t be easy. Worthwhile things rarely are. But that’s why we play the game. The satisfaction that comes with our eventual success, and our enjoyment of the benefits that follow, are what make our personal growth journeys worth traveling.

RJ Licata author headshot


I am a marketer, a writer, and a thinker. Sometimes I do all three at once. My greatest achievement is convincing my wife to marry me. We have three kids and yes, one of them is my favorite. I'm the author of "Lessons for Joey: 100 Things I Can't Wait to Teach My Son" and "Where Greatness Lives".

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