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Strategies for psychological growth

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Many people are generally satisfied with the material and social circumstances of their lives. They have sufficient money, good health, steady jobs, good friends and relationships. But that does not mean all their aspirations in life have been fulfilled. Often in such cases their primary focus shifts from the material and external to psychological and internal. They look for ways to expand their personalities, grow psychologically or even spiritually. In sum, the individual seeks to become a better, happier person. Psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to this phenomenon as a hierarchy of human needs.

Psychological growth means different things to different people. For some people it means greater freedom to do what they want, live as they want and pursue their interests. Others seek to understand themselves better, develop their personal capacities, experience new things. Some want to search within themselves for some deeper truer self or psyche.

If you are one who aspires to grow psychologically, the methods suggested below can help you make rapid progress toward becoming a better, happier person. These are simple but powerful strategies that can generate immediate results.

Raise your aspiration

The animal is content and satisfied when its needs are met. The ordinary human being also strives to satisfy physical needs. We progress materially when we increase our capacity to meet those needs and live in material comfort. But in addition we also seek to win social acceptance, prestige, status or superiority over other people. We progress socially when we enhance our position in society. Psychological growth and spiritual progress begin only when we rise above the mere effort to satisfy physical and social needs.

When we are satisfied, we cease to grow. Growth comes from aspiration for progress. Aspiration generates a will for self-improvement. Will releases our energy for new and greater efforts. Raising our aspirations, our will and our energy level are the essential basis for psychological and spiritual progress. We can raise our aspiration at any moment in any act by

  1. Choosing always growth and progress rather than comfort and convenience
  2. Accepting and trying to live by higher ideals
  3. Embracing and living by higher values
  4. Avoiding all wasteful expenditure of energy or dissipation
  5. Exhausting our effort for progress. Maximum effort generates and releases ever greater energy.

Increase your self-awareness

To accomplish more in society, we need to acquire greater awareness of the world around us so that we can identify emerging opportunities and concealed potentials that exist regardless of how limiting the circumstances may appear to be. This awareness requires imagination, open-mindedness, the capacity to see what has not yet taken concrete shape.

Similarly, to grow psychologically we need to acquire greater self-awareness of our own inner personality, its tendencies, propensities, positive and negative characteristics. This self-awareness requires objectivity, impartiality, the capacity to see ourselves as other people see us, without self-justification or defensiveness. The greater our self-awareness, the greater our capacity to master our own personality and grow psychologically.

To acquire greater self-awareness,

  1. Become more conscious and sincere regarding your own defects and deficiencies.
  2. Judge other people by the same standards with which you judge yourself. If you expect a certain behavior from others, be absolutely sure that it is what you yourself would do under all circumstances.
  3. Accept the spiritual truth that whatever characteristics we see and condemn in other people are there within ourselves.
  4. Instead of reacting to the behavior of others, try to become more conscious of corresponding aspects of our own personality.
  5. It is especially true that the things which bother us most in other people are characteristics which we too possess but are trying to conceal from ourselves.
  6. The greater our self-awareness, the greater our understanding and tolerance of other people.
  7. When you discover a characteristics in yourself that you disapprove of, do not feel sorry. If you are sorry, it only means you are attached to the characteristics you have seen and do not want to give them up.
  8. When you see something objectionable in yourself, recognize it honestly. Sincerely vow to change. Be happy that you have become more conscious and can now improve yourself.

Become more positive

The normal human ego feels separate from other people and often in competition with them. It tends to look down upon other people, to feel inferior or superior, to strive to dominate or escape from domination, to feel happy when we rise relative to other people and feel jealous or envious when other people rise relative to us.

Growth means to replace this sense of competition or hostility with an active, genuine feeling of goodwill for other people. To be spiritually positive means to eliminate all negative thoughts, feelings, reactions, and urges. To feel only positively about other people and the world around us. To be incapable of complaining, reacting, condemning or protesting. Taken to perfection, this is a very elevated state of consciousness that takes decades of effort to attain. It requires a great knowledge and wisdom to understand how and why what we perceive as negative in those around us serves an important function for our own progress.

Everyone can apply this principle to make their personal interactions and relationships with those around them a means for psychogical and spiritual progress. To become more positive --

  1. Develop perfect manners. Harmonious actions form the basis for inner harmony to develop.
  2. Avoid all actions that disturb or annoy other people
  3. Never complain about others
  4. Avoid gossip and ignore rumors
  5. Never criticize people verbally
  6. Never criticize people mentally -- rather try to understand them
  7. Never express or harbor jealousy. If you feel it, pray for it to leave you.
  8. Take joy in others' accomplishments and happiness
  9. Aspire and work for the success and fulfilment of other people
  10. Generate a feeling of active goodwill for everyone you know and meet

Raise your values

One of the most powerful ways to grow psychologically is to raise your values to a higher level and translate those higher values into action in all that you do. Values represent the essence and quintessence of knowledge acquired by humanity over millenium. Values give us the knowledge for growth, development, accomplishment and never ending progress. Values are spiritual skills that direct our energies to every higher levels of accomplishment.

There are many values that can foster our psychological growth. A few important psychological values are mentioned below.

  1. Self-reliance: Growth means to be more willing and capable of taking care of ourselves rather than expecting other people to do things for us or blaming them if things do not happen the way we want or expect.
  2. Responsibility: Self-reliance does not mean we take care only of ourselves. The more we grow, the more we are capable and willing to take responsibility for other people as well as ourselves and to also ensure that work gets done properly.
  3. Respect other people: The more mature we become, the more we value and respect the individuality of other people, even when their beliefs and attitudes are very different from our own. We become more tolerant of differences, more patient and understanding.
  4. Integrity: It takes great personal strength to be honest and not to compromise our standards under the pressure to conform or the temptations of life. A psychologically mature person is true to his own ideals and beliefs -- without being dogmatic -- even at the sacrifice of immediate advantages.
  5. Goodwill: To have a positive attitude towards all other people and take joy in their achievements and progress is a high psychological value that elevates personality to the borderline of spirituality.

For a complete list and detailed discussion of the power of values see Values, Living Values Project, Personal values, Work values and Spiritual origin of values.

Develop Individuality

Most of us pride ourselves on the fact that we are unique individuals with our own ideas, opinions, beliefs, values, attitudes, goals, aspirations, sentiments, preferences and so forth. But if we scratch the surface a little we find that most or all of what we pride ourselves on as our own is what we have learnt or inherited -- genetically from our parents and ancestors, socially from our upbringing and education, socially and culturally from the society we live in, intellectually from the prevailing ideas and beliefs of the times in which we live. Where is our real individuality in all of these?

This raises a more fundamental question: 'What does it really mean to be an individual?' Clearly our manners and behaviors which we learn from those around us do not qualify us. Nor do our character traits and values which we inherit from our family and society. Nor do our thoughts and opinions which we acquire mainly from other people. Then what does?

To be an individual means to shift the center of reference from outside to inside. It means that we should consciously formulate and choose our thoughts, opinions, beliefs, values and attitudes rather than simply accept what others think, feel and belief to be true and right. To be a real individual is to discover the inner center of reference, to draw guidance from inside. It also means not to rely on or depend on others to support us or solve our problems. It means to be self-reliant.

Most of all, to be an individual one must be free. Not free from outer constraints but free from mental, emotional and psychological conditioning. Free to think and do what is true and right, not just what other people think and do. Free to take risks and court adventure, not bound by a need for safety and security. To be an individual is to discover the freedom of the soul and express it in life.

Individuality is often confused with being self-centered, preoccupied with our own lives, selfish and insisting on our own way. But selfishness is only egoism. A true individual can be generous, selfless and dedicated to the welfare of others. He or she can follow others or defer to their wishes out of magnanimity rather than subservience. The true individual has no need to dominate or assert. A true individual thinks of others rather than his own needs, listens to others rather than feeling the compulsion to instruct, gives to others rather than wanting to receive.

Here are a few ways to move toward individuality:

  1. Take responsibility for your life.
  2. Refuse to blame your problems on other people.
  3. Do not expect other people to solve your problems and accomplish on your behalf.
  4. Examine your beliefs, opinions, values to see how far you really believe them and how far you simply accept what others believe for the sake of conformity.
  5. In your thoughts and acts, do not seek social approval or acceptance. Do what you know to be right and best.
  6. Respect the uniqueness of other people. Do not expect them to share your views or conform to your wishes.
  7. Do not justify what you are or insist that others accept you as you are. Try to be better every day.
  8. Do not seek satisfaction. Seek growth, challenges and constant progress.

For more about individuality, see Individuality and Stages of individuality


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