Change vs Growth: Knowing Which You Need

Change vs Growth

Two terms that frequently surface in the realm of personal development are ‘change’ and ‘growth’. While it’s tempting to use change and growth interchangeably, they are, in fact, distinct concepts.

Understanding change vs growth can help you make more informed decisions about your personal development journey.

What is Change?

Change Often Means a Turn-Around

When you talk about changing your life, you might mean going back to college, moving to a new city (or country), or starting a family.

Change Can Be A One-Off Event

Some changes happen abruptly, such as losing a job. While the aftermath might affect the days, weeks, and months to come, the change itself is relatively immediate and self-contained.

Change Can Be Externally Imposed

Not all changes are ones you choose. In fact, many might come from the outside. Some of these will be negative changes (eg. the death of a relative), some might seem like negative changes but later become positive ones (eg. becoming a father).

Either way, knowing how to manage change is important for making the best of these times.

What is Growth?

Growth Takes Time

While a change can happen overnight (whether it’s a paradigm shift in the way you think or an external change like becoming a mother/father), growth always takes time. You can’t become an expert in a day, or completely shed all your old bad habits in a week.

Growth Is An Incremental Process

When you’re growing, you’re moving steadily in one direction. This could mean gradually becoming a better person; consistently working towards a promotion or career shift; or getting a degree or other qualification.

Growth Needs Motivation

While changes can come from the outside, growth always comes from within you. Other people might support, help, and encourage you – but ultimately, you have to want to grow. It takes energy and effort on a long-term basis … which means you need to keep up your motivation.

Do You Need Change or Growth?

At some times in our lives, we may need to face up to big, radical changes. These can sometimes be painful to endure or even to contemplate … but on the other side lies a better life.

Other times, we’re pretty much on track – we just need to keep going onward, rather than getting complacent. This is when growth is called for. It can be a big mistake to assume that whenever things aren’t perfect, you need to change … sometimes, you just need to keep on in the same direction.

So which situation are you in and how can you figure out whether you need change or growth? For me, the best way to distinguish between the two is to consider whether the situation you’re in could get better if you applied some thought and effort. If you feel that there’s no realistic hope for it ever improving, it might be time for a radical change. This is especially so if your current actions are making the situation worse.

Change and Growth Examples

Here’s an example that might have come up for you in the past (or which might arise in the future): you’re considering leaving your current job.

CHANGE might be required if:

  • You got the first job you could find out of college, and you’ve never felt passionate about it
  • Your health (mental or physical) is suffering because of your job
  • You’ve found a passion that, if only you’d known about it years ago, you’d have followed as a career.

GROWTH might be required if:

  • You know the work your company does is important, but your role is getting boring
  • You’re finding it hard to get on with your colleagues
  • You’d like to step up to the next level, within the same company

You can look at other situations in a similar way. Think about your finances: do you need to make radical changes (like cutting up your credit cards?) or do you simply need to grow (by learning more about financial topics, and by slowly increasing how much you save each month?)

Or what about your relationship with your partner: if you’re having problems, is this because change is needed (such as a separation, or a complete turn-around in how you relate to one another) or do you need to grow (by gradually seeking to become more patient, loving and understanding)?

Conclusion: Change vs Growth

Whether it’s your finances, career, or relationships, the dilemma of change vs growth is a universal one. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Sometimes you need fundamental change, other times you simply need to grow in certain aspects. Reflect on your life to understand where you have made significant changes and where you have experienced steady and incremental growth.

34 thoughts on “Change vs Growth: Knowing Which You Need”

  1. Great post. I think that growth is definitely a longer-term commitment. People often get into personal development and want things to change over night because we live in a culture of instant gratification.

  2. What a fabulous post! There is such a difference between change and growth and sometimes one is MUCH more fitting. I always thinking “I need a change” but, really, sometimes what I need is to grow.

  3. Wow! Thanks for really taking the time to look at the difference between change and growth. I totally get it in a different way now. And it also makes me realize how in some areas of my life right now, I do need to change how I go about something, but in others like my coaching and laughter work, it is more a matter of growing and coming to fruition of my vision. How cool!

    1. Yep, that’s exactly how I see it, Katie — glad I could help! There are always going to be some areas which need a different strategy (a “change”), others where we maybe just need a bit of a push to keep going with what we’re already doing…

  4. Hi Ali .. good post – change is a decision – yours or someone else’s .. whereas growth is improving, moving on, learning .. taking control of your own life and its surrounds ..

    Thanks for reminding us of the difference ..
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters

  5. Great post. One disagreement – I think motivation is a part of growth: the question is why we become de-motivated from my point of view.

    1. @Evan, good point — I think motivation provides the energy needed for consistent, progressive growth. Speaking for myself, I become demotivated because I’m impatient – I want growth to happen overnight!

  6. Great post. I know that sometimes there is a need for change and for growth. This past year we had some horrific things happen within our family. I realized that I needed to change how I did some things as it was not in the best interest of my family. However, I also made a clear decision that I was going to delve into my personal growth and learn all that needed to be learned. I explored, reflected, cried alot, and have come out the other side much more connected with who I am and how I want to be in my life.

    I became a student of me and how I showed up in the world. One of the things I coach is on the use of “in the moment” strategies to help people tune into their bodies, de-stress and listen to their inner wisdom. These tools were instrumental in helping me grow as a person.

    Thanks again for the blog, I have become a subscriber. Take care

    1. @Gerrianne, sorry to hear about the difficulties within your family. But congratulations to you for staying strong, and for not going under during the difficult time but coming out with a better sense of who you are and where you want to be. Sounds like you’re a great coach helping others find their path, too!

  7. Dear Ali,

    Hope you are well! As is my want it seems, I have some slight reservations about the language used here. To me, ‘change’ and ‘growth’ are not wholly different concepts. they can be, but very often are not. Let me take some of your examples:

    Think about your finances: do you need to make radical changes (like cutting up your credit cards?) or do you simply need to grow (by learning more about financial topics, and by slowly increasing how much you save each month?)

    if you were to cut up your credit cards, these is indeed a change but also to me this is also growth, a growth or development in personal responsibility or attitude. In effect, the act of this change is the manifestation of an attitude shift which is both a change and personal growth. Secondly, learning more about finances is a growth of knowledge but also, in that growth you are then a different person, with a different outlook and different ideas and therefore you have changed. Also, to make the decision to grow, you need an attitude change and therefore I don’t think these can be exclusive to one another.

    Or what about your relationship with your partner: if you’re having problems, is this because change is needed (such as a separation, or a complete turn-around in how you relate to one another) or do you need to grow (by gradually seeking to become more patient, loving and understanding)? Surely becoming more patient, loving and understanding (if that person perhaps lacks in that area) is a fundamental change. To me, any positive change towards relationships with others in society is both growth and change, they can’t be separated – in my opinion. Also, if someone separates from a partner (albeit upsetting and unsettling and difficult), this can sometimes be growth as it makes the people involved happier in the end. I think just because something appears negative in the end, it does not mean you don’t grow.

    To try and be balanced (!), I agree that sudden changes like natural disasters, death of loved ones or anything similar are changes that I find difficult to reconcile with personal growth – although sometimes it is people outside that situation who grow. For example whilst the devastation on the families of the Tsunami in 2004 still lingers, I am sure that there any some people who grew (and changed) from the experience (such as volunteers or whatever), although this does not necessarily help those directly involved with the immediate change (those who suffered loss etc).

    I hope I have added some further discussion to the debate!

    Very best wishes, Matt

    1. Thanks for your insights, Matt — should’ve known I’d get called out on some of that! I consciously tried to keep things quite simply by setting up “growth” and “change” as separates … and I agree that growth can be a process of “slow change”.

      We probably need to distinguish between a sudden change (which often come from external sources, eg. job loss) and a gradual, progressive change (which I’ve generally used “growth” to describe).

      I suppose one way of looking at it is that both take you from one place to another place, but “growth” does so in a much slower way — change can yank you somewhere completely different overnight!

      Hmmm. I’ll carry on thinking about this one. Thanks again for deepening the discussion!


  8. I use essentially the same criteria.

    Blind growth can be a terrible thing. A software example of this is when people automate a bad process. It doesn’t make what you do better it just means you do more bad work and make it harder to change.

  9. I’m afraid I could not get into this article. Distinguishing between change and growth seems pointless. They both require an instant change, but just have different timescales on their results.

  10. thanks for sharing your ideas :)
    i also believe that both change and growth are two sides of one coin, in order to grow you need to change your old habits and your old beliefs

  11. Nice insight on change and growth. There are indeed many times when we immediately think we need change when what we really need is growth. It isn’t an easy thing to grow as this requires patience and persistence, but in so growing, we become stronger, and we more able to handle the many changes that come our way :-)

  12. Hey Ali!!

    Really cool topic – and a nice distinction. one of those “wow moments” thinking about it.

    i liked the way you differentiated by saying that one comes from a stagnation due to time and the other a stagnation in spite of time.

    i think change often is growth too.

    inspiring stuff

    gave it a stumble

    all the best
    alex – unleash reality

  13. Ali:

    I believe you have experienced “growth” with the writing of (and responding to the comments that followed) this blog post!

    Change is one of thousands of words that has been used in so many different contexts that its meaning is headed toward abstraction. In regard to personal development, I like the word “evolve.” It connotes a slow and deliberate (or sometimes unintended) process that combines the words growth and change together.

    I also like the word “becoming” to describe what we are evolving into.

    Perhaps your next post will be on language or semantics? Here’s a quote to get you started…

    “Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.” ~ Martin Heidegger

    Nice post, by the way…

  14. Hey Ali! Great to connect with you here – I recently read one of your guest posts on another blog. I see change as something that’s necessary for growth to occur. The more change occurs, the more room there is for growth. I have to agree with Stuart though that I’m not entirely sure if there’s a need to distinguish between change and growth.

  15. Probably the coolest thing about change is that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift that makes it possible for significant numbers of people to change.

    In the past, it was more a matter of “one-offs,” particularly strong individuals who defied conventional wisdom and changed. But there wasn’t sufficient critical mass to change the thinking of others whose reality was grounded in fear and negativity.

    But now there are numerous modalities for change along with highly visible thought leaders who take the threat and mystery out of changing. Your blog is just one example of the trickle-down effect of everything that has taken place, really, since the 1960s.

    Thanks for the reminder, Ali. It inspired a blog about this on my own site.

  16. Ali,

    Great article. Self-growth has to come from within. Until a person decides her or she wants to change, they never will….no matter how much someone pushes them! Keep up the great work.

  17. Ali, what a wonderful post! I really like the point you made about growth taking time. Some people expect changes to happen overnight; it doesn’t happen that way. You might get frustrated that it seems that nothing is happening because of you cannot see tangible changes right away. And yes, I think it couldn’t be stressed enough: Change comes from within you. I think that’s why people get easily depressed when they don’t see any changes. Unfortunately, what they want to see are changes from “outside”.

  18. this is wonderful,growth takes time and it begins with each of us. i have gone through this article many times and also recommended some friends of mine to read it. they have liked it .keep up

  19. Nowadays change and growth are key words for me and they are connected. I’m looking forward to achieve new goals in my career and I don’t have any opportunity for promotion, that’s why I need a change.

    It’s simple but important enough.

  20. samantha willoughby

    Hi Ali. when I came across your page I thought that you were reading my mind. I have changed in the past few days and to me it is for the best and not the worst. but my husband on the other hand has thought it out to be the worst thing that has ever happened to me. but I feel that I just have to do what is good for me and not what he wants.

    thanks for the post.

  21. I think………
    The use of term ‘ Change’ is better than ‘growth’ because ‘change’ can be used for the study of increase (Positive change) or decrease (negative change) or steady state (no change) of any variable with time. However, the term ‘growth’ only suitable when any variable continuously increase with time and the term ‘decline’ is opposite to growth. when variable gradually decrease or no change occurred with time, in such condition the use of the term ‘growth’ is inappropriate. so we need to follow the condition to use the term.

  22. Hi, is good to heard from you. To me change can be positively or negatively in nature, but growth always moving to forward stage not backward stage. for example, you can change your car if you wish at any time. But growth follow step by step process and it require long time adaptation (growth is a gradually in nature).

  23. Ali, your post and the comments are a real inspiration.
    So Thank you for this post. I love it that it started such a conversation withso many addtional facets. It inspired me to ponder again about the concepts behind. Additionally “transformation”, “shift” and “adaptation” came to my mind.

    The parameters that you are describing in your post and that pop up in the comments are from my perspective: time frame, voluntariness, internal vs external impuls or event, type of habits involved and magnitude of the impact of the event. – They determine which of the terms we use.

    Even more food for thought…. :-)

  24. Maybe growth (internally motivated/realized) is the response to an external or internal catalyst, change…

    External: divorce papers, pink slip, traffic ticket, child suspended from school….All catalyst’s for action (potential), that action can be growth (i.e. become a better spouse; work more effectively or efficiently, or get along with people; become a better parent.
    The ‘action’ can also not be growth, i.e. blame, resentment, victimhood…..

    Internal: Heart attack, exhaustion, finding purpose….each a catalyst for potential action, which can be growth (take care of your body, get sleep, look for meaning in what you do), or not growth (remain in status quo).

    Super article and obviously created a nice dialogue – thank you!

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