Have you noticed a strange pattern within personal development circles? Many of the people who work most intensely on their own development are the ones who make the least progress in life.
There is a large group of people who read all the books, go to all the seminars, and listen to all the audio programs but get absolutely nowhere. This is unfortunate but true.
These people seem to be totally incapable of getting to where they want to go. They know all the techniques and systems but none of it ever works. Their goals are more clearly written than anyone else’s and they remain the farthest away from achieving them. And when they do make progress, it is often superficial and short-lived.
For all the effort they put in, this group’s own development is far worse than their peers who have never heard of Tony Robbins. I thought this was strange, so I looked a little deeper. What I found is that many people are using the theme of “personal development” to shield themselves from living real life.
It is easy to write out your goals, but hard to become the person who achieves those goals. It is easy to read a book on attracting your ideal man/woman, but hard to go out and deal with rejection. It is easy to go to a seminar, but hard to actually change.
That’s why I believe the only useful personal development material is the kind that inspires you to get out of your house and explore the real world. All else is drivel. You don’t need more information, more skills, or more time. You need to get out there and DO IT.
There is a great scene in the blackjack movie 21 that illustrates this point. If you haven’t seen it, the main character, Ben, was a quiet nerdy kid who got sucked into this card-counting ring. He’s in Vegas living it up every weekend – conquering his fears, making tons of money, hanging out with new people, and experiencing a whole new life (and getting beat up by Lawrence Fishburn but that comes later).
When he gets back to college one week, Ben is clearly a different person. He goes to a bar with his old nerdy friends and they see a girl across the room (who he knew from blackjack). Ben gets up and goes over to talk to her. His friends are totally dumbfounded that he would talk to a… girl! When he comes back they ask: “Did you, like, take some self-help seminar or something?”
The line was meant to be comical, because it was obvious to the audience that a seminar could not have taught him what he learned in Vegas. The friends just didn’t get it. He had experienced so much life, done so many things, and he was now a bigger person because of it. It was no big deal for him to go talk to a girl across the bar. In his friends’ contrasting point of view, this was unimaginable. The difference was in the life experience.
This is why I think personal development works best when you simply ignore it all together.
My Name is Andrew, and I am a Personal Development Junkie
I have absolutely been guilty of this myself. When I was 16, I became a serious personal development junkie and I am still recovering.
I remember reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad and loved the idea that this book could teach me how to be rich. I didn’t have to do anything myself, of course, just read the book and the results would come to me. It was a great system! So after Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I read all of the recommended books at the end. I could win friends and influence people, unleash the giant within, think and grow rich, and learn any new skill — just by reading a book. Why wasn’t everyone doing this?!
You wouldn’t believe how many years it took me to realize that this doesn’t work. Now, I can tell you all the top systems for goal achievement… but have I actually achieved mine? I know how to define my ideal self on paper… but have I become him?
I could have done so much more in the last 5 years without having ever read books on building a business, making friends, or improving myself in some way. Not only would I have saved the time, I feel like these books/programs actually dissipated my focus from the real work at hand.
I spent more time planning to work than actually working.
Personal development encouraged me to sit behind the scenes, spending my time and energy working on myself. The problem is, you cannot ‘work on yourself’ by trying to do so. Pondering your goals doesn’t change reality in the slightest. You can only really grow by experiencing real things in the real world. You can either spend your time editing the words of your goal achievement plan, or you can spend it actually acting on those goals with reckless abandon to make something happen.
For much of my life, I chose the first option. I spent my time planning to live rather than living. It is important to know where you want to go in life, but you really already know what you want. It would take 10 minutes per year to write down your goals. The real reason we often procrastinate in this way is due to fear. Why? Because…
Real Growth is Terrifying
There is a surefire way to know if you are really growing or simply going through the motions: growth is terrifying.
You have this thing called a comfort zone. It is a very effective system that lets you know when you are growing and when you are simply stagnating or pretending to grow. It is accurate all the time and it cannot be fooled. The more terror you feel as you approach the situation, the greater the growth experience.
When you feel the pangs of terror as you approach a new situation, you’ve found it! No matter the outcome, this situation will lead to the real kind of growth that will make a positive difference in your life.
For example, how would you rate the terror you feel as you pick up the latest book on relationships? Not too highly. But walking up to the pretty girl and saying “hi” is a different story. I bet you can guess which one will lead to positive development in your life.
My advice is to ignore the things that feel comfortable and seek out those that make you want to run and cry.
It is important to pay attention to this process though, because your subconscious is an expert at weaseling you out of fearful situations. It can “modify” your experience until it becomes comfy and easygoing, thereby destroying all growth potential. Remember that when the terror is gone, so is the growth.
You can either grab life by the horns and go make it happen, or you can talk about growth and pretend to grow. Go right ahead and stay in your comfort zone if that works for you, but at least recognize that you won’t get to experience the exhilaration that comes from expanding yourself in new ways.
Act on the Terror
If you want to grow, make it a habit to approach life in the most terrifying way possible. Figuring out how you need to develop is easy – just look to the areas that scare you the most. It all comes back to the fears. Find the things you are most afraid of doing and you have found the areas that need the most work.
Discover all those secret subconscious things that you have been pushing under the rug. Bring these fears to the surface and immediately begin to do something to face the terror head-on. I would not suggest making a list of all these fears or creating elaborate plans to tackle them, as that distracts from the purpose of making real progress. Keep it simple and informal. Just pick the most terrifying plan of action and go do it as soon as possible. Make it a habit to approach life in this way.
Here are a few ideas:
- Improve Your Social Skills – Go visit a coffee shop and make it a point to meet one new person each time you visit. It might be terrifying to first reach out and say “hello” to someone you don’t know, but you will be better for taking the initiative. Not only will you have improved social skills, you might make a friend or even get a date.
- Learn to Handle Difficult Situations – Take a few weeks and go live in a random city all by yourself with no plans. It can be terrifying to get on that plane with no agenda and a commitment to stay for 30 days. But you will figure it out. And as you figure it out, you will become a different person more capable of handling your everyday life back home.
- Overcome procrastination – These experiences do not have to be on a grand scale, either. If you want to become more effective at getting things done, well, start getting things done. Stop and do it RIGHT NOW. Before you even finish this article, go do something you have been meaning to do. If you are a procrastinator, you will notice the terror even in this little suggestion.
Note that none of these ideas have prerequisites. You don’t need a book, plan, or schedule. You just do them and figure it out as you go. In fact, excessive preparation would be detrimental to the process. Throw yourself off the deep end and learn how to swim.
That is the whole message here. Those who throw themselves into the pool are the ones who make progress. And once you’re in the pool, your notes on chapter 7 of Unleash the Giant Within become totally irrelevant.
Honestly, this advice should be obvious, but it isn’t. There is a large group of people (among whom I was a card-carrying member) who hide behind personal growth, afraid to really experience life and make things happen. No blog will change you, no book can make it happen, and no seminar will give you the answers. Only you can change you.
You don’t make progress by finding ways to overcome the fear, you make progress by confronting the fear even while afraid. As Ambrose Redmoon said:
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
If you have found the personal development industry to be ineffective, it is not a sign that you need more personal development work. Instead, give up on the material and start making things happen in the real world – even when it’s scary. The happiness, pride, and exhilaration that this lifestyle brings is beyond anything you could ever read about. So why are you still here? Leave this blog and go do something real – NOW.
Image Credit: Se7en Summits