I never thought much about personal growth, especially in my 20s. That all changed on the night of December 9th, 2017, one I will never forget.
It had been a long week. A week of pain and fear as I was suddenly struggling to breathe normally. Pain because my lungs hurt. Fear because each time I tried to breathe I thought it might be my last attempt. My breathing was suddenly compromised and I had no idea why. I would be sitting or doing something and end up on the floor gasping for enough oxygen to fill my lungs.
Each time felt like I was choking, and I honestly thought I was going to die at 23.
This night I had to be rushed to the hospital.
I was in my early 20s with no pre-existing conditions and I couldn’t breathe. My life flashed before my eyes as the doctor examined me and I remember feeling regretful of the time I had wasted in my short life so far.
This was a wake-up call for me. It was this event that pushed me to start taking my life more seriously, rather than wasting it away watching others live their dreams as I sighed: “They got lucky. I can’t be successful like them.”
I was desperate and started experimenting and habit-building on my own. I didn’t listen to any self-help gurus or read any books on how to experience personal growth in your 20s.
But I can honestly say that I have grown so much over the last three years, more than most people do in a lifetime, by following these 5 guidelines.
1. Identify what’s wrong
A few months following my hospital visit, while visiting a friend, I experienced another wake-up call.
I had begun working on myself, trying to figure out what needed improving and why I was so unhappy with my life.
I asked her to be honest and tell me what she thought I needed to work on first.
Without a moment’s hesitation, she replied: “You complain too much. I think you need to be more grateful for what you have.”
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to identify what is wrong and asking someone who knows us can be enlightening.
I was shocked by her reply. I thought I was grateful. I didn’t know that I complained too much! But, when I started paying attention to my words and how I reacted to situations, I realized that both observations were correct. I did complain too much, and this indeed stemmed from a lack of gratitude.
Before delving into random self-help books or courses in an attempt to “fix” yourself, identify what is wrong.
What are you seeking to achieve? What is the problem? Why aren’t you happy with your life?
It may be difficult to listen to someone criticize you, but there are many behaviors and actions we engage in that we don’t notice.
That outside input can help guide your growth journey, ensuring you get to the crux of the matter a lot faster.
2. Try micro-projects to build habits
Once you’ve identified the area(s) you’d like to work on, it’s time to develop a plan.
If we want to be more grateful, there are many things we could try. In my case, I chose to start meditating and keeping a gratitude journal. I decided to think of each area I’d like to work on as a micro-project.
When you’re working on yourself, the ultimate goal is for the “project” to become a habit that is eventually a non-negotiable part of your daily life.
And the key to realizing this goal is to introduce each project one at a time, rather than juggle multiple changes at once.
What helped me succeed was trying one micro-project each week:
- Week 1 would be devoted to meditating for at least five minutes each day.
- Week 2 would be devoted to writing three things I am grateful for each night.
Rushing into change and juggling too much at once is a recipe for failure because we just aren’t good at multitasking.
Habit-building is about starting small and working your way up. Five minutes of meditation every day for a week won’t change your life, but it’ll help you get in tune with your body and learn to slow down.
Keeping a gratitude journal for a week also won’t revolutionize your life.
You may even feel silly when you start but, over time, it’ll help you notice the tiniest of blessings.
3. Be consistent and take breaks
I find that I am able to build consistency once I’ve done something for at least a full month.
Consistency is what will bring about the results you are seeking.
At the same time, I have found that being too strict with your habits can be detrimental to your overall progress.
It’s fine to take breaks and it may actually be beneficial for you in the long run.
In my experience, the stricter I have been with my habits, the more likely it is that I fall off the wagon. When I started working out regularly, I went full-on, working out two hours per day for three months straight. I lost a lot of weight but couldn’t stick to the routine and ended up gaining all the weight back, plus some.
Flexibility is part of consistency. When you’re in your 20s, it can be easy to get carried away with your pursuit of personal growth. Yes, you need to be consistent with your work, but also with your rest.
4. Make it easy
What you see around you, especially upon waking, will remind you of what you need to get done on a given day.
The first thing I see when I wake up is my nightstand. On it are my water bottle, journal, and the book I’m currently reading.
So, I rub the sleep out of my eyes, drink some water, and wash up. Then, I come back to my bedroom, grab my journal, and start writing out whatever is on my mind. After that, I read a chapter or two of my book. When I set my book down, the next thing I see is my yoga mat and that reminds me to work out, so I get dressed and do that.
By 9 am, I have already crossed four things off my to-do list.
According to James Clear in Atomic Habits, to break bad habits and build good ones, we have to “create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.”
Do you need to have your yoga mat by your bed to remember to work out? No, but giving yourself visual cues upon waking will just make it easier for you.
The mat is right there, you see it, it is associated with exercise, you get up and work out.
Think about the habits you’d like to build and how you can make the process easier for you.
Give yourself visual cues. Make it easy so that you stick to it.
5. Cultivate a growth mindset
Growing and improving isn’t only about what you do. It’s also about how you think.
The first step towards becoming better is believing you can.
If you want to experience personal growth in your 20s, and change your life, then you must begin by examining your thoughts. When you catch yourself being negative, write it down, including the date, time, and place.
Then later on, when you have the chance, go back to the note and ask yourself:
- Why did I say this to myself?
- How can I make this a positive thought?
- How am I feeling? Why?
I find questioning my feelings and thoughts to be very effective. It can help you uncover those deepset emotions that we often ignore.
The second step is taking responsibility for your life.
Taking responsibility for yourself isn’t a burden. It will set you free.
When you realize that you are in control of your emotions and reactions, life gets much better.
You start letting go a bit more and letting things be because you know that whatever happens externally is out of your control.
What you’re focusing on is your internal dialogue, and that’s where the true power lies.
By the time you’re 30, you don’t need to have your life perfectly together, but you’ll be able to navigate life a lot better if you figure yourself out while in your 20s.
To experience immense personal growth during such a pivotal decade like your 20s, follow these guidelines :
- Figure out what’s wrong
- Try micro-projects to build solid habits
- Remember that consistency and breaks are part of the process
- Easy means you’ll get it done
- Choose a growth mindset
Don’t wait for a sudden health crisis to wake you up. Start your personal growth journey today.