“You can’t cross the border”, said the Chilean official.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Your motorcycle is stolen”, he said, a completely unfounded accusation.
He sat there like an immovable object, his stamp all we needed to pass through one of the most remote outposts in Chile and return to Buenos Aires.
It had taken two days riding through the Atacama Desert, the driest on Earth, to get to the border crossing, and money and motivation were desperately low.
Strangely, despite his claims of theft, the bike wasn’t being impounded, nor we arrested. We just had nowhere to go…(more on what happened shortly)
Personal Growth Experiences
Although it might sound like a strange introduction to an article about personal growth experiences, it’s illustrative of the struggles we often face.
At the time, our experiences appear insurmountable…
Losing a loved one, getting fired from a job or ending a relationship are soul-crushing.
It’s only when we reflect with the benefit of hindsight that we can put our challenges into perspective and extract any positives.
You see, personal growth plays an integral role in life, if you let it.
While we can’t choose all the challenges we face, we can prepare for them in advance.
It’s like playing a computer game.
Progress isn’t meant to be easy, but by working hard to level up your character, it’s certainly possible.
Embracing discomfort prepares us to eventually defeat the big boss, the equivalent of overcoming unforeseen life obstacles.
Wrong turns and false starts are simply part of the process.
But what’s the alternative?
You remain on level one, mind-numbingly bored, out of challenges and inspiration.
So let’s look at some personal growth experiences I’ve experienced myself which can advance you to level two and beyond.
Perhaps these examples can provide ideas for your own adventures.
Examples and ideas
As you can see from my previous story, discomfort is inherent to any trip abroad.
Whether that’s a short holiday or extended backpacking trip, you’ll inevitably face challenges, both cultural and logistical.
In this way, exploring foreign lands is perhaps one of the best ways to exit your comfort zone.
Immersion in a new culture opens your eyes to a whole new system of beliefs and values, a comparison template for your existing worldview.
In my previous example, the border guard was likely fishing for a bribe, certainly something I wasn’t used to coming from the UK.
Such encounters, while initially disconcerting, only serve to improve flexibility of mind when faced with alternate modes of living.
To really up the ante, try living abroad.
While holidaying and travel provide useful snapshots, settling in a foreign land provides an unparalleled level of immersion.
Having time to learn the local customs is both rewarding and challenging in equal measure.
For a while, I taught English in Vietnam and one of my fondest memories was accompanying my students to their favourite local restaurants, as the single token foreigner.
This depth of integration was both uncomfortable, when all eyes were upon me, and also delightful, as I experienced a slew of new and exciting dishes.
Living abroad truly is a method for accelerated personal development like no other.
Learn a new language
To really test the neuroplastic capability of your brain, I recommend learning a new language.
Possibly one of my all-time most challenging projects was learning Spanish.
Although admittedly it isn’t the hardest language, I went all in.
My girlfriend at the time, from Colombia, spoke to me exclusively in Spanish and I lived with her family for 3+ months, barely speaking any English.
At the end of each day, I was absolutely exhausted, trying desperately to understand everyone and thinking entirely in another language.
Looking back, however, this period of discomfort was a transformative time, as previously I’d thought I was too old to learn a new language.
Although my Spanish skills are now pretty rusty, I carry that confidence in my learning capabilities forward into new skills and projects.
Implement a daily ritual
These personal growth experiences might seem extravagant and out of reach.
Fortunately, selling all your possessions and living like a monk in a cave aren’t required for self-improvement.
So let’s look a bit closer to home.
Paradoxically, the biggest personal growth experiences I’ve had are actually due to mundane daily rituals like meditation and running.
I find these habits tough to complete every day, which is exactly where growth flourishes.
Doing things when you don’t want to gives you a feeling of invincibility, a realisation that you’re no longer subject to your emotional whims, and are capable of tackling any task, no matter how hard.
Therefore, pick daily non-negotiables that not only contribute to your physical and mental wellbeing, but also boost internal credibility.
Try a 30-day challenge
The great thing about daily rituals is that they can easily be reframed if they’re too intimidating at first.
After all, the thought of starting a lifelong meditation habit can be overwhelming.
By using the concept of a 30-day challenge, however, you can allow yourself to experiment with such personal growth experiences, reducing the emotional cost of starting something new.
A couple of my favourite challenges have been intermittent fasting and cold showers, both of which I continued past 30 days and which now form part of my consistent(ish) daily routine.
Self improvement program
When selecting your own personal growth experiences, there’s one central piece of advice:
Choose an uncomfortable pursuit
Just as diamonds are forged at high pressure, so too personal growth is only possible with discomfort.
Choose something too easy and you’ll likely remain within your comfort zone.
Nothing wrong with that, but if you want to increase your psychological gains, think bigger.
One example of this is when I started this website.
Small Joel wanted to start writing, but only in private, journal-style.
Braver Joel decided to learn how to create websites and publish his work in the public domain.
Much scarier, but ultimately, more rewarding.
Start your training
Life expands and contracts in direct proportion to the amount of discomfort we’re willing to endure.
Reframing challenges as personal growth opportunities stands us in great stead.
In a world that’s conditioning us to expect an ever-increasing level of comfort, this is the true shortcut to success.
P.S. If you want to know what happened with the motorbike trip, it’s a long story.
After being stranded at the border overnight due to snow, the motorbike wouldn’t start at high altitude the following day.
Therefore, a kind trucker gave us (and the bike) a lift back into Chile.
This was followed by a circa 1,000+ mile detour to another border crossing, where we finally made it into Argentina without incident.
But thinking back, we not only made a new trucking friend, but it was one helluva trip!