This is an observation I made on what it means to grow. If you think growing = getting bigger, then my take on it may surprise you. To fully appreciate this post, please refer to the post: How to Climb Up the Ladder of Healing and Growth.
In a hurry? Read the digest version.
I know that I err on the side of working too hard, being too vigorous.
But to me, healing and growing — moving up the ladder of personal development — is indeed a very vigorous process.
To heal, you have to feel the pain. That’s no a walk in the park. There’s a reason some of us would rather stay stuck in the mire of depression. It’s easier to feel numb than to feel the pain.
To grow, you have to make yourself uncomfortable. Treat fear as a flag being raised saying “come and conquer me!”
As you climb up the ladder, reaching new heights, you’re constantly putting yourself on a new terrain. The old rules don’t work any more. You are reinventing yourself.
Old Habits Stop Working
Have you ever had an experience, where you look at a piece of clothing you’ve been wearing and realize that it’s not “you” any more? It’s not that you’ve physically grown. Yet, it somehow no longer fits.
Another benign example. I’m a chip-aholic, or so used to be. Potato chips, Doritos — I love the crunch and saltiness of chips.
When I am on Level -1, being bored, I crave the stimulation of biting into chips. Have you ever eaten anything because you’re bored and not because you’re hungry? That’s me with chips — simply looking for stimulation. Not exactly a good habit.
But after a few bites of chips, I’m satiated and temporarily on Level 0, contentment. Now, eating chips, to me, is an activity that can pull me up from -1 to 0. Will I go up to +1 if I keep eating?
No, it cannot put me from 0 to 1. It’s just not fulfilling enough of an activity.
Not only that, if I keep eating, it drags me back down to -1. Because eating junk food when I’m not even hungry has negative impacts on two fronts: physically, it no longer tastes good, but I keep eating because not eating feels empty and boring; mentally, I feel bad about going against my values by eating too much — and I keep eating, to make me feel better.
Notice how my motivation is to alleviate the damage, to feel better. But it’s completely counter-productive at this point. If I keep eating, it’ll further drag me down to -2 and beyond. The more I engage in an act that’s against my values, I go down on the developmental scale.
Now, I do realize all this consciously, but controlling my impulses and habits are another thing. It takes multiple times — more so than I care to admit — of putting myself through this same process before I start “getting” the message.
Eating more than a few chips doesn’t really feel good.
I want to keep going up the ladder — but this activity, while it got me where I am from a lower place, is now holding me back.
Replacing Old with New
I am observing this kind of shift happening on multiple levels. Old vices stop feeling good. I used to love the taste of beer, for example. But I realized how even one bottle of beer, while it tastes good, makes me feel bad afterward. Well, duh. Alcohol is a depressant. Why would I want to depress myself? (Note: I’m not saying the same is true for everyone. This is strictly about me.)
I used to love video games. TV. Movies. Magazines. Thinking and talking about guitars. These are all activities I have grown out of, as they don’t work in getting me higher from where I am.
But what would I do in the mean time, to stimulate myself and keep up the climb? I don’t know — every phase is a new terrain to me and I have to reinvent myself. This year, I rediscovered the joy of reading. Juvenile/teen fantasy, to be precise. 😉 There was a reason why I loved Harry Potter — this genre really works for me right now, as it nicely engages my imagination, yet it’s not as convoluted or violent or complex as adult versions of the genre. Besides, I still relate to adolescence. In some ways, I feel like I never grew out of it, simply because I feel like I’m still change as fast as I did back then. 15-year long adolescence! No wonder I still love rock ‘n’ roll. 😉
Embracing the Growth Pains
As I grow, I’m cutting out pieces of me I don’t need. Notice how I listed multiple activities above, yet didn’t list as many replacements. There’s a reason why I display healing as reducing in size — before you expand, you have to cut down. It’s a bit like taking yourself apart, so you can put yourself back together, but in a different, better way.
Like a Lego house — as you mature, you can build a better house with fewer pieces. But building a new one requires tearing down the old ones and using only the really essential pieces.
Tearing down is uncomfortable, to say the least.
But if you want to keep evolving, tear down you must. Know that what worked to get you this far, may not work from here on. Pay attention to what things are going. And also to what things are staying. The latter may tell you something about your essence, your core. It’s not as clear-cut as I make it sound above — tearing down and rebuilding are constantly going on, often at the same time. But moving from one phase to another does involve such exchange. Shed the old skin, grow a new one.
What are you throwing out today, to make room for a better you?