The article advised me to take a cold shower every morning as a way of increasing my willpower. And maybe helping me wake up.

There were steps:

Boom! Personal growth unlocked, plus (I hear) it’s good for your hair.

This cold shower advice is fine. It’s solid: expose yourself to some degree of discomfort, purposefully, and you develop more tolerance for discomfort.

I’ve seen it in a lot of self-discipline lists and good habit roundups.

It’s also funny.

It was to me, anyway, when I came across it. Funny because we’d moved across town, to a smaller, more affordable place, a couple of months previously. Funny because the new place didn’t have a water heater. Funny because we couldn’t afford to buy a water heater.

Funny because we’d all—me, my husband, our four kids—been taking cold showers daily, for weeks. Not as a personal growth effort, but as a necessary part of life on a barely-there budget.

Did we feel stronger, more powerful, more disciplined? Maybe a little. Mostly we just felt cold.

Personal growth is a weird topic.

I don’t like telling people I write about personal growth, because all-too-often “personal growth” writing is a swamp of wanna-be success advice, admonitions to hustle more, and trash listicles.

In there, though, you find real gems: people who are thinking, researching, trying, experimenting, looking deep, doing stuff, learning from what works and what doesn’t, and sharing their insights.

You also find lots of ways to spend money: courses, books, memberships, subscriptions, software, tools, premium apps, gear, retreats, and so on. That’s cool, too: many of those purchasable items are well worth the money.

But what if you don’t have any money?

What if your budget looks like pay the rent and buy the groceries and… that’s it?

When you are broke,❋ personal growth advice that assumes a certain amount of disposable income isn’t helpful. It can be harmful, in fact, leading you to believe that consciously developing yourself, your person, is a privilege reserved for the affluent.

It isn’t.

Personal growth, at its cold-water core, is nothing more than this:

(And then there’s the built-in irony, when you learn that complete and radical self-acceptance is the best place to start for any sort of lasting internal growth, but that’s another story for another day.)

The purchasable tools and resources and whatnots available to help you in your pursuit of personal development are, for the most part, just that: helpful.

But they’re not necessary.

This is a reminder that a serious, focused, and effective pursuit of personal growth does not require money.

We don’t have to stick strictly to Maslow’s hierarchy. We don’t have to nail survival and comfort before we move on to self-actualization. In fact, the key to our continued evolution and collective growth may be to flip the pyramid.

What would happen if we saw self-actualization as the foundation for life at all economic levels?

Would chaos erupt? Would everything fall apart?

Or would we discover, perhaps, that survival is a shitty and unnecessary goal?

If we can choose awareness over fear, even when being broke has us by the throat, we might find the key to something bigger than personal growth.

We might also find the resources and ideas we need to get out of the scarcity cycles we got stuck in. I can give you no guarantees, but I can tell you this: it’s working for me.

And hey, if you’re already broke, what have you got to lose?

Part 1: becoming aware of your self

Creating awareness of your mindset, your thoughts, your mental and behavioral habits, your identity, your strengths and weaknesses, your fears and desires.

Awareness is the first step toward personal growth. And awareness of self is done by paying attention to what’s going on inside of your own head.

You don’t need money to do this. You need time, and you don’t need a lot of time. 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. That’s enough.

When you’re walking, commuting, waiting for the bus, staying at home because you don’t have money to go out… These are the moments you can use.

Use them to pay attention to your own thoughts and feelings. That’s it. There are a few easy strategies you can use:

Part 2: Seeking valid ways to change and improve your self

Retraining behaviors, letting of limiting beliefs, setting your values, adjusting habits, finding and focusing on your strengths.

It won’t take much time before you notice some things you want to change. Great!

Here’s the key: focus on changing the internal things, not the external things.

Let’s say you have a really negative body image, and a lot of unhealthy habits, and you want to change how your body looks and feels. Excellent. Start with how you think about your body. Start working on the internal changes.

This is a shortcut to effective external change.

Most people focus on changing the externals. They may dump a lot of effort, time, and money into external changes. But without internal changes, the external changes won’t stick.

You are going to take the smart path: first, because you’re smart, and second, because you don’t have the money to dump into external changes. In this case, you are saving yourself some frustration.

So back to our unhealthy/negative body image challenge. Maybe you don’t have access to a gym. Maybe you can’t afford workout clothes. Maybe you have three jobs and don’t have time or energy to exercise. Maybe you can only afford cheap food, so improving your diet seems impossible.

That’s okay. Don’t worry about any external changes. All that matters is what you change on the inside. Here are some ideas:

Part 3: Consciously applying your awareness and your efforts

Developing your current self into a different, better version of you, until the ‘improved version’ becomes your new baseline self, and then you get to do it again.

The more you know who you are, right now, the more you can direct who you are becoming.

What you understand, you can control.

So, if you want to control yourself, understand yourself.

It’s tough work. It can be scary work. But it’s the most important work, and it’s the core of personal growth.

If you don’t do the work of knowing yourself, you’re not doing “personal growth” — you’re just mimicking someone else’s idea of personal growth.

Own your shit.

This is your life. Why follow anyone else’s agenda? What is meaningful for someone else may be meaningless to you. How do you know, until you know who you are and what you want?

As you know yourself more and more, you’ll be able to focus on specific changes you want to make. You’ll be able to direct your attention to a few important things. You’ll be able to let go of distractions, drama, and things that do not serve you.

And your energy, time, and effort will compound to get you faster results, better results, and a lot more fun.

Here are some ideas:

Radical responsibility is the only path to growth.

Do not excuse yourself from making the most of your self and life because you have to start from financial zero.

We all start from some sort of zero. The key is to start. If you don’t start, you stay at zero.

Find a way to start changing yourself.

Start now.

Change yourself and you change your life. Quit making excuses.

Go take that cold shower, because you have to, and realize that every deprivation is a chance to overcome fear and discomfort and become a stronger person.

Broke vs Poor. The two are different, I agree. And both exist on a scale, or spectrum. I deliberately used the term “broke” rather than “poor” because, in my experience, an excellent first step in personal growth is to stop thinking of yourself as poor.

Maybe you don’t have any money right now. Maybe you’ve never had enough money. That’s okay. That’s your past and present, but it doesn’t have to be your future. You can acknowledge the truth of your experience without repeating it:

“I was poor. I am broke. But I am changing. I am learning how to manage money. I am learning how to earn more. I am creating value. I am building wealth. Being broke is a temporary step in my journey toward an abundant life. I am learning what I need to learn to live in abundance.”

Why not try it? Write it out, your own version. Read it every morning and night. Give it 30 days and see what happens. Unless you’re really attached to identifying yourself as a poor person, you have absolutely nothing to lose with this little experiment.

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

July 27, 2019