The Most Common Mistake in Growth Planning and Why it Matters


The most common mistake I’ve encountered in over two decades of teaching and coaching about personal growth planning is stating the growth goal in the form of an activity instead of an affirmation.

It matters. Here’s why.

The activities that produce growth are almost never inherently motivating. If they were, you’d already be doing them.

The simplest example is a health and fitness goal. When stated in the form of an activity it might be to work out three times a week and eat healthier food. Not a bad plan. If you can stick with it.

If you’re out of shape, working out and eating healthy food will almost certainly produce some positive results.  But stating your goal in the form of an activity is not motivating. It’s not something you can post on your mirror to read out loud every morning and recharge your personal growth batteries.

The Power of 5 Whys

Activities focus on what you will do to produce growth. And that’s important. But it’s not inherently motivating. Motivation comes from why, not what.

A popular problem-solving technique designed to get to the root of an issue is to keep asking why, up to five times, to ensure you are exposing the bedrock causal factors. I’ve found the same approach can help when developing a growth goal, especially when you start with an activity-based goal.

When applied to the health and fitness goal it could sound like this:

Why do you want to work out three times a week and eat healthier food?

Because I’m not in good shape.

Why do you want to get in better shape?

Because I don’t have the energy to play with my grandchildren.

Why do you want to be able to play with your grandchildren?

Because family is important to me, and I want to have a positive impact on them.

That’s only three whys and you already get the picture.

Of course, this could go in many other directions depending on the person. There’s no single right answer to any of the whys.

But you can see the motivational difference between having a positive impact on your family and working out three times a week. Once you identify the bedrock of motivation you build on that with an affirmation-based goal.

I Am Affirmations

The best affirmation statements begin with the same two words, “I am…” They serve as the cornerstone of aspiration for a future state of being worthy of disciplined action. Here’s how it might sound based on the whys we used to dig down toward bedrock on the health and fitness goal:

I am enjoying the energy, vitality, and confidence of a healthy lifestyle, including quality play time with my grandchildren.

That’s worth posting on your mirror, your fridge, and your desk.

Writing good affirmation statements is a bit of a skill in itself. But it’s worth the effort. And it could be a reason to work with a personal growth coach. I’ve developed a one-page worksheet designed to help you formalize your growth plan starting with an affirmation statement, then an action plan followed by accountability growth partners and an appraisal/evaluation process. Use this contact form to request the worksheet and we’ll send it to you for free. Just mention personal growth worksheet when you submit the contact form.

If you want to explore this growth planning framework in more detail check out our video blog, Learning @ the Speed of Life.

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