Formula for Powerful Personal Growth: 2 – 1 = 3

Pruning: “to remove unneeded branches or limbs; to trim; to clear the undesirable”

Tree collage with nbrs

It might be the most common metaphor of all time, but it works. In the collage above:

Image One: Our upside down Mulberry tree, appearing dead.

Image Two: Two days after intense pruning.

Image Three: One month later, we have the healthiest Mulberry tree evah!

Pruning trees works. It also works for peopleif we let it.

So often, though, the “undesirable” in us doesn’t get trimmed away because when someone tells us, “You really need to change!” we respond with … 


In my early thirties, an older fella told me, “You’re a defensive young man.” As I stood there glaring back at him with my arms crossed, I said something like, “THAT ISN’T TRUE! I AM NOT DEFENSIVE!”

My body language and reaction proved his point.

As longtime parents and authors of Parenting the QBQ Way, Karen and I have noticed defensiveness in dads and moms. When it comes to raising kids, there’s a real “pride of ownership” that engenders parental responses such as, “DON’T TELL ME HOW TO RAISE MY KID!!!”

Defensiveness, of course, doesn’t exist only in regards to parenting. 

Where does our need to defend come from?

Pride. Perfectionism. Fear of loss or failure. Embarrassment. How we were brought up. The work environment we function in daily, like a super political culture where we must always “watch our back.” (That doesn’t happen in outstanding organizations—but I digress!)

No matter the reason(s) for our defensiveness, those who believe in PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY understand the need for this critical question:

How do I move beyond my human need to defend myself and allow other people’s input into my life?

Good question. And here’s a good formula to keep in mind when it comes to personal growth: 2 minus 1 equals 3.

Stated sans numbers:

The fastest way to make a leap forward is to take a step back.

To help us all make that leap, allow us at QBQ, Inc. to provide practical steps to applying input from others … because whether we like it or not, we’re going to get it! 🙂

5 Steps to Powerful Pruning

1. Pause. By biting my tongue and arresting my negative thoughts, I am able to resist the human urge to lash out at an advice-giver. This allows me the moment I need to open the door to positive personal change.

2. Process. Pondering the feedback provided with questions such as, “Is this input true?” “How can it help me?” and “Is there any reason not to try it?” lets me consider the merits of the feedback.

3. Practice. Doing it. When I try an idea someone has proposed—who knows?—it might just work! One never knows till one tries.

4. Persist. By persisting to practice the new idea, 30 days later it will be a habit. As we share on the final page of QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, “Repetition is the motor of learning!”

5. Praise. Returning to the person to give them praise for speaking into my life is a good thing to do. Quoting the 1970’s Skin Bracer cologne ad, all I need to tell them is, “Thanks, I needed that!”

Pruning. It works. For trees and people.

How do you tend to handle input from others? What pruning have you allowed into your life and who did it come from?

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10 Responses

  1. Well done John. I heartily agree. It requires regular discipline to self-evalaute and decide what qualities of our character no longer serve us well. What worked well in the past might no longer work well today. I would add that pruning can also be scary for some people. Some of our old habits are like comfort foods–they can make us feel good but they may not be the most nutritous for us. Cutting away old habits like excessive anger or defensiveness can lead us exposed or naked to the world while we work hard to put on the better psychological clothing of acceptance and receptivity.
    Great job John–keep up your good work.

  2. Ouch – I’ve been there more than once! You find yourself caught in the moment and your off on the defensive. SO right – Pause is so empowering.

  3. Just being real here – My response to advice depends upon my relationship with the person who is giving it. If it’s someone I trust, someone whom I know and believe is sharing advice for my own good and because they care, I am open to listening to and embracing even the most painful truths. But when it’s a person with whom I do not have that trust relationship, the brick wall goes up FAST. I’m not proud of this, but it’s worth acknowledging – both in this forum and within myself.

  4. I agree completely.

    But I do have a warning to those who bring pruning opportunities.

    If you prune a tree in the wrong season or to often it will never grow. Give it some time and wait for the right season.

  5. One of the main challenges is the concept of “free speech” that some people use to not necessarily express constructive feedback but offend and attack because of their “right” to say things. I have learned to say “I hear you” and “I appreciate your feedback” in all cases. If genuine and practical feedback is provided, the pruning start immediately. If unpractical or unfair feedback is received – nothing follows.

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