How Do I Encourage My Friends and Family to Grow?

Man with arms outstretched
Man with arms outstretched

(Image: IakovKalinin)

Hi Celes! First of all, I’d like to thank you for the great posts on PE; I’ve experienced tremendous growth in the past few months.

My question is, how can I encourage my friends to become more conscious human beings, just as I have? I feel like there is so much potential inside of them, but they refuse to acknowledge it. I’ve tried introducing them to various personal growth blogs, including PE, and they brushed them off as “cheesy” and “boring.” Whenever the conversation between our group shifts to a more serious topic, they try to shift it back to the topics that we’ve always talked about (“my new high score on Flappy Bird!”).

What should I do? Thanks! — Anna

Hi Anna! That’s funny that your friends would brush off personal growth blogs as “cheesy” and boring.” I can understand why though; personal development can be quite dry and theoretical for people who are not into conscious growth; a lot of personal development blogs out there tend to rehash the same advice over and over again. At PE, I make self-help different and relatable through real-life stories, but someone who doesn’t read PE at all would probably lump it with other self-help material out there.

Your predicament reminds me of myself years ago. From my late teens up until I started PE (I was 24), I would always find ways to push my friends forward. Whenever I was with them, I would throw questions like, “What are your goals for the future?” and “I’m working on XX goal at the moment. Do you want to pursue it together?” I had a best friend then, K, whom I would actively encourage to set goals and take action on his life as well.


For what it’s worth, I wasn’t too successful. Most of my friends then were just not interested in self-improvement or conscious living. With my reflection questions, some would shirk uncomfortably; most would give a half-hearted “Oh, I haven’t thought about what I want to do” or “I’ll see how it goes” response. One time, I had a friend flat out tell me that she didn’t believe in setting goals or planning for the future! With my best friend K, we had to part ways after 10 years of friendship because our friendship was no longer supporting us in our growth: I was growing very quickly while he was constantly putting off his goals, hence creating a gaping hole between us.

Eventually, I learned that you can’t make people grow when they don’t want to or aren’t ready to. They have to realize it for themselves, in their own time and place. By intervening in their path before this happens, you may prevent them from coming into their own, thereby preventing them from self-actualizing.

For example with K, despite the copious amount of time and energy I invested in his growth, he would always slip into inaction. He had his own issues that were holding him back, while I had my own hopes that I was imposing on him. During the later years of our friendship, I got extremely frustrated; we were constantly having lengthy talks over his inaction.

After we parted ways, I realized that maybe K has a different life path — one that doesn’t involve actualizing his own goals. Maybe his path is to support other people — a role in the world that is ancillary — though doesn’t mean it’s automatically less than others’. Maybe he will want to pursue his goals at some point — just not now. Whatever it is, me pushing him to realize his goals — before his time — was probably preventing him from coming into his own.

For my other friends who would complain about life, play Candy Crush, and what not, I came to realize that perhaps these are just reflective of their current life phase. During my adolescent years, I spent a good chunk of time working on my then-websites, playing and immersing in the world of video games, and watching animes and dramas. I had ambition, just not expressed in my studies. It was only during university that this changed. I sought to do well in my studies, gave serious thought to my future, and subsequently contemplated on  the meaning of life (something I shared in Two Important Things that Led Me to Discover My Real Purpose). This then led me onto my life path today.

Now, if someone had pushed me during my adolescence to think about my life purpose and what not, I probably wouldn’t have been very receptive. I would have heard the person out, wondered what was up with him/her, and returned back to whatever I was doing.

It was precisely because I came to my own realization that I want to live consciously and live my best life, that I became so proactive about living. If someone had cajoled me to do that, I doubt I would have cared much. It was by first deciding that I want to live consciously that I then began to live consciously.


Net-net, what I’m saying is that everyone has their awakening moment when they decide to grow or turn their life around. You can’t force this to happen; forcing it usually brings about little to counteractive effects.

It’s like… imagine you are given a seed to grow. What’s the best way to grow it quickly? Do you plant the seed, flood it with water, drown it with fertilizer, place it in a room with highest-concentration oxygen, and then manually split the seed yourself with a knife, hoping that a tree will sprout overnight?

No, of course not! The seed will die right away! A seed needs water, warm temperature, and oxygen to germinate, but giving it extra quantities of each wouldn’t accelerate its growth — it may well kill it. Beyond planting the seed in good soil and ensuring it has favorable conditions for germination, what the seed needs is time and space to grow. In time to come it’ll germinate, take root, and grow its shoots.


(Image: Daniel Morrison)

So what does that mean for you and your friends?

It means that rather worry about your friends’ growth,

  1. Know that everyone has their time and place to grow. Forcing your friends to grow when they aren’t ready wouldn’t bring about much change; it’ll probably implicate their path. Your job is not to be responsible for their growth (that’s their job), but simply to support them when the time comes.
  2. Give them space to be themselves. Different people have different life paths; no path is “better” or “higher” than another. Sometimes your friends may make choices that you don’t agree with (e.g. spending all their free time playing Candy Crush and working in a job that they hate). Beyond voicing out your disagreement initially, respect their choice if that’s what they want to do. You don’t have to “agree” with it; you just have to respect it by not putting them down. This will give them space to be who they are meant to be. Read: What Can I Do If I Want To Change Someone? and How to Be More Accepting of Others
  3. Support them when they need you. This means: If a friend is frustrated with his/her job, then help him/her sort out his/her job issues. If a friend is experiencing relationship problems, then provide a listening ear. If they don’t need you, then don’t interject. Be their anchor, their support pillar in life.
  4. Offer guidance where appropriate. If there are times when you feel your friend is heading in the wrong direction, interject and give constructive guidance. For example, if your friend is sticking out in a job that he hates, then ask him if that’s what he really wants to do. Maybe he doesn’t know that there’s another path out there! Share ideas of what can be possible and provide resources (say, relevant articles of PE and self-help books) to point him/her in the right direction. Read: How to Give Constructive Criticism in 6 Steps.
  5. Be a living example of what you preach. There’s no better way to showcase the value of your teachings than through yourself. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “A good example is the best sermon.” What are the lessons that you want to inculcate to your friends? Uphold them in your life! For example: If you want to preach the importance of taking action on your goals, then work doubly hard on your goals. If you want to preach the importance of living consciously, then be conscious about the decisions that you make and exercise them.
  6. Live an awesome life. As an extended version of Step #5, live such a great life that people can’t help but wonder, Man, what is she doing?? How is she living such a great life??? Slowly, people will start paying attention to you and taking heed to your advice; curious friends will start to consult you and get your help on various things. As you raise your consciousness level, the people around you will naturally be positively influenced and be inspired to do the same too.

I hope that helps, Anna! 😀 Do read as well:

For those of you reading, do you have friends who refuse to grow despite your encouragement? How can you deal with it using the tips in this post?