Photo credit: Jesper Sachmann (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

To many of us the terms “self-help” and “personal growth”  are interchangeable. But while they may give the external appearance of having twin meanings, in the external perception they are more akin to those tiny figures that we would see perched on the shoulders of a character on television. If you can, visualize the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other and you’ll get my meaning.

One is a near obsession with fixing some innate flaws, either real or imagined, which are a blemish on our existence. We just know that if we could fix ourselves, life would be pure bliss. Or would it?

The other is based on the belief that we are fine the way we are, though not perfect, we are good enough already. But that we are a work in progress and there is a desire to expand in some way, through gaining knowledge, through improving our skill or through cultivating healthier or more positive behaviors.

Though I may be splitting hairs over textbook definitions, the true difference is in how the perception of the journey affects both our attitude and our actions. We resist change when we feel bad about ourselves; condemned, criticized and judged (usually we are the ones offering up our own judgment.) We embrace change when it elicits happy feelings of fulfillment and accomplishment.

A few examples to illustrate my theory…

Weight/Health issue

Self-Help Perspective: I can’t fit into my jeans. I need to lose 20…30…50 pounds, then I’ll be happier. What is wrong with me? I’ve tried so many diets. I just need to exercise more. Ugh

Personal Growth Perspective: I want to be healthy and have more energy to allow me to live the life I love. This is the only body I have and I choose to nurture it by making healthier food choices and moving to keep my heart and muscles strong and fit.

Organization issue

Self-Help Perspective: I have got to get it together. My house (car, office) is always a mess. I can’t find anything. I never seem to get anything done. I just need to find the right system. Or maybe I could hire someone to come in and clean it all up.

Personal Growth Perspective: I set my priorities. I won’t accumulate things I don’t need. I’ll ask for help from someone who can offer effective strategies on how to better manage my life, my home or my work. I acknowledge that external disorganization is a symptom of lack of internal focus. I need to be clear about what I want.

Money issue

Self-Help Perspective: I need a better “get out of debt” plan. But the book said if I just followed the guidelines, I could be a millionaire…I need a job that pays more money.

Personal Growth Perspective: I work toward my debt and savings goals consistently. I understand that it can be a slow process. I treat money with respect and gratitude. I am grateful to have a job. I invest in myself and my career by improving my marketable skills.

You get the idea. Though this may be an exaggeration to illustrate a point, I think the difference in perception and attitude is readily apparent. And while the actions taken may actually be the same, the results will differ greatly, because the intention is different.

We instinctively push back against the idea that we are lacking and “should” fix ourselves. We are drawn to the idea that we are wonderful and getting better all the time.

Which way of thinking sounds more enticing to you? Which strategy do you think has better long term results? Which perception do you think contributes more to your happiness in life?

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