If you have goals and value success, I'm guessing your to-do list is never far from your mind. In fact, it might drive your entire day. But real personal growth doesn't come just from doing. It also comes from facing, from looking square at behavioral, philosophical or other realities you'd rather brush under the rug.

So here's an uncomplicated exercise.

Take a clean piece of paper and a pen you love to write with. For five to 10 minutes, try to block out everything that's screaming for your time. Instead, focus on identifying and writing down some uncomfortable truths you need to confront. The idea isn't to ruminate on the negative, per se, but rather to pinpoint elements in your life that are hurdles and hindrances to you so you can work past them, change and mature.

For example, in full disclosure, here are some elements from my own truth list:

  • I tend to unfairly judge others who don't work as I do quite harshly, which can alienate them.
  • I can't blame aging for tighter pants--that's my KitKat habit.
  • I struggle to let failing goals go because I want to be able to say I accomplished what I set out for.

If you want, organize your list a little, such as truths that relate to your relationships, ones strictly related to the office, ones about daily habits and so on. This step isn't a must, and sometimes it's more helpful to just braindump as you reflect, but a little categorization can help you see areas where you are having more difficulties than others.

Once you've got your list, take some time whenever you're in a good mental place to look at each item on the list and ask yourself what developed or contributed to it. For example, I like my KitKats when I'm feeling stressed (big surprise, right?). It is totally OK to feel a little unsure of the roots--some habits or fears or bad situations have a lot of parts, and it takes time to uncover all the puzzle pieces. Don't try to force an answer. There's no deadline, and addressing the list is an ongoing process. Just keep opening yourself and looking. Talking to someone you trust can help bring you clarity for some points if you feel comfortable doing that.

Now, here's the fun part. Once you have a decent sense of "why" for a point, take a moment to acknowledge that "why" as part of you. It's not "good" or "bad", it just is as part of your history. It's important, though, because it can help you identify specific triggers so you can avoid returning to the same bad habits in the future that you want to create. Then take a point from the list and rewrite it as a goal (e.g., "I'll eat fewer KitKats."). And finally, make the action plan of steps you'll take to make that goal reality.

One caution as you approach the last step here. I know it's tempting, but don't take shortcuts. For instance, I could have "eat a piece of fruit" as part of my plan. But the real target isn't just making a healthy diet swap. The real target is the stress that makes me chow in the first place. A piece of fruit arguably could help me a little there by giving my body nutrients necessary for good mental and emotional regulation, but I probably would be better served by other options, such as drawing better boundaries or allowing myself more time for activities I enjoy. Be real about what you're after and don't shy away from the best solution just because that solution doesn't happen to be easy.

When you're done, you'll have taken something that's difficult in your life and created feasible ways to destroy it. You're not just confronting truths--you're committing to replacing them with new ones. Change will happen if you follow through. And while you'll probably have new points you should add as your life rolls on, you can see everything you cross off your truth list as an outstanding accomplishment.

Published on: Aug 14, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.