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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

5 Ways To Build Capacity For Continuous Personal Growth

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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

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Reference

More by this author

Ryan A Bush

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

5 Ways To Build Capacity For Continuous Personal Growth

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Last Updated on August 11, 2021

10 Best Self-Improvement Classes in 2021

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10 Best Self-Improvement Classes in 2021

Even during the midst of a pandemic, self-improvement is still a crucial aspect to our lives today. There are tonnes of articles that you could be reading from our site or from others. However, the articles aren’t able to provide the depth and the growth you need when compared to courses or programs.

So if you are looking to step up your own self-improvement and invest in yourself and the life you want to lead, here are some of the best self-improvement classes to consider.

But before getting to that, here is the criteria that we use to determine these courses. All of these qualities have been present in the best self-improvement classes we could find:

  • Little commitment – All these courses can be done in the comfort of your own home and at your own pace as well. Most of these courses recommend spending a few hours each week on their material.
  • Prestigious – These courses are done by recognizable institutes with good reputation on their education quality.
  • Leverage on skillset – Each of the courses focuses on one area of your life, however it also helps develop other areas of your life at the same time.

1. Lifehack Mastercourses & Free Classes

Lifehack isn’t just a blog but rather a hub with all kinds of resources at people’s disposal. You may already be familiar with our particular workbooks, but we also provide courses of our own.

Firstly, there’s a free course that will guide you to break your procrastination loop and start taking action to get what you want. Ending procrastination is essential to multiplying your time, energy, and the overall quality of your life. Here you can learn more about the free class:

Our second set of courses are the courses where we help you break free of your limitations to become the best version of yourself. These courses aren’t free, but each course goes into extensive detail on everything from motivation, overcoming challenges and staying focused to improving your overall learning capabilities, controlling your emotions and mindset:

2. The Science Of Well-Being

Yale University has been around for over 300 years at this point and one of the most popular classes in that time span is this one: The Science of Well-Being. After all this time, Yale is providing this course to everyone for free.

In this class, Yale Psychology Professor Laurie Santos introduced this class as “Psychology and the Good Life” in spring 2018. The class was designed to help students in navigating anxiety, depression, and stress in their lives. The class at the time was so popular that roughly a quarter of Yale undergraduates enrolled in it that spring.

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Going into more detail about this course, this 4-week course is designed to provide a step-by-step process for boosting happiness. The course heavily focuses on positive psychology – what misconceptions we have about happiness and what has been scientifically proven to make us happier.

Enrol in the course here.

3. Learning How To Learn

Another notable course to consider is the Learning How to Learn course. On the platform Coursera, it is one of the most popular and loved courses on the platform with nearly 2 million students enrolled since it’s been there. It’s taught by the distinguished professors Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski.

The premise of the course is what you’d expect, the goal of this course to teach you to learn more. It’ll ultimately lead to you training your brain to effectively process information and learn complicated subjects even. All of this is done through various tools and methods – from stories to goofy animations like surfing zombies, metabolic vampires and an “octopus of attention”.

Enrol in the course here.

4. Mindshift

Another course developed by Dr. Barabara Oakley is this course: Mindshift. If you’re planning to take the course Learning How To Learn, this one builds off of that popular course. Overall, it’s meant to help learners boost their career and life by shifting their mindset to a learning one.

Dr. Oakley firmly believes that any person can train themselves to learn at any stage in life. She believes that from personal experiences but also how this course is designed. Through this course, you learn how to be seeking out mentors to learn from, how to avoid common learning pitfalls, career ruts, and the general ruts in life.

By the end of this 4-week program, you’ll have access to new tools and strategies to face any career challenge and seek better methods to surmount new learning curves.

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Enrol in the course here.

5. De-Mystifying Mindfulness

Mindfulness is something that we’ve all been trying to obtain in recent years and people are noticing it. Whether we strive for this for therapy, lifestyle choice, or for other technology, many of us consider this a pastime we do in solitude at this point.

But despite the number of us practicing mindfulness, not many of us fully grasp it. De-Mystifying Mindfulness is a course designed to help people get up to speed with it through various methods. This course gathers information from various disciplines in science, social sciences and humanities to help unlock and understand mindfulness in its various forms.

This is a truly unique course as it’s rooted in experiential learning mixed with evidence base of what mindfulness can do to people. And a conceptual base of what mindfulness might actually be.

Enrol in the course here.

6. Achieving Personal And Professional Success Specialization

The best way to explain what Achieving Personal And Professional Success Specialization is. is that it’s four of the most popular courses taught by Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania wrapped into one Specialization. Through these four courses, you’ll be able to maximize your potential and be more successful in both personal and professional life. You’ll learn various techniques and exercises that this school teaches.

Going into more detail the four courses consist of these four:

  • Success – learn about defining goals, understand how goals connect to long-term images of yourself.
  • Communication skills – tools to improve communication with others. You’ll also learn to take other people’s perspectives, where trust comes from, and build relationships.
  • Leading the Life you want – skills that allow you to lead in the four domains of life: work, home, community, and private.
  • Influence – how to develop it and become more effective in achieving organizational goals.

Enrol in the course here.

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7. Think Again

Reasoning is another important aspect of life. Think Again is all about teaching you how to reason and argue well with people without raising your voice and getting flustered. It’s four short courses that explore the logic behind arguments, how we construct arguments and deconstruct them, how to identify and evaluate arguments, and what makes a good argument.

Specifically, you’ll learn about the vital rules to be following in thinking about any topic at all and common and tempting mistakes that people fall into all the time when providing reasoning.

Enrol in the course here.

8. Neuroplasticity

Amongst the scientific and psychology circles, this has become quite the buzzword: Neuroplasticity. The concept promises to rewire our brain and improve everything from health and mental wellbeing to our quality of life. Gregory Caremans teaches the concept of Neuroplasticity and how you can take action and use this to your advantage in the course Neuroplasticity. Through it, you can develop mental flexibility, change habits, stop procrastination and even alter memories.

Gregory is a psychologist with a Master’s in communication and is specialized in Neurocognitive and Behavioral Approach. And even though he comes from a complex field, his course is instructed in such a way that you can easily use this information and apply it in your daily life.

Enrol in the course here.

9. Become A SuperLearner® 2

Similar to Learning How To Learn, this Udemy course Become A SuperLearner® 2 is all about learning faster and unlocking the vast potential of your mind. This course is different though in that it focuses more on improving your ability to learn new skills, provide advanced memory techniques, long-term retention and application of information.

Another way to think about this course is that it looks into cognitive and neurological factors that make learning easier and more successful with longer retention of information.

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Enrol in the course here.

10. Get Beyond Work-Life Balance

The final course on the list is Get Beyond Work-Life Balance. As this course suggests, this is all about getting skills that help you to achieve balance and have effectiveness in both aspects of your life. This applies to both people in leadership roles and for individuals.

The course focuses a lot on the importance of inclusive leadership in creating flexible and productive work environments. Beyond this, the course provides a lot of research and real-work examples from various situations to deliver information and strategies you can apply in your life.

Enrol in the course here.

Final Thoughts

There are all kinds of courses that you can use to further enhance your life – be it personal or professional. And the beauty of personal development courses is the fact they are designed to be applied in your life more readily. You can begin to see the impact and change when applying this information from courses to real life.

As such, we encourage you to try out these courses. They could very well change your life.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

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