Challenges for Growth Prompts


During the first quarter of 2016, I created a series of 12 Challenge for Growth prompts. At that time, the challenges were published one week at a time.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that many readers were not following my blog back then. I have decided to publish a post that includes a list of all 12 of the personal growth prompts.

Since it is easier to make behavioral changes if we focus on them one day at a time, each of the weekly challenges start with “Today, I focus on…….” While I believe you will get the most benefit from a challenge if you focus on it for an entire week…. or longer…. it will be up to you to decide how long you want to focus on a particular challenge— even one or two days during a week will have value.

If you decide to take on these challenges, consider sharing your experiences in the comment section of this post. I’d love to hear about them.

You can, of course, begin or stop the challenge process at any time.

Challenge for Growth Prompts

Week 1: “Today I focus on my needs rather than my wants.”

The nature of the mind is that as soon as one desire is met, it is off to the next one, often without taking any time to appreciate the desire that was just realized. An endless stream of wants leads to the experience of scarcity; we never feel full, we never think we have or are enough.

One way to create a sense of abundance in our lives is to decrease the number of our desires. We can do that by putting our primary focus on meeting our needs and then prioritizing our wants.

The first step for many people is to learn to differentiate their needs from their wants. Some examples: We need water – We want a soda; We need food – We want a big restaurant meal; We need shelter – We want a new house.

This week practice identifying which of your desires are needs and which are wants. When looking at your list of wants, decide which are the most important to you.  This week give priority to meeting your needs.  If you put energy into obtaining any of your wants, be sure they are ones you have identified as priority wants.

Week 2: “Today I look for the good qualities in others.”

When we are in a bad mood, we may find ourselves focusing on someone else’s faults. When we focus on the negative, we are likely to see negativity all around us. Remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

People often get triggered into negative thinking when they are with someone who reminds them of a person who hurt them in the past. In the psychotherapy model I use, we refer to that as “putting someone else’s face” on the present day person. That process is also referred to as projection.

Clients in therapy frequently project their parents’ faces on their therapists. I remember a time in the mid 90’s when a client was always angry with the male co-therapist in one of my therapy groups. He knew that the therapist reminded him of his father, but he was having a hard time “getting his dad’s face” off of the therapist.

This therapist had some unusual characteristics so I said to the client, “Did your dad ever wear an earring?” and “Did your dad sometimes wear red toenail polish?” The client started laughing. His father would NEVER have considered doing either of those things. Seeing the differences really helped him separate the therapist from his father.

This week focus on looking for the good in others. If you have trouble finding anything positive about a person, consider whose face you might have on them.  If you decide it is a parent, or a boss, or someone else from your past, identify ways the current day person is different from the one in your past.  Then “de-role” the present day person by saying to yourself, “You are not (insert the name or role of person from the past), you are (insert the name or role of the person in the present).”  After you de-role the current day person, you may be better able to identify some of their good qualities.

Also consider making lists of the positive qualities of anyone you have negative thoughts about, whether they be from your past or present.

Week 3: “Today when there is nothing to be done I will do nothing.”

In our over-doing world, many of us have lost the ability to simply BE. Our days are filled with doing things and our minds are filled with thinking. We may be bombarded with electronic stimulation such as radio, television, emails, texts, video games, internet surfing, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linked In, etc.

Too often when we are not over-doing, we are over-thinking.  We rarely have new thoughts; usually we are just recycling the same thoughts over and over.

It may be that when we are quiet, we are uncomfortable with the feelings and thoughts that surface. We try to shove them down by potentially addictive behaviors like over-doing, substance abuse, obsessive thinking, and over-eating. We can learn to see those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts as indications that there are changes we need to make in our lives.

Most of life’s peak experiences happen when we least expect them. In addition, bliss is unlikely to come when we are thinking or over-doing.

This week take some time to focus on being rather than doing. If there is nothing that NEEDS to be done, don’t do anything.  Take the time as an opportunity to simply BE. Watch the internal messages and impulses that come up when you do that. Note them, but don’t act on them. Allow yourself to continue being.

Consider making a commitment that during your being time you will not use the phone or computer and will not have any electronic music, television or radio going on in the background.  If taking being time sounds impossible to you consider starting with five minutes- or ten minutes- or fifteen minutes a day.  You can build up your being time slowly if you need to.

Week 4: “Today I take time to think before I say Yes or No.”

While some people have trouble saying Yes and others say No to every request, I believe it is much more common for people to struggle with saying No. This struggle often stems from childhood experiences. It may not have been okay, or even safe, to say No in our families of origin. Many of us were taught/programmed to please others by doing what others wanted them to do. As an adult, we may say Yes to things we don’t want to do; say Yes but then not follow through on our commitments; or say Yes reflexively without taking any time to think about the request.

I once heard a joke that addresses this issue. “What happens when a codependent dies?” Answer: Someone else’s life flashes before his eyes.” While it is a funny joke, it is also a sad situation and it may be true. You cannot live your own life and do everything everyone else wants you to do.

The first step in looking at this issue may be to observe struggles you have in saying either Yes or No. At the same time, start pausing to think before you reply to a request. You may need 15 seconds or you may need 48 hours or more to get clear. It is perfectly appropriate to respond, “I will think about it and get back to you.

This week focus on thinking before you say Yes or No.

Week 5: “Today I repeat the affirmation ‘I am Love’.”

Occasionally I ask my psychotherapy clients what they would think if they overheard someone talking to a child the way they talk to themselves. They often respond that they would think the child was being abused. I believe when we direct endless criticism towards ourselves, it is as if we are abusing a child, but in this case it is the child within us.

One of the tools I have found helpful in stopping negative self-talk is to flood one’s mind with a single affirmation.  I’m not talking about saying the affirmation 10 times in the morning while looking in the mirror. I ask clients to say their affirmations a minimum of 1,000 times a day for 21 days. Actually, I prefer that they say it 10,000 times a day or more, or better yet, anytime their minds aren’t being used for something else!

When we flood our minds with an affirmation over a period of time, it may start flowing automatically during the day, and sometimes during the night as well. Imagine what it would be like to have something positive going through your mind day and night, instead of all of the negative messages.

This week internally repeat the affirmation “I Am Love.”  I suggest you say it at least 1,000 times a day.  (It takes 15-20 minutes to say it 1,000 times.) It will help you to stay focused if you use a tally counter from an office supply store or an app such as Counter +.  If you find yourself engaged in negative thinking during the day, start saying the affirmation again.  Be gentle with yourself no matter how many times you repeat it.  There is no right or wrong way to do this challenge.

Week 6: “Today I listen attentively.”

Sometimes when we are listening to another person, we may find our minds wandering to problems at work or home, or to future plans.  At other times, rather than paying close attention to the person’s words, we may start thinking about how we are going to respond to them.  Or we may reflect on advice we want to give them when they stop talking.  If the person is angry, instead of listening to them, we may start planning our defense.  These communication patterns often leave people feeling unheard, discounted and/or disrespected.

This week practice giving people your full attention when they are talking to you.

Week 7: “Today I unplug.”

Don’t panic. I’m not talking about totally unplugging. But think of how much time during the day you spend engaged with emails, texting, instant messages, Facebook, Instagram, Linked-In, Twitter, Snapshot, surfing the Internet, playing video games, watching television, online shopping, talking on the phone, etc.  What would you think and feel if you no longer had access to a phone, computer, television or any other electronic device? Does the thought of not having those things bring you a sense of relief, panic or something else?

This week commit to unplugging for some period of time each day. Pick a time of day when you normally use those devices and then set an amount of time to unplug that would challenge you, but not set you up for failure.

Week 8: “Today I stop my repetitive thinking.”

So few of our thoughts are actually new; we recycle most of them again and again as we ruminate about past traumas, feel indignant over ways we were slighted, or obsess about possible future problems.  Overthinking keeps us trapped in our heads, rather than living from our hearts.  It also leads to depression and anxiety.

We may believe if we think about a problem long enough, we will figure out what to do about it. The reality is that inspiration is much more likely to come when our minds are silent than when we are in a never-ending cycle of analyzing.

This week commit to stopping your repetitive thoughts. One way to do that is to say “Stop…..Be here now” to yourself and then focus solely on the present moment whenever you find yourself in unhelpful thinking processes.  Distracting activities such as working in the garden, exercising, reading, writing, walking, etc. may also be helpful. If there is a problem you actually need to think about, set a beginning and ending time for doing that, rather than letting it take over your day.

Week 9: “Today I say something to a child that I wish had been said to me when I was young.”

Did you hear the things that you needed to hear during your formative years?  Were you given enough guidance, enough love, enough validation?  Are there words that you wish you had heard from your parents or other adults during your childhood or teenage years?

This week give children or teenagers messages that you wish had been said to you when you were young.

Week 10: “Today I do not waste food.”

In 2012, the National Resources Defense Council of the U.S. concluded that Americans waste 40% of their food. Food is wasted at the farm level, between harvest and sale, during processing, during distribution, in grocery stores, in restaurants and in our homes. The study also reported that American’s throw out 25% of the food and beverages they buy. You can learn more about these statistics at: Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.  As I searched for more recent statistics for this post, I read that American households throw out 150,000 tons of food each day.

Many children in my generation grew up with parents who demanded that they eat their food because of the starving kids in China. As a result, many of us learned to tune out that message and disregard the fact that there is some truth to that way of thinking. I believe it is important for us to become responsible citizens of the world.

That does not mean we should force ourselves or our children to eat when we/they aren’t hungry. It is also not about shaming people into cleaning their plates. Instead, I think we should focus on how much food we buy, how much we cook, and how much we put on our plates. Children will be more likely to finish eating their food if they are given small portions. They can always ask for more if they are still hungry after they finish the original serving. That is true for adults as well.

While these are U.S. statistics and may be higher than those in other countries, I doubt we are the only country with the problem. This week focus on not wasting food.

Week 11: “Today I do something I’ve been resisting.”

A co-therapist I used to work with often told clients that it may take 75% of the time one is in therapy to do 25% of the work that needs to be done. The remaining work is likely to be completed much faster. I also remember hearing Amma, my spiritual teacher, say that we ask her to clean us up, but then we won’t hold still for the bath. The common factor in these two circumstances is resistance.

Resistance isn’t all bad.  It would be unhealthy to walk into a new situation and turn ourselves over to the whim of other people.  Blind faith can be dangerous.  It also takes time to determine a correct course of action.  However, when we know that there are changes we need to make, holding on to resistance often results in us holding on to, or creating, pain for ourselves.  It may also stifle our growth.

This week do things you’ve been resisting doing.

Week 12: “Today I eat and drink food and beverages that honor my body.”

Most of us know which foods and beverages are healthy for us to eat and drink. However, when fast food restaurants, sodas, desserts and junk snacks call out to us, we succumb, much like an alcoholic giving in to the call of alcohol.

As alcoholics in recovery know, unhealthy habits are changed one day at a time. This week eat and drink only food and beverages that honor your body. Treat your body as if it is a temple, a temple worthy of great respect.

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