The Difference Between Change and Growth – And Knowing Which You Need

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Two words that get bandied about a lot in the personal development sphere are “change” and “growth”. You’ve probably noticed, for instance, that this blog is called “The Change Blog”, and that Peter describes in his personal mission statement a commitment to  maintaining a “personal growth blog”.

It’s tempting to use “change” and “growth” in a woolly sort of way, meaning “living a better life”, but in fact, they’re quite different concepts:

What’s Change?

Change Often Means a Turn-Around

When you talk about changing your life, you might mean going back to college, moving to a new city (or country), or starting a family.

Change Can Be A One-Off Event

Some changes happen suddenly, like losing your job. The effects will change the days, weeks and months to come … but the change itself is relatively sudden and self-contained.

Change Can Be Externally Imposed

Not all changes are ones you choose. In fact, many might come from the outside. Some of these will be negative changes (eg. the death of a relative), some might seem like negative changes but later become positive ones (eg. becoming a father). Either way, knowing how to manage change is important for making the best of these times.

What’s Growth?

Growth Takes Time

Whilst a change can happen overnight (whether it’s a paradigm shift in the way you think, or an external change like becoming a mother/father) … growth always takes time. You can’t become an expert in a day, or completely shed all your old bad habits in a week.

Growth Is An Incremental Process

When you’re growing, you’re moving steadily in one direction. This could mean gradually becoming a better parent; consistently working towards a promotion or career shift; getting a degree or other qualification.

Growth Needs Motivation

While changes can come from the outside, growth always comes from within you. Other people might support, help and encourage you – but ultimately, you have to want to grow. It takes energy and effort on a long-term basis … which means you need to keep up your motivation.

Do You Need Change or Growth?

At some times in our life, we may need to face up to big, radical changes. These can sometimes be painful to endure or even to contemplate … but on the other side lies a better life.

Other times, we’re pretty much on track – we just need to keep going onwards, rather than getting complacent. This is when growth is called for. It can be a big mistake to assume that whenever things aren’t perfect, you need to change … sometimes, you just need to keep on in the same direction?

So which situation are you in and how can you figure out whether you need change or growth? For me, the best way to distinguish between the two is to consider whether the situation you’re in could get better if you applied some thought and effort. If you feel that there’s no realistic hope for it ever improving, it might be time for a radical change. This is especially so if your current actions are making the situation worse.

Here’s an example that might have come up for you in the past (or which might arise in the future): you’re considering leaving your current job.

CHANGE might be required if:

    • You got the first job you could find out of college, and you’ve never felt passionate about it
    • Your health (mental or physical) is suffering because of your job
    • You’ve found a passion which, if only you’d known about it years ago, you’d have followed as a career.

GROWTH might be required if:

    • You know the work your company does is important, but your role is getting boring
    • You’re finding it hard to get on with your colleagues
    • You’d like to step up to the next level, within the same company

You can look at other situations in a similar way. Think about your finances: do you need to make radical changes (like cutting up your credit cards?) or do you simply need to grow (by learning more about financial topics, and by slowly increasing how much you save each month?) Or what about your relationship with your partner: if you’re having problems, is this because change is needed (such as a separation, or a complete turn-around in how you relate to one another) or do you need to grow (by gradually seeking to become more patient, loving and understanding)?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer in matters of personal development, and one person may need to change fundamentally where another just needs to grow in a particular area. What are the big changes that you’ve made in the past – or that you know you need to make now? Where have you seen steady and incremental growth in your life?

Photo by Ana Santos