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How to Achieve Personal Growth and Balance I - the fire within

Updated on April 2, 2011


Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.” - J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, in her Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association in 2008.

There are many sites on the Internet offering various get-rich-quick, easy steps to success and other such inducements to separate you from your hard-earned cash, on the assumption that everyone wants to improve their lives.

My view is that people do want to improve their lives, and many very sincerely do buy into these schemes with the best of intentions. However, I think that these schemes ignore the fact that there really isn’t an easy, quick way to achieve personal growth and ultimately success. If there were, there would be far fewer poor people than there are in the world, and wealth would not be concentrated in the relatively few hands which hold it now. And I think that many sincere people realize this, but hope that it might be different, at least in their cases.

The fire within

Stephen R. Covey, in his great book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People put his finger directly on the problem with such schemes. Speaking of the so-called “success literature”, he remarked that “It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes – with social band-aids and aspirin that addressed acute problems and sometimes even appeared to solve them temporarily, but left the underlying chronic problems untouched to fester and resurface time and again.”

Whatever one might think of Covey and his religious background, he has in this book produced a powerful antidote to the superficial, and ultimately dishonest, success literature that promotes what he calls the “Personality Ethic.” In another great book Covey and his co-authors Roger and Rebecca Merrill – First Things First – propose that what keeps us going, what makes us keep on trying to get better, is what they call “the fire within.”

My "Fire Within" model
My "Fire Within" model
The diagram of the overlapping circles from "First Things First" by Covey et al
The diagram of the overlapping circles from "First Things First" by Covey et al

The four part model

The fire within comes from the intersection of four aspects of our lives: the mental, the physical, the spiritual and the social. These four aspects need to be kept in balance and in relation to each other for the fire to burn strongly.

The authors sum up these aspects and their underlying human motivating needs as the need to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy.

Many spiritual writers speak of the four-fold make up of the totality of the human person as being the mind, the body, the heart and the spirit.

I have developed, in my practice of facilitation and coaching over the years, a model which tries to combine these two approaches to personal development and growth, with corresponding ways to stoke the fire within, to keep oneself moving and growing.

Personal growth and success are not destinations but processes. We will never be able to gratefully sit down in our favourite chair and say, with a satisfied smile, “Now I’ve arrived.” The word “growth” is indicative of process. Change, as some have pointed out, is the only constant in life, and if we have the right relationship to change, we turn it into growth. And the right relationship to change is to see it as constantly new opportunities to learn and grow. Otherwise the change will roll over us and crush us. We can’t stop the process of change, nor do we need to regard it as a threat. It’s always there and how we respond to it will be key to our survival.

The point of the model is that it is not useful or growthful to concentrate only on one of these aspects: they all need to be activated and acted on all the time, they are not separate entities. We cannot concentrate on learning, for example, and neglect the body, because the body will wither and become less effective as the vehicle for our learning.

As the authors warn in the book: “We think of ‘balance’ as running from one area to another fast enough to spend time in each one on a regular basis. But the ‘touching base’ paradigm ignores the reality of their powerful synergy. It’s where these four needs overlap that we find true inner balance, deep fulfillment, and joy”

So how do we achieve this kind of balance in our lives? This is, of course, the difficult part, the part where the hard work comes in.

So now what?

"Practice being kind to yourself in small, concrete ways. Look at your refrigerator. Are you feeding yourself nicely? Do you have socks? An extra set of sheets?" - Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way (Pan, 1995).

Personal growth is all about change, development and the process of becoming what Soren Kiekegaard called “the fully functioning person.” It’s a journey, a process that will continue from birth to death, with many ups and downs. The important thing is to stay open to the process and have trust that wherever it leads it will be worthwhile.

As Winston Churchill said: "For myself I am an optimist - it does not seem to be much use to be anything else."

And he also said: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

Once on the road to growth towards our full potential it’s the journey itself that is the point, not the destination.

"Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself." - Henry Miller

Reading on

This Hub is part of a five-part series on balance and growth. It is the first part of what was one rather long Hub which I have now edited and divided to make reading easier. The comments below relate to the original version of the Hub.

The other four Hubs can be found here:

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2011


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    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Oh yes, the "fire within". Wonderful books. Haven't done any of Covey's workbooks, but a couple of Cameron's. Great hub reflecting on the positive visualization we must do daily. For me anyway. Wonderful hub, thanks for such an in depth series.

    • Josh Bell profile image

      Josh Bell 5 years ago

      Fantastic hub. Well thought out.

    • RichardCMckeown profile image

      RichardCMckeown 6 years ago

      Magnificent hub!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Patti and Blackreign - thank you so much for your appreciation and comments. I am truly grateful.

      Love and peace


    • blackreign2012 profile image

      blackreign2012 8 years ago

      Great hub love it, love it, love it, ~hugs~

    • Patti Ann profile image

      Patti Ann 8 years ago from Florida

      Excellent! I like your approach to visualization. I have bookmarked this to come back and read it again.

    • Adrianna's Pages profile image

      Adrianna's Pages 9 years ago

      Tony...Well written, very informative read. I am new to "Hubbing" and glad that I chose yours to read first. I will print and keep in my writing "tool box".


    • Kitchen_Witch profile image

      Kitchen_Witch 9 years ago from The Green Studio of Musings

      Thank you for sharing this hub subject with us...

      Definitely a keeper. I am engrossed in the learning process...

    • maricarbo profile image

      maricarbo 9 years ago

      Thank you for this excellent hub. It is going to help a lot of people.

      "...people see the world, not as it is, but as they are..." That is just fantastic....

      Your hub is so full of information for those who want to be better/improve......I love it. Thanks.

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 9 years ago

      excellent article

      I like this

      "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

    • Al Martin profile image

      Al Martin 9 years ago from U.S.A.

      A thoughtful and considerate piece of work you've done here. As thorough an essay on the topic of personal growth as I have ever read. There are golden nuggets of wisdom embedded throughout the entire hub. I'm rather envious. I wish I could write like you.

    • Denny Lyon profile image

      Denny Lyon 9 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

      Is there a Hub of Perfection Award? I'm nominating yours! Wonderful and definitely deserves 3 more slower reads.

      Blogging this on over to my healing blog as my readers will definitely enjoy what you have to say - and you say it so very well, thank you!

    • VioletSun profile image

      VioletSun 9 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      Tony: I just printed your hub, all 13 pages of it, to read again, very slowly. Its very profound and the type of subject I like to read. Change is part of our continuous growth, especially the change within. As Gandhi said, "Be the change we wish to see in the world".  I also take it to mean that what we experience on the inside reflects in the world "outside" of us.

      I notice we have quite a few professional coaches and therapists with a spiritual awareness writing in Hubpages, and I love it. Keep writing, guys!



    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 9 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for all your wonderful comments - I love this subject and hope to write more on it. Your comments are very helpful to me and I appreciate them very much indeed.

      Love and peace


    • Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

      Tatjana-Mihaela 9 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

      Thank you for this Hub...It seems to me like this is the basis for the book...

      I agree with you, there is no quick ways to change oneself, and we are never finished with this "job"...

      My opinion is, when someone offers quick techniques of progress to the people is also good: who would start with something what never can be finished? But good start is of the main importance...People have to believe in quick results, on the beginning, otherwise they would never try to change anything.

      I like the part about you and your daughter the most: it is so touching...

      Excellent article, what else to say?

      Love, Light and Peace, and many blessings to your whole family.

    • Madison Parker profile image

      Madison Parker 9 years ago from California


      You are a masterful thinker and writer. There are so many wonderful people here on Hub and I love many of them because they are special souls. You are a special soul with a gift for the written word. Amazing hub!

      By the way, my favorite lines were the lines you wrote when you watched your child walk into school. Those thoughts were you, from the heart, quoting only YOU and I loved it! I'll bet you are a teddy-bear daddy who is in love with his family, first and foremost. Your child is a lucky girl.

      I'm glad to hear that you are a coach. One of my closest friends is a coach here in California. I think it takes a special kind of person to do that work and so many people need a hand and a good heart to direct them toward goals and then show them how to get there.


    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 9 years ago from United States

      Very profound, especially on the reading and visualizing. I'll be referring back to this hub again. Thanks for writing it.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Wow I reread your hub twice Tony... A very very profound and deep tought evoking hub that I will have to come back to many more times.

      Greetings from a snow covered Canada Zsuzsy