Curious Jordy

Three steps you can use to help anyone grow (yes, even yourself)

So there’s this general theory about life, and how it’s balanced…

  • There is balance everywhere. Yin, yang; life, death; man, woman; light; dark; blah, blah.
  • Everything has its opposite.

Let’s apply this to the concept of personal growth.

  • Everyone has some characteristic strength(s) and weakness(es).
  • In fact, in someone’s greatest strength, you will find the root of their greatest weakness.
  • Do you believe me? Not yet? Let’s investigate.

How about we use me as an example?

  • Why me? It’s not (just) that I’m egotistical — I’m available, and I can guarantee I’m not going to hurt my own feelings.
  • Specifically, let’s talk about this concept of being right – of having “the right answer.”
  • My friends know that I like being right, and most of the time I’m pretty good at it.
    • This ability has carried me pretty far in life…
    • especially in domains where there is a right and a wrong, and hence being right is beneficial.
    • (for example: chess, programming)
  • There is a flip side to this, however (remember that balance thing?)…
  • …and that is, the fact that I like to be right also reflects the fact that I NEED to be right.
  • Which can definitely hold me back…
    • especially in domains where there is no right and wrong, and hence being right is NOT beneficial.
    • (for example: relationships, negotiating)
  • (You can substitute “being right” with “being in control” and the same truth applies to me. I like being in control, I’m good at it, and this serves me really well… until it becomes a *need* to be in control, and then it can hold me back.)

How all of this applies to personal growth.

  • (FYI: when I say “personal growth”, I basically mean “realizing one’s full potential” or something along those lines.)
  • Now: seeing our weaknesses on display (especially our greatest weakness) is scary.
  • I know, big surprise, right?
  • And yet, in order to progress, we MUST see our weakness as it is. We must know it in order to grow.
  • If you can’t even see your weakness, how can you possibly improve?
    • It’s like a twelve-step program: the first step is to admit you have a problem.

Therefore, growth is painful.

  • That being said, there is such a thing as “good” pain versus “bad” pain.
    • More precisely, this threshold separates “constructive” pain from “destructive” pain.
    • For example, stretching: there’s a healthy pain sensation, that increases flexibility; and if you overdo it, there’s a destructive pain, and you’ll injure yourself.
    • This pain threshold is very different for different people (Joan of Arc vs a toddler)
    • It can also be different for the same person at different times (you when you’re stuck in traffic vs right after a massage)
    • It can ALSO be different for the same person at the same time, in a different domain (dealing with a technology problem vs dealing with a people problem)
  • For any given person/moment/domain, there is an optimal rate of growth
    • When this pain threshold is high, people can take a lot and enjoy growing quickly.
    • When it’s low, it’s best to keep pain level moderate.
    • It’s all good.
  • The best teachers know all this stuff cold.
    • They know where their students are, and they give them what they need.

Everyone you know can teach you something.

  • Each of our relationships gives us opportunities to use our strengths, and opportunities to identify and learn from our weaknesses.
    • (Actually, if you want to get nit-picky, every single thing in our life gives us these opportunities.)
  • You might say that the people you feel most COMFORTABLE with (usually, your friends) are the ones who give you the most opportunities to use your STRENGTHS.
  • And, the people we are most UNCOMFORTABLE with are typically the ones who show us our WEAKNESSES.
  • You could write these people off as assholes, but that’s not really the point
    • The point, is, they have an ability to make us flip out.
    • And in that sense, they are valuable!
    • Because if you know what makes you flip out, you have a chance to fix it.
  • That’s why, if you want to grow, make sure to stay close with people who push you, not just those who make you feel comfortable.

Now that you’ve learned something, what next?

  • For people to grow, they need three things: KNOWLEDGE about where they need to make progress, BELIEF in their ability to be successful, and TOOLS to make it happen.
  • Scientific research (Bandura’s Self-Efficacy, 1997) consistently show simply exposing someone’s biggest weakness is not actually the most effective way to help them.
    • Chances are they already KNOW what their weakness is, and they don’t need it to be rubbed in their face.
  • According to this research, it is far more effective is to give someone tools to grow, and increase their belief they can use these tools effectively.

IN SUMMARY: How To Help Anyone Grow

  1. Give her KNOWLEDGE about her strengths and weaknesses. Be aware that her greatest strength may contain the seed of her greatest weakness, and her greatest weakness may contain the seed of her greatest growth opportunity.
  2. Instill in her a strong BELIEF in her own ability to successfully tackle these growth opportunities…
  3. …using specifically targeted TOOLS that you make available.

(The best part is, you can apply these exact same steps to yourself.)

Oh, for those that are curious – when I applied these steps to myself, I realized that I need to work on all that whole fuzzy emotional universe where trying to be right is not just useless but counterproductive. Negotiation and relationships were the first two areas I tackled, and while I still have a LONG way to go in each, I’m happy to report some initial progress. Getting to Yes and Crucial Conversations have both been invaluable to me, as have my friends and family for putting up with my stumblings.


This post is dedicated to all the people who have given me opportunities to grow over the years.  You know who you are.  Thank you.

In particular, the themes in this post draw heavily on psychologist Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy theory, which was introduced to me by BJ Fogg.


Can you help me grow – right now?

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