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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

5 Ways To Build Capacity For Continuous Personal Growth

5 Ways To Build Capacity For Continuous Personal Growth

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You read a new book, start a new course, or set a New Year’s resolution. You get excited and motivated to grow, sure that your new lifestyle will stick this time.

And then a few weeks later, you lose your steam. You just can’t generate the same level of excitement you started with.

The truth is, the people who experience radical growth over their lives are not the ones who hyper-charge their motivation when they start something new. They are the ones who gradually build their capacity for continuous personal growth so they can iteratively get 1% better.

Kaizen is a Japanese term often used in business, meaning continuous change for the better – an ongoing endeavor for incremental improvement. This concept can be applied to the mind just as easily.

There are a number of techniques for increasing your capacity to grow throughout your life, and these are some of the most worthwhile investments you can make.

1. Design Your Environment

One thing you can do now that will keep working for you continuously (no willpower required) is to alter your environment.

Look around at how your living space is arranged. What behaviors does it promote and what does it neglect or discourage? Would you say the physical space you spend your time in is representative of the person you would like to be? Your digital environments shape you as well.

The websites you visit regularly, the podcasts you subscribe to, and the apps you keep on your phone will shape you. If you want to be less distracted, disable the notifications and unsubscribe from the email newsletters that you don’t feel push you in the direction of your ideals, and consider subscribing to those that do.

Another crucial way to design yourself through your environment is by surrounding yourself with people who have priorities, traits, or practices you would like to cultivate in yourself.

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Statistically, the more overweight people in your social circles, the more likely you are to become overweight.[1] So if you want to become more fit, you’ll be swimming against the current if you haven’t embedded yourself in active environments or built connections with people who prioritize fitness.

The character traits of the people around you will rub off on you as well, so people who are honest, narcissistic, altruistic, or manipulative will gradually shape you in the direction of those traits. So the act of designing your environment is literally the act of designing yourself.

2. Study Your Biases

If you are like most people, you look around and see others who are confused, dogmatic, and irrational. You, on the other hand, have mostly found the correct beliefs and learned to think clearly. If everyone else would just listen to you, the world would be a much better place.

But the truth is that we are all deeply biased and have blind spots that prevent us from seeing our own thinking errors.

The tricky thing about cognitive biases is that one little distortion in your thinking won’t just cause you to make a single mistake. It will continue to cause mistakes for the rest of your life – unless you can find it and program it out.

If you want to overcome self-limiting biases, the first and most obvious step is to familiarize yourself with the most common biases found across the human race. Here are some examples:

Confirmation bias is responsible for the fact that we tend to look only for information that confirms our existing theories, beliefs, and worldview at the expense of those that conflict with them.

The bandwagon effect refers to our tendency to come to conclusions and make decisions based on what is popular, though we often find ways to rationalize these decisions to ourselves.

The fundamental attribution error causes us to attribute our own positive behaviors and successes to our individual character while blaming our negative behaviors and failures, and the successes of others, on luck and circumstance.

These are just a few examples of biases – you can find a more exhaustive list here, and a nice diagram here. Biases can be stubborn, but if you can learn to identify and remove a particular bias, the quality of your decisions will be improved throughout your life.

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3. Practice Asceticism

Over the course of our lives, we develop dependencies that could be compared to addictions. We start to need a glass of wine to relax after work, need our Tempur-Pedic bed to get to sleep, or need a six-figure income to be content in our lives.

You will not have time for continuous personal growth if your life is dominated by trying to satisfy your elaborate requirements.

Weird as it may seem, we often learn about ourselves by observing our own behaviors, so if all of our behaviors suggest to us that money, for example, is the highest good, we very well may start to believe it.

To counter the effect of acquired dependencies, we can use the practice of asceticism, or voluntary discomfort, to intentionally deprive ourselves of some desired and attainable object.

The practice has been used by some to serve as self-punishment, which has led some to quickly write it off. But the useful purpose of asceticism is to decrease our ongoing desires and bring contentment into closer reach.

Simply choose something on which you feel you are overly reliant, and intentionally limit or sacrifice that desire. If you find yourself unable to endure basic economy flights, enjoy camping trips, or are unhappy whenever the thermostat is not set to the perfect temperature, you have become overly-reliant on comfort. Counter this dependency by sleeping on the floor for a night or walking barefoot on a gravel road.

If it is pleasure you crave, you can temporarily deprive yourself of food (fasting), sex, or a drug to down-regulate the desire. Minor acts of social sacrifice, such as neglecting an opportunity to signal something positive about yourself, can decrease your desire for status, approval, and validation. And giving away all but the most necessary possessions in the spirit of minimalism can down-regulate the innate desire to accumulate and horde.

Would anyone who thought pleasure was the ultimate good deliberately put herself in an uncomfortable position? Would anyone who thought social status were the highest good neglect his social media accounts? Would anyone who thought money were the highest good turn down, or even give away, a large sum of money? You teach yourself what is important to you through your behaviors, so behave wisely.

For every type of perpetual desire you are able to remove, you remove complication from your life. If you can snip out these burdensome lifestyle addictions, you can make room in your life for growth.

4. Design Your Consequences

Every time you take an action, there is a consequence that gives your brain some kind of reward or punishment.

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It may seem strange to suggest we can “design” the consequences of our actions, but there are many ways to ensure that the right behaviors are reinforced and the wrong ones are discouraged. And putting these consequences in place will take away the need to be motivated all the time to achieve your goals.

You can leverage your desire for money by making the commitment to give money to your friend every day you fail to practice an instrument you want to learn. Simply make a deposit to a trusted friend that you can only get back if you meet your specific behavioral goal. This way, the consequence for slacking off will be a financial loss, making it harder to justify.

By publicly announcing the behavioral changes you intend to make, you can use your social drives to raise the stakes of failure. By getting a personal trainer or workout partner, you can add accountability to your habits and make it so that failing to go to the gym may cause you to face the judgment of others.

As I write this, I’m using an online tool called Focusmate which calls itself a virtual coworking tool. It sets up roughly hour long video sessions between strangers trying to accomplish their own goals, and asks each person to work silently, only sharing their goal at the beginning and how well they did at the end. It’s a surprisingly powerful productivity tool, and it works because it stacks consequences of social approval or disapproval onto our personal goals.

A method known as temptation bundling allows us to stack enjoyable activities onto our defined goals. Whether you love fantasy football, bubble baths, or dressing up like a pirate, you can structure your plans so you only allow yourself to do these things after completing a particular disciplined activity. This will slowly cause you to associate the positive behavior with the indulgence until you begin to crave the positive activity itself.[2]

One of the most interesting ways to take advantage of your reward system is by creating a token economy. Create some kind of token, be it a poker chip, a paper clip, or a check mark in your notebook. Assign a particular value to the token, and give yourself one immediately every time you perform a predetermined action. You can say that a token equals a coffee, a concert, or one episode of your favorite streaming show. Over time, the token will become so closely associated with the reward that it will serve as a powerful reward itself.[3]

Make it so the path to growth is also the path of least resistance, and you will never burn out on your goals again.

5. Log Your Thoughts and Emotions

Bad emotional habits are just like biases – they will be continually triggered throughout your life if you don’t find ways to program them out. According to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the most effective therapeutic method ever devised, negative emotions are caused by automatic and distorted thoughts. So if we can notice and correct our flawed thinking, we can remove problematic emotions.

One of the most effective methods for removing these bad emotional patterns is to keep a log in the form of a notepad or a smartphone app. Try to take a note of every unwanted emotion you notice – anything from minor annoyance to severe anxiety. Every time you log an emotion, take a note of the situation which triggered it, and if possible, the chain of thoughts which came immediately before it.

The simple act of keeping a log should cause you to notice many more of these emotions and patterns than you normally would. You will find that certain lines of reasoning dominate your emotional experience. You may find that a certain kind of mistaken reasoning is responsible for a huge percentage of your daily struggles.

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Once you find a potentially distorted belief at the root of your emotions, you can investigate how accurate it really is. Positive psychology researcher Courtney Ackerman offers some basic questions to ask:[4]

Is this thought realistic?

Am I basing my thoughts on facts or on feelings?

What is the evidence for this thought?

Could I be misinterpreting the evidence?

Am I viewing the situation as black and white, when it’s really more complicated?

Am I having this thought out of habit, or do facts support it?

If you can correct the mistaken reasoning, you can permanently reprogram the undesired emotion.

By learning to quickly recognize and refute your emotional distortions, you can build the habit of short-circuiting this tendency automatically, programming it out for good. Then you are free to focus your efforts on setting new goals and taking action.

More Tips on Personal Growth

Featured photo credit: Nana Kim via unsplash.com

Reference

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Ryan A Bush

Creator of Designing the Mind and the world's leading expert on psychitecture

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Published on May 11, 2021

20 Best Books on Personal Development

20 Best Books on Personal Development

Let’s face it—transformation isn’t always easy. Getting from where you are to where you want to be in life requires a lot of personal growth and development. It can require everything from letting go of old beliefs to speaking up for yourself and setting boundaries to even recognizing your own unmet needs. These aren’t exactly skills we’re taught in school, so it can be incredibly overwhelming to even know where to start.

A few decades ago, most personal development information was locked behind thousand-dollar seminars and coaching programs. Fortunately, the industry has absolutely exploded in the last decade, and a large part of that is driven by books. For under $15 or with a library card, we now have access to priceless wisdom from some of the most brilliant minds and best books on personal development.

By reading the words of experts in the field, we literally can think their thoughts and benefit from decades of experience to improve our own lives. So, how do you get started?

Here are the 20 best books on personal development that can completely transform your life.

(Links are listed for accessibility, but remember to check your local library to see if these books are available for free. And don’t forget to support your local bookstore, if possible.)

1. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

    Celebrated by everyone from Martin Scorsese to Elizabeth Gilbert, The Artist’s Way has been one of the most important books for artists and non-artists alike for decades. It guides you through a 12-week process of morning journaling and self-dates to unlock all of your blocks to creativity and intuition and live a life that feels like you.

    Whether you are an artist or not, this is an insightful book that will bring so much clarity to what you really want out of life and why you’ve been holding yourself back.

    Get the book here!

    2. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

      Researcher and storyteller Brené Brown has been a leader in studying vulnerability. In The Gifts of Imperfection, she shares research and encouragement that helps you release the definition of who you think you’re supposed to be to become who you actually already are.

      Brené encourages you to let go of shame, open up to vulnerability, and live a more authentic life. This is an inspiring and important book for anyone struggling with the shame of being radically yourself.

      Get the book here!

      3. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

        In Start with Why, author and TED speaker Simon Sinek shares the secret that united Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers—they all started with “why.” They realized that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the “why” behind it.

        While this book is primarily focused on work or business, Start with Why makes a compelling case for the power behind a strong motivation that people can get behind and how it can inspire more innovation and support.

        Get the book here!

        4. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

          For decades, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has famously studied the concept of “flow”—the highly-focused psychological state that Olympic athletes, great artists, and brilliant scientists all find themselves in at moments of groundbreaking success.

          By breaking down decades of research into bite-sized actions, Flow reveals the process to create this state for yourself and get “in the zone” to achieve your optimal potential.

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          Get the book here!

          5. The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath’s Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart’s Intelligence by Doc Lew Childre and Howard Martin

            Touted by Deepak Chopra as the book that “saves you years of therapy,” The HeartMath Solution pulls together decades of Institute of HeartMath research on how to be less stressed and make better decisions, making it one of the best books on personal development.

            This practical, easy read will change the way you view the relationship between your head and heart. The techniques in the book are incredibly simple and can help you calm down from some of the stressful moments in a matter of seconds to tap back into your best decision-making.

            Get the book here!

            6. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller

              If you’re overwhelmed by too many things to do and never seem to accomplish the stuff that really matters to you, then this is an invaluable book. The ONE Thing argues that until your most important task is completed, everything else is a distraction that diffuses your energy and makes you frantic.

              This book helps you focus on what you really care about and want to accomplish and then, organize your life around accomplishing the “one thing” before moving on to something else. This is one of the best books for personal development, especially for anyone who’s struggling with overwhelm and productivity.

              Get the book here!

              7. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie

                Codependent No More has been an international bestseller for more than 30 years, and the reason is that we all struggle with codependency somewhere in our lives.

                Whether it looks like addiction, people-pleasing, taking care of everyone around you, or just not giving yourself enough self-care, this book unpacks the roots of codependency and helps you break free once-and-for-all.

                This is an important book for anyone having challenges in friendships or relationships or struggling with people-pleasing or addiction.

                Get the book here!

                8. The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

                  Presenting ancient Stoic wisdom to a modern audience, The Obstacle Is the Way shows you how to turn your obstacles and challenges into massive opportunities.

                  Ryan Holiday draws from the same ancient philosophy that empowered John D. Rockefeller, Amelia Earhart, and Steve Jobs to succeed and breaks down the essential formula for not running away from obstacles but actually running toward them.

                  This is a really empowering book for anyone struggling with obstacles to get what they want.

                  Get the book here!

                  9. Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement by Ayodeji Awosika

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                    Real Help isn’t your usual self-help book. Wildly popular Medium writer Ayodeji Awosika takes a no-BS, tough-love approach to developing mental toughness, finding clarity, and taking action to transform your life.

                    This is a great book if you’ve read dozens of self-help or personal development books but haven’t taken action to change your life. Real Help gets right to the point and gives you actionable steps to start implementing change right away.

                    Get the book here!

                    10. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

                      Year of Yes is a deeply personal and honest account of how the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal Shonda Rhimes started saying yes to everything that scared her.

                      This inspiring and raw memoir makes you reflect on what you’ve been avoiding or making excuses for out of fear and what would really happen if you started saying yes to all the stuff that terrifies you. It’s a relatable, casual, easy read, and is great for anyone who needs a little inspiration to start saying yes to life.

                      Get the book here!

                      11. The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks

                        Psychologist Gay Hendricks unpacks why we all seem to self-sabotage when we’re so close to success and what it will take to leap to a life where you’re in your “Zone of Genius.”

                        In this highly motivating book on personal development, you’ll walk step by step on how to “go beyond your internal limits, release outdated fears, and learn a whole new set of powerful skills and habits to liberate your authentic greatness.”

                        Get the book here!

                        12. Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior (5.2.1985) by David R. Hawkins

                          Hailed by Mother Teresa, Lee Iacocca, and Sam Walton, Power vs. Force combines spirituality and cutting-edge research to help you understand your emotions and level of consciousness.

                          In this seminal work, David Hawkins explains how to get a yes or no answer to any question you ask and how to understand what you’re feeling and why so that you can begin to change your life and the world around you.

                          While it’s not exactly a light beach read, this book is really eye-opening for those wanting to explore spirituality as part of their personal development.

                          Get the book here!

                          13. What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey

                            Personal development as we know it would not be the same without Oprah Winfrey. For 14 years, Oprah shared her greatest wisdom in a monthly column for O, The Oprah Magazine called “What I Know for Sure.” This book collects all of those essays—a lifetime of Oprah’s greatest experiences and lessons—into a comprehensive work.

                            What I Know for Sure is honest, thoughtful, and deeply inspiring. This is a powerful book for devout Oprah Winfrey fans and soon-to-be fans alike.

                            Get the book here!

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                            14. Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

                              In this memoir, Navy SEAL David Goggins recounts his own life story from poverty, prejudice, and physical abuse to becoming one of the world’s top endurance athletes and military icon through pure will.

                              Can’t Hurt Me will inspire you to stretch and persevere to defy even the most improbably odds and realize that when you think you’re completely tapped out, you’ve only tapped into 40% of your capabilities—and there’s still so much more you can do.

                              It’s an inspiring, tough love book that will motivate you to take action toward your dreams.

                              Get the book here!

                              15. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

                                In The Happiness Project, writer Gretchen Rubin documents her entire year of testing out research, classical philosophy, and common wisdom to find out what makes her truly happy.

                                This casual and accessibly written book inspires you to design your own happiness project to transform each area of your life as you follow Gretchen’s journey and contemplate research on happiness.

                                If you’re looking for an inspiring structure to change every aspect of your life, The Happiness Project is an easy read that can inspire you to experiment with what makes you happy.

                                Get the book here!

                                16. Unlimited Power: The New Science Of Personal Achievement by Tony Robbins

                                  The name Tony Robbins has been synonymous with personal development. In Unlimited Power, he reveals the exact techniques he has used to help Olympic athletes, movie stars, and heads of state to harness their own untapped power.

                                  This book breaks down complicated neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) techniques into simple visualizations that anyone can learn in literally minutes to start to change the way your mind processes information. If you’re looking to change your thinking or step into more confidence, this is an important book to not overlook.

                                  Get the book here!

                                  17. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor

                                    In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor flips conventional wisdom on its head. It’s not that we’ll be happy when we’re successful. It’s that we’ll actually be successful when we’re happy.

                                    Shawn presents research that shows us how to rewire our brains for positivity and optimism to be happier in our lives, our careers, and even our health. He also breaks down actionable strategies to retrain our brains, build a solid support network, and spread positive change to the people around us.

                                    If you’re looking to retrain your brain for happiness and success, this is definitely a worthwhile book to consider.

                                    Get the book here!

                                    18. Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core by Bruce D. Schneider

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                                      Renowned coach Bruce D. Schneider doesn’t just tell you what energy leadership is—he shows you. In Energy Leadership, Bruce recounts the story of how he helped a client to transform his failing business by systematically changing the energy of the business.

                                      At each new level, there are specific emotions, actions, and predictable arguments. By the end of the book, you’ll be able to identify exactly which level of energy leadership every relationship, job, and friendship in your life is at and how to begin transforming it for the better.

                                      It’s an eye-opening look at why we’re stuck where we are and how we can shift ourselves and those around us to get extraordinary results.

                                      Get the book here!

                                      19. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

                                        Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert digs into her own creative process in Big Magic to unpack the mysterious and spiritual nature of inspiration. She discusses the habits needed to cultivate creativity, go after our deepest desires, and confront our fears.

                                        With a casual, poetic tone and lots of encouragement, Big Magic inspires you to find the magic inside—whether that’s to create art, start a new business, or bring more mindfulness and passion to our everyday lives.

                                        If you’re looking for more inspiration and creativity, this is an important book to reignite that fire within.

                                        Get the book here!

                                        20. Enough Already: Create Success on Your Own Terms by Mike Iamele

                                          I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my own book on this list.

                                          Enough Already is a battle cry for the success seekers who are fed up trying to achieve someone else’s definition of success. Broken up into 12 steps, the book follows a journey through the 12 aspects of creating success on your own terms with homework and challenges at the end of each chapter to implement the work into your life immediately.

                                          By the end of the book, you’ll have a completed strategic plan to step up into the world and go after even some of your biggest dreams knowing that you are enough already.

                                          Get the book here!

                                          The Bottom Line

                                          You only need one good idea to change your life, and there’s so much important wisdom and inspiration in the 20 best books on personal development listed above. You don’t have to read all of them. You just have to start.

                                          Personal development is about taking action to develop yourself personally. So, scan this list, find a book that resonates with you, and then start reading.

                                          You don’t need to measure the magnitude—just the direction. If you take one tiny step toward the life you want, every day for a year, you’ll be 365 times closer to your dreams a year from today. But you just have to start.

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                                          Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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