Embrace Possibility The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell

The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell

The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential

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The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Their Full Potential by John Maxwell

  • Published: September 2014
  • ISBN-10: 1599953676
  • EP Rating: 5 out of 5 (great read)

EP Main Takeaway: Growth should be intentional and aligned with your passion and purpose. If not, you run the risk of being busy without meaning. Be honest with yourself and take consistent action based on insights from self-reflection. Design your growth to match your goals and consistently have tension between where you are and where you want to be. Show humility and exude character in all of your interactions. Manage your environment to help you and be grateful for all the support by developing your talent to serve others.

Our notes:

Have a plan to become better. Don't just be busy because hard work doesn't guarantee success. Focus on growing not only on goals! It's hard to improve your circumstances if you're unwilling to improve yourself.

Growth gap traps

  • Assume you will automatically grow
    • You must be intentional about your growth; stop waiting to become the person you want to be and start being him or her
  • Don't know how to
  • "it's not the right time to begin" or must find the best way before you start
    • There is a difference between deciding and doing: act immediately
    • The longer you wait to do something, the more likely it won't happen
    • Get moving first if you want to see more of the way
  • Afraid to make mistakes
    • Growing is messy and you will probably look foolish
    • Get over your fear of mistakes and failures - welcome your mistakes
  • Not inspired
    • No matter how you feel, just do it
    • Forget motivation - act yourself into feeling motivated
  • Others are better than I am
    • Great men are willing to share their ideas - you can only learn if others are ahead of you
  • I thought it would be easier than this

1. Law of Intentionality

Intentional personal growth

  • Think about "how far can you go?" NOT "how long will this take?" Make the most out of what you been given.
  • Do it now - say it 50 times day and night
  • Face your fears and have faith you will conquer them - fear of failure, trading security for unknown, other people's view of you, the risk of alienating friends
  • Change from accidental to intentional growth - insist on starting today and don't wait for growth to come; persevere and follow through; take risks
  • You must know yourself to grow yourself - start with truth; Explore yourself as you explore growth - focus on your passion

3 kinds of people

  1. People who don't know what they would like to do - dabble and drift
  2. People who know what they would like to do but don't do it - frustrated
  3. People who know what they would like to do and do it - work in areas that move them closer to their purpose

2. Law of Awareness

The first step towards change is awareness, then acceptance

How to find your passion and purpose

  • Do you like what you're doing now? Examine why
  • What would you like to do?
    • If you know your passion, you fulfill your potential; pay attention to what you love doing
  • Can you do what you would like to do?
    • Make sure the desire you have matches your abilities.
  • Do you know the difference between what you want and what you're good at?
    • They should match up
  • Do you know what drives you and gives you satisfaction?
    • Make sure you are motivated by the work and not just the rewards of the work
    • Waste as little of your life as possible - discover then develop your uniqueness
  • Do you know why you want to do what you want to do?
    • Provides a clear vision and look at your heart
  • Do you know what to do so you can do what you want to do?
    • Picture where you are and then where you want to be. Be conscious of your choices. You can't win if you do not begin.
    • Get accountability - make your goals public and track your progress
    • As you take action, you'll attract like-minded people
  • Do you know people who do what you would like to do?
    • Find people who do what you do excellently - be purposeful, reflective and grateful
    • Mentee: Be teachable, be prepared, set agenda by asking great questions, show what you have learned, and be accountable
    • Mentor: Add value, give advice, share resources - people, game plan, passion, feedback, encouragement, choices
  • Should you do what you would like to do to them or with them
  • Will you pay the price to do what you want to do?
    • Owe it to yourself to make your days here count - things worth doing seldom come easy
  • When can you start doing what you want to do?
    • Why not now? Start. Nobody ever got ready by waiting
  • What will it be like if you get to do what you want to do?
    • It will be more difficult. There will be expectations of you - things will also be better than you ever imagined

Streamlined version of questions

  1. What would you like to do?
  2. What talents and opportunities do you possess to support you?
  3. What motivates you to want to do it?
  4. What steps can you take now? Awareness, action, accountability
  5. Whose advice can you get?
  6. What are you willing to pay?
  7. Where do you most need to grow?

3. Law of the Mirror

People don't reach their potential because of low self-esteem.

Ask yourself: Do you like what you see in the mirror?

Recognize your value and begin to add value to yourself. When you invest in yourself, you'll see more value in yourself (you are worth investing in). Don't live your lives according to what people expect of you. Be more concerned about what you think of yourself - you don't have to accept what people say you will be

Steps to build your self image:

  • Guard your self-talk: self-talk comes from our upbringing; why needlessly add to your problems with negative self-talk
  • Stop comparing yourself to others: you either become discouraged or proud; only compare yourself to you.
  • Move beyond your limiting beliefs: believe you will be great; if you limit what you will do, you limit what you can do
    • Identify limiting belief
    • Determine how it limits you
    • Decide how you want to be
    • Create turnaround statement that restates who you want to be
  • Add value to others: hard to feel bad about yourself if you do something good for someone else; also people will value you more
  • Do the right thing even though it is hard: be true to yourself and your values
  • Practice a small discipline daily in a specific area of your life: apply this in an area in your life that seems overwhelming
  • Celebrate small victories; "it's good that I did that, it's good for me"
  • Embrace a positive vision of your life
  • Practice the one-word strategy: select one word to best describe you - what you focus on expands
  • Take responsibility for your life
  • Know that you matter.

Actions to Take:

  • Make a list of your 100 best personal qualities: choose one word to best describe you
  • Track your positive and negative self-talk
  • Note different ways you add value to other people

4. Law of Reflection

Peter Drucker: follow effective action with quiet reflection to get even more effective action

  • Stop, PAUSE and allow the lesson to catch up with us
  • Always add value and exceed expectations
  • Reflection turns experience into insight - evaluate your experience
  • Pause with intention to enrich reflection and learning

When you take time to pause:

  • Investigate - all truths are easy to understand once you discover them
  • Incubate - Reflect on your experience of life and let the ideas that come up simmer in your mind
  • Illuminate - Focus on insights that are relevant to you
  • Illustrate - Flesh out key ideas: everyone is looking but not seeing; ask yourself good questions

Personal Awareness Questions

  • What is my biggest asset?
  • What is my biggest liability?
  • What is my highest high?
  • What is my lowest low?
  • What is my most worthwhile emotion?
  • What is my least worthwhile emotion?
  • What is my best habit?
  • What is my worst habit?
  • What is most fulfilling?
  • What do I prize most highly?

Ask yourself questions in the area you want to reflect on.

Personal growth questions

  • Do I practice the 15 laws of growth?
  • Which do I do best? Weakest?
  • Am I growing daily?
  • What am I doing to grow?
  • How am I growing?
  • What are the roadblocks?
  • Am I passing it forward?

You won't get far without a clear mission: What is your passion? What have you achieved? What are the shoulds that have followed you?

Have you created a place where you can reflect? Schedule time to pause and reflect

  • The wise man questions himself, the fool others - ask yourself tough questions

5. Law of Consistency

Motivation gets you going, discipline keeps you going.

How to be more consistent and disciplined

Know the what, how, where and when

  • Do you know what you need to improve?
    • Develop yourself to be successful, when you expand, you open up possibilities
  • Do you know how you're supposed to improve?
    • Match your motivation to your personality type
      • Phlegmatic: need to see the value of doing something
      • Choleric: make decisions quickly but will not participate if not in charge
      • Sanguine: life of every party - likes rewards
      • Melancholy: attention to detail, perfectionist - focus on details

A common mistake is attempting too much too soon.

  • Need to be patient. Impatience stems from unrealistic expectations - don't give up too soon.
  • Life goals are reached by annual goals, daily goals and habits - focus on today

In addition to How and What, it's important to know Why because it gives you staying power. Take the WHY Test:

  • Do you constantly procrastinate on important tasks?
  • Do you require coaxing to do small chores?
  • Do you only complete your duties to get by?
  • Do you talk negatively about your work?
  • Do efforts of friends to encourage you irritate you?
  • Do you start small projects and abandon them?
  • Do you avoid self-improvement opportunities?

Understand the relationship between motivation and discipline. Give yourself more and bigger whys because small steps compound. Be consistently productive: greats are inspired because they are working and not working because they are inspired. Develop the habits of success because your habits lead to your destiny.

Don't be goal conscious, be growth conscious. Keep growing beyond your goals - don't set goals that are too small. Develop a daily growth system that plays to your personality strengths.

6. Law of Environment

If you're always at the head of the class, you are in the wrong class! Change your environment and move to a larger pond. Change depends on your choices. Impossible to grow without changing. Change your attitude.

Six choices to be in a better environment**

  1. Access your environment and why you want to change - change for the sake of change won't help you
    • What songs and ideas lift and speak to me?
    • What experiences lift me?
    • What dreams inspire me?
    • Who cares for and supports me?
  2. Change yourself and your environment: growth will be faster if you change both. This accelerates chance for success. In a growth environment, people are ahead of me and growth is modeled and accepted
    • How do you get a poker hot? Put it next to the fire. Spend time with great people, books, and tapes
  3. Change who you spend your time with: people who you associate with are your reference group.
    • Associate with expansive people further along in their growth journey than you - people who are positive, more successful, have integrity and constantly growing.
    • Find accountability partner that desires your success and willing to help you
  4. Challenge yourself in your new environment: need to be intentional to find those growth opportunities.
    • Create deadlines and make your goals public
    • Look for one major growth opportunity every week - schedule a learning lunch with your mentor(s)
    • Questions to ask:
      • What are your strengths
      • What are you learning now?
      • What do I need right now?
      • Who have they met? What have they read? What have you done that has helped you?
      • What haven't I asked that I should have?
  5. Focus on the moment: the happiest moment is this moment. Don't worry about past or future since you can't influence it directly.
  6. Move forward despite criticism: don't wait, create the life you want. Whatever course you decide upon, someone will always tell you that you're wrong. Someone's opinion of you does not have to be your reality - make your own decisions.

Create a growth environment for others - growth should be encouraged, modeled and expected.

1. Apply the law of environment: Are the following true?

  • Others are ahead of me
  • I am continually challenged
  • The firm's focus is forward
  • The atmosphere is affirming
  • I'm often out of my comfort zone
  • I wake up excited
  • I understand failure is not the enemy
  • I see others are growing
  • People around me desire change
  • Positive growth is modeled and expected

2. Assess your personal growth needs:

  • Are you in the right soil to grow in?
  • Who do you know is better than you? Who is stretching you?

3. Set goals that challenge you and are beyond your current capabilities

7. Law of Design

To maximize growth, develop strategies.

Spend time reviewing your calendar and evaluate each entry - look at meetings, appointments, and other activities. Account for every waking hour in the previous years.

1. Life is very simple but keeping it that way is difficult - know your values and make key decisions based on those values to help you manage those decisions

  • Can it be received personally?
  • Can it be repeated easily?
  • Can it be transferred strategically?

2. Designing your life is more important than designing your career - customize your growth

3. Life is not a dress rehearsal: Most successful execs say they should have taken charge of their life earlier - better health, more time with family and personal development, more fun, better career planning, and give more back

4. Multiply everything by 2 - important things in life take longer and cost more. Plan to take double the time you expected - infuse realism to your optimism.

Systems allow people to best leverage time, money, and other resources. Create and use systems to be efficient - capture the best thoughts and ideas you've come across. Look at your calendar and highlight the main events that help you target what you want.

Developing effective systems:

  1. Ask "what is the most valuable use of my time right now?" Use your response to shape the system you use. Identify when your prime productive time is.
  2. If you say yes too easily, create a screening system and maintain your priorities
  3. Effective systems include measurement. If you can't measure it, you can't understand it, you can't control it, you can't improve it. Measurement makes a difference
  4. Effective systems include application: need to start you doing something. What are you going to do? Need both plan and action.
  5. Effective systems employ organization - set your priorities and spend your time
  6. Effective systems promote consistency - if you want to succeed in the long run, be disciplined to follow through. Consistency is usually not exciting but the results can be very exciting.

Seek out principles that stand the test of time and customize approaches to best fit you. Whatever good things you build will end up building you. Are you designing strategies for your life?

Refine systems that will:

  • Maximize your time
  • Paint the big picture and ensure your values and priorities are consistent.
  • Measure the outcomes
  • Be biased towards action
  • Organize you
  • Be repeatable, simple, and straightforward

8. Law of Pain

Good management of bad experiences leads to great growth. Every problem introduces a person to himself. I try to take life one day at a time but some days just attack me. The pain of competence, disappointment, conflict, change, bad health, hard decisions, financial loss, relationship losses, not being the best, traveling, responsibility

No one likes it when they are in the middle of a bad experience. If they handle it well, it becomes a nice war story.

How to turn your pain into gain

  1. Choose a positive life stance: Life is not the way it is supposed to be, it is the way it is. You can decide how you cope with it - life is filled with good and bad.
  2. Embrace and develop your creativity: Make the most out of bad experiences by finding opportunities and possibilities.
  3. Learn from bad experiences: You never stub your toe standing still. The faster you go, the more the chance of doing so (Kettering).
  4. Make good changes after learning from bad experiences: Bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.
  5. Take responsibility for your life: don't be a victim - be accountable for your life. No insight is valuable to you if you don't change your actions accordingly.

9. Law of the Ladder

Character growth determines the height of your personal success. Base business dealings on values and principles - use mastermind groups. Focus more on character than on competence.

Honesty is the characteristic that most enhances personal reputations - need to trust and be honest with yourself.

Character ladder

  • I will focus on being better on the inside than on the outside - what we do or neglect to do affects our lives. Before you can DO, you must BE.
  • I will follow the golden rule because people matter.
  • I will teach only what I believe because passion matters
  • I will value humility above all others because perspective matters. Everyone has weaknesses so admit to your weaknesses, be patient with other peoples weaknesses and be open to feedback. Be teachable and willing to serve others because it's not all about you. Be grateful because those who drink the water must remember those who dug the well.
  • I will strive to finish well because faithfulness matters - live to the highest standard continually.

Pay attention to your potential more than to your success - be who you should be, not only where you want to be.

Access where your focus has been:

  • How much did you spend on learning vs. material things?
  • How much time are you spending to serve others?

10. Law of the Rubberband

Need to keep band stretched from where you are to where you want to be. Life begins at the end of our comfort zone. God's gift to us is our potential, our gift to God is to develop it. Focus on building a legacy.

Remember that rubber bands are useful only when they are stretched.

  • People rarely want to stretch - most people only use a fraction of their ability. Don't settle for average in life (being top of the bottom is not an accomplishment).
  • Settling for the status quo leads to dissatisfaction - have the courage to go outside of your comfort zone. Everyone has a dream but few pursue it - measure yourself against yourself.
  • Stretching always requires change - "yesterday ended last night". Your history is not your destiny.
  • Stretching sets you apart from others - do the extra work and be excellent.
  • Everything that ceases to struggle rapidly deteriorates - strive to be better tomorrow than you are today. "The greatest enemy of tomorrow's success is today's success." (Drucker?)
  • Stretching gives you a shot at significance - "a possibility is a hint from God, we must follow it." Growth stops when you lose the tension from where you are and where you want to be.

Assess your stretch:

  • Where have you stopped stretching?
  • Continually reset intermediate range goals - make barely within reach

11. Law of Tradeoffs

Need to give up some things you value to grow up.

We all make tradeoffs in life: failures make bad tradeoffs, averages make few tradeoffs and successfuls make good tradeoffs. We don't always get what we want but we always get what we choose.

When faced with a tradeoff:

  • What are the pluses and minuses?
  • Will I go through this change or GROW through this change?

When you want something you've never had, you've got to make changes you've never done. Change is not easy but it can always be done - if we cannot change the situation, we can change ourselves.

Changing before you have to usually leads to a gain. Changing after you have to usually leads to a loss. **

Tradeoffs are not irreversible. Make a u-turn. You cannot always make a new start but you can make a new end.

The higher you climb the harder the tradeoffs. Don't use your success as an excuse to coast. The skills that got you here won't get you there.

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. No matter what we choose, it will change us. Not everything is worth trading. Create an environment that will prevent bad tradeoffs - for example, your significant other should have veto rights over your schedule.

Good trades

  • Give up financial security today for potential tomorrow: value opportunity over security because the only job security is personal development.
  • Give up immediate gratification for personal growth: there are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
  • Give up the fast life for the good life: live in the place you belong, with the people you like, doing what you want on purpose. Create capacity in your life by delegating all the things you're not the best at and work with people you like.
  • Give up security for significance: measure progress by significance. Make a difference, not just a living.
  • Give up addition for multiplication: what can I do WITH others as opposed to FOR others.  Equip other people - explore and develop your leadership skills.

Remember that you can't do everything at once. If nothing changes, nothing changes. Move up and not down. Freedom at the top.

12. Law of Curiosity

Growth is stimulated by asking why. Curiosity opens options - "all meaningful and lasting change starts first in your imagination" - Einstein

How to cultivate curiosity

  1. Believe you can be curious
  2. Have a beginner's mindset: wonder why and ask questions, be open and vulnerable, have a great attitude and release the desire to look good
  3. Make WHY your favorite word. Don't just give answers - explore and evaluate what you discover
  4. Spend time with other curious people
  5. Learn something new every day - experience something different - wake up with an attitude of openness, keep eyes and ears open, reflect and think about your new experience - apply what you learn and evaluate the highlights
  6. Partake in the fruit of failure - people who grow and develop see failure as a process. See failure as a friend to be embraced.
  7. Stop looking for the right answer - always more than one solution to the problem. If it ain't broke, how can we make it better or when is it likely to break? Challenge the rules and the status quo process
  8. Get over yourself - be like children and just ask. Don't be afraid to look foolish. It is better to look uninformed than to be uninformed - be solution oriented
  9. Be an abundant thinker - "how can I?" As opposed to "can I? "
  10. Enjoy your life - desire to know why

Assess your curiosity:

  • Where do you focus most of your time and energy? Always keep a beginners mind no matter how expert you get.
  • Make a list of the people you spend the most time with each week - are they curious and like to learn new things?
  • Are you afraid to fail or do you take yourself too seriously? Do something that is completely out of your comfort zone

13. Law of Modeling

Read and summarize action points of books that interest you - take action on what you learn as fast as possible.

Need to find models of people who are ahead of you to follow - learn from books and connect with people. Be selective when choosing a mentor.

Criteria for mentors

  • A good mentor is a worthy example: we become like the people we follow - look at both their personal and professional lives.
  • A good mentor is available - need time to ask questions. Don't shoot too high too soon because you need to find people available, experienced and willing.
  • A good mentor has proven experience: "to know the road ahead, ask those coming back" - learn from more experienced people.
  • A good mentor possesses wisdom and knows where to tap. Never confuse the giftedness of the person with the person.
  • A good mentor provides friendship and support: a mentor should care for the other person. Great things happen when we stop seeing ourselves as God's gift to others and others as God's gift to us. Cultivate a desire to learn something from every person you meet
  • A good mentor is a coach that makes a difference in people's lives. They help to carry a value person from where they are to where they want to be.

Five common characteristics of fantastic coaches

  • Cares for the other person
  • Observes behavior, attitude, and performance
  • Aligns coachees with their strengths for peak performance
  • Communicates and gives feedback about performance
  • Helps them to improve life and performance

Nobody is an entire orchestra, everyone is a musician. Take away a musician and the orchestra doesn't work.

Working with a mentor

  • Come prepared with 3-5 thoughtful questions and apply the answers.
  • Set another meeting and repeat
  • Find mentors in different areas of your life: make a list of the strengths you want to improve and weaknesses where you need guidance

14. Law of Expansion

Potential within us is limitless - we usually create our own limits.

How to increase your thinking capacity**

1. Stop thinking MORE work and start thinking WHAT works. Choose the better strategy - hardwork is not always the answer.

Questions to figure out what works:

  • What am I required to do?
  • What gives greatest return?

2. Replace "can I?" with "how can I?" Give yourself a chance to overcome - what would you attempt if you knew you couldn't fail? Test your limits

3. Stop thinking one door and start thinking many doors. Look for multiple answers. People need to act on their dream and they formulate the details NOT waiting for the secret formula to their dreams. Give yourself options - if you can change your thinking, you can change your life

4. Stop doing what you were doing before and do something new. A master doesn't become a master overnight - apprentice, journeyman, master. Should I enjoy my life or expand it?

5. Stop doing what is expected and do more of what is not expected - help more, do more, give more - strive

6. Stop doing important things occasionally and start doing important things daily. Make your life a masterpiece. Thoreau: advance confidently in dreams - do the right thing always. "Thank you I notice" notes - make progress until the day you die

7. Believe that You can do it

Review your effectiveness:

  • What takes you a long time?
  • What changes do you need to make?

Plan a system to do what is important daily

  • Choose and display right attitudes
  • Determine and Act on important priorities
  • Know and follow healthy guidelines
  • Communicate and care for family
  • Practice and develop good thinking
  • Make key proper commitments
  • Earn and properly manage finances
  • Deepen and live out faith
  • Initiate and invest in solid relationships
  • Plan for and model generosity
  • Embrace and practice good values
  • Seek and experience improvements

15. Law of Contribution

Growing yourself enables you to grow others. Help others because we are all one.

What good should I do today - what good did I do today? Model the right behavior for others - be a mentor for others. Be a river, not a reservoir. Give as your receive - abundance mindset.

Cultivate an attitude of contribution

  1. Be grateful - no one succeeds alone. There is no success without sacrifice. If we do succeed, then someone before us sacrificed for them.
  2. Put people first - tender with young, compassionate with aging, sympathetic with striving, tolerant of weak and strong.
  3. Don't let stuff own you - haves, have-nots, have not paid for what they haves - owning things doesn't bring satisfaction. There is a time to acquire and a time to give it away. Give away valuable things to fight greed.
  4. Don't let people own you - always give more than you receive and don't keep score. Do this for everyone including your employer.
  5. Define success as sowing, not reaping.
  6. Focus on self-development NOT self-fulfillment - focus on how something helps you to serve others. Your talent is your responsibility.
  7. Keep growing to keep giving - play to win as opposed to playing not to lose. The greatest gift you can give to others is your own personal development - your life belongs to the community.

Put people first in your life - where are they on your list of goals?

Robert Chen

Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.

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Share this Article


  1. Rana - Canada March 6, 2018 at 1:34 am - Reply

    A long insight Robert, Thank you very much for sharing.

  2. InYoung December 27, 2018 at 10:44 am - Reply

    awesome summary! Thanks a lot :)

  3. fox henderson February 4, 2021 at 2:52 am - Reply

    This is exactly what I was looking for!

  4. Emmafranzy Egbe March 6, 2021 at 9:36 am - Reply

    Thanks so much this book is one of it kind, so rich.

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