The simple G.R.O.W.T.H. formula

We are all interested in personal development, aren’t we? Well, it is about growth and progress, for without it, personal development would have no meaning. The journey to self-improvement isn’t always smooth. Tom complained to the leader of his personal development group, saying, “I have worked hard and long, and yet I haven’t improved. I am still an ordinary person rife with flaws.” The leader answered, “You have learned that you are ordinary and have flaws, and this is itself a worthy accomplishment. After all, all change must begin with an awareness of our weaknesses.”

After becoming aware of our shortcomings, we next need to sense the power that permeates the universe. Allow yourself to feel the force that encourages a sequoia seed, which is smaller than an oatmeal flake, to burst through the earth and soar 200 feet into the air. That incredible, creative life force surges through your veins as well as the sequoia tree. If you were aware of your innate power and the boundless opportunities that surround you, you would never experience doubt or fear again.

Even though your understanding of your personal power may be limited at this moment, you can still begin the journey of personal development by following this simple G.R.O.W.T.H. formula:

G.row wiser, gentler, kinder. Grow more understanding, accepting, encouraging, helpful, generous, and compassionate. Grow better by being better.

R.elease your power by doing what you should instead of what you feel like. You already know what to do. Yet you sometimes avoid doing it because you feel like doing something else. Whenever you don’t feel like doing what needs to be done, welcome it because it is an opportunity to develop self-discipline. Feel the discomfit, smile, and do what needs to be done.

O.pen your mind and heart. Open your eyes to your faults to overcome them and open your eyes to the strengths of others to appreciate them. You will grow in power to the degree that you get along with others. Honor everyone by being civil, thoughtful, considerate, and helpful.

W.elcome life into your heart, for it invites us to become adventurers. It invites us to stop whining and start shining, to stop being a victim and start being a victor. It invites us to journey on a quest to discover, uncover, and recover our potential. It invites us to become the hero in our life story by living courageously. It invites us to lead potent lives in which we make a difference by contributing and adding to it.

T.ransform what ordinary people call ‘problems’ into what winners recognize as challenges, opportunities, and solutions waiting to be discovered.

H.unger for perfection. Don’t become obsessed; don’t become a perfectionist. Rather, make it your policy to always do your best.

These six steps are simple enough to do. Yet, they will add value to everyday as well as sharpen your skills and understanding.

Two Dozen Additional Tips & Caveats

  1. Recognize that life is synonymous with growth and its absence equates with death. Choose life. Choose growth.
  1. Growing older is inevitable, but growing old is not. After all, age is a state of mind. To prove this, ask yourself this question, “If I woke up tomorrow with amnesia and didn’t know my age, how old would I be?” Wouldn’t you be as old or as young as you feel?
  1. To begin your journey of self-growth, see yourself as you want to be. Ask yourself:

What do I want?
Why do I want it?
What’s stopping me from getting it?
What will I do about it?
When will I begin?

Plan to grow in all areas of life — mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. 

  1. Unlock your ability to change by using the power of choice. What is it that you have to choose? To go forward toward growth instead of back toward safety, you have to choose courage instead of comfort. It is only by giving up the security of your comfort zone that you can gain the security of being a champion.
  1. Although it’s true that we find comfort among those who agree with us, it is from those who don’t that we will find growth. And every time we encourage rather than correct another, we grow a little bit greater. If you absolutely must make some positive criticism (perhaps to your child or student), follow the advice of Frank A. Clark, “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” Our goal should be to treat everyone courteously and befriend as many people as possible. Yet, as Plato cautioned, “People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.” So, choose your close friends carefully.
  1. Trees that grow in stormy areas make the best timber. What storms do to trees, challenges do to us — they make us stronger. So, the problem we face is not how to make life easier, but how to make ourselves stronger. Or, as M. Scott Peck wrote, “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally or spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems.” Our goal should be to constantly stretch ourselves beyond the point we have already mastered.
  1. Self-growth is also about always remaining fresh, for as singer Loretta Lynn said, “you’ve got to continue to grow or else you’re just like last night’s cornbread — stale and dry.”
  1. Most likely you already have many accomplishments, but we want to avoid living in the past and resting on our laurels. Rather, we ought to use our past successes to remind us what we are capable of and to inspire us to do more.
  1. We mustn’t mistake motion for growth. At times we may make ourselves appear busy when in fact we are engaged in frivolous or useless activity. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from time to time. After all, we don’t want to burn ourselves out. But we need to be honest with ourselves and balance work with play.
  1. Although it is often said that there is no growth without dissatisfaction that needn’t be the case. Often it is the opposite. That is, our gains can act as motivation to strive harder; we need not be discontent.
  1. The great reward of self-growth is not what we receive as much as it is what we become. In a word, growth in not what we have but what we are. It is not about what possessions we surround ourselves with, but about what qualities we surround others with.
  1. Those who pursue happiness, will find it eludes them. But if we focus on our family, the needs of others, our job, getting along with others, and doing the best we can, happiness will find us. Happiness is simply the natural consequence of doing the right thing.
  1. Self-growth is about making the right choices. Choosing a positive outlook, rather than a negative one, choosing to focus on what we have rather than what we lack, counting our blessings instead of searching for things to complain about, and welcoming the challenges that life so graciously presents us with. It is also about recognizing that although change is inevitable, growth is a choice we make.
  1. As you can imagine, your emotions have a great deal to do with how young or old you feel, for we don’t grow old by living, but by losing interest in living. Those who are filled with enthusiasm, passion, and excitement are filled with life. They are young at heart. So, the message is clear, if you don’t want to get old, get enthusiastic. What do you love doing? Is it dancing, hiking, or painting? Is it listening to, playing, or composing music? Is it sports, going to the theatre, or writing poetry? No matter, whatever it is, be sure to make time for doing what you love. Psychologists have shown that people can be happy if they spend at least 25% of their time doing what they love.
  1. As you grow older, and wiser, you will realize you can love what you do 100% of the time because love is a choice. That is, we have the capacity to love any job, any circumstance, or anyone. If you love learning, how can you not love any job, circumstance, or person? Don’t they all provide learning opportunities? As long as you remain curious and embrace challenges, life will not disappoint you, for you will receive plenty of problems, I mean, puzzles to unravel and solve each day. Problem solving will keep you busy and make life interesting, helping you to remain young.
  1. Our attitude, perspective, or mindset drives how we feel about our age. In other words, we can think and act as a young or old person regardless of our biological age. For example, when Lauren Bacall said, “I am not a has-been. I’m a will-be,” she exhibited the tenacity and vigor of youth, which brought her huge success. Who do you suppose will be more successful, a 70-year-old with the optimism of a 20-year-old or a 20-year-old with the pessimism and cynicism of a 70-year-old? I think you’ll agree that it’s not our biological age, but our mental or attitudinal age that counts. Or, as it was expressed by Marie Dressler, “It is not how old you are, but how you are old.”
  1. How we view old age determines how we feel about it. An 80-year-old, for example, may believe that he or she is not old, but experienced, wise, and knowledgeable; not aging, but saging. Such thoughts are more than empowering; they actually affect one’s wellbeing on a molecular level. Or, as Deepak Chopra said, “You can free yourself from aging by reinterpreting your body and by grasping the link between belief and biology.” The saying, “You are only as old as you believe you are,” has far more truth in it than the average person realizes because our beliefs actually alter our physiology. Thus, a group of 39-year-olds who believe they are old are indeed old, unless they change their belief.
  1. Lighten all pain, infirmities, and bumps in the road you may encounter with humor. Why not build your own joke book so you always have one or two to share with friends? Here are four quips to get you started: 
  • “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.” (Fred Astaire)
  • “Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.” (Daniel Francois Esprit Auber)
  • “I married an archaeologist because the older I grow, the more he appreciates me.” (Agatha Christie)
  • “Old age is when men keep turning off the lights for economical rather than romantic reasons.” (Unknown)
  1. French writer Andre Maurois had a good attitude, “Growing old is no more than a bad habit, which a busy man has no time to form.” Busy people and those planning for tomorrow have no time to grow old. George Burns concurs because he said, “Age to me means nothing. I can’t get old; I’m working. I was old when I was twenty-one and out of work. As long as you’re working, you stay young. When I’m in front of an audience, all that love and vitality sweeps over me and I forget my age.” George Burns worked in vaudeville for years, and at age 79 he resurrected his career, working until 100. Work and humor kept him young until the end.
  1. When American humorist Josh Billings said, “I have never known a person to live to be one hundred and be remarkable for anything else,” he was just joking. But it’s important to point out we can be remarkable at any age. I know of a Japanese man who visits homes for the elderly, comforting and entertaining 80-year-old seniors, but he himself is 100. It is comforting to realize that we can be of value for as long as we live, and contributing to the lives of others definitely keeps one young. Yes, we can matter at any age.
  1. We are influenced by the people we surround ourselves with, so, as much as possible, associate with positive, optimistic people. They will help you to maintain your positive (youthful) attitude, and should you slip, they will help you to raise it back up. Conversely, stay away from those who find new ideas painful. Their beliefs and opinions have ossified and they no longer have any room for growth. They are examples of what it really means to be old. Far better to meet with those who will challenge your thoughts and provide hours of stimulating discussion.
  1. A paradox of aging is that though our physical eyes may deteriorate, our inner vision grows clearer. The older we become, the clearer it is that all the faults we find others guilty of, we ourselves have committed. Thus, we grow more compassionate, understanding that youthful follies and middle-age foibles are just stages in life. As we age, our knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and power accumulate, considerably adding to our pleasure. We also awaken to what really matters, making us more focused. Don’t be misled into believing we are doomed to a life of steady decline, for as George Sand wrote, “It is quite wrong to think of old age as a downward slope. On the contrary, one climbs higher and higher with the advancing years, and that, too, with surprising strides.” It may seem trite to say, but with the right attitude, we can truly say, “The best is yet to come.”
  1. “Whenever you make a mistake or get knocked down by life, don’t look back at it too long. Mistakes are life’s way of teaching you. Your capacity for occasional blunders is inseparable from your capacity to reach your goals. No one wins them all, and your failures, when they happen, are just part of your growth. Shake off your blunders. How will you know your limits without an occasional failure? Never quit. Your turn will come.”Og Mandino
  1. “To get ahead, work ahead. To enjoy bigger rewards later, make an extra effort now. When you’ve already done what must be done, take the opportunity to do more. When you’re on a roll creating value, keep on rolling as long as you possibly can. Productive, meaningful effort adds real and lasting richness to your world. Never pass up an opportunity to engage in it. It can be tempting to sit back and rest on your past efforts and accomplishments. Keep in mind, though, that when you’re not moving forward you’re falling behind. Look at the work you do not as a burden or as a punishment. See it for the immensely valuable opportunity it is. With your work, with your efforts, you can create meaningful and substantial value. Embrace the work, build the value, and move straight ahead in the direction of your dreams.Ralph Marston

Case Study

Leo writes, “Chuck, I was reading a book last night that said, ‘In every old person is a young person wondering what happened.’ Soon, I’ll be 47 years old, which to me is like being two years older than God. As a quasi-atheist, when I look into the abyss, I become very angry. Yet, having a total and complete lack of insight, I am unsure why this feeling alights. Can you share your ideas on growing old?”

Did you ever see someone get upset over a misunderstanding? It happens all the time. Even if the perceived injustice is entirely imaginary, the anger one feels is real. But once one realizes that things were not as they were imagined to be, the anger subsides. You may feel like you don’t have much longer to live, and get angry because so much more remains to be done, but what are the facts?

In 35 years, you’ll be my age. You’ll be 35 years older, but not old (unless you allow your imagination to tell you that you are). One of the chief causes of human suffering is reverse vision. That is, we tend to focus outward when we should be focusing inward, and we tend to look inward when we should be looking outward. Or we may be thinking about the past, when we should be thinking about the future, and vice versa. It seems, we’re always facing the wrong direction.

Here’s what I mean. You see a 23-year-old man and think he’s half your age and has a long life ahead of him, so you envy him and are filled with sadness. Why are you miserable? Because you’re facing the wrong way. If you turn around and face the other way, you’ll see Gwen Beer, who wrote her first novel, a best-seller, at age 96 (as reported in the Toronto Star, December 6, 2004). Wow, and you’re only 47? Rejoice and allow yourself to become filled with excitement. Just think of all you have yet to accomplish and savor in life.

A friend just called to explain that he’s at his wits’ end because his basement apartment got flooded. He’s looking inward, at his own problems. No wonder he’s frustrated and angry. Yet, just a short time ago, the lives of millions were thrown into complete chaos because they were the victims of raging tidal waves that swept across their country. If my friend had looked outward at the problems facing the tsunami victims, he would be happy that his problems pale in comparison.

Can you see how changing the direction we face also changes our perspective? Being miserable is a state of mind, so move to a different state. It’s easy when you realize that you’re not growing old; you’re just living a long life. Personally, I never felt that I was growing old, but always believed I was growing wiser (not aging, but saging). Can’t you say the same for yourself? When you do, you will discover life is glorious, not odious.

You talk about being a quasi-atheist, but that’s like being quasi-pregnant. It’s not possible. One is either pregnant or not and an atheist or not. What you mean to say is you’re confused and in doubt. Many others share the same feelings. Especially those that were reared in religious environments and later grew disillusioned by the hypocrisy and untenable beliefs that were foisted on them. Such people find the word “God” conjures up bad memories. But don’t confuse God with bad memories. Don’t get hung up on a word. Change the word to something more meaningful, such as Creator, Intelligence, Life or anything else you feel comfortable with.

Again, it’s a matter of facing and looking in the right direction. Instead of looking back at bad memories, take a walk in the park and look at what surrounds you in the present. A log cabin never was nor ever will be created by chance. But once intelligence (man) enters the picture, it’s a simple matter to create one. As you look around the park and see butterflies, beetles, and frogs – all of which are infinitely more complex than a log cabin – isn’t it obvious that Intelligence is at work? If you allow yourself to soak in the wonders of nature you will find belief in something greater than ourselves self-evident. Just because you don’t have all the answers doesn’t mean you can’t believe in the obvious; mainly, Intelligence brought us into existence.

Not only is our world filled with creatures, but they are all cared for. Nature provides for their needs. Nature cares about its members. It cares about you. It has granted you the resources you need to thrive. As you are confused about life and your role in it, you naturally feel vulnerable. But vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It signals that you are facing your fears. What a wonderful position to be in! For at no other time is life so exciting, joyful, and bursting with energy than when we live it with courage. So, take heart. Don’t be afraid, for you are not facing a tsunami that will sweep you away, but a rising tide that will lift you to new heights, if you allow it to.

I already mentioned a major cause of suffering is reverse vision. Another is denial. And by that I don’t mean a river in Egypt (the Nile), but I’m referring to our tendency to blame others and circumstances for our unhappiness. Although growing older is unavoidable, growing up isn’t. But growing up, that is, accepting responsibility is necessary before we can lead fulfilling lives. When we accept responsibility for how we respond to the events in our lives, we gain control; we become masters of our fate.

There is a fine line between acting irresponsibly and responsibly. It is the difference between saying “I feel miserable,” and “I refuse to feel miserable.” There is a subtle but big difference between the two. For when you say, “I refuse to feel miserable,” you are implying you have a choice, which is true. Responsibility, then, is all about making the right choices. It’s about deciding to have the right thoughts.

For example, when responsible people begin to feel blue, their train of thought may be as follows, “Since I don’t want to feel miserable, what am I going to do about it? Complaining, getting upset, or drowning in self-pity doesn’t help, so what positive steps can I can take?” This line of reasoning is rational and solution oriented. Merely looking for solutions leads to their discovery.

Part of making responsible choices is choosing hope over despair and faith in yourself and the world over self-doubt and cynicism. Armed with these tools, we will be able to whittle down mountain-sized problems to the size of molehills. We will also have the courage to leap into the unknown. After all, the abyss you wrote about is frightening only if we don’t have faith in a Loving Presence that will catch us before we splat into the bottom of the chasm.

How would you feel if your favorite composer, vocal artist, or comedian refused to perform? I know how I would feel. I would feel cheated because the world needs them. We need the pleasure of laughter and the joy of music. And, you know, Leo, the world is counting on you to do your part. Regardless of how you feel, the world is depending on you to spread joy to those you meet. Once you accept this challenge, a funny thing happens, all the joy you give away is multiplied many times over and returned to you. I guess what I am trying to say is the best way to end your suffering is to end the suffering of others.

References

BOOKS

Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide by Michael Kinsley

Old Age: Journey Into Simplicity by Helen Luke

The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life by Marc E. Agronin

Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives By Daniel J. Levitin

Lifespan: Why We Age―and Why We Don’t Have To By David A. Sinclair PhD and Matthew D. LaPlante

Aging Backwards: 10 Years Younger and 10 Years Lighter in 30 Minutes a Day By Miranda Esmonde-White

VIDEOS

Nir Barzilai: How to die young at a very old age

Charles Eugster: Why bodybuilding at age 93 is a great idea

The Art of Aging Well