The Secret of Personal Growth

A full life is a good life. We fill our schedules with commitments and improvement, work and play. We would like all our activities to be fulfilling but even when they are not we tend to keep them anyway. Better a full life than not. We rather pity those who have not yet found a way of filling their minds.

This outlook misses a critical point – if our lives are full, there is no room for anything new.

For the past eleven years, a strip of my garden had been left to itself. It always grows a great crop of nettles and hogweed. Each winter it died back and then repeated the performance each spring.

Right from the beginning of this year I have mowed the area regularly. There are still some nettles to be seen but, amazingly, growing alongside is a new range of plants that were not there before. Simply cutting the growth every few weeks has changed the harvest.

There is a clear analogy here with the general observation on life – 'if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got'. For a different exit, change what you do and enjoy what flowers.

If we want to grow beyond where we are now, both personally and professionally, we need to make room.

Think of a forest planted for timber. The saplings are first positioned near each other to encourage them to grow straight. After a period of a few years, the forester carries out thinning when some trees are filled to make room for the others to develop. At interviews during the life of the trees, more thinning will take place to allow the forest to reach full maturity.

If you've traveled in the countryside in the winter, you may have seen a hedge laid in the traditional way. This harsh pruning is the best way to rejuvenate it. Even when an old trunk has been cut off at ground level – just a stump – it will make fresh youthful growth in the spring.

There is an amusing side to this ability of nature. In many areas of waste ground and alongside railway tracks, there are buddleia bushhes – very popular with butterflies. Land owners see the plants as weeds and send men to cut them down. The thing is that the pruning stimulates even more growth!

The recognition that sometimes we need to make room in our lives has spawned a service industry of de-clutterers. They will help you 'prune' your domestic environment, and some offer a similar service for offices.

The scope for pruning goes well beyond our physical environment. For example, we may have goals that have passed their sell-by date. They have been part of our mental landscape for some time and have played their part in shaping our lives up to this point. But now they are a distraction, perhaps even an irritation which we no longer need. We can liberate ourselves by trimming out-dated goals, making room for new, inspiring ones.

We may have dreams that no longer serve us. They were once the beacon that guided our life and helped in choosing goals. Now they reflect 'who we were' rather than 'who we are' and it is time to let them go.

Some relationships can choke our growth. A healthy relationship works by mutual benefit so if our own development is stifled it is time to make changes. We can review the time and energy we put into the relationship. Perhaps those precious resources would be better spent differently. We can look for other ways to influence the relationship towards a better balance. We could even decide on closure and move on.

However busy and successful we are, we can create some space, a degree of emptiness for new growth. Pruning cuts down competitiveness effects that smother fresh shoots. When we have the courage to prune, the pile of 'cuttings' are not seen as 'what might have been', but the inspiring step towards 'what can be'.