What Plants Can Teach You About Personal Growth
The plant lineage is thought to have split from the animal lineage approximately 1.547 billion years ago.
So you might be wondering, what could we possibly have in common with them? After all, they don’t think, talk, move, or have to face the struggles of life, right?
Well, I’ve recently been studying plant development and biotechnology at university, and have come to realise that like most people, there's a lot more to plants than what you see from the outside. When you begin to understand the complexity and intricacies of their growth process, you notice that there’s a lot that we can learn from them.
If you’re currently feeling stuck in a rut when it comes to personal growth, learning about how to grow, from nature might shift your perspective (and if not, you’ll still learn cool facts about plants).
1) The direction of growth varies depending on the environmental stimuli
Plants exhibit tropism- this means that they respond to a variety of external stimuli such as light (phototropism), oxygen (oxytropism), and water supply (hydrotropism), which in turn, impact the direction of their growth. It’s why we commonly hear of sunflowers turning to face the sun.
Likewise, your environmental conditions also play a role when it comes to shaping the direction of your life. Some gurus might tell you that change is all internal, and nothing external matters. Maybe that’s true to some extent, but why stay in the wrong environment and make the journey of self-growth harder than it already is?
Your environment includes anything from the people you spend time with, the tidiness of your room, the types of food you eat and even the country you live in.
Ask yourself how you feel about these things. Do you surround yourself with the right friends? Is your living environment conducive to the life you want to live? Would you change anything if you knew that the things you spend the most time on are literally shaping you?
‘Be careful the environment you choose, for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.’ ― W. Clement Stone
Taking an inventory can help you notice what areas in your life need adjustment. As with plants responding to multiple stimuli simultaneously, your identity is shaped by a combination of all these factors, so a few tweaks here and there can add up to a lot.
Once you set the environment right, growing in the right direction will feel like less of a constant uphill struggle.
2) The timing of flowering depends on both endemic signalling mechanisms and external conditions
Whilst the environment is a key factor when it comes to growth, for both plants and humans like yourself, you can also be reassured by the fact that internal mechanisms also have influence.
In plants, this means that their circadian hormone rhythms (yes, plants also have them!) and other internal chemical signals trigger key developmental events such as the timing of flowering.
By the same token, as you progress on your personal-growth journey, it’s important to pay attention to the signs coming from within. Your gut instincts. Your inner monologue. Your intuition.
Pay attention to what you’re being guided towards. Don’t waste your life trying to grow in ways that aren’t in alignment with your true desires. In a society where many of us refer to external validation for happiness or success, its vital to listen to what your deepest self is trying to tell you.
‘Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.’ — Steve Jobs
3) Growth takes patience
What amazes me the most when it comes to plants, is that you don’t actually witness their growth for a while until suddenly, it’s already happened. For example, I have a tiny plant on my desk, and I randomly noticed the other day that instead of 4 leaves, there was a brand new 5th one.
This plant has been with me for over a month. Had I stared at it for the whole time, incessantly wondering when the next leaf will grow, not only I would have driven myself crazy, but I wouldn’t have seen any visible changes.
You need to stop fixating on immediate visible progress and let things take its course. By learning to embrace every step of the journey, you begin to see that it’s not about the end goal at all, and rather, the process that matters.
Patience is an important virtue when it comes to personal growth. You’ll look back one day and realise that you were blooming all along.
4) Every species has its own unique requirements for growth
Tropical plants need more water. Succulents can go for weeks without it. Jade plants and aloe vera thrive in bright conditions. Snake plants and English ivy can survive with much less light. Each species has a distinctly unique set of requirements and conditions that best support their growth.
The same applies to you, me, and anyone else on their self-growth journey.
There’s an endless list of mediums telling us what we should do to feel whatever emotions we should be feeling. What skills we should develop and what ‘bad’ habits we should drop.
But the truth is, every single one of us has uniquely individual skill sets, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. You might be a night owl, in which case waking up at 5 am is counterproductive. You might notice that you tend to wake up hungry in the morning, so intermittent fasting is only going to make you feel grumpy.
Figuring out the ingredients for your growth takes time. But a good place to start is to stop doing things just because ‘everyone else’ seems to be doing it, and get open-minded about discovering your own unique recipe for success. As Socrates beautifully summed up in two words:
‘Know Thyself’ — Socrates
5) When a plant gets chopped off, it’ll regrow
Did you know that when the root or shoot of a plant is chopped off, the cells in those exact regions somehow figure out that it's time to initiate the chemical processes for growing again? (albeit slowly; see point 3)
Likewise, in the process of personal growth, you’ll inevitably have your moments of ‘being chopped off’. It’s the days when you feel like everything is falling apart, when you don’t know what to do next, and all you can think of, is just throwing in the towel.
But it’s these moments of vulnerability that matter the most. That’s when you have to make a conscious choice not to give up. Because if plants can manage to continue growing after losing entire parts of themselves, you’ve got no excuse to remain dormant in times of hardship.
‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.’ ― Brene Brown
The key to this process is to give it lots of tender care and love. Although this isn’t exactly what my biology lecturers have taught me, I know from experience that reviving a damaged plant is much easier if you make sure to consistently give it what it needs.
So when you feel like quitting on this journey, instead of beating yourself up, make a conscious decision to be kind. Self-sabotage gets you nowhere, but self-love, that’s the stuff that helps you flourish in the long run.
Self-growth a life-long journey. Yet, we tend to make the process much harder than it has to be. So learn from the greatest teachers in nature. Adopt these plant-inspired mindsets when it comes to growth, and watch yourself flower.