We hear the term personal growth a lot. I prefer the term personal evolution. The difference may be just semantics to some, but I see a distinction between growing and evolving. I see personal growth as goal-oriented and effortful, whereas in my view personal evolution is allowing yourself to become the person that you truly are. Personal growth implies changing things about yourself, whereas personal evolution implies radically accepting who you are and allowing changes to occur naturally.
For the longest time I spent a great deal of effort trying to change things about myself I did not like. For instance, I felt that my military experience had made me more rigid than I wanted to be, so I worked very hard at becoming more flexible. What I found was that the harder I worked, the harder it was to change. After many years of hard work, and a lot of hours meditating, it suddenly occurred to me that the hard work was actually holding me back. I was trying to apply an inflexible approach to becoming flexible!
When I recognized the conflict between what I was trying to do, and the person I was trying to become, it dawned on me that personal evolution is not about changing who you are as much as it is about learning to accept who you are, and in doing so enabling yourself to become that person.
This is the paradox of acceptance: when we try to change we often don’t succeed, but when we accept who we are ““ including the things we don’t like about ourselves – changes occur naturally. Change manifests itself because we allow ourselves to evolve. When we try to force change, we innately react against it. After all, for every action there is an equal opposing reaction.
So how do we accept who we are and evolve?
The first step is removing the barriers to evolution. We do this by first discovering the core values that define who we truly are through deep self-reflection and shedding the expectations society has placed on us. In other words, we learn about ourselves. We become self-aware in a true sense.
We must also accept the person we are in the present, with all of our flaws, inconsistencies, and troubles. By accepting, I mean welcoming these flaws, and not fighting against them. When we fight against our flaws we are essentially attacking ourselves. This only creates tension and stands in the way of evolution. (And in extreme cases may even result in mental illness).
Think about it: if you are an angry person, and this bothers you, and you decide you want to change to become a calm person, then by default you spend most of your time thinking about your anger and how much you dislike it. You will most likely be ashamed of your anger when it gets out of the cage you are trying to keep it in, which in turn makes you more angry with yourself”¦ for being angry! Trying to get rid of your anger only makes you more angry and disappointed by your failures to control your anger! And the energy required to continue the fight drains you of the strength you need to change.
Alternatively, acknowledging and accepting your anger, then meditating on calmness places the emphasis on calmness, not anger. By learning the signs that tell you when anger is rising, and acknowledging that you are getting angry, you can redirect your awareness to more calming things instead of fighting to suppress the rage. In this way personal evolution occurs (over time) because we manifest what we spend most of our time and energy mcontemplating. We redirect our energies from anger to calm.
Does this mean we do not take action? No. It means that the actions we take should support our personal evolution, and not be attempts to force change. As we continue on our journey of personal evolution, and identify and understand the core values that make us who we are, we can then take actions to support those values and live as the person we truly are. This is the definition of integrity, and the path of living a purposeful life.
An interesting and very important thing to realize about personal evolution is that it never stops. You never become the person who you truly are because that person is in a constant state of change. You can only live as you are in the present moment, because who you are may change in the next. This is another reason why trying to force change is counterproductive. Even if you manage to overcome the inertia you create in trying to force change and successfully make some change, the target you are aiming for has moved by the time you do so!
So instead of trying to become that person you have in your head ““ that image of who you would like to be ““ by forcing changes on yourself, try a different approach. Allow your personal evolution to occur naturally, by accepting who you are moment to moment, and placing your awareness and energies on aligning your life with your core values. Be kind to yourself instead of beating yourself up by focusing on the things you don’t like about yourself, and trying to force change. Recognize that your evolution is a natural and ongoing process.