Personal Growth: A Guide for Beginners

PLUS: 18 Practical Ways to Better Yourself

What is personal growth?

Personal growth is the continuous effort to better yourself: mentally, emotionally, materially and spiritually. It is essential for becoming mature, fulfilled and successful. It is also called personal development or self improvement.

Why is personal growth important?

Personal growth affects every part of our lives, including our happiness, relationships and achievements. People who embrace personal growth tend to achieve more and thrive in life—A fact recently proven by Stanford Professor Carol S. Dweck’s research into “the growth mindset.”

Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset explained

People with a fixed mindset believe everyone is born with a fixed amount of smarts, talent or creativity. So whenever they try anything new, they always feel like their intrinsic worth is being judged. This means they hate failing, making mistakes or receiving negative feedback. They care more about proving how great they are than learning.

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe new skills can be developed through hard work and the right strategies. They view mistakes and failures as a normal part of learning, so they are more open to new challenges.

With a growth mindset, people tend to be:

  • more mentally resilient in life
  • healthier communicators in relationships
  • faster learners in the workplace

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

– Carol S. Dweck PhD, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Types of personal growth, with examples

Here are the most popular types of personal growth, with examples of what each type looks like:

  • Motivation and discipline. Getting one’s life back on track. Improving self control. Starting with tiny habits that grow into big life changes. Moving forwards to meaningful goals. Finding a powerful reason for being. Connecting to passions. Reading inspirational books or quotes.
  • Organization and self-care. Decluttering and organizing one’s living space. Improving personal hygiene, grooming and style.
  • Productivity and time-management. Decreasing procrastination. Developing better work ethic. Improving study habits for better grades. Prioritizing the highest value work. Scheduling and tracking time with effective systems.
  • Breaking bad habits. Quitting cigarettes, alcohol or weed. Stopping compulsive overconsumption of pornography, social media, Netflix and other distractions.
  • Emotional wellness. Accepting yourself fully, flaws and all. Feeling gratitude for what you already have. Practicing mindfulness, meditation or yoga to feel more calm and stable. Managing stress and feeling more positive using techniques from psychotherapy. Deepening one’s faith or spirituality.
  • Finance and business. Getting out of debt. Saving money. Learning to invest. Starting a small business or online startup. Improving professional skills like management or negotiation.
  • Health and fitness. Losing or gaining weight. Becoming strong and muscular. Exercising regularly. Learning new ways of cooking. Taking the right vitamins and supplements. Eliminating sugar. Improving sleep habits.
  • Social and relationship skills. Meeting new people. Making a positive first impression. Cultivating friendships. Building a good support system. Increasing confidence and charisma. Dating to find a great partner. Communicating in relationships with more openness and vulnerability. Setting personal boundaries.
  • Creativity and curiosity. Reading lots of books, including fiction. Learning a new language. Traveling. Taking classes for drawing, writing, painting or theatre. Consuming a wider variety of books, music, movies and culture.

How to achieve personal growth?

If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed about where to begin improving yourself—don’t worry! The great psychologist Abraham Maslow discovered that a person’s development naturally passes through several predictable stages of growth which are now called “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says that humans must first satisfy their basic needs before they will want to satisfy higher needs. For example, first you need food to eat before you will care about finding love.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (courtesy Chiquo CC-BY-SA)

Abraham Maslow divided all human needs into 5 categories, then he arranged these needs into a pyramid. The most essential needs start at the bottom of the pyramid. When one level of needs is satisfied, then our focus naturally shifts to the next level up.

  1. First we need food, shelter and physical survival.
  2. Second we need to feel safe and free of danger.
  3. Third we need friendships and intimacy.
  4. Fourth we need esteem and respect in our community.
  5. Finally we need self actualization, which means realizing our full potential.

This pyramid provides a map for your own personal growth. For example, take care of your basic physical needs like food, shelter and rest first. If you’re not getting enough sleep, then fix that first. Then your next priority is safety. This includes feeling emotionally safe (by learning therapy techniques to reduce stress and anxiety) and being financially secure (perhaps saving an emergency fund).

Got it? Just work your way up the pyramid!

The peak of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization. Everyone fulfills this goal in a unique way. For example, some people express themselves creatively, others do altruistic activities like volunteering, and others may follow a spiritual discipline.

The 7 best personal growth books

The best source of wisdom to better your life are books. The problem is—countless new personal growth books are published every month! So to make your life easier, here are the books which are most often recommended online.

1. Atomic Habits by James Clear

atomic habits

Quick Summary: Atomic Habits shows how each of our habits, good or bad, follow the 4 steps of The Habit Loop: Cue, Craving, Response and Reward. More importantly, this book shows how we can hack these 4 steps using practical techniques, backed by scientific studies and interesting stories.

Best Quote: “Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.” —James Clear

[Read our full summary of Atomic Habits by James Clear.]

2. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

think and grow rich

Quick Summary: Think and Grow Rich is a classic self help book, based on Napoleon Hill interviewing 500 millionaires including Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. He says the formula for riches is first having a burning desire for them, then following a definite plan and having faith that plan will succeed.

Top Quote: “One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat.” —Napoleon Hill

[Read our summary of Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.]

3. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

the power of now

Quick Summary: The Power of Now introduced a generation of western people to the practice of living mindfully. Eckhart Tolle uses direct, simple language to explain how escaping the endless chatter in our minds causes an immediate improvement to our mental well-being.

Top Quote: “If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.” —Eckhart Tolle

4. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

daring greatly

Quick Summary: Daring Greatly shows how to break the shame that keeps us isolated. Brené Brown explains why vulnerability is actually strength, and how we can courageously “get into the arena” of life to cultivate truly fulfilling relationships.

Best Quote: “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” —Brené Brown

5. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

the four agreements

Quick Summary: The Four Agreements shows how to love yourself more, not take things personally, and heal your relationships. Don Miguel Ruiz shares wisdom from the indigenous Mexican Toltec culture to help us stop living in this false “dream” of social rules, expectations and judgments.

Best Quote: “Real love is accepting other people the way they are without trying to change them.” —Don Miguel Ruiz

[Read our summary of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.]

6. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Quick Summary: How to Win Friends and Influence People offers practical tips for how to be friendly and get along with people. Dale Carnegie says people are naturally selfish and preoccupied with themselves, so life goes much smoother when we consider the other person’s perspective.

Top Quote: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.” —Dale Carnegie

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey

Quick Summary: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People shows how to become more effective and independent. Steven Covey breaks it down into several principles including acting proactively, beginning with your end goal in mind, doing actions in order of importance, listening to understand and more.

Top Quote: “It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.” —Steven Covey

[Read our summary of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People]

18 practical ways to better yourself


Perhaps the most important idea in personal growth is that small daily improvements can transform your life. So don’t try to change everything at once, just aim to be 1% better every day. Here are 51 practical ways you can make each day better than the last.

1. Read for 30 minutes every day.

I find books to be incredible fountains of wisdom. Unlike shorter articles or educational Youtube videos, books can give us a deep understanding of a topic.

Let’s say it takes you 10 hours to read a book. (That’s the length of the average audiobook.) So if you read just 30 minutes per day, then you will finish 18 books every year.

And if you want to save time and find out what are the best books for YOU to read next, then browse our book summaries.

2. Follow a morning routine.

If you want to be productive, then you must start your day off on the right foot. If the first thing you do in the morning is scroll through social media bleary-eyed lying in bed (we’ve all done this, right?) then big corporations have already stolen your focus.

In his book The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod shares the story of how he got his life back on track after a brutal car accident. He did it by designing and following a 1-hour morning routine. I think his routine provides a great foundation for your own personal routine.

Hal Elrod’s 6-Step Miracle Morning Routine

  1. Silence (5 min) – Increase calm and focus through meditation.
  2. Affirmations (5 min) – Repeat a mantra related to your goals.
  3. Visualization (5 min) – Picture clearly your desired life.
  4. Exercise (20 min) – Feel better with the increased endorphins.
  5. Reading (20 min) – Absorb a few pages of useful wisdom.
  6. Scribing (5 min) – Write your thoughts and ideas down.

3. Breathe deeply for one minute.

Breathing deeply into your lower belly (also called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing) has many health benefits including:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Slowing heartbeat
  • Relaxing muscles

Most importantly, breathing deeply can evaporate stress and anxiety. Dr. Herbert Benson says deep breathing activates our body’s natural “relaxation response” which counters the “fight or flight” response that makes people feel stressed or anxious.

4. Write down where you will be in 3 years.

Dan Sullivan has coached countless entrepreneurs to achieve more business growth. He says the most important question he asks his clients is this:

If we were having this discussion three years from today, and you were to look back over those three years to today, what has to have happened, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy about your progress?

– Dan Sullivan

So answer the question. Visualize yourself sitting down in 3 years. What has changed in your life so that you feel happy about the past 3 years of work? This can be in your emotional life, relationships, career or business. Dan Sullivan says answering this simple question gives his entrepreneur clients a tremendous amount of clarity.

How to send yourself a future email

  1. Go to
  2. Imagine you’ll be reading this email in 3 years. Where do you want your life to be emotionally, financially, physically? What do you want to AVOID? How will you reach your goals?
  3. Choose the 3 years option, then enter your email and press send!
  4. Now wait. Just kidding—get to work on your vision!
forest trail nature

5. Take a 2-hour “forest bath” every week.

Have you ever wondered why a walk in nature can feel so good? The rustle of tree branches, the feel of the wind and the warmth of the sun. I think most of us intuitively feel that getting into nature rejuvenates us and flushes out stress.

But with more of us living in concrete cities or sterilized suburbs, we are becoming disconnected from the natural environment our organism was designed for. So why not make an effort to revisit nature every week? Find a quiet place with trees. Turn off your phone. Focus on the subtle sounds, smells and textures. Wander around. Follow your curiosity.

Japanese people call this practice “Shinrin Yoku” which literally means “forest bathing.” Numerous studies conducted by Qing Li show forest bathing has very real health benefits.

6. Sleep 7-8 hours every night.

Matthew Walker is a professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley and a specialist in sleep. In his book Why We Sleep, he says that not getting enough sleep is a factor in ALL major mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and suicide.

A lack of sleep also has very negative effects on our physical health. Walker says “Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.”

Matthew Walker’s Top 4 Sleep Tips:

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each night.
  2. Avoid artificial light in the evening, especially blue LED lights.
  3. Decrease your body’s temperature by 1 degree celsius (about 2-3 Fahrenheit).
  4. Don’t lie awake in bed for more than 20 minutes. If you can’t sleep, go do something relaxing for a while, then return and try to sleep again.

[Read our full summary of Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.]

7. Write a weekly review for self awareness.

Having some regular reflection time is essential for both self awareness and self improvement. So set aside some time at the end of each week for a review. This is the time for you to step back and look at how your week went.

  • Where did your time go?
  • What did you do well?
  • How could you improve by 1% next week?

This is a great time to write down your top priorities for next week also. David Allen, productivity expert and author of Getting Things Done, says having a weekly review is essential for everyone. Otherwise we get lost in the same old habits and patterns.

8. Eat your next meal mindfully.

Studies show mindful eating can aid weight loss and also prevent binge eating and emotional eating. How? Probably by reducing stress and getting us in touch with our body so we know when we are truly hungry.

5 Mindful Eating Tips from Harvard Medical School

Here is a quick summary of Harvard Health’s tips for eating more mindfully:

  1. Start with small portions.
  2. Put aside distractions like your phone or television.
  3. Appreciate your meal for one minute before eating.
  4. Use all your senses when cooking and eating. See the colours, notice the aromas and become aware of all the different subtle flavours.
  5. Take smaller bites and take your time chewing.

9. Enjoy a “digital detox” day.

A “digital detox” means taking a total break from your electronic devices. Why? Because numerous studies show overuse of technology is linked to disrupted sleep, attention problems and relationship disconnection.

There’s no complicated method to this. Just turn off your phone, hide your computer and tell your friends you won’t be available for 24 hours.

If you’re wondering “but what will I do?!” then this is a good sign you need to try this! You will no doubt fill the time with less stimulating but more fulfilling activities. Grabbing a meal with a friend, picking up that book that’s been sitting on your shelf, etc.

10. Find out your partner’s Love Language.

In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The 5 Love Languages that only seems to be getting more popular with time. In short, he explained that everyone has a different way to feel loved and appreciated, based on their individual personality. By finding out what your partner’s love language is, you can meet their needs and expectations more effectively and avoid misunderstandings.

Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages

  1. Words of Affirmation. Verbal compliments and praise.
  2. Acts of Service. Cooking a meal or other actions that require thought and effort.
  3. Receiving Gifts. Even a small gift like your partner’s favorite desert can make them feel appreciated.
  4. Quality time. Spending time together without distractions.
  5. Physical touch. Holding hands, cuddling, etc.

11. Choose hobbies that give you flow, not pleasure.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a groundbreaking book called Flow. This book explained why we should do more activities that put us into a “flow state” and less activities simply for pleasure.

A flow state happens when we are fully engaged in some activity that requires skill, challenges us, takes up our full attention and makes us lose track of time. When we are in a flow state, we feel deep enjoyment. For example, we may be put into this state by:

  • playing piano
  • mountain biking
  • performing surgery

On the other hand, some activities give us only pleasure. Pleasurable activities are more about consumption like watching movies or eating at restaurants. Pleasure activities don’t provide a challenge or opportunity for improving a skill. They provide some superficial and fleeting good sensations, but don’t improve our overall happiness.

12. Declutter your home.

We all own many items we no longer need or want. Stuff tends to creep into our lives and fill up our closets. That’s why decluttering is so important—this means discarding items which you no longer value. After people declutter, they usually report not a feeling of loss, but relief.

Arguably the queen of the minimalism or decluttering movement is Marie Kondo. She is a Japanese woman who wrote the bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She even has a Netflix reality show where she personally helps people make their homes organized and beautiful.

The KonMari Method in 5 Steps

Marie Kondo teaches people to declutter with a specific method. Here is the cheatsheet:

  1. Tidy all in one go. Reserve 1-3 days as a special event to tidy up everything.
  2. Tidy by item category, not location. The order Marie recommends is: clothing, books, papers, other things, then mementos.
  3. Keep only things which “spark joy” in you. Pick up each item one by one, and only keep it if it moves you emotionally.
  4. Hold each item and say “thank you” before getting rid of it.
  5. Finally, organize what’s left. She has a special folding technique that works for anything—first make a long rectangle, then fold it into a small rectangle.

13. Remember you’ll die.

A couple thousand years ago, Marcus Aurelius was the Roman emperor, which basically made him the most powerful person in the world. However, this also meant he faced incredible opposition, violence and vicious attacks on his reputation.

One technique he used to remain calm in the middle of it all that was to remember death. He always kept in mind that he and everyone who knew him would be dead soon. A pile of bones buried under the ground or a pile of ashes. This allowed him to remain emotionally stable, not care so much what people said and focus on his most important values.

Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

[Read our full summary of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.]

14. Stand up straight.

Standing up straight makes us look taller and our bellies look flatter. In voice training classes for singing, good posture is one of the first lessons because it helps us breathe deeper and speak clearer.

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson says standing up straight has even deeper benefits. It is body language that signals to everyone around us that we are worthy of respect and status. At the same time, our own brains receive this message and increase the level of serotonin in our brains, making us feel more confident and relaxed.

To make this point, Peterson has famously cited research involving lobsters. When a lobster displays dominant or meek body language, that actually changes the level of serotonin measured in their brain. Comparing humans with lobsters may sound strange at first, but we do share many of our basic brain systems with other animals. (That’s why experiments done on rats or monkeys can be very relevant for humans.)

To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open.

So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them—at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.

– Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

15. Drink one cup of green tea daily.

Green tea has some surprising health benefits. Researchers monitoring people’s brains through EEG machines found drinking green tea increases alpha brainwaves. This makes you feel more relaxed and alert simultaneously. These brainwaves occur when monks meditate, but drinking green tea seems to get you there too, which may explain why it is such a popular drink worldwide.

16. Communicate “non-violently.”

Most of us never learned how to communicate inside of relationships openly and honestly. Instead, we picked up very bad communication habits like blaming, shaming, criticizing and being passive aggressive.

In the book Nonviolent Communication, psychologist Marshall B Rosenberg explains a simple framework for healthy and effective communication. This book is highly recommended by countless therapists who say it can help us dissolve conflicts at work and build personal relationships where everyone feels seen, loved and respected.

Marshall Rosenberg’s 4 steps to Nonviolent Communication

  1. State observations, not evaluations. Describe what behavior the other person is doing, without judging them as good or bad.
  2. Reveal your feelings, not opinions. Share how their behavior makes you feel, not your thoughts or interpretations about their behavior.
  3. Communicate your needs, not criticism. Find out which of your unmet needs are causing the bad feelings, then tell you partner. Usually we try to change people’s behavior through criticism, which only provokes defensiveness.
  4. Make requests, not demands. Finally, tell the other person what you would like them to do, while making it clear you will not punish them in any way if they refuse. This makes them feel in control and not manipulated by a demand.

17. Test lifestyle changes with 28-day experiments.

Tim Ferris is a serial entrepreneur, best-selling author, successful investor and top podcaster. He says his success is based on doing many experiments. Whenever he wants to make a change in his life, he sells it to himself as a short-term “experiment.”

It’s hard to commit to a big lifestyle change like a new diet, but it’s relatively easy to say you will TRY something new for like 28 days. This is how Time launched his podcast. He told himself he would just TRY it for 6 episodes. He found out he loved interviewing people, and now his podcast is one of the most popular ones in the world.

18. Write down your top 3 priorities the night before.

Research shows our ability to make good decisions becomes weaker throughout the day. This is called decision fatigue. So if it is late in the day and you aren’t sure what you should be working on next, then you might automatically begin doing something unproductive or impulsive.

One way to stay focused on the work that matters for your future is to make your decisions the night before. Write down your top 3 priorities. Keep this list somewhere always visible.

Top 10 Personal Growth Quotes

Feel free to set these quotes as your phone background or share them with your friends.

1. “We are what we repeatedly do, excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” —Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy

will durant quote

2. “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” —Lao Tzu

lao tzu quote
eleanor roosevelt quote

4. “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” —Carl Rogers

carl rogers quote

5. “Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

marcus aurelius quote

6. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.” —Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

dale carnegie quote

7. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.”Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

viktor frankl quote

8. “What other people think about you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.” -Jen Sincero, You Are a Badass

jen sincero quote

9. “One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat.”Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

napoleon hill quote

10. “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” —Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

brene brown quote

Want more quotes? Read our article “The 55 Best Personal Growth Quotes”

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