Buddha once said, “Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand men, is he who would conquer just one – himself.”
It sounds easy enough, right? Instead of trying to compete with others, you’ve just got to turn your attention toward yourself.
In what ways are you lacking? Who is the ideal version of you? And how do you become that person?
These questions propel you on your journey of self-discovery, helping you grow.
But even personal growth isn’t without obstacles. No, scratch that. Personal growth especially is all about obstacles. No matter how many mountains you climb, there’s always another on the horizon.
Here are the 7 things spiritual seekers get wrong about personal growth – and what you can do instead.
1) Growth doesn’t make you “better” than others
As Chögyam Trungpa so pointedly said, “Ego is able to convert anything to its own use, even spirituality.”
Personal development is all about becoming the best version of yourself. The one that’s kind, wise, and gentle. The one that moves through life with a sense of calm, unshaken by whatever comes their way.
Unfortunately, getting a glimpse of spiritual or psychological truth can easily lead you off track, making you think you’re more “enlightened” than others.
You might learn the value of kindness, for instance, only to judge others for their lack of it. Before you know it, you’ve become that TikTok sound: “Am I…better than everyone?”
Ego loves to fool us into thinking we’re no longer attached to it, whilst all we’re doing is helping it grow.
Don’t let it confuse you. As long as you’re judgmental, you have not arrived. But of course, that sentence – “you have not arrived” – is a source of yet another problem.
2) Personal growth is a journey, not a goal
When I was a teenager, I loved to imagine who I’d be in my twenties.
In my daydreams, I lived in a clean world where the sunshine kissed my face just so; I didn’t let anything disturb my peace of mind; I was accomplished and 100% confident, not to mention I wore amazing outfits.
Well, I’m 24 now, and it’s safe to say I’m far from perfect, no matter how much my younger self clung to that fantasy.
The point I’m trying to make is that you’ll never get there. Like, ever. There will always be another hurdle, and you will always take one step forward and two steps back.
But guess what? That’s amazing!
Personal growth isn’t supposed to be linear and easy. It’s supposed to be hard.
If it weren’t difficult, we’d all be walking around in monks’ clothes, quietly congratulating each other on being such wonderful people.
And that’s a world we… uh, definitely don’t live in. But it’s good to aspire to it!
Personal growth isn’t about perfecting yourself day by day. It’s about never giving up on yourself.
So give yourself some grace.
3) There is no score of “good” and “bad”
While karma might definitely be a thing, it’s really not as simple as “good deeds lead to good results” and “bad deeds lead to misery”.
I have this weird habit of thinking that if I do a bit more, if I work just a little bit harder, the universe will see it and grant me all the opportunities I’ve been dreaming of.
Oh, how wrong I am. This attitude is really not so different from the Middle Ages belief that “buying” indulgences from the Church would absolve you of your sins so that you wouldn’t go to hell.
If I do something good, I’ll be rewarded. If I do something bad, I’ll be punished.
Life doesn’t work that way. Your actions don’t function on a transaction basis. There is no invisible score like in The Good Place.
What’s so very wrong about this approach is that you’re not doing things with the right intentions in mind. You’re looking to be rewarded. Your actions are a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.
That’s not real growth. No, everything you do must come from within, and it is in the full experience of your actions that you find peace.
To quote The Bhagavad Gita:
“The peace of God is with them whose mind and soul are in harmony, who are free from desire and wrath, who know their own soul.”
4) Looking for solutions outside of yourself won’t help you
Just as I ask the universe to reward me if I’m hard-working enough (a habit I know I must shake), asking the universe to just… give you stuff is futile, too.
This and that guru will say that if you complete this and that course, you’ll become enlightened. This and that religious advice will tell you to pray and ask to receive what you wish for.
But happiness won’t just fall in your lap if you ask nicely enough. No, you must do the work yourself, every step of the way. You are the only person who can give you everything you want, everything you dream of.
A higher power is a collaborator, not a sole creator. Be open to it, receive what it offers, fill yourself with gratitude, and keep working on yourself.
Take responsibility for your life. Pull your weight. That’s the only way you can truly grow.
5) Manifestation doesn’t operate in specifics
Manifestation is one of the best ways to collaborate with a higher power. Through visualization, positive affirmations, and believing in myself, I’ve made my wildest dreams come true time and again.
But manifestation isn’t magic. If you manifest becoming a millionaire tomorrow morning, you’ll probably wake up to the same 200 dollars sitting in your bank account as the day before.
At its core, manifestation is a scientific concept.
The neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart writes in The Source, “Manifestation and magnetic desire are useful for raising your awareness of what you want and focusing your attention on it, guiding your actions to make it happen.”
In other words, manifestation only works if you take concrete steps in the real world to reach your goals. It works as a motivating agent, opening your brain to opportunities you might have missed before.
Of course, this means that you can’t magic up every specific thing you dream of. You might be manifesting a life as a fiction writer on the Australian coast, only to end up running a successful blog in Thailand.
The specifics don’t matter because your wants change over time. When manifesting, always focus on the general direction in which you’re going.
6) It really isn’t that complicated
So, specifics go out the window. Got it.
But this point boils down to a much broader truth, that being the fact that personal growth really isn’t that complex. People tend to look for top secrets, complicated nuances, or unique shortcuts, but true growth is always one and the same.
Incorporate more mindfulness into your life. Meditate. Go into nature. Exercise. Journal. Read. These are things you see repeated online over and over again, begging the question, “Is there really nothing else?!”
Nope, there’s no magic wand. No super secret recipe. Self-growth is about returning to the basics, keeping up healthy habits, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, slipping up, and picking it all up again.
Rinse and repeat.
7) You can’t hate yourself into a better place
Every time I’m too harsh on myself, complaining that I haven’t meditated in two months and I hate how slow my progress is, my partner looks me in the eye and says, “You can’t hate yourself into a better place.”
It grounds me. Calms me down. Reminds me of what personal growth is truly about – grace, wisdom, and love.
Self-development will inevitably bring up things that aren’t pretty. You might have to confront your deepest shadows, your fears, and all the ugly things that make you want to hide in a secluded cave for all of eternity.
But you don’t grow through hating those things. You grow through love. So give yourself the love you need. Say the words you need to hear. Hug yourself.
Become your best friend.
And when in doubt, maybe this short video by School of Life will help you as much as it always helps me.