We often think of growth as happening one direction. Growing things expand and get older, they don’t shrink or get younger. If something is not moving forward, then it’s not growing.
But maybe that’s not always the case, especially when we’re talking about personal growth journeys. Growth like this doesn’t happen all at once or in a steady direction. Sometimes, a thing that you thought you dealt with will come back and needs to be worked through again. You often have to keep going back over the same ground in order to make progress.
This isn’t failure to grow. But it might look like it depending on our perspective. If we’re the type of person who wants to get everything right the first time, then it can be discouraging when we find ourselves having to deal with something we thought we’d already worked through. We might even decided that since we failed once there’s no point in trying again. But that isn’t really a healthy or helpful perspective.
New “Thought Paths” Take Time
Last year, I wrote a post about changing thought patterns related to anxiety. In that post, I talked about my counselor’s analogy of our minds as a big open field. As we live and grow, our thoughts travel over this field and we start to wear-down paths as we think along the same lines over and over. When we identify “thought paths” that aren’t doing us any good we need to create new pathways in our mind by learning to think in a different way. To do that, you have to keep going over the new paths again and again.
It’s a natural extension of this metaphor to say there will be times you don’t stay on the new “thought paths” that you’re making. The old ones are so well-worn that it’s easy to hop back over to them. When that happens, you can’t beat yourself up over it. At least, not if you want to keep growing. Telling yourself you’re a failure for not getting comfortable with the new paths quickly enough is a sure-fire way to keep you from sticking with the steady work needed to change patterns of thought.
Am I Going Backwards?
The subtitle for this blog is “Finding our true selves in the people God created us to be.” I usually explain this theme to people as personal growth and development through the lens of Myers-Briggs types from a Christian perspective. At times, though, I’ve felt unqualified to write about personal growth topics because I keep struggling with them myself.
For example, a couple weeks ago I was re-reading my post “Living With INFJ Guilt And Overcoming Cycles of Shame” because I felt like I was right back where I’d been before writing that post over one year ago. The post actually helped me, which was kind of a weird feeling. It was like I was re-visiting my past self to ask for her advice because she had more figured out than I do. And that got me wondering if I’m going backwards in terms of personal growth.
Then I started thinking about how growth actually works. Take deciduous trees for example. They grow from tiny seedling into full-size tree over years and years. Overall, their growth is in a steady upwards and outwards direction. But they also grow in cycles that keep repeating as they leaf-out in spring, grow through the summer, lose their leaves in the fall, then go dormant over winter. There are repetitive cycles within their growth.
Seasons Within Growth
It kinda works the same way with people. We can be steadily growing toward being our best and most beautiful selves while also going through cycles within that growth. Some parts of these cycles might look to others (and to ourselves) like we’ve stopped growing all together or have even gone backwards. But just because we have to keep working through certain things doesn’t meant we aren’t growing.
This holds true whether you’re trying to learn how to better manage your anxiety, build new habits, increase confidence, or pretty much anything else we could call “personal growth.” Most of us don’t make changes to something deeply rooted in our lives overnight (at least not without a road to Damascus moment). It takes time and work. It also requires a willingness to keep working through the same thing as many times as you need to, and to ask for help if/when you need it.
If you feel like you’ve gone backwards in your personal growth, that doesn’t mean you’re failing. It just means that you have an opportunity to re-visit some things and check-in with yourself before you start moving forward again. Maybe you need to take some time for self-care. Maybe what seems like a set back will teach you something you needed to learn before heading toward the goal you’ve had in mind.
Whatever the case, it’s okay if your personal growth journey meanders or goes in circles for a while. You don’t have to do everything perfectly. It’s enough to keep trying and learning and growing, and it’s okay for that growth to go through cycles.