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At a recent visit to the beautiful Keukenhof flower gardens in Holland, I learned about the practice of topping. As flowers grow, sometimes the growers cut off the tops of the flowers, which they believe causes the plants to invest more energy into flower growth and less into seed production. The expected result is flower buds that will produce higher quality flowers.
This is a nice analogy for personal growth as well. Sometimes when we produce preliminary results in a certain area, it can be helpful to cut them off and discard them. This can free up energy for a stronger attempt elsewhere instead of settling into the comfort zone of satisfaction with the old results.
After running my computer games business for 10 years and generating satisfying results with it, I decided to drop it and leave that field behind. This freed up my energy to focus on my personal development writing and speaking. If I’d kept running the old business, I’d have become more enmeshed in that field, planting more seeds there, so to speak. This would have meant less energy to invest in my new path and weaker results.
It can be difficult to choose the topping approach because you’re taking something that’s already reasonably satisfying and cutting it out of your life, in the hopes that something even better will grow in its place. But if you don’t do this, then you can easily stunt your future growth, causing more energy to be invested in planting ever more seeds around the old path. When you decline to make cuts, you effectively say: This is as good as it will ever be, so I’m going to settle myself here.
Do you want to settle where you are right now? If so, then topping is unnecessary. But if you’d like to do better and believe you have a good shot at improvement, just like the flower growers at Keukenhof, then topping is a sensible practice. To free up time and energy for future growth in new directions, you have to drop the merely satisfactory. This gives you a shot at the truly beautiful.
When you feel like life is becoming too stagnant, try mixing things up now and then. In many cases you can apply topping on a temporary basis by dropping old routines and trying something new for a while.
As a way to mix things up, I’ve been traveling continuously since April 23, first to Germany, then Holland, and now I’m in the UK (staying in the Shoreditch part of London). By the time I return to Vegas, I’ll have been in Europe for a month. That’s not only my longest trip to Europe but also my longest trip away from my home base ever.
During this time, I’ve dropped my old routine that I would normally use at home, and I’m trying something different for a while. I arrived with a one-way ticket, with only some part of the trip planned in advance. Even though my home-based routine was reasonably satisfying, by choosing to cut it out for a while, I no longer need to invest any energy in maintaining that routine. This means that more energy is freed up for exploration and growth. That’s basically what I’m doing each day — going out, having new experiences, meeting new people, exploring, learning, and growing.
I didn’t break with the old routine because of any problems with it. The old routine was working okay for me. I broke away because I didn’t want to allow myself to get stuck, even in a seemingly good place.
When you stay relatively still for long enough, you put down seeds. As time passes, these seeds develop stronger and stronger roots. Your reality becomes increasingly solid, and this can make change more difficult. The longer you stay still, the more people will relate to you based on your current position. Your thoughts and feelings may become repetitive and circular. Your physical environment may begin to exert more and more control over your daily routine. Pretty soon you notice that as the years are passing, little is changing in your life. This is the comfort zone.
If you like the comfort zone and wish to stay there, that’s your choice. I prefer not to get stuck there for too long. As soon as life becomes a little too comfortable, and I feel like I can just relax into the satisfaction of maintaining the status quo, I feel the urge to break free of that reality and go for more growth.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone is by definition an uncomfortable experience, but it can yield a lot more growth than staying put. During my Europe trip, for instance, each day brings new challenges, like making the mistake of taking the stairs from the bottom of Covent Garden Underground Tube Station (felt like climbing up from the earth’s core). But with so much to explore and learn each day, it feels like every day includes minor victories of the sort that I seldom experience at home.
Dropping satisfaction to go for more growth is not an easy path to follow, but I do find it to be the more beautiful path. Do you feel the same?