The Key Difference Between Personal Growth and Personal Evolution

Keith Hayden
5 min readNov 24, 2017

I’ve always loved learning.

It started when I was a kid. Anytime my brothers and I went somewhere for the first time, I had to explore nearly every accessible area in my new surroundings that my little legs could carry me just to see what was there.

I would do the same in the video games that I played. Most were Japanese roleplaying games (RPGs) that encouraged and sometimes required exploration in order to find stronger weapons and equipment that ultimately made the entire experience much easier or provided extra insight to the story and its characters.

These early experiences solidified learning into my everyday DNA, to where it became as normal as eating or sleeping.

This year I have had a lot more time on my hands since I left the military last year and that has given me more time than ever to learn new things.

What new things? Um…anything and everything. Earlier this year YouTube became my new teacher, teaching me everything from the history of the Vietnam War to videos about the 1947 “Roswell incident”. YouTube’s algorithm quickly figured me out and always served up what I didn’t even know I wanted see/learn.

My appetite for knowledge was more than satiated…that is until I got full.

The thirst for knowledge began to work against me, when I realized that not only was I not retaining any of the novel information that I was watching, but also I wasn’t giving myself a chance to apply or think about any of it.

Personal growth became an effort akin to going to the gym and doing the same number of reps and weight every time. My brain began to adapt and ignore the similar movements and I began to feel like I was wasting my time.

The Need for Analysis

It was at that point that I realized that what I wanted was not necessarily an endless stream of new and interesting information. It was then that I realized that I what I really wanted was evolution as opposed to unending growth.

Evolution required me to do the hard thing that I never made time for when I was absentmindedly watching educational YouTube videos and that thing was analyzing what I was actually absorbing.

It turned out that taking time to stop and think about what I was learning made it possible for me to internalize and appreciate what I learned even more, and ultimately evolve.

By watching endless videos (even though most were educational), I was doing the equivalent of sampling the entire buffet and going back for seconds, instead of savoring the delicious steak that was on the meat line.

This instinctual action that I’ve fed all my life was helping me grow, but its effect had been diminished and become oversaturated. I needed to take charge of my growth and transform it into evolution.

Evolution vs. Growth

I began to think about the fundamental differences between growth and evolution.

In my eyes, personal evolution is a deliberate choice that not only requires taking time to analyze the information that we encounter, but also contemplating the person that we were before we received it and how that helps or hinders us from becoming the person that we want to be.

This is the aspect of evolution that many of us, including myself, often neglect.

My first instinct upon hearing the word “evolution” is to think of it in terms of animals. I know that over the course of millions of years, many species of animals have survived, changed, and died through the process of evolution. It takes place of the course of thousands of years, as nature coldly weeds out the traits of animals that once may have been useful, for ones that will allow the species to survive and adapt to its current environment.

On a much smaller scale, this same process takes place in humans as well, at least on the physical level.

The baby becomes a boy, who becomes a man, and neither form knows what it is like to be the other.

However, mentally and emotionally it is very easy for us to remain locked in the past, clinging on to mental processes or opinions that served us well back then, but do nothing but hold us back today from reaching our full potential. Like our animal counterparts, this tendency does not serve us well in the long run.

It’s Hard to Think

Thinking and analyzing is something that is very hard to do in our time. New information surrounds us in nearly every form imaginable and they all have the same ultimate purpose; to convert us into their next subscribers, customers, or followers. All of this new exposure to information makes it much harder for us to stop and truly think about the things that we have read or watched.

When was the last time you caught yourself scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feed and took even 5 minutes to analyze and think about your own thoughts about the media that you saw?

We don’t make time for it, because the emphasis is on consuming more information rather than taking time to digest what we just encountered. This emphasis is a sure way to prevent evolution.

Make time to Think and Evolve

Because of the way that new information is optimized to hijack our attention nowadays, it is more important than ever for us to carve out time to think for ourselves.

You don’t have take a hammer to your phone or cancel your social media accounts, (although that would certainly help). Just take time to consciously and intentionally think and analyze what you personally thought about the piece of news, media, or information that you absorbed.

The time needs to be long enough to let the initial wave of emotion that was provoked by the information subside and let conscious thinking take place.

It can be for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or longer; sitting or standing; with or without music, whatever works for you.

It will be difficult to do at first. But eventually, if you try and do it at least once a day, you will gain a deeper appreciation for what you just read, watched, or experienced. More importantly it will give you further insight into yourself and put you one step further on the path of your personal evolution.

Please clap if you enjoyed this! Also visit Keith’s blog where he writes about issues facing language learners and aspiring interpreters.