The Biggest Mistake We Make When We are Seeking Personal Growth

What's Missing?

I have read book after book, blog after blog on optimism, consciousness, mindsets, resilience, habits and emotional intelligence. In the beginning, I was encouraged by the improvements and noticed some fundamental changes in how I approach life, be it parenting, work or relationships. At some point, I felt stuck in finding consistency and stability, especially in the more sticky habits and beliefs. I still continue to lose my temper more often than I like, fret about control and doubt my worth.

This might sound like you if you are like me –

‘Why is it I can’t put what I read into practice effectively?’
‘Why don’t I truly learn?’
‘Why is parenting or relationships so hard?’
‘Why can’t I sustain the change or routine I planned?’
‘Why do I keep losing it?’
‘Am I a failure?’
‘Is there something wrong with me?’
‘Can I ever find lasting peace, contentment or even joy in my journey?’

May I suggest you now take a moment to take one step back and breathe.

(Breathing In; Breathing Out)

Breathe some space into your being so you can allow what I am about to tell you to sink in. Something that I learn after years of stumbling.

We have frequently mistaken the ‘outcome’ as the ‘how’.

Wait, what?

The outcome we have is usually general, e.g. be less anxious, or be able to regulate my emotions. So when books and articles tell us we should cultivate a new behaviour or a new belief, we think that is the ‘how’ to our goal. However, start driving this into your mind:

Lasting change in our thoughts and behaviour does not happen just because we decide to. 

Lasting change happens only when we put in the time to intentionally train or practice the new thought or behaviour, while practicing patience and kindness to the self.


Really? I can’t just command myself to think positive?

Well, think what works for a child when learning something new. Some laughter, play, a regular practice, and nurturing kindness. The way we learn mostly remains the same even as we grow older. For certain thoughts and behaviours, if there are no major contradicting beliefs or habits, it might be quite easy to change them. But usually it is the most important ones that we might feel like we are failing to change. 

Thus, if you have a very ingrained belief or mind habit that contradicts the change you wish to make, it is as good as telling yourself to switch your writing from your dominant hand to the non-dominant hand right away. Is it impossible? Certainly not! Is it helpful to bash the non-dominant hand every time it writes horribly? Nope. 

These are the steps I realised I was missing when I started practicing mindfulness. A way of retraining the mind in a gentle and compassionate way, which is itself another change that needs practice for many of us. Why gentle and compassionate? Because you can’t use a hammer to force a flower to bloom. We bloom when we have the right nourishing conditions, not under stress or duress.

We are not taught from young to watch our mind. Hence, we overestimate our control over it, and also underestimate its control over us. Modern schooling and outcome driven work have trained us to be overly preoccupied with outcomes, and become impatient with old-school practice. That being said, change need not take years. You will be surprised that once we have clear intention and full openness, it somehow can happen faster than what we expect. That is after we learn to let go of expectations.

Often it is the resistance, avoidance or the lure of quick solutions that led us to go round and round in circles. If you have gone round in circles, I would say ‘so have I’, and it took a long time for me to be open to a new way.

Comment Below: What are some habits or behaviours that you have been wanting to change but can’t seem to overcome? Are there existing mind habits you are aware of that might sabotage your changes?

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