How to Maximize Your Personal Growth

Why do people stop growing? One key reason, I believe, is that they stop taking on difficult challenges. They want to live a comfortable life without the hardships that come with difficult challenges. That, however, is a recipe for mediocrity. Doing that is a sure way to live an average life.

I have often talked about the importance of taking challenges to expand your capacity (here is an example). But I didn’t emphasize enough the fact that the challenges should be difficult.

I realized this when I wrote my first e-book (A Dent in the Universe) and prepared it for self publishing. It was a difficult challenge for me. Writing a book in a foreign language was difficult enough (I’m not a native English speaker), but the rewriting process was even more difficult. On top of that, I still needed to do everything related to publishing the book: finding a proofreader and a cover designer, formatting the book, checking for errors, converting the books to different formats, and so on.

After going through the whole process, though, I realized that I have expanded my capacity. The last time I took a challenge of a similar level was when I developed and published my first iOS app.

Through the whole process, I learned a lesson: if you want to grow significantly, make taking on a difficult challenge a habit.

That, however, is against our nature of doing comfortable things. We tend to avoid difficulties and choose comfort whenever possible.

So what can we do to overcome this tendency?

In his book, Mastery, Robert Greene has good advice: cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain. This is what successful athletes do: they have learnt to enjoy rigorous practice. It’s not easy to do all the hard work needed to become a good athlete, but they have learnt to enjoy the process.

Similarly, you should learn to enjoy working on a difficult challenge. Learn to take pleasure in pain. Having this attitude will give you a strong foundation to grow yourself upon.

Photo by Milan Klusacek


  1. Growth can be a beautiful thing. Particularly if it makes us take on a bigger challenge and succeed.
    I can identify with you when you talk about your book. I like what you say about expanding your capacity.

  2. Love Greene’s “Mastery”.

    I also love this insight that you and Greene are bringing to our attention.

    If we want to grow, we have to move TOWARD the difficult.

    We should not seek confirmation of our beliefs, values, and skills, but disconfirmation.

    We should actively seek out projects that expose what gaps in our knowledge and skills.

    We should read things that expose what we don’t understand, rather than read things that re-confirm what we already understand.

    This isn’t natural. We all suffer from confirmation bias. We all suffer from wanting to demonstrate competence rather than demonstrating incompetence in order to develop new competence.

    But, if you think about it, it’s completely obvious that those who press into pain will grow much faster than those who don’t.

    Wish I’d known this when I was 12!

  3. Donald, I love the idea of “[making] taking on a difficult challenge a habit.”

    Once it becomes a habit, that lessens the fear over time and it just becomes something you regularly do. I can’t even imagine the doors that may open because of all these difficult challenges you dare take. That is a great mindset to live by.

    I regularly do this, but I’m not at the level of calling it a habit just yet. Thanks for this.

  4. This is such a key point – learn to step out of the comfort zone. Personally I like to make failing a habit, and that’s what I set goals for. We’ll inevitably fail more than we succeed, so why not make the goal to fail more? I think anyone who goes through a lot of rejection (say, sales people) would benefit greatly, instead of going out on the street with a fear of rejection, you could go round with a smile all day long, because inside you know you’re succeeding.

    – Nick

    • Nick, your comment reminds me of a quote from Thomas J. Watson:
      “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.”

      • Disagree. One should try to minimize failure rate especially big mistakes. Instead, one should increase numbers of trials. Never give up.

        • What I’ve found is that it depends on your situation for that specific task and your personality.

          At the end of the day, both approaches will achieve the same thing… minimizing your failure rate will be more efficient in theory, however you could be someone like me; who likes to over-analyze everything and then I never get started…

          In that case, it might be better to try the “bulk” method with more attempts at succeeding and doing them in quicker succession, instead of trying to optimize the process…

          Just my two cents.

  5. If we don’t extend ourselves we never grow. Personal growth is like growing physically stronger – we need to keep doing it and pushing just a little more each time.

  6. Ya, I totally agree with it. In our lifetime we must enjoy the challenge of the difficulty. I have seen a lot of people always look for comfortable zone and stop growing. At the end, they tend to lower down their quality of life.
    Personal growth is willing to take the challenge and enjoyed the result after this.

  7. This is hard to accept due to our natural inclination to follow the path of least resistance, but I agree. It follows therefore that we must learn to enjoy the journey through pain and difficulty that taking on a difficult challenge inevitably entails. In the same way that a woman embraces the challenge of pregnancy knowing that she will hold her baby in her hand in the end. Great post.

  8. I love this topic, challenging yourself is a big key to becoming successful!!

  9. Hey Donald.

    Sadly, some people will spend much of their lives wasting their time, talent and opportunities while simultaneously looking for the shortcut, the quick-fix, the miracle cure; anything that will allow them to stay comfortable.

    Here are three questions to ask regarding change and personal growth:

    1. What do you want?
    2. What’s the cost?
    3. Are you willing to pay the price?

    Answer those honestly and courageously and then do what’s required.


  10. Hi Donald,

    Really a good post. while reading the article itself it gives more energy to face the difficulties and the challenges in my life.

    “Challenge & exploration is the key to each individual success”


  11. Hi Donald, I agree completely with Craig. Tons of people waste their entire lives afraid to embrace chanages as “unique opportunites” for growth.
    Sad but very true.

  12. Perhaps the most important message in life. There is no ‘comfort’ in the comfort zone. If we do not stretch the boundaries, they contract around us; gradually shrinking life to the house, then the room, then the chair with the accompanying loss of fitness mental and physical. Always seek a challenge.

  13. The whole purpose of life is to grow. If you are not growing, you are dying. BUt in saying that, it is essential for parts of you to die in order for you to grow. It’s just like pruning a rose bush so it can grow into a more beautiful plant.

  14. This is an interesting take on personal growth. Very to the point. I think that if you have enough desire to achieve a certain goal or improve your life in one certain area, the pain that you experience on along the way is not as imortant as you know the outcome will be. Than you for your perspective on this topic!

  15. Great advice! Loved the bit about enjoying the process. I LOVE the HabitMaster app! For years I have made little notebooks that tracked my daily habits, but would certainly prefer it on my smartphone. Are you creating an android app too?

  16. Before I take any action there is a thought which provokes it. The thought produces the body chemistry – neurotransmitters and hormones – to enable it. Motivation intensifies this process. Simply saying ‘I can’t’, has the opposite effect producing negative restraining chemistry which defines the boundary of the comfort zone; by the power of thought; or the lack of it! There is no comfort in the comfort zone. Its boundaries shrink. ‘I can’t’ is the boundary and the hormonal trigger of ageing.

  17. Thanks for the insightful comments, everyone!

    Glad you like the app! I still have no plan to create an Android version though.

  18. A child who is stressed too much will fail to grow but so will a child who is overprotected from stress. Somewhere in the middle ground lies the space for growth. A highly motivated person will not talk of enjoying pain ther are driven by achievement and an aching body after effort feels good because it is a sign of having worked hard. Pain is nature’s warning that damage is being done. As a runner I know that adding a mile to a training run extends that barrier for ever. Most often that barrier is psychological; not physical. When the mind is not right, discomfort quickly comes.

  19. Great article
    I think that motivation often comes from somewhere else. It could be a friend or a family member, pushing you to do more. It could be mentors or superiors, helping you push forward into greatness. It could also be an unfortunate situation, that is strongly inspiring you to be more and do more.
    thank you so much for sharing these useful tips

  20. Great post!

    It’s important to consciously put yourself in challenging situations. It’s the only way to grow.


  21. Mohammed Rabbidheen
    Mohammed Rabbidheen

    cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain – Such a powerful word.

  22. Someone said, above, that we should make failing a habit. An analogy; When I am running, if a hill defeats me it becomes a psychological barrier until I conquer it. Some days I am less motivated than others so the hills are harder but if I am to stop, I find it very useful to rationalise the reason for stopping before I do. Then there is no barrier next time just the buzz of achievement.

  23. Great post, I’m not a native English speaker too, and exactly in this moment I’m out of my comfort zone! Because for me, is a tough challenge expose myself in public (even in virtual mode) way. Thank you for the inspiring words.

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