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It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with my current state of health and fitness. It’s just that I’ve come to understand that for me, this is an area where committing to a cycle of continuous improvement and growth just feels right.

I say “cycle” of continuous improvement because I’ve discovered that personal change is rarely linear. Rather, it proceeds through a series of repeating stages. And collectively, those cycles form an ever-expanding spiral — kind of like a stretched-out Slinky.

Observing and understanding this phenomenon has changed my life in many ways, and it has made the process of change so much more rewarding. So I figured that this, our “Get Growing!” issue, would be an ideal place to share it.

Way back in our 2003 “Resolution Workshop” (January/ February 2003), we drew attention to the basic cycle of personal change, which (when it’s working) progresses through the following stages.

Stages of Personal Change

Assessment: What’s working in my life and what’s not? What do I want? What’s best for me to focus on now?

Commitment: I’m choosing to make a change. This matters to me and I’m willing to do the work.

Feedback: Hmm, I’m making some progress and encountering strengths I didn’t expect. But I’m also running into some barriers, and I’m discovering some self-sabotaging tendencies I didn’t know I had. My original plan of action may require some tinkering …

Follow-Through: OK, I’m adjusting my approach in order to overcome these obstacles; I’m reconnecting with my deepest motivations for wanting to change; I’m reaching out for the support and resources I need to keep moving ahead.

This brings us back to assessment, of course: How are things now? What successes can we acknowledge and celebrate? What lessons can we harvest, both from our recently revealed strengths and our areas of challenge? With this new information in hand, we launch back into our commitment, get more feedback, and the cycle continues on.

By this time, though, our goal and purpose may have become clearer. Perhaps our understanding of the work required has crystallized. Perhaps we’ve gotten a little stronger. The point is, as long as we’re learning and growing, we never go through the cycle exactly the same way twice.

As long as we keep returning to the cycle, incorporating feedback and following through on what we discover, we can’t help but grow in the direction of our highest choices. And that means we are always succeeding — even if we appear to be moving backward during the feedback phase, even if the achievement of our so-called final goal still seems a long way off.

The best growth experiences, of course, aren’t really about a final destination. They’re about the process and all the enriching rewards we get along the way. And I can think of no other area of life where this is more evident than in the area of personal health and fitness.

We have a tendency to look at all that stands between us and our “ideal bodies” and our “ultimate athletic goals” and think: Oh, ugh, that seems so far away; I can’t bear to start. We get so focused on the results that the process seems an unfortunate means to a desirable end. Every setback seems like a hopeless failure. But in reality, if we are willing to invest ourselves in the cyclical process of choosing, doing, learning and then choosing again, an unexpected sort of magic happens — often from the moment we begin.

Suddenly, the path ahead looks entirely different than it did when we stood outside the cycle looking in. Often, in fact, that looping path becomes every bit as captivating as the previously all-important destination. And with every trip around the cycle, we pick up a little steam. As we build momentum, the process gets easier.

We conceived the May issue of Experience Life as a celebration of this process, and also as a wake-up call to the immense potential we each possess. If you can hear that call, step into the cycle. Your next loop is ready whenever you are.

Thoughts to share?

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