How To Transform Any Experience Into Personal Growth

I’ve been avoiding this. When I returned from my week in Michigan and Indiana where I attended the wedding of my boyfriend’s daughter, I was behind on work for both my businesses, suffering from vulnerability hangover, and needed to jump back into all my responsibilities. Personal growth issues were not on that list. It was easy to avoid dealing with the things I learned. I told you how I coped with my emotional speed bump last week, but now that I have a little distance and perspective, I need to take some time to dig a little deeper.

I didn’t have any choice about experiencing the emotional roller coaster that a few, small events triggered in me during the days of the wedding. Our emotions don’t typically check our schedule and to-do list before they derail us. But, I do have some choices. I can choose how to handle events in real-time as they unfold, which is what I talked about in the previous post. And I can choose how to learn from it when it’s all over and done. All of our experiences, both good and bad can lead to personal growth.

I practice something I call a rhythm of reflection in my life. It’s a planning tool, a learning tool, and a growth tool. A rhythm of reflection can take an experience like the 24 hours of emotional chaos I went through and transform it from an isolated experience into permanent growth or healing. Today, I’m going to bring you along as I work through part of that process. In this case, because it was highly emotional, I wanted to wait a bit to gain some emotional perspective. But, I don’t want to wait too long (I probably should have done it last week) because too much distance dulls my memories and I lose important details. Let’s walk through the process.

How to Transform Any Experience into Personal Growth

Step One: Request

Spend some time asking God to speak to you through and about the situation.

Abba. Daddy. You know me, you knew this would happen, and you know what comes next for me. You want the best for me and this will be part of that. You made me exactly the way I am for a reason and you hold my future. You know. You know all the ugliness in my inner self and you love me. Unwaveringly. Without reservation. Forever. Fiercely. Help me unlock the truths in this experience that I need to hear. Help me understand the next steps I need to take. And help me to grow into the woman you mean for me to be.

For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. (Colossians 1:9-12)

Fill me with your wisdom and knowledge as I think about that experience, so that I may walk worthy of you, be pleasing to you, bearing spiritual fruit and growing in knowledge of you. Strengthen me with your power, giving me endurance and patience. Than you for everything you’ve given me, for the people in my life, for the experiences I’ve collected, and the grace which changed everything. I love you. Amen.

Step 2: Report

We start by laying out the facts. Pretend you’re a news reporter and describe what happened without interpreting, justifying, or exaggerating.

Here’s what happened. I reacted emotionally to a series of small events over the course of a few days. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, though I knew I was reacting. When the events were over, after being asked how I felt about the weekend, it unexpectedly all came out. I cried, I talked through it, and I cried some more. I knew the reactions I was having were far greater than the stimulus warranted. I couldn’t contain the emotional reaction (my usual response). It lasted about 24 hours and as time passed I was able to understand more about what the feelings were and where they were really coming from.

how to turn any experience into personal growthStep 3: Reflect

Next, I verbalize some things I learned. It’s easy to lose track of what you’ve gained from an experience if you don’t actually think about it. Like studying notes before a test, it helps cement learning in our minds. Here are a few things I learned:

This emotional trigger was a gift from God. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a personal meltdown as a gift before. Well, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced an emotional meltdown like this one. But, I usually don’t look at negative-feeling experiences as a gift. That may be a growth point in itself. This experience was definitely a gift.

I need to slow down enough to experience life to the fullest. I think part of the reason God designed this experience for me when he did is that it was a time outside of my normal life, a time I might be primed for listening by my availability and my need for him. Sometimes things sneak up on us when we’re outside of our normal frame of reference, but God shouldn’t need to wait for me to slow down to hear him. I’ve let the habit of reflection lapse and I’ve been living life at too fast a pace for the last six months. I need to slow down enough to drink in the richness of my experiences, whether it feels good or bad at the time. I need to live at the appropriate pace for my own life, not what culture dictates or what others prefer. I need to be living the essentials of what God has for me and let the rest go. I need to be available to my own life.

Connection is crucial. I’m starting a new project with my boyfriend called Connect Over Coffee (I’m sure you’ll hear more about that later), but I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about personal connection. I’ve been thinking about connection and relationships in a broader sense, the network of community that we create around ourselves and how that adds meaning, health, richness, and depth to our lives.

But, this experience brought me face to face (pun intended) with my need to have a real connection with those closest to me. My relationship experiences have trained me to hold a portion of myself back. At this point, I don’t recognize when I’m doing it and I don’t know how to stop. This was a very clear encouragement to learn how to stop that practice and a vivid reminder that I need the intimacy that a true partnership brings.

Safe relationships are possible for me. I know safe relationships are possible, I know we don’t tend to share the unpleasant sides of ourselves and our social media is only the highlight reel. So, many of us don’t have the pretty, shiny relationships we portray. I certainly don’t have a history of pretty, shiny relationships. But, thankfully, social media wasn’t a thing during those times. What I’m trying to say is that while I know all relationships aren’t as they appear online, I do know that safe relationships are possible. It’s just that my experiences tell me that they aren’t possible for me.

However, that’s not the truth. Our past does not dictate our future. The way that my boyfriend, Tim, responded to me in that 24 hour period, showed me that very clearly. A safe relationship is possible. It will require different patterns of behavior than my previous relationships. But, it is possible.

Growth isn’t always fun, but it’s always worth it. That 24 hour period will not go down in history as the most fun experience of my life. Not by a long shot. But, looking back on it even from the distance of a few weeks, it may be one of the most precious. Trust was born. Lessons were learned. Closeness was dramatically increased. Healing was initiated. I know that my emotional and relational health will take a dramatic step forward if I continue on the path that I started on that weekend. But, there will be work ahead and it won’t be fun either. I want to begin that journey reminding myself that it’s worth it. Growth is worth it.

Step 4: Resolve

Now that I’ve looked at some of the lessons I’ve learned, I need to consider how to apply them. What do I need to do differently moving forward?

Continue the process of living an intentionally slower life. I’ve started making changes in my life that allow me to slow down and do the things God wants me to do. The process is working. I need to keep doing more of that.

Drain the lake. One of the images that kept going through my mind in that 24 hours was that my experience was like a key that was unlocking access to a vast, dark, underground lake. The name of that lake is rejection. This is a completely new revelation to me. It makes total sense with my background, but I didn’t realize the lake was there. Now that I know, I need to deal with it. I’m sure that won’t be a quick and easy process, but I know I need to do it. Personal growth happens in the midst of difficult moments, not when life is coasting along with no hiccups.

Practice the habits that contribute to a healthy, close relationship. I need to lean into the new level of intimacy gained by this experience. My normal response would be to withdraw, but I don’t want to do that. Instead, I need to take this opportunity to learn how to go deeper.

Step 5: Respond

It’s good to understand how I want to do things differently, but personal growth doesn’t happen until I actually take action. So, the next step is to ask myself what specific actions can I take right now to apply those lessons.

Lifestyle: I’ve been thinking about this for a week or so. And while I don’t need one more project (this is about reducing that load, remember?!), this will help me on that journey. Taking small, consistent steps toward a goal brings massive results. So, what I’ll do is start taking one small step each day. One thing eliminated. One choice made. One area cleaned. One better, greener, healthier product swapped out. One “no” spoken. One habit started. I’ll take one “cleaning up” step in my life, whether that’s in my home, my schedule, or my decision-making. And I’ll hold myself accountable by posting about it so you can share my journey.

Rejection: This is the complicated one. How do I drain that lake? It may take counseling. But, I think my first action is to spend time in prayer asking God how he wants me to tackle it. I’ll start there. A concentrated time period of talking and listening to him about that topic.

I walk each weekday morning after dropping my son off at school and part of what I do on that walk is listen to my daily guided time with God. Yep, I use my own products and do my daily SoulShaper. After completing that, for the month of November, I’ll spend some time talking to God about this issue specifically. I’m sure it will take more than that, but this will let me bathe the process in prayer, see how God wants me to tackle it, and allow me to listen before I jump into action.

Healthy Relationship Habits: This one is more nebulous and feels less actionable. Maybe the first step is to have a conversation with Tim about the weekend and about what I need to do differently moving forward. He asked me about how I felt about the wedding, it’s only fair if I ask him how he felt about the aftermath, right?! Maybe we need to pray about it together as well. I have thanked him for how he handled the whole situation, but we probably ought to have a deeper conversation about it. I’ll do that in the next few days.

Step 6: Review

The next step in this process is the key to making lasting change. I mentioned it at the beginning of this article, a rhythm of reflection. I add my action steps to my calendar or my to-do list and I include it on my monthly reviews. At that time I ask whether or not it’s still important, how I’m progressing, and what I need to do next.

Step 7: Recognize

Lastly, take a few moments expressing praise, thanksgiving, and trust in God.

Father, I do thank you for this experience. I appreciate your patience, care, and love for me. I trust you to continue the work you’ve begun. Help me take the actions you desire in response and love others through them. Help me honor you as I learn and create a willing, humble heart in me. I love you, Amen.

And that completes the process! I really wrote this article for myself. I needed to process the event and think about how I wanted to respond. But I thought I’d share the process with you so that you could learn the steps and apply them to your own experiences. You don’t need to write a long blog post to do it and it works for more than an emotional meltdown. You can use it to process a hurtful conversation as you’re sitting in the car waiting to pick up your teenager after a practice or to help you better understand something you enjoyed more than you expected. It will help take any experience and transform it into personal growth.

As a recap, the steps are:

  1. Request: Ask God to speak to you about the experience.
  2. Report: What actually happened?
  3. Reflect: What can you learn from it?
  4. Resolve: How can you apply what you learned?
  5. Respond: What action(s) do you need to take?
  6. Review: How will you be accountable to ask “How is it going?”
  7. Recognize: Express gratitude and trust in God.

If the idea of processing events and experiences this way is totally new to you, it can feel like an awkward process. But it’s an important step toward living an intentional life. Personal growth doesn’t happen by accident, but ny intention.

Practice will make this process feel more comfortable and be a more natural response to your experiences. Start with something simple and get familiar with the steps before you tackle larger life lessons. Write it out—journaling will prompt thoughts you won’t have if you keep it all in your head and will allow you to review your thoughts and actions later.

I pray it will be helpful to you!

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