21 personal growth lessons to thrive in the 21st century

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Category: Overall personal growth

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Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

John F. Kennedy

The insights below are by no means an exhaustive list of all the personal growth practices that will become more relevant in the future. I did want to share these lessons so that you can avoid making some of my mistakes.

Personal growth lesson #1

No one can do for you what can only be done through you.

Personal Growth lesson 1

21st century:
Everything needs to be available faster, people expect immediate results. We rely more and more on technology to do the work and our thinking for us.

You cannot outsource your personal growth.

I’ve been to many seminars where a lot of people somehow think that the people running the event are responsible for their progress. They’re not.

Participating in a program or event can be the start or a stimulus for your growth journey, but no one can do your growth for you.

You are leading your life, and as the leader you are the one in charge, whether you like it or not.

You are the only one who's really responsible for your own growth. 

A strong man cannot help a weaker unless that weaker is willing to be helped, and even then the weak man must become strong of himself; he must, by his own efforts, develop the strength which he admires in another. None but himself can alter his condition.

James Allen

Personal growth lesson #2

Think strategically, about principles and causes instead of outcomes or effects.

Personal Growth lesson 2

21st century:
The overload of available information overwhelms people and will increasingly do so in the years ahead.

We are constantly bombarded with new tactics and trends, but fail to recognize and master the root causes or principles.

Strategic thinking has always been important but will only become more relevant in the next decades.

Tactical living means that you always look at the effects of things, and not at what is causing them. You are always in search of that bit of information that will make all the difference in your life or career but are totally overwhelmed by everything that you need to learn. 

If this is your default operating mode, you are always going to remain dependent on someone doing your thinking for you.

But if you start to think strategically, if you look for the big truths or principles behind phenomena, you will also start to understand the different outcomes. 

Wisdom lies not in knowing all the manifestations of a principle or cause, but in understanding the law or the principle itself. Read that again.

There is a reason why the fundamental sciences like physics try to uncover the laws governing the universe and from that understanding try to explain all the possible manifestations of those laws.

The best reference that we have for understanding the principles that govern life is nature itself.

Personal growth lesson #3

Study the same material over and over again.

Personal Growth lesson 3

21st century:
The way we consume information makes us jump from one source of information to the next to the next and we never master most subjects.

Following the argument in the previous lesson, if we want to have a better understanding of personal or professional development, we shouldn’t go as wide as possible but as deep as possible in our study.

Read, study, reflect on the same material again and again and again. And what better material to study first than the laws and principles governing our personal and professional lives?!

Surprisingly, you will realize that when you do this, you keep learning new things. Not because the information wasn’t there before, but because you are processing it from a different level of understanding. Your awareness is not the same anymore.

You don’t see things that were not there, you are literally looking as a different person.

I would urge you to set aside about 3-5 books, programs, or resources that contain a lot of big ideas about personal or professional development and to study them over and over and over again.

The information will sink deep into your subconscious mind, which will start to process it, and will produce flashes of insight that will really move your life forward.

Personal growth lesson #4

You are not a child anymore. Start to think for yourself. 

Personal Growth lesson 4

21st century:
Our world is filled with distractions and thinking for yourself requires effort, which is why most people never take any time to really think. They let other people do their thinking for them.

Could it be that the reason why so many great books were written before this information/data/distraction age, is because people set aside more time to think and their attention was much more focused?

How many of us ever take the time to sit down and contemplate a specific subject or intellectual challenge? Imaginative, strategic, focused thinking is at the root of every great invention or insight.

When was the last time you sat down with a blank piece of paper and took the time to think a certain issue through? I bet most people never do this. 

One of the things that you can do is to start each day with a blank piece of paper and journal about your personal development for a certain period of time.

Try it, you’ll be surprised by the ideas and insights your mind will come up with.

Personal growth lesson #5

Stand guard at the door of your mind.

21st century:
We are bombarded with all kinds of trivia that we don’t need to know and a lot of which is negative information.

All this information makes an impression on our brain and sinks into the subconscious mind, where it produces stress, anxiety, and a negative outlook on the world.

I always smile when I read one of the older works on personal growth (f.e. Emerson, 19th century) and the author writes about the amount of disinformation and distraction in the world.

If they only could see where we are today. Their message is more relevant than ever. 

We should all be very careful about what we allow to enter our minds. I'm not saying we should not be aware of what’s going on in the world, but we don’t need to inundate our minds in negativity.

Instead, why don’t we start and end our days with some positive, uplifting, inspiring information? Input that make us feel good, energizes us for the day ahead and the day that was.

Stop browsing media apps and sites that feature mostly negative news. Checking in with the latest news once per day is more than plenty.

Personal growth lesson #6

Live from the inside out.

Personal Growth Lesson 7

21st century:
Do not let outside circumstances determine the level of your thinking. Make the vision for your life stronger than the vision from your window.

Be inspired and energized by the accomplishments of other people but remain true to your own vision.

If you base your thinking, your vision of what’s possible for you only on the outside world, you are always going to go around in circles.

You will think, feel, and act according to your present environment and that’s a recipe for stagnation.

How does growth happen? Always from the inside out, never from the outside in. You can attract energy from the outside, but the actual growing happens within.

One of the advantages of living in the 21st century is seeing more and more people move toward and realize their dreams despite their past or present outside circumstances.

These people refused to let the outside world, their circumstances dictate what was going on inside of them, and they decided to move forward regardless.

This is a wise provision.

Personal growth lesson #7

Always work on improving your self-image.

Personal Growth Lesson 7

21st century:
We often have a vision for our career or our material possessions, but what about the vision for ourselves?

Do you have a specific, written description of the kind of person that you aspire to be, with strengths, weaknesses, character traits, and more?

I dare to bet most people have never even given this any thought. 

Furthermore, most people let other people set the standard for themselves. We think we need to be just like that influencer on social media that we admire but who’s unfulfilled. Or like that entrepreneur who’s making all this money but might have a disastrous family life.

Sure, you can take elements that you like from what you see in other people’s lives, but please, set your own vision for yourself and do your own thinking. 

You are perfectly able to determine the kind of person that you are going to become. In fact you have no other option, because everyone else is already taken.

You are a unique being and your purpose is to express who you are, not to be a copy of someone else.

If you want us to help you with your self-image, the vision that you have for yourself, contact us and we can put you on the right path. 

Personal Growth Self Image

Personal growth lesson #8

Keep looking for your personal treasure, for what really excites you.

Personal Growth Lesson 8

21st century:
In the 21st century, the number of options for discovering our passions and expressing our talents is greater than ever before.

Not so long ago, your life path was more or less mapped out for you, and in many countries, this is still the case. However, this greater freedom of choice also means more responsibility.

The most important days are the day you were born and the day you found out why.

When your life path is not aligned with your passions and talents, and you can't express yourself, you will become frustrated and discouraged sooner or later.

Your treasure is on the path on which you can optimally develop and express your strengths toward goals that are meaningful to you.

What if you have no idea of where to find your treasure? Search and you will find!

Look into the activities that passionate you, that cause you to lose all sense of time and space (= you flow). They can give your search direction.

There are also many tools available to detect and develop your natural strengths and interests, such as personality tests or working with a life coach.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

The Bible, Matthew 7:8

The path you take does not have to be perfect. If you pay close attention, you will always encounter challenges, opportunities, and fascinating circumstances that you can use as signposts to find your treasure.

When things are difficult, it is vital to be attentive to signals that want to push you in the right direction. The challenge is to learn to become vigilant and follow them.

What is the meaning of life? As though it is someone else’s responsibility to tell you. Instead, the world is asking you that question. And it’s your job to answer with your actions. In every situation, life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer. Our job is simply to answer well.

Viktor Frankl - Man's Search for Meaning

Personal growth lesson #9

Be grateful for living in the 21st century.

Personal Growth Lesson 9

21st century:
Although the world (the human race) is far from operating like we would like it to, we are generally moving forward.

Correct, there are immense climate challenges, racial injustice, poverty, war. But most people live and work in conditions that are much better than in any previous age.

Pick another time you think was better and look up the ordinary people's standard of living in your region or country. You'll likely find that this age is not so bad at all.

There is good in everything if only we look for it. And when we find it, we should be grateful for it.

Problems make us aware of situations we need to improve and of the incomplete state of human consciousness. In every crisis or challenge, there is an opportunity to solve them in the long term.

Problems can (and should) be seen as stepping stones for our personal and interpersonal growth. 

Focus on what is right in your life because what you focus on will grow and blossom.

If you look at history, some of our greatest leaders used shocking or negative events to push through much-needed reforms that otherwise would have had little chance of passing.

Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is the Way

Personal growth lesson #10

Realize that you are one of the biggest miracles in the universe.

Personal Growth Lesson 10

21st century:
Global population projections estimate that by the year 2100, there will be about 10,9 billion people on planet earth. That’s a 30% increase from today’s numbers, and it’s not like there’s not enough homo sapiens walking around already!

No wonder we sometimes feel like a number and that our individual existence seems to have little meaning or added value.

But this is only one way of looking at ourselves. When we change our perspective, we arrive at a completely different conclusion. 

Another perspective is recognizing that you are a unique individual and an absolute miracle in the universe.

We know that the universe, as we know it today, began with the Big Bang and, for the first few billion years, was nothing more than radiation, clouds of dust, and some solid matter here and there. And yet here we are, 13.8 billion years later, as living, breathing beings who are also conscious of themselves.

How is this possible? Each of us is essentially a piece of the universe that has become aware of itself.

This consciousness is an absolute miracle and one of the biggest questions in science.

By the way, we implicitly base the value of a lifeform on the level of 'consciousness' that it exhibits. For example, we have fewer problems to end the life of an insect, plant, or mouse than that of a monkey or a human being.

So yes, there may be about 8 billion people on the planet in the 21st century, but you are both unique and a miracle!

Being consciously alive is incredibly rare in this enormous universe.

And yet, here you are.

You may feel small, but your consciousness is no small thing.

Nothing is either big or small, but our perception that makes it so.

Personal growth lesson #11

Keep improving your learning process.

Personal Growth Lesson 11

21st century:
Society is evolving faster than ever before. Knowledge that is important today may be obsolete in a few years. This implies that what you learn is not as important as why and how you learn.

Stimulating your natural curiosity to learn and improving your learning process are paramount.

There are many things computers do better than people, such as storing and retrieving factual information.

There are many things that people do better than computers, such as creative thinking, solving complex problems, or sensing emotions.

More important than what you know is your ability to see the connections between different domains.

Strategic, critical, creative thinking will only gain in importance. Think about the fundamental principles, look for systems, think out of the box.

Learn to use mind maps, make your thinking more visual. Use technology for what it's suitable for but focus on what your brain can do better.

Personal growth lesson #12

Approach life with a beginner’s mind, an open mind, a compassionate mind.

Personal Growth Lesson 12

21st century:
Many people are free to express their opinion. Instead of condemning someone for their point of view, listening to it can improve our understanding of the world.

Even when we disagree, we can still understand the basis for the other argument or opinion.

Living in a globalized world implies being more and more exposed to different cultural and sociological perspectives.

We often approach a subject that we have some experience with from a place of complacency. We believe that our thinking is correct, but this is not necessarily so.

Staying open-minded to other people's views allows us to gain more insight into our own point of view. This openness creates room for connection instead of division because there is no need to agree or disagree. 

The question is not about right or wrong, but one of understanding and compassion. This works best when there is openness from both sides, but our job is to take the lead, the initiative, to open the door for the other party.

There is something to learn from everyone or every situation if we will only look for it.

Personal growth lesson #13

Learn to be alone and seek the silence.

Personal Growth Lesson 13

21st century:
The world is busier than ever. Sensory stimuli bombard us. We always have the possibility of being distracted. Our willpower and focus are constantly under attack, which leads to anxiety and fatigue.

Moments of silence are extremely valuable as an antidote.

The brain processes all the information picked up by the senses, which drains mental power.

To restore or generate this power (e.g., for problem-solving or creative expression), seek the silence and shut off all your senses:

  • Use noise-canceling headphones
  • Close your eyes or shut off the lights. Processing visual information uses a lot of brainpower.
  • Make sure your body is as comfortable and relaxed as possible
  • Eliminate all smells
  • Don’t drink or eat anything (ideally your stomach is empty), close your mouth, and breathe through your nose

You will now direct more of your thinking power toward finding a solution because your brain has far less to do.

Keeping all your senses open to the outside world while trying to find a solution within does not make any sense.

Try this, you might be amazed by the magic in your mind!

Personal growth lesson #14

Learn to listen to your body's intelligence.

Personal Growth Lesson 14

21st century:
This is the age of the intellect. We worship the conscious, thinking mind but fail to acknowledge the wisdom in our subconscious mind, in our body.

Sometimes your head points in one direction but your gut or heart points the other way. Which route to follow?

When you have a strong visceral feeling about making a particular decision, and when this feeling persists despite rational arguments to the contrary, it is wise to explore what this means.

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

Albert Einstein

There is a difference between a feeling of discomfort, 1) when you already know what you want, but you are afraid to do it, or 2) when you are unsure what you want.

Making this distinction is not always easy.

In the first situation, courage is what you need. In the latter, further consideration may be best. 

Personal growth lesson #15

Your rational mind is not always a good servant

Personal Growth Lesson 15

21st century:
The next century will be the century of the mind. We gain more and more insight into how the mind functions, composes and interprets reality, and how it can be programmed and manipulated.

Our rational mind can do good or bad to ourselves and the world around us.

First of all, intelligence and rationality are not always the best tools to approach a situation.

The function of our intellect is to cut open, to dissect, to analyze details.

This is fine for some purposes but inadequate for others. People with strong intellectual faculties tend to rationally approach every situation, even when a more intuitive, emotional response is more appropriate.

Examples are relationships, art, creativity, the search for purpose or meaning.

Or, as Einstein said:

It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense. It would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.

Second, the rational faculty of our mind is not infallible, often the contrary. It largely bases its analyses, interpretations, and conclusions on how the subconscious mind has been conditioned.

People have a powerful tendency to perpetuate and strengthen their existing beliefs, even when these are negative and destructive to themselves.

It is not difficult to rationalize yourself into a depression or manipulate someone (with f.e. a conspiracy theory) if you can build on a belief that already exists. And if one does not exist yet, you can create it through repetition and emotion.

The moment we become aware of this process is when we can start to do something about it.

Your reason is like a lawyer in that it will argue for either side. The intellect of a thief will plan robbery and murder as readily as the intellect of a saint will plan a great philanthropy. Intellect helps us to see the best means and manner of doing a thing, but intellect never shows us the right thing. Intellect and reason serve the selfish man for his selfish ends as readily as they serve the unselfish man for his unselfish ends. Use intellect and reason without regard to principle, and you may become known as a very able person, but you will never become known as a person whose life shows the power of real greatness.

Wallace D. Wattles

Personal growth lesson #16

Seek a harmonious development of spirit, mind, and body.

Personal Growth Lesson 16

21st century:
Depending on the era, the body, mind, or spirit is glorified more or less. In the western society of the 21st century, we still deify the physical. Fortunately, the mind and spirit are starting to gain more ground.

Focusing on only the body, the mind, or the spirit is far from optimal. Science is beginning to understand this, as well.

For example:

  • The athlete who is physically very fit but mentally very weak
  • The spiritual teacher who exercise little and is obese
  • The professor who is addicted to cigarettes and finds little meaning in his life

People who are often very focused on only one of these three dimensions can never grow into their best selves.

It is impossible to function optimally when the body, mind, and spirit are not cooperating harmoniously. 

The physical, mental, and spiritual are intrinsically connected in a human being and should be developed together.

Personal growth lesson #17

Realize that you can generate happiness and joy from within.

Personal Growth Lesson 17

21st century:
In a certain sense, this insight builds on the foregoing. The more materially affluent a society becomes, the more physical stuff it gathers. The people in such a society are at risk of believing that their fulfillment and happiness depends on those “things”.

Many people have become possession junkies, although research clearly shows that above a certain (rather low) threshold, more material possessions does little or nothing to increase someone’s long-term sense of well-being and happiness.

Making ourselves dependent on external sources for our happiness is a never-ending story.

Years ago, I was looking at a beautiful sunset and realized that I was perceiving the beauty of the sunset within. I could close my eyes and relive the sunset in my imagination, and generate the same feeling of wonder at will.

Since then, I feel much more free from material possessions or conditions. At some point, I hope that we will collectively realize this and stop the mad scramble for more money, more possessions, more power over others.

Happiness and joy come from within, are free, and can be generated at will.

Personal growth lesson #18

Serve the world by expressing your natural potential.

Personal Growth Lesson 18

21st century:
In the 21st century, the search for purpose will become more front and center than ever before. The best way to make a difference, be of service and make the world a better place is to know, develop, and express your potential in the areas that mean the most to you.

The purpose of your life is to discover, develop, and express your natural talents in meaningful ways, so that more livingness is created in your own life and the life of others.

The best thing you can do for other people is to make the most of yourself, just like an apple tree needs to develop and express itself before we can harvest and enjoy its fruit.

This does not mean that you cannot help others while you discover and develop yourself, but that your impact will increase as you give more and more expression to your potential.

Your most significant contribution will always come by serving from your strengths in areas that mean much to you.

Personal growth lesson #19

People can and will grow if they take charge of their personal transformation.

Personal Growth Lesson 19

21st century:
The rate of change is increasing in the 21st century, and people, teams, and organizations can adapt to change. Still, they need to take responsibility for this process.

Change can feel uncomfortable, but change is neither good nor bad because life is change. It is always moving, forever evolving into new conditions.

As Darwin said: 

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

The degree of our responsiveness, the degree to which we take responsibility for our growth process will determine whether we thrive in the 21st century or not.

There is no escaping this and it is precisely what makes our journey exciting. Any good story is best at the moment of massive change, danger, and adventure.

People can be the hero in their own stories. Still, they must take responsibility for the hero's journey; they must take charge of their transformation.

All of us have that power, but few of us use that power.

Personal growth lesson #20

Be(come) an expert in yourself.

Personal Growth Lesson 20

21st century:
In the 21st century, you are in a race against the clock. The race's goal is to get as much insight into you as possible and then use that information for your benefit or disadvantage.

The better you know yourself, the more you can develop yourself, make wise choices, and protect yourself against evil influences and manipulation.

You can study and use many resources (tests, books, courses, apps, etc.) to learn about your strengths and weaknesses, your personality, your aspirations.

Most people don't take the time or effort to do this, making it easier for organizations that you share a lot of information with (like Facebook and Google) to know you better than you know yourself.

This opens the door for potential for-profit-manipulation (which is not always bad, but it could be).

We should all be the foremost experts in ourselves. Yet, most people could not answer the most elementary questions about themselves. 

For thousands of years philosophers and prophets have urged people to know themselves. But this advice was never more urgent than in the twenty-first century, because unlike in the days of Laozi or Socrates, now you have serious competition. Coca-Cola, Amazon, Baidu and the government are all racing to hack you. Not your smartphone, not your computer, and not your bank account – they are in a race to hack you and your organic operating system (…) We are living in the era of hacking humans.

Yuval Noah Harari

Personal growth lesson #21

Life is happening right now. Make sure you are enjoying the journey.

Personal Growth Lesson 21

21st century:
The 21st-century challenges seem significant, but they are what make the adventure exciting. Our job is to make the best of the journey.

Think about any great book, movie, or game. The process of becoming, growing, living the journey is more important than arriving at the final destination.

Climbing Mount Everest would not be very transformational if climbers would just get dropped off at the summit.

Life is happening today, not at an imaginary moment in the future.

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

John Lennon

Everything that grows does so gradually, and it's this growing process that is fulfilling.

Discover, develop, and express your potential. You will feel competent, fulfilled, and you will enjoy the journey. And that's how you keep moving forward.

Good luck!

Share your personal growth lessons with us.

I enjoyed putting these lessons together and I hope you enjoyed exploring them. Which of these lessons do you like the most? What other lessons should we have included? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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