People (and other organisms) have a desire (or instinct) for growth. There is some sense for us that we wish to become something more. This is most noticeable in the early years of our lives. We want to crawl then walk, imitate sounds then get better at speaking, learn gradually more complicated games, and so on. Later we like to get better at relating to others and at a hobby or our chosen work.
We seem to have some impulsion to growth. The image for this that I like best is the seed or acorn. I like this image because it allows for the influence of environment (soil, wind and so on), the sense of our developing individuality (every oak tree is different), and the sense of a shared identity (every acorn and oak tree are in some sense the same). What’s more, this impulse to growth is natural – we don’t need to tell an acorn to grow into an oak tree.
These kinds of ideas lie at the heart of one approach to self-development. People have a natural impulse for what is good for them – and with the right environment and support they will flourish and become the splendid individual they were meant to be.
I am in complete agreement with this approach. I think that ‘shoulds’ often impede people rather than helping them, in my observation and experience it is acceptance of who we are that leads to change and growth. Whenever I have been in the place where another can share with me what they have most wanted this has always been healthy (however awful the expression of it has been the desire has been healthy. For instance, those who are quite violent can be seeking to protect their vulnerability. VERY important note: this does not mean that behaviour is not dealt with, it means that there is a possibility of the behaviour being changed.)
It can be complicated.
This sounds simple enough. I think it is in some ways.
The main complication, as I see it, is that people are a learning species. We have far fewer instincts than other critters. While we desire to flourish (as any organism does), this involves learning much from others – especially in the social world. Most of our lives are spent with others and how we get on with them has a big influence on how enjoyable our lives are and the extent to which we flourish.
Pointing out how important learning is to people highlights the importance of teaching. The most important teaching is usually done by our biological parents or other early care givers. There are also friends and other parent figures as well as those who teach us how to do specific things (from learning hobbies to the tasks we do for paid work).
A big feature of a healthy environment for people is good teaching.
Any impulse or desire can lead to frustration (if the impulse can’t be expressed or the desire satisfied). In one sense frustration is a sign of health.
A biological organism, like a person, that has needs which need to be met (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social in my view) will usually experience a life of frustration and satisfaction. The extent to which we flourish depends very much on the extent to which our desires are met and frustrations overcome.
The promise of frustration is clarity. If we are frustrated there is something definite to work with – we know that we want something.
If we are frustrated then our impulse to growth is being frustrated in some way: we are ‘hungry’ for something. It may be good food, or friendship, a vocation or to understand. To trust life means to trust our frustration enough to listen to it. If we can listen we will get in touch with our needs and perhaps experience flourishing just that little bit more.
How to listen to a frustration
- Observe the frustration in your body. What are the sensations? Are there tight muscles? Are there sensations on your skin or inside your skeleton?
- Pay attention to day dreams. Are there things that you usually think about in idle moments? What kinds of things? These can be a valuable clue to unmet needs or desires for your future.
- Imagine in what situation you would be free of this frustration. How can you make this more a part of your life? You may not be able to live a life of idleness on a tropical island (giving away something about my daydreams), but you may be able to find times of idleness in your day.
I hope you find these few suggestions helpful. Listening to our frustrations is a pathway to a flourishing life.
Would you like to feel less stressed?
Could you do with more joy in your life?
The answer is living authentically. Buy the book or sign up for the course now from my Living Authentically website.