5 Personal Growth Traps You Can Avoid

Personal growth is a life long process in which you can delight in the joys of self-discovery, tell your own story, and establish goals that are both self-fulfilling and socially conscious.  At the core of personal growth is both an increase in self and social awareness.  You ask questions about yourself and the world we live in.  And likely, you never stop asking those questions.

Mainstream society does not teach the importance of personal growth, let alone educate us about the challenges involved.  In fact, the "powers that be" see it as in their interest that we stay asleep.  But having a better understanding of self and society will lead you to a more conscious, intentional existence.

A favorite quote from Paramahansa Yogananda, author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," aptly states the problem of a lack of personal growth:


Despite having a growth-oriented mindset, you may encounter traps that hinder your development.  Here are five traps you should be aware of:

1. The Information Trap

A friend once said, "Talking about personal growth can become like watching people exercise on TV."  You can talk about it all you want, but like watching exercise on TV, unless you actually do something about it, you're not going to be healthy.  Now, it's part of the growth process to discuss relevant topics, spend ample time pondering, and to immerse oneself in pertinent information. Education and discussion add to self and social awareness.  And when growing, you will spend a lot of time doing these things. 

However, our over-stimulated, information-crazed society places too much emphasis on gaining information and not enough on acting on it.  The way you think is critical to personal growth, but you can't wade forever in a sea of information.  Sometimes you have to swim to shore.  This means applying the concepts you've learned to specific goals and to your daily living.  For example, if you decide you value love over fear, you must try to demonstrate that in your actions toward others.  Who you are matters but so does what you do.

This trap is easy to fall into and hard to avoid.  That's why it's important to frequently give yourself a "bullshit test."  Ask yourself questions that will elicit whether you've really evolved. Usually the answer is that you have, but that you can do more to make the changes real.

2. The Ego Trap

You fall into the ego trap when personal growth becomes more about some identity that you are attached to than it does about really evolving.  It is the ego trap when you find yourself smug and looking down with judgment onto others who are not as "evolved" as you have become.  And the paradox there is that if you are clinging to an identity of personal growth-- if personal growth is primarily about gratifying your ego-- you are not as evolved as you think. You lose your center when you overly judge others in an attempt to give yourself a false sense of superiority. 

You should also be wary of the trap of labeling only certain types of people as being judgmental.  Stereotypes of "popular" people, religious fundamentalists, and political zealots as being judgmental abound.  But our society teaches all of us to be competitive at all costs and to make hierarchies even among our friends. We all must keep this tendency in check.

3. The Consumption Trap

You develop a personal goal and then you try to "find" the answers regarding how to achieve it.  You might think that you need to find a certain person or organization who can aid you.  You might think you have to obtain something that will help you with your goal. This may be true in some cases, but it is not always true.  Nonetheless, the mindset that we're taught is to "find" answers, as if they're always located in the external world.  This narrow mind-set stems from our society's consumption mentality. 

But what if you were instead an active creator of things that you sought instead of having the mindset that they're always out there waiting to be consumed?  Instead of swallowing up existing energy, why not create new energy? We tend to underestimate our abilities to create for ourselves what we are seeking.  And we're taught to be passive about most things in life-- to passively accept what authority figures tell us about who we are and what we can become.  But the one thing that that we're taught to be active about is consuming.  Buy, buy, buy, and buy more. 

Depending on your personal goal, you may or may not be able to actively create what's necessary to achieve your goal.  If logistics are a barrier or the area is a personal weak point that you don't wish to develop, you may look to the external world to find existing elements to help you.  But it's important that you expand your mentality and mind-set.  Don't always think in terms of existing resources.  Remember that you also have the ability to create.

4. The Inner Trap

Many of those who seek personal growth are introverted.  Introverts look inward to gain and replenish their energy.  With all the time they spend looking inward, personal growth is often second-nature to them.  While they're often skilled at self-reflection, introverts have to be especially wary about becoming unbalanced and falling into the inner trap.  They fall into this trap when they become so absorbed in their inner worlds that they forget that having an outer life is also important.  What happens in their mind is so absorbing that they lose their balance and center, retreating so far into inner life that they at times can become afraid of, or just turned off by, the experience of the outer world. 

While one's inner world can be enriching, it's important not to neglect the outer world, the world of the senses and experience.  For introverts, it is often a challenge to find ways to create aspects of their inner world in the outer world.  But when they can, they find it to be especially rewarding.

5. The Perfection Trap

Looking at modern media and its barrage of advertisements, it's no wonder that people fall into the perfection trap.  The skin cream ad tells us we're too wrinkly.  The weight loss ad that we're too fat.  The car commercial that we're not cool enough without their car.  The phone ad that we'll be a mess without their organizational tools.

With all this fear mongering, people find themselves constantly trying to alleviate anxieties but never getting rid of them.  After all, if they got rid of them, there would be very little left to sell them. But if they're stuck striving for a "perfection" they can never achieve, they'll be customers for life.

The perfection trap will cause you to doubt yourself and whether you'll ever be good enough.  It is a hindrance to personal growth because it makes you paralyzed and unable to act.  It makes you think that this moment is never the "right moment" because things aren't "just right."  It makes you fear working toward your goals and sucks you into procrastination cycles. 

The trouble with this trap is that the moment to do something is rarely "just right."  And if you seek perfection, you're likely to never act.  Sometimes you're right to wait because you have to get certain pieces into place.  But remember to ask yourself whether that's really the case or whether you're falling into the perfection trap.  And don't forget to ask what's really so great about perfection anyway?  And whose idea of perfection is it?  And why view a mistake as the end of the world when mistakes are often our greatest teachers.