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Personal Growth One Step At A Time

The one Constant in life is Change. Sometimes you change by choice. Sometimes you change by necessity. Choice is a necessity when you are doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (i.e. use same recipe, get same cake). The upside of necessity is that necessity is the mother of invention. Doing things differently is like a journey and any journey is made easier when you have a road map. This is what this page aims to help you with, so here’s to personal growth one step at a time, and to creating clarity in any if not this, then what  situation.

Know Your Bearings

For to work, you need to enter both From: and To:. If you are unhappy with your current situation and you want change, then you need to know your From: and your To: (this page helps you). The better you know both, the more satisfactory your journeying will be. You don’t just need a road map, you need resources (e.g. car, petrol, sandwiches, walking boots, appropriate clothing) and apply the British Armed Forces’ 7Ps (Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance). Approach life-changes like you do physical journeys and you may be surprised by how clear and easy change becomes. It’s figuring out who it is you are trying to be, or more precisely who it is you want to be and you aim at that, that’s your long-perspective. Below is how Han van de Braak BSc LicAc MCSP MBAcC (Retd.) coached patients for whom choice was a necessity.

Starting Point

Ideally you have flip-over chart paper, a pencil, a rubber, patience, the balls to be brutally honest with yourself and a nice cup of tea. Put a notice on your door that reads Do Not Disturb Unless The Building Is On Fire, because you need quiet space to think, ponder, write, rub out, rewrite and let your (gut) feeling be involved. First write down why you want change and do answer also the why now if a niggle has been there for some while. The below may help with this:

what do you like about ‘where you are now’ what do you dislike about ‘where you are now’
who are your helpers who hinder(s) you
what are you good at what are you not good at
what are you passionate about
how do you spend your time

Way Points

The chap in the header picture is crossing a river. He cannot jump from one riverbank to the other, so he uses stepping stones. His journey from one riverbank to the other is a series of next logical steps. The causeway stones (his waypoints) are linear but in life stepping stones can be a meandering path. Bearing in mind your destination, ask yourself “what is my next logical step” and, if that step seems frightfully big, then please divide it into smaller steps so as to make your journey, not withstanding hard work that may need undertaking, achievable and enjoyable. You have a reasonable level of ‘control’ over your small steps, you don’t have ‘control’ over the ultimate outcome, so focus on each of every ‘next logical steps’, one step at a time. Another important thing about you stepping along your waypoints is that every successful step (action), however little, enables you to feel good about You. Stepping along your waypoints helps you build your self-respect, and that is a joyful thing to do.


Not all those who wander are lost. Life offers many destinations and many journeys. Personal Growth One Step At A Time is about the long-perspective of being able to look back on a happy, fulfilled life. It is a destination worth being mindful of in the ‘here and now’. Sir Ken Robinson’s book title says this beautifully “how finding your passion changes everything”. He refers to you being in your Element (see diagram below) which is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. Your long-perspective destination needs the recognition of your Passion and Purpose (talents and abilities), next you can pencil Potential into it. Sir Ken makes a very interesting point: “for most of us the problem isn’t that we aim too high and fail; it’s just the opposite, we aim too low and succeed”. Such a ‘destination’ predictably feels unsatisfactory, so, instead aim at the highest possible next logical step for you. Nelson Mandela quoted Marianne Williamson’s poem, the first line of which is “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. Fear of responsibility and fear of failure can be paralysing if you let them. What do other people think? If the chap in the header picture slipped and got his feet wet, sure, people may laugh or sneer, but friends are empathetic and offer help. Those are the only people that matter (your Helpers). Spot the difference between people laughing with you and people laughing at you. About those latter, remember that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent (Eleanor Roosevelt). The better you know your starting point, your waypoints, your destination(s), the easier it is to live your priorities. Fears are easier overcome. Pride in yourself grows. From small acorns big, happy oaks grow. Strive not to be a success, but rather strive to be of value. Being of true value to others is a wonderful blessing… Be the change that you wish to see in your/the world.

Sir Ken Robinson The Element

So, again use your flip-over chart paper, pencil and rubber. Create undisturbed time & space and brew a nice cup of tea. Write down any ‘Destination’ with a totally open mind. Meaning that you don’t immediately comment on your scribbles with ‘yes but…’ or barge in with value statements. Let ideas flow, let gut feeling flow… feel free to doodle a bit. Perhaps worth noting that the difference between a dream and a fantasy is that the latter would not truly deliver happiness or a sense of purpose. Focus on your dreams when you describe a long-perspective:

how would what you are passionate about express itself
how would you use your talents (something one is born with, your natural ability to do something without really thinking about it)
how would you use your abilities (something that you can do after acquiring knowledge and skills)
what qualities matter in your spouse (life partner)
what level of disposable income are you aiming for
what do you want your ‘home‘ to be like
how do you cope with risk, are you uncertainty-averse or uncertainty-tolerant

These are some questions you could ask yourself to find a long-perspective that might deliver a happy, fulfilled life. Visualising your destination should be like stepping into a warm bath or, if like me, you don’t like baths, under a warm shower. You imagining yourself there already should trigger a little flush of endomorphines (happy hormones). Now that you have your starting point and a destination point mapped, it is time to plan your waypoints and prep for the journey! Your destination point is only ever a DIRECTION and the joy in life comes from the steps you take in that direction. You walking your stepping stones into the direction you ‘defined’ is the journey and the journey is more important than the arrival. It is in a way like this… ‘take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’. Take care of you walking and enjoying your stepping stones and any destination will take care of itself.

Tony was referred to me for palliative care. He clearly was an intelligent man and yet he held a surprisingly modest job at British Steel. I asked him about this and he replied “I earn enough to have a home, to feed my family well, our kids are good, we’re happy and this job gives me the time to do what I love doing”. He repaired brass instruments for Colliery Bands. Tony turned this whole idea that ‘what you do work wise must be what you love doing’ upside down. He didn’t dislike his job, it was just that Tony was in his Element in the world of brass music, his hobby. He lived a life filled with happiness and a sense of purpose. Before he passed away he gave me one of his treasured books.

Resources and 7Ps

As you are your most important resource, you looking after yourself is of paramount importance. With Personal Growth One Step At A Time you are penciling your long-perspective. Interestingly, the greater discomfort my patients were in, the shorter their time frame became and the smaller their sphere of attention. That’s the opposite of what you need, so look after your health: you sleep enough, you get up at the same time (be easy on circadian rhythm i.e. sleep/wake cycle), you ingest clever smoothies every (other) day, you eat healthily, you keep fit. None of this is difficult or expensive. Telltales of success (you looking after yourself as a resource) are you looking at you standing butt naked in front of a mirror, the size label on successive clothing, how long you can sprint at maximum speed for. If the mirror puts on weight, if the wardrobe shrinks garments, if it’s “sorry I’m late my legs were slow” (Spike Milligan)… short-term it may not matter, long-term it always does.

The chap in the header picture might be wishing “I can see clearly now the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way” (Jimmy Cliff). Clarity simplifies life, “do not walk on the grass”, “do help yourself to another sandwich”… no ambiguity, no confusion, no stressy conflict inside your brain, no stress hormones released. One way businesses tackle clarity is by doing SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats written down in four quadrants) and you too will encounter obstacles along the way. Sometimes you can map (and overcome) these before setting off, sometimes you do this on the fly or you find a work-around. Between the Bank Of Mum & Dad and generally money being more available now at lower rates than ever before, money rarely is an insurmountable obstacle. A bigger obstacle may be where to find good, experience-based, outcome-proven advice and guidance (e.g. as a regatta sailor I would ask for advice about roll-tacking from winners on the podium, not from those who cross the finishing line last, just in time to switch the lights off). Find such an experienced teacher to get/grow skill sets relevant to your journey. Sometimes you are your own obstacle… You need people who love you but also who will not mollycoddle you and will say it as it is, if need be.


How much does it matter to you that you reach your destination(s)? On a scale from 1 to 10… I ask this because an enormous number of people actively self-sabotage a transition from Starting Point to Destination Point (even when that is, say, a fantastic ‘pub on the peninsula of Knoydart in the Scottish Highlands’). Not infrequently you are too critical of yourself when you are trying out something new (equivalent of you laughing and sneering at a 9 months old learning to walk). Not infrequently you don’t take responsibility for your own actions and your non-actions (i.e. what you do is not congruent with what say that you want). Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with whom you were yesterday, it is your journey and yours alone irrespective of others travelling a (part of the) route with you. Given that time and tide wait for no man, you would be wise not to spend too much time, attention or energy on things that are not your business. It’s not egotistical: when oxygen masks come down in an airplane, you must put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping anyone else with their oxygen mask. When your brain goes without oxygen, things can get ugly quickly i.e. flying at 35,000 feet you only have seconds of useful consciousness. Mind your own business is not an invitation to or endorsement of selfishness, far from it, it simply is that a stronger you is better able to help others.

When you ask yourself “how do you spend your time” be attentive to distractions. Self-sabotage by social media where misprojected anger, ignorance, delusion and an antidepressants and opioid epidemic rule. Self-sabotage by television because you are too knackered to do something else, or you cannot be bothered to do something that would help you. Harsh I know, so what about ‘a little of what you fancy’ and ‘everything in moderation’ and all that… fair enough, but when it comes to asking yourself “does this help or hinder” you more than likely know the answer, you make the choice. If your behaviour is not congruent with what you are aiming for, then whom are you kidding? There’s one last thing about inertia… if you don’t have a plan, you become part of somebody else’s plan. If that sounds too harsh, then try if you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. Either way, not figuring out who it is you want to be isn’t helping you. Stop standing in your own way.

I am the only problem I will ever have… and I am the only solution. If you want success, the foremost thing is to ensure that you are not the obstacle to it.

Random Acts Of Kindness

In your Hero’s Journey you are the key figure. Equally important however are your Helpers. Say ‘thank you’ to them often and mean it (i.e. understand that no helpers often means no journey). In your strength and good fortune of having your oxygen mask on, be a helper to others. Random acts of kindness, in my book, have a lot going for them. Your generosity of spirit does’t just help recipients, it makes you whole. “For it is in giving that we receive” (St. Francis of Assisi).


One vital ingredient to make any journey successful and enjoyable is a keen sense of humour. When there is an obstacle in your way, a joke can lighten the burden or defuse tension. More importantly, humour can be an antidote against you taking yourself too seriously. Most people get their feet (or more) wet ‘crossing the causeway’. Be the one who takes it lightheartedly and, at the same, as a lesson learned and not to be repeated. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts (Winston Churchill). One of the most important predictors of success is grit (perseverance with your passion), so be gritty or grow some. Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm (Winston Churchill again)…

Massively useful tools online!

Personal Growth One Step At A Time - Mapping by Han in 1987Personal Growth One Step At A Time isn’t a theory to me, I use this myself (the ‘do want/don’t want in work, life-partner and home’ scribbles on the right are mine and date back to 1987). My family uses it as do many of my patients. Since then, it now being 2021, outstanding yet inexpensive online tools have become available and the below two are top notch. with a view to you better understanding yourself. (the full suite) with a view to you get a better perspective on your past, present, and future potential.
In my nautical perspective terms, the first programme helps you find your position on the maritime chart and improve your knowledge about your boat’s strengths and quirks. The second programme is akin to an RYA Coastal Skipper course, which helps to plan and make your passage, your Hero’s Journey in life, as good as it can be.

Please don’t do either of these tests when you are hungry (blood sugars) or tired, or when you’re feeling down, or in a bad mood (about yourself or otherwise), or feeling self-critical, or when you are likely to be interrupted or distracted. You want to take it seriously as you can only do this test once (because these programmes are ongoing research programmes). Answer the questions as you are typically, not as you would like to be. You don’t want to be too hard on yourself or too easy to yourself, you want to be as accurate as possible because then you will benefit the most from the feedback.

Self-authoring can reconfigure certain elements of your behaviour and perhaps, over the long run, your personality. The self-authoring helps you write an autobiography and detail about both positive and negative experiences of your past. This can help you capitalise on the positive experiences and figure out how to duplicate them and maybe put the negative experiences to rest. This is a good way to reduce what is called trait neuroticism and the evidence for that is that writing programmes of this sort tend to improve people’s mental health and decrease their negative emotions and stabilise them.

If you take the personality test and, say, you are not happy for instace with your scores on trait neuroticism, and you feel that you would beneft from some additional emotional stability, then the past-authoring programme might be worth considering. The present-authoring progamme also is a personality exercise of a sort, but what it helps you do is centre on your virtues and your faults using a Big Five model again. So you can identify what is good about your personality and figure out how to capitalise on that in the future. It helps you identify where your major weaknesses are and figure out how to rectify those. That is useful for general personality work. The future-authoring programme helps you think about your life. The test’s authors think of it as an adjunct to conscientiousness perhaps over the long run and also as an exercise that could increase positive and decrease negative emotion bias by helping you establish your goals and stabilise your view of the world. In the future-authoring programme you are asked to consider your life along some seven dimensions: friendship; intimate relationships; what you do outside of work with your private life in terms of useful and creative activity or enjoyable activity or social activity; what you are aiming for in your career; how you are going to configure your self education; how you are going to take care of yourself mentally and physically; how you are going to handle your use of drugs and alcohol. You are asked to think about yourself three to five years down the road as if you were taking care of yourself, as if you were a valuable person. Because you want to extend that courtesy to yourself because you are as valuable on average as anyone else and you should treat yourself that way. Kindly note that I have no vested interest in either test programme, I just think that they are fantastic tools to help you navigate life more elegantly (less pain, more joy).

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One Comment

  1. I have really benefited reading One Step at A Time, as I do all these links . I enjoy revisiting them as every time something new stands out to me. Very wise words and practice put in a very approachable way, everyone can benifit from this.

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