Three Crucial Times to Deliberately Seek Growth
Pain and discomfort are so much a part of normal life that it can be difficult to know what to pay attention to and what to power through. Here are three times for highly conscious growth that you don't want to dismiss.
1. A known breach of integrity.
You have said or done something against what you believe. Your conscience is disturbed. You may be justifying, rationalizing, or excusing it, but you don’t like it.
Why seek growth?
Breach of integrity is a sign of internal conflict. Something big is going on with you internally, even if you're not aware of it yet. If it’s severe enough it can impact your entire life, perhaps permanently. The more secretive the breach is, the more damage it's doing (yep, even if you're not caught).
Violating your conscience reveals cognitive dissonance. You have competing beliefs. Our tendency is to seek relief from the dissonance by either throwing off previous convictions in an attempt to quell our conscience, or simply changing behavior without a true desire to change it. Whichever we choose, we then seek normalcy without really finding the underlying problem, the conflict in beliefs. This is—consciously or unconsciously—attempting to “skip” the struggles inherent in self-examination.
Changing beliefs or behavior without rational justification isn't really solving the problem; it's just a fancy way of avoiding it.
What to do—
Seek questions and answers before you seek normalcy, service, or new relationships. Do the work. There’s a reason for your choice. Find it and you won’t have to either throw out convictions or white-knuckle your behavior to preserve your integrity. It's time to unsettle your soul and take a deeper look at what's really going on. Don’t rest in compromise or in your “good intentions,” but look for the deepest conflicts and seek their cure.
You haven’t done anything you believe to be wrong...yet, but you’re arguing with yourself about it. You are aware of a conflict and it’s painful, perhaps unbelievably so. You fear any decision because any decision means more pain.
Why seek growth?
Temptation is a sign of unacknowledged or competing desires, or of deep questions in your soul. You need to discover and finesse your questions carefully, going deeper and making more distinctions in your thinking. You’re on dangerous ground, even if you aren’t sensible to it.
Usually when we're tempted, we keep the discussion in our head or with others on a track about the issue at hand. We argue, “should I or shouldn’t I?” But this thinking only increases the battle between “What I should do vs. what will make me happy.” What I “should do” may prevail for a time if you can convince yourself that doing what’s right will make you happy, but again, your knuckles are white.
And then… what if it doesn’t make you happy?
Don’t underestimate the power of the desire to be happy. It drives everything we do. If you don't resolve your dissonance, eventually your desire for happiness will lead to a breach of integrity by way of rationalization, “It’s not that bad. Plus, look how much good it can do?” Or special pleading “It’s different for me. This is a special case.” Or self-justification “I can’t help it, and I’ll just make up for it this way…”
Temptation to divide your soul—to sacrifice what you believe to get what you want—is a clear warning that something is amiss. Also, note that white-knuckling applies both ways. When you sacrifice what you want in favor of what you believe without first reconciling those things, you have not avoided gritted teeth, just changed the cause of it.
Temptation is a signal time to start seeking better answers.
And hurry. The sand you’re standing on is shifting fast.
What to do—
Take the discussion to a more basic level of thought, looking for the underlying beliefs that are supporting both sides of the temptation to compromise values. Problems like this exist because there is either false information or a lack of information. Persuade your soul—not to “do what’s right” but rather to figure out why you have a conflict at all.
Don’t discuss ethics, “What I should and shouldn’t do,” but rather discuss metaphysics, “What is the nature and purpose of this thing I’m conflicted about?” When you have gone deep enough to sufficiently answer all of your questions you’ll no longer have a conflict. You may suffer in some way, but it will be suffering accompanied with internal peace and unity within your own soul.
3. Pockets of meaninglessness, boredom, or guilt.
The luster of life is gone. Work is more drudgery than joy. You don’t feel particularly and joyfully influential. In general, life feels sort of “blah.” Generalized feelings of guilt or like you “must be doing it wrong because you should be happier.”
Why seek growth?
This is often our first awareness that something isn't right. But really... a little boredom? Who can't handle that? The problem is that boredom is a sign of lost meaning, lost purpose. To neglect, avoid, or resist seeking meaning and joy, is easy to do. It's so convenient to simply seek pleasurable distractions.
But the precursor to breaching integrity is being tempted to breach integrity and the precursor to temptation is a lack of joyful meaning. We are rational creatures who by nature seek happiness through understanding and meaning. So to fail to seek meaning is to deny your own nature and bet against yourself.
If you fail to take the cue from your boredom, guilt, and meaninglessness that you need to seek greater understanding, then you’re headed for temptation. Your soul will seek satisfaction one way or another. Count on it.
What to do—
Rouse your soul from complacent or apathetic sleep and seek new knowledge and understanding about the nature of things. Take your thoughts from the physical and emotional and get them into the spiritual. Ask big questions. Deep questions. Foundational questions. Question everything. Ask yourself, “Why?” A lot. Why should it be that way? Why isn’t it different? Why do I do what I do? Why do I want what I want? What’s my life message to those I love the most? If you had to write your own epitaph, what would it say?
Boredom and guilt spiral down into temptation. Temptation spirals down to a breach of integrity. Self-examination, Self-leadership, and Self-expression reverse this.