How Do We Grow? By Reaching Beyond Ourselves
Five steps to apply deliberate practice to personal growth
I’ve been thinking a lot about how and when we grow.
When was the last time I felt myself grow?
It’s easy to say that it was when I was traveling, or in college, or even when I first moved to Israel.
But what about recently?
Even more importantly, how can I experience more moments of growth in my day to day? Where do these moments of growth come from?
This post is about those moments of real growth.
It’s about how real growth only happens when we ‘reach beyond ourselves’ and how every interaction with another person is an opportunity to do just that. I also explore how to apply deliberate practice to cultivate more moments of growth.
How Do We Grow? When We Reach Beyond Ourselves
In a beautiful podcast episode about growth and reaching beyond yourself, Rabbi Shlomo Katz says that “real growth happens when we reach beyond ourselves.
This is the beauty of our world, and our life — that we have the power to reach beyond ourselves. To change and do one thing, and suddenly become someone else.
So how do we reach beyond ourselves?
According to Rabbi Katz, “You don’t reach beyond yourself by reading a book, by learning or even listening. Even after you read a million books you’ll still be yourself.”
You reach beyond yourself when you take advantage of moments and opportunities to do something for another person.
But this doesn’t apply to just any moments and opportunities. Doing something for another person can mean being a good friend, or doing someone a favor.
But this is not reaching beyond ourselves. This is right and legitimate. This is within our limits.
So what is reaching beyond ourselves?
Reaching Beyond Yourself — ‘Throwing Away The Mind’
Reaching beyond yourself means having compassion for someone when they don’t ‘deserve’ it.
It means moving past the fact that you’re right and that your feelings are legitimate in favor of being kind to someone else.
In short, it means overcoming your ego — the desire to assert yourself, to prove that you are right.
For example, imagine that you have a chance to yell at someone that should be yelled at. That you have the opportunity to be angry, to rightfully yell at someone and tear them apart.
That this person deserves it.
But you don’t. You resist.
This is reaching beyond yourself.
Why? Because your mind (your ego) is telling you that you are right, that this person deserves to be yelled at. That your anger is legitimate and justified.
But instead you choose to lizrok et hamoach, to ‘throw away your mind.’ To move past what your mind is telling you about being right and legitimate. To resist being angry and humiliating this person.
You instead choose to really see the person in front of you, to be kind and compassionate.
This is reaching beyond yourself. Because being right and legitimate doesn’t bring you to the place beyond yourself, to real growth. Choosing kindness and compassion, when it’s most difficult to do so, does.
The Rabbis say that it takes the earth and sky to hold back from being angry. Moreover, they say that when you insult someone you take away twenty-two years of their life.
Thus, if you can overcome anger — especially when you are completely justified — and resist insulting someone, then you are reaching beyond yourself. And you’ve grown far more than it would have taken you to grow in 10 years.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t talk about the mistake or the wrongdoing.
It does mean that you resist the urge to assert yourself and self-righteousness, that you resist the urge to tear someone apart — not because they don’t deserve it, but because you’re connected to something deeper, something higher.
This is true growth.
Every Interaction Is An Opportunity for Growth
Reaching beyond yourself is not just about resisting anger — it’s about knowing yourself and reaching beyond your limits, beyond your ego, beyond your default settings.
It’s about resisting the urge to assert yourself and prove that you are right.
For example, if you have a tendency to gossip then every moment that you resist this urge is an example of reaching beyond yourself. Every moment that you resist your mind’s rationalizations — i.e. the gossip is true, you have a ‘right’ to gossip, it’s no ‘big deal’, etc. — is a moment of growth.
But you can reach even further.
You can replace the gossip with a kind word about that person. Even when you don’t want to. This is true growth. And every moment like this should be celebrated, you have reached beyond yourself.
The same is true if you’re in a relationship. Every moment that you resist the urge to assert yourself, to be right, or to ‘punish’ your partner is a moment of growth.
Every moment that you reach beyond yourself and actually say a kind word in the moment of anger, is reaching beyond yourself. (Yes I know this is much MUCH easier said than done).
In this way, we have opportunities for growth all the time. Every interaction is a test, an opportunity to overcome our ego and be better, act kinder. It’s hard as hell, but it’s true.
And this is the beauty. Growth doesn’t only manifest in times of extreme change — like travel or grief — but also in the day to day moments of our life.
These moments for growth happen all the time, we’re just too scared, or unaware, or ego-driven or ambivalent to take advantage of them.
We often just let them pass us, instead of seizing them as opportunities for deep growth.
Using Deliberate Practice to Reach Beyond Ourselves
So now that we know how to reach beyond ourselves and grow, how can we improve our ability to identify and take advantage of these moments of growth?
This is where deliberate practice comes in.
Deliberate practice is a technique used to achieve optimal performance. It was popularized by K. Anders Ericsson, who showed that what makes someone great, or an expert, is not talent, but rather expert-level practice — deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice involves gaining new skills and expertise by focusing on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. It requires taking baby steps and continuously repeating them until they become second nature. And it relies on lots and lots of practice.
Just like personal growth.
What if we could view every interaction with someone as practice?
As an opportunity to refine our capacity for kindness and compassion. As a way to perfect this skill of reaching beyond ourselves.
The key word here is deliberate — it’s about being deliberate in our thoughts and actions, about the way we move through and interact with this world and others.
Like I wrote, every interaction is an opportunity for growth. So I started applying deliberate practice to these interactions.
It’s simple, this is how:
- Every Interaction is an Opportunity to Grow: This is a game changer. I’ve started to view every interaction as a ‘test’ — an opportunity to either reach beyond myself, or not — and it makes a difference. Just try it.
- Be Ready for the Test: Before I enter a difficult interaction, i.e. a conversation I know may lead to anger, I tell myself to ‘Be ready for the test”. It’s not magic, but it does help me view this interaction as an opportunity.
- Breathe: During difficult situations (with a partner, colleagues, etc.) I tell myself to breathe before speaking. To take my time, to pause. Again, very far from magic, but it helps.
- Recap: After difficult interactions I assess how ‘well’ I did. Was I as kind as I could have been? Did I help the other person feel seen and understood?
- Celebrate: This stuff is hard as hell. Most of the time I fail miserably. Most of the time I curse this ‘reaching beyond yourself’ sh*t and wallow in self righteousness. But sometimes I don’t. And when I manage to ‘reach beyond myself’ — I celebrate this victory. And it feels good, and it gives me the confidence to try even harder next time.
As usual, my goal is to provide a practical application of these concepts.
So when you wake up in the morning, think about the steps above. Think about the ways you can ‘reach beyond’ yourself today.