Why People Don’t Succeed in Personal Growth
Lessons of Life © Kosjenka Muk
Many times I have heard people wonder, and I have often asked myself the same question, why so many people, even after years and even decades of working on self-improvement, do not achieve significant and visible results?
Perhaps you can remember an experience when you expected a lot from certain techniques and participated with great enthusiasm in workshops, only to notice that after a few months your enthusiasm weakened, your expectations diminished and after a few years you came to the conclusion that you did not truly receive any benefit from the course and started searching for some new and more powerful method which would give you the results you wanted. Maybe you know people who pride themselves on their long years of self-improvement work, although their behavior sometimes seems even less mature than that of the ‘average’ people on the street. What is the cause of this?
Neale Donald Walsch in ‘Conversations with God’ asks a similar question and gives the following answer: ‘You say you have been ‘at this spiritual game’ for 20 years, yet you have barely touched the edges of it. (…) Let’s be clear that ‘spirituality means dedicating your whole mind, your whole body, your whole soul to the process… It is a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, moment-to-moment act of supreme consciousness. It is making choices again and again at every instant. It is an ongoing process of creation… through awareness and purified intention. How long have you been at it?’
Even the most motivated people in time usually relax and devote half an hour a day to work on personal change, whilst the rest of the time they act and think in the same way as before.
In my opinion, controlling one’s thoughts by itself is definitely not enough. Some authors, including Walsch, claim that we simply should not pay any attention to ‘negative’ thoughts and emotions and that they will be transformed through positive energy. My experience tells me that even if this were true in theory, it is an endlessly slow path compared to bringing ‘negativity’ to the surface and working with it directly.
Besides, it is important to consciously face our emotions because most of us suppress our negative emotions even when this is not our conscious intention. Trying to avoid negative emotions leads to even more suppression; this requires a lot of effort and causes guilt, since these emotions are a powerful energy which is searching for a way to fulfill its own motivation.
The motivation behind negative emotions is basically positive: they are parts of us which we created as a ‘healthy reaction to unhealthy circumstances’ (Martyn Carruthers), and which try to serve us in a way they ‘find justifiable’ considering the negative convictions they are bound to.
One of my favorite idioms is ‘being true to oneself’. By this I don’t mean coercion and self-criticism, but rather an attitude of deep acceptance and readiness to face the emotions which are the hardest to accept and feel. The motivation required is the need to move forward out of love for oneself and the desire for happiness and not because of forced perfectionism.
It is very difficult to recognize consciously which parts of us hinder us the most in moving forward. Moreover, those barriers and emotions we are aware of, probably are not the crucial ones – precisely because we are aware of them, which means we do not feel them as dangerous enough to suppress. In order to discover the most important barriers, the resolution of which would bring the fastest benefits, a longer period of time is necessary in which to observe our emotions and behavior in real life, as well as the circumstances we attract.
It’s important to learn to recognize those emotions that appear in our consciousness just for a moment, and then are almost as suddenly suppressed. The motivation for such quick suppression is either the strong unpleasant feeling we experience by the very consciousness of the emotion, or the consciousness of its complete irrationality and destructiveness, which is accompanied by guilt or fear of bringing this destructiveness to the surface.
I believe that the key reasons we are not true enough to ourselves are dogmatism, functioning out of mental, emotional or ‘spiritual’ ego and basically a deeply suppressed hatred of oneself which prevents the person from looking deep within his destructive emotions without exceptionally strong feelings of guilt and the devastation of his carefully built self-image. In such circumstances we try to be ‘superhuman’ – to prove our value through painfully exaggerated demands on ourselves, not allowing ourselves to be real, natural human beings.
No systematic approach to self-improvement on its own is sufficient to motivate us to be ready to look within the most hidden parts of ourselves. It is not enough to learn a technique; the intention and determination to be true and to truly change have to be conscious and include our whole being. If this does not exist, if the technique is used to achieve superficial goals, or even to transfer the responsibility for our success on the technique. or as an escape from real life and our emotions… then the result at best can be called stagnation.
It is crucial to admit to oneself those most destructive urges which usually damage our image of who we want to be. Pay special attention to those emotions which are, in real situations, the most difficult to bear. Also notice every situation when you try to draw your attention away from your feelings through smoking, food, watching TV, books, computers, and many other creative ways. Notice which situations in life you spontaneously avoid because you are afraid to face them. Explore which emotions you expect would come to surface in those circumstances.
It is important to learn to carefully observe yourself in order to recognize the spontaneous and unconscious suppression of emotions. In time you will learn to recognize this and allow your consciousness to receive emotional impulses which are hard for you to accept. Some such examples are irrational anger, envy, selfishness, unwarranted negative emotions toward others, blaming others, the need to be better than others, playing the victim, shame…
In the beginning, your strengthened consciousness toward these emotions may cause you to doubt yourself, questioning whether you really are the person you thought you were, with many emotions that you have been suppressing coming to the surface.
Nonetheless, when you let go of your own criteria and expectations you may come to know a deeper level of feelings under your armor of negativity and find your true identity, at the same time recognizing the deep, subtle, exceptionally pleasant feelings and internal experiences, which you could not recognize before because you suppressed them, and which are often a completely new and beautiful experience.