How would you define personal growth? I think of it as being intentional and pro-active in becoming the best version of yourself. Course it can mean different things to different people. It may be spirituality, health, mindset, mental well-being, breaking bad habits, learning a new skill, or the most common one I’ve seen, simply trying to be happier.

My personal growth journey kicked off 2.5 years ago. Every article and video I consumed seemed to highlight another new practice, or a slight tweak that would make all the difference. With all these options in front of me, I got lost among the trees. I didn’t know where to start, so I just began trying anything that might make be a better version of myself.

Looking back, I don’t think the experimental approach was all that bad. It exposed me to a bunch of options and tested my commitment to the cause. I found some things that work wonders for me (i.e. meditation and journaling) and some that don’t resonate at all (i.e. mantras and intentions). But there is one thing I’ve found most personal growth gurus agree on. It all starts with self-awareness!

What is Self-Awareness?

The Oxford Dictionary describes it as ‘conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.” In my experience, it’s about understanding who you are at your core and what has shaped you so far. An important part of this is understanding your damage (i.e. history).

“Without knowing your damage, you may be capable of determining what makes you tick but you will be blind to what makes you react.”

Start by getting to know yourself, then seek to understand why you are who you are.

Why Does It Matter?

Self-awareness is the foundation all personal growth. It helps us to figure out how we got here, what’s important to us, and what life we want to live. It reveals the anchors that are holding us back. It reminds us of why we started this journey in the first place. Legendary entrepreneur and thinker Gary Vaynerchuk put a great 3-minute video together that highlights why he thinks being self-aware is more important than hustle, intelligence, or learning from others.

Ok Ok, Now How do I get it?

There are tons of great articles, books, and talks out there that can help you along the way. The general theme is to dedicate time and energy to understanding your thoughts, feelings, history, and behaviors. Here are a couple to get you started.

  • One way to develop self-awareness is by focusing on the details of your personality and behavior. Darius Foroux has 20 questions you can dive into to get started.
  • Another is to confront your life’s challenges head on. “Without knowing your damage, you may be capable of determining what makes you tick but you will be blind to what makes you react”. I call this confronting my demons. Harvard Professor Bill George dives in to this one.
  • Once you’ve gone through the first two, check out this Harvard Business Review article for some tips on how to keep building your self-awareness.

Personal growth is a journey with no destination and no map of how to get there. It’s a real-life choose your own adventure story, and that’s the beauty of it. Self-awareness is how you tailor personal growth to you. It’s how you decide which route to take. It’s how you stay focused on growing in the areas that matter to you most. Regardless of why you are diving in or where you want to get, do yourself a favor and start by looking inwards. Lay the foundation. And then build the life of your dreams.