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Cultivating Capacity: The Key to Sustainable Growth

Think of a habit you've been struggling with or a goal you've been trying to achieve. Waking up early? Exercising? Taking out more time for your hobbies? Finding a job? You've tried all external goal-setting methods but nothing has worked. So what next?

Have you tried looking inwards? Have you considered if you even have the capacity to accomplish these goals? Are you just being too harsh with yourself and hoping it will work?

Capacity can mean different things to different people: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Here are some examples:

  • If you are burnt-out at your workplace, you might simply not have the capacity to indulge in your hobbies even on the weekends. Maybe what you need is rest.

  • If you are going out on weekdays and sleeping late, your body might be too tired to wake up early to get that hour of exercise.

  • If you are dealing with intense emotions because of your personal relationships, you might not be able to achieve your professional goals in that duration either.

If a flower doesn't bloom, if a plant is withering away, do we force it to grow by being harsh with it? Can we blame and shame it into growth? Or do we look at its environment and see what is missing? Is the plant receiving enough nourishment, warmth, and light to grow? Is it even its season to bloom? We take care of the support the plant receives, and then the next step in its growth comes naturally to it.

Similarly, we cannot force people to bloom either. We cannot just set goals and use habit trackers and goal plans without considering our surroundings and conditions. People don't exist in isolation. You are not immune to whatever else is happening in your life. You can, however, be mindful of where you are 'planted.' That is, acknowledge the limitations and restrictions within which you live and survive. This is the key to real and sustainable growth.

Step by Step: Building a Foundation

  1. Assess Your Current Capacity: Take stock of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states. Ask yourself if you have the energy and resources to pursue your goals right now. Recognize if you need rest or support before you can start building new habits.

  2. Identify Limitations and Adjust: Understand the constraints you’re operating under. If you’re burnt out, prioritize rest. If your schedule is packed, see where you can make small adjustments to free up time. For example, cutting down on weekday social outings to get more sleep can help you wake up early for exercise.

  3. Set Flexible Goals: Rigid goals can set you up for failure. Instead, aim for flexible targets. For example, commit to exercising 3 out of 5 days a week. This way, missing a day doesn’t mean you’ve failed; you’re still on track.

  4. Create Options: Give yourself choices to keep the practice engaging. For instance, commit to spending 15 minutes every morning journaling, meditating, or practicing a breathing exercise. This variety helps you maintain the habit without the pressure of being 100% consistent daily.

  5. Be Kind to Yourself: Use techniques to make the transition smoother and go easy on yourself. Remember, the goal is to be compassionate towards yourself—whether you manage to stick to the habit or not. As long as you have the right intention and put effort into accomplishing your goal, it is enough. Try again next time and welcome yourself back with open arms each time.

The Environment for Growth

Just as plants need the right environment to thrive, so do you. You cannot force growth in harsh conditions. Instead, focus on creating a supportive environment:

  • Physical Needs: Ensure you’re getting enough rest, nutrition, and physical care.

  • Emotional Needs: Address any emotional turmoil or stress. Seek support if needed.

  • Mental Needs: Reduce cognitive overload. Simplify your tasks and set realistic goals.

  • Spiritual Needs: Spend time on activities that nourish your soul and provide inner peace.

Practical Steps to Support Your Growth

  1. Set Processes, Not Just Goals: Focus on the processes that lead to achieving your goals. For example, instead of just setting a goal to exercise, create a routine that supports it. Plan your meals on Sundays to save mental space during the week, ensuring you have the energy to exercise.

  2. Ask Yourself What You Need vs. Want: Differentiate between your needs and wants. For example, if you need more sleep to feel energized, prioritize going to bed earlier over late-night social outings.

  3. Be Mindful of Your Current State: Regularly check in with yourself to assess your capacity. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, acknowledge it and give yourself permission to take a break. Remember, it’s okay to postpone goals if you don’t have the capacity right now.

  4. Build a Supportive Environment: Create a space conducive to your goals. This might mean organizing your workspace, setting up a cozy corner for meditation, or creating a quiet place for reflection.

Examples of Mindful Adjustments

  • Physical Capacity: “I need to cut down on my social outings during weekdays because I want to sleep and wake up earlier to exercise.”

  • Emotional Capacity: “I want to go out and meet my friends this weekend instead of doing that deep cleaning at home.”

  • Mental Capacity: “I need to plan my meals every Sunday so that I have more mental space during the week when I am already busy with work.”

  • Spiritual Capacity: “I simply don’t have the capacity to take on anything extra right now. This goal will have to wait for next week/month/year.”

Remember, growth is a journey, not a destination. It’s about being kind to yourself, understanding your limits, and creating an environment that allows you to thrive. Step by step, slow and steady, start with building a strong foundation. Then, build your habits and goals on top of it. Take care of the little things first, be kind to yourself as you juggle your goals, responsibilities, and situation.

Instead of forcing yourself to do something when you don’t even have the capacity to do it, become mindfully aware of your current physical, mental, and emotional state, and support yourself accordingly. Ask yourself, "What can I do so that this habit or goal comes naturally to me?"

By setting the right intentions and creating a supportive environment, you’ll find that growth happens naturally and sustainably. Welcome yourself back with open arms each time you stray, and celebrate the journey of becoming your best self.

P.S. Here's a bonus worksheet to help you get started!

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