An old man said to his grandson, “Boy, I have two tigers caged within me. One is love and compassion. The other is fear and anger.” The young boy asked, “Which one will win, grandfather?” The old man replied, “The one I feed.” -Indian tale

Just as you are always learning, you are also always growing. Your physical body never stops growing new cells, for example (funnily enough everywhere except your brain, which needs the cells to stay still long enough to remember stuff. We’d be pretty screwed if our brains behaved like our skin, and dumped cells that were over a few weeks old. Sometimes I feel like my brain actually does do this, and that’s why I can’t remember anything any more).

But what this means is, while the rest of our bodies are growing physically, our brains can continue to grow in their own way. Your skills and habits are always growing in one direction or another, whether you choose the direction or not. The question is, are you going to make the effort to grow in the direction you actually want to go, or grow by default in other less helpful directions? If you want an analogy, do you eat what you’ve always eaten and grow wider, or change it and grow thinner, stronger, more healthy?

It’s the same with other stuff too. Do you choose to grow your patience, or grow your temper? Because if you choose the wrong one, or fail to choose, I know which one will grow by default. Spoiler: It’s never the one you want. The easier path takes you where you don’t want to be.

So growth happens whether you do anything or not. If you have a patch of soil and don’t plant anything or pull out weeds, you don’t get a plain patch of soil. You get a crazy overgrown mess. Because growing something good is hard work. You have to actively choose it every time you have a chance – you can’t just let it happen by itself. Every choice is a chance to make it your habit to choose well. And every time we fail to do so – we get better at making bad choices. But we also always have another chance to change that.

That quote about the two tigers can be applied to any struggle you have inside you. Which side will win? At the start, it will be the side of you that has had the most practice. You’ve been growing in a particular direction your whole life. Changing that is hard. But keep feeding the little tiger and before too long you will find that he wins more than he used to. Your good habits will grow, and become more normal. And rather than being a huge struggle, your habits will be on your side, making it easier to do the things you want to do.