In a solo episode, Stephanie reflects the tools of personal growth. When people talk about “the tools” they use in their personal growth journeys, there isn’t a standard set of tools that nobody told you about, and you can’t get them at any store. With personal growth and breaking habits and cycles, “tools” can feel a little esoteric. Let’s make it more concrete.

Reflections: The Tools of Personal Growth

I was editing an upcoming episode recently and there was a lot of talk in it about “tools.” When people talk about personal growth, they often talk about tools and I think that shorthand can be frustrating or oblique for people who aren’t yet familiar with the lingo of this arena. 

When people talk about personal growth and development, the word “tools” feels so esoteric because these tools are not hammers and screwdrivers and reciprocating saws. You can’t break habits with a hammer. 

Listen to this episode if you want to get some insight into the “tools” and the “toolbox” of personal growth. 


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Stephanie: Hello and welcome to the 40 Drinks Podcast. I'm Stephanie. Thanks for being here with me. I mentioned earlier this season that I wanted to try to do more solo episodes, so I'm really happy to be here today. In my mind, I'm thinking of these solos as sort of a bonus happy hour with you. So to that end, I have a fancy drink with me today.

It's super hot right now in New Hampshire, so I have a water with raspberry lemonade electrolytes, and a lot of ice. Ooh, I just slushed it on myself. So,

I was editing an upcoming episode this afternoon and there was a lot of talk in it about tools. When people talk about personal growth, they often talk about tools, and I think that that shorthand can be frustrating or oblique for people who aren't yet familiar with the lingo of this area.

So we can all conceive of tools like hammers and screwdrivers, and even some of the things you can accomplish with those tools. But when it comes to personal growth and breaking habits and cycles, the tools can feel a little bit more esoteric. It can feel like a club that you're not a part of and don't know how to get into.

Well, I'm gonna try to help you join the club today. So what are the tools? The very first tool in the personal growth toolbox is awareness, as far as I'm concerned. That might manifest first as awareness that something's not right. Awareness that you're feeling stuck, or that something in your life doesn't fit quite right anymore. Life just isn't feeling good. You're not, you're not happy.

Later it might manifest as awareness of situations or people that might have triggered you to a certain reaction. And however you learn to change how you respond to those triggers is also a tool. Here are some other tools. Self-reflection, honesty, courage, creating a response to triggers that you can count on.

Boundaries are a tool. And anticipation of tricky situations. So tools can be skills like these, but they can also be exercises or things you pick up in books or from workshops or coaches or teachers. So those are examples of tools for like the mental emotional component, but there are also tools for your body as well.

Tools can be things you do for yourself, like getting enough sleep so that you have the energy for your day and the willpower to stay on your diet and eat healthy. Sometimes an Epsom salt and lemon bath is a tool for me. I, I know my body likes that and responds well to it. So if I'm feeling off or tired or run down or if I've poisoned myself by eating the wrong foods, I'll try to remember to get into the bath.

And sure. These last two really fall into the category of self-care, but they're also tools for living a good life.

The word no is a tool. But that's like a level two tool after you learn about boundaries. So tools can be almost anything that you can use and that you can count on to do things differently than you have done before.

If that's a physical thing you put in your pocket so that you can feel it and touch it and be aware of it. Whatever works for you is a tool. So when people talk about tools, remember. They're personal.

Alright. Where do you get the tools? Sometimes we acquire the tools or even make up our own tools with things that we've learned in books or in workshops, or from teachers or even from Instagram posts, for crying out loud.

Here's one from, uh, my early days along a personal growth path. Um, there was a psychic many, many years ago who was a friend and mentor, and he gave me a question to ask. And the question was, "what about you makes that okay?" Ooh, that's a tough one to use.

So I started by using it in my terrible romantic relationships, and it was difficult to work through.

First I'd have to think of a behavior that a boyfriend was displaying that I didn't like or I wasn't comfortable with, or didn't feel good. And trust me, I didn't usually have to look that far. And then I'd have to ask what it was about me that made his behavior okay. And of course the knee jerk response was, it's not okay, meaning the behavior. So, right. It's not okay. So that's step one.

But then I had to push further and ask what it was about me that made that behavior, okay. Which of course, brought along another knee jerk, which was usually nothing about me, says this is okay. Which is again, some small progress.

But the question was really what was missing in me or underdeveloped in me, or overdeveloped in me that allowed me to justify that behavior and stay in the relationship.

Now listen, I know I'm lucky. There really is no physical abuse in my romantic history. So, um, there was definitely some verbal abuse by a college boyfriend who I later dubbed the Antichrist. And after I just looked up some definitions of emotional abuse, I would say that none of my relationships really met that criteria either. So I know that I'm fortunate in that at least.

All right, but what was it in me that made those behaviors. Okay, why did I invalidate myself and my thoughts, my feelings or my emotions about a certain behavior that hurt me or wasn't healthy. For one boyfriend that was hiding the full measure of his alcoholism from my friends and family, despite it being perfectly on display when we were out in any social environment, um, and doing things to enable him as well.

Like cleaning up after him when he made himself sick. Reverse drinking, he used to call it. When he was gonna be sick, he'd go into the bathroom and stand over the toilet and just bombs away. So at like over six feet tall, his aim wasn't great, as you might imagine. And when we lived in our own place, I would leave it until the morning and then go in and tell him to clean up his mess, and he would whine and tell me how sick he felt and how he couldn't possibly clean it.

Or if I could lever him out of bed or off the couch to clean it, he'd just do a shitty job. And since that was the guest bathroom, and at that point in my life I had friends over quite often, I would either have to clean it up myself or clean up his half-ass job so my friends wouldn't see it. And they'd have a nice clean bathroom to use when they came to visit.

And let me tell you, I hate to clean. I'm sure any of my longtime friends or family who listen to this are surprised to hear I cleaned up someone else's vomit reg-u-lar-ly for like five years.

So what was it about me that made that, okay, well, let me take you on a short tangent. After I had been doing some personal development work and I'd seen this psychic a couple of times. I probably read a book or two.I was in the early part of this personal growth journey, but I was definitely on the path. I remember being in my car. It was a cute red convertible. I. With the top down, waiting to pull out of a parking lot, and I, I felt like I got hit with a lightning bolt. I, I realized something profound.

I realized I can't quit things. I can't feel like I'm a quitter, so if there's a relationship that's going bad, I'm just gonna try harder because I feel like leaving it is quitting. I didn't realize at the time the difference between being a quitter. And choosing or deciding that something didn't work for me anymore.

So back to that question at hand, what was it about me that made those behaviors in that relationship okay. Well, first of all, I couldn't quit. I think it was also fear of not finding another relationship, of never finding a good, long lasting relationship. And I think a part of it in that particular realm was the sunk cost fallacy, which is our tendency to continue with something that we've invested time or money or effort into, even if the costs outweigh the benefits, which was definitely the case with this relationship.

So circling all the way back to the beginning of that thought, a six word question was a tool that I used to highlight some things for myself at a certain point in time, which brings up another point.

Some tools you may outgrow. But they will always live in your toolbox. So you can go back to them if you're feeling that they might add value for you at a different point in time. And I've got an example of that in a minute, but I cannot remember the last time I asked myself what is it about me that makes that okay? But I also haven't needed to for a bunch of years.

All right. The next thing I wanna talk about is how do you use these tools? So I talked about this particular one way back in episode three with my friend Jamie. I gave it to her as homework, just like it was given to me by my friend Bill Burns. So, Bill gave me this exercise one of the first times I saw him. He said, at night before you go to bed, sit down with a journal and think about all the things in your day that went well or that pleased you.

That was the key. Think of things that pleased you. So I would go and I would write down a list of things that please mean. It could be anything. It could be, uh, well, I'll give you an, an example or two in just a second.

And then once you wrote that list, you'd go back and you'd look at each item on the list and you'd think, what, talents skills, qualities or abilities do I have, or did I bring to bear in order to make that thing go well? So that's the exercise.

This came to me early on in my personal growth journey. Um, I resisted it for a while, of course, because I can be stubborn and because before we start these things, we usually can't see how in the heck they're going to help us.

And frankly, it's just one more thing to do in a day. And so you turn into, well, by you, I mean me, you turn into a 12 year old and, I don't wanna do it.

But when I did finally start doing this, I did it religiously for about 18 months and it, no lie, changed my life. I, at that point in time, was going so far as to go back and fill in on days that I forgot to do it, or maybe was away for a weekend or something. I was committed to this tool, but it was working.

The thing that it did for me was that it quieted down the mean voice inside my head, which had always been too big and too loud, and it turned up the volume on the nice voice inside my head. So after a while I could hear her and I stopped just dismissing her out of hand. I, I guess I could say I stopped siding with the mean voice in my head.

What ultimately ended up happening is that both voices became more balanced. There was room for both of them, and they both had the same amount of say in my head, and frankly, I think the mean voice may have even become a little nicer over time now that she was sharing space with the nice voice instead of just domineering over her.

I tried to dig my old journals back up to see if there was any concrete examples I could share with you. I literally tore my house apart this morning, tried to find them, and all I could find were some journals from 2019, and I remember very clearly going back to this exercise at some point, which I now know was 2019.

So that was more than 10 years after I initially did the exercise. So these aren't my original reflections, but I think they're pretty, in line with the kind of stuff I was finding, uh, the first time around. So, um, here's a couple ideas. All right. What pleased me today? The outfit I wore today made me look like the preppy handbook Incarnate. It was divine.

And if you know me, I'm a pink girl, so obviously I was wearing pink and green and it was awesome. So what were the talent skills, qualities or abilities I used? Style, I just said there, my, my personal style. Um, here's another one. I was moving slow this morning and having a hard time waking up. So I chose to eat breakfast and do my morning check-in at home. Before meeting the team at the office. What did I use that day? Listening to my body and being gentle with myself. I like that. Um, let's see, where's another one? I have a couple more I wanna share with you. Uh, this was a couple months after my husband and I moved into the house we live in now.

We hung art all through the house today, and it legit looks so different. Homey. Lived in .Grown up. Uh, the talents, skills, qualities and abilities I cited for that nugget were, nesting and settling in. Here's another one. This, I like this one. My husband and I went out to do some errands this afternoon, this evening, and we were very lovey and I was feeling very connected to him. Plus we navigated both being tired and still remained to connected and playful. For that one, I just said connection. Uh, let's see, a couple more.

My husband came home from Maine this afternoon and we sat out on the front stoop talking and catching up. The weather was lovely. The pear tree and the yard are verdant. It was lovely.

Connection. I called that one again.

Oh, here's another one. Same day I made jam with the harvested rhubarb this afternoon. It was a bit of an adventure, and I'm glad I tried it. And my talents, skills, qualities, and abilities there were just trying new things. All right, here's the last one I'll share with you.

I made a call to a client today and just happened to time the call perfectly based on some things that were going on there. She called my timing uncanny. And I said timing on that one.

So just to give you an example of this tool and how I used it, and not that I was using any kind of list of the talents or the skills or the qualities or abilities that I was bringing to the table.

I didn't, wasn't looking up on a, you know, on a sheet that somebody provided me or there were. There was nothing. I just made it up. And whatever came to mind was the thing that I wrote down. As you can see, you know, the talent, skills, qualities and abilities, personal style, connection, timing, being gentle with myself, these were all the kinds of things that I was trying to point out to myself and make that voice bigger in my head.

So I guess what I want you to take away today is that when people talk about the tools they use in their personal growth or development journeys, there isn't a standard set of tools that nobody told you about. You don't have to go to the store and buy a cute little toolkit with everything you need to achieve your dreams.

What you do is follow your nose and stop invalidating the voices in your head that are asking you to pay attention. You read the random book that was recommended. You have the random coffee or lunch date with someone you haven't seen in 15 years. You start paying attention to synchronicities and glimmers, things in the world that feel like they're just for you.

All right, one more story before I go today. I remembered this just the other day and it fits in perfectly here. For the first couple of years that I was on this personal growth path, the universe talked to me in license plates. I know, I know it sounds ridiculous, but remember, I am ridiculous.

Anywhere I went for a couple of years, there were license plates in front of me or parked near I was going that just kept giving me encouragement. They would be things like Breathe or Happy or T H N K B G R, think bigger. Don't stop, dream, be happy. I, I'm not kidding. I could go on and on. It went on for years and then it just sort of stopped.

I live in New Hampshire and we have something like the most vanity plates per capita in the country, so there's vanity plates everywhere you go around here, but for that period in time, they were talking to me.

I think that was a little bit about awareness for me, little breadcrumb reminders to be aware. Little tiny bits of magic just for me, just to prove that magic was real.

All right. Before I leave you today, in each of the episodes where I interview a guest I try to craft the story into an arc. We start with what I call the formative adult years.

So how they got to that place in their thirties or forties where they start feeling what I call the Ick. And then we talk about how they found their way out of it and then built a life that suits them perfectly.

That icky place is where I find myself thinking a lot. Why was it so difficult for me and how could I help to make it less difficult for other people?

Well, to start, I created a two page guide that can help you diagnose whether you are in the throes of the Ick. This guide outlines the symptoms and red flags of the Ick.

As you know, awareness is the first step, and if you're feeling something's not right in your life, maybe reading this little guide would help you put a name to it.

You can get the guide on my website, Spell out the word 40, so that's

Thanks so much for listening today. If anything I've shared brings up anything for you or resonates well with you, I'd be really interested to hear about it.

Until next time, cheers.

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