I love personal development, but it kinda poisons our minds.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the biggest shifts and growth in my life happened because of a seminar attended, a book read or a coach consulted. That stuff really does work – if you work it.
Nevertheless, personal development will suck the happiness out of your life if you’re not careful.
Getting hooked on growth makes you an addict
Growth in general is great, but when you have a few major breakthroughs with the help of one particular guru or philosophy you start to become an addict. Or even a zombie.
I call it “Devoted Acolyte Syndrome” and it happens when someone gets stuck in a particular brand of personal development.
The way it happens is simple: Initially the breakthroughs feel so great that you want to keep coming back for more. Again and again.
Soon, as a devoted acolyte, you start to find the pleasure and joy available in the wider world fading. Nothing in your life seems as exciting or interesting as the breakthroughs you’re making.
The only way you can get back those good fulfillment feelings is to take a hit of your preferred personal development brand. Or guru. Or community.
Personal development zombies forget that true growth happens through experiencing life itself.
The world offers all sorts of opportunities for growth. Zombie acolytes don’t see it – instead they become further buried in the world of artificial breakthroughs and epiphanies.
I’ve personally invested a ton of time in money in really high end personal development. I’m a bit of a connoisseur, but I’ve had to think extremely carefully about the choices I’ve made.
Instead of hooking onto one particular school of thought, guru or even book I always sample from a whole range. By keeping my commitments brief, I’m always expanding my skill set laterally – instead of going super crazy deep on the latest pop psychology trend, I’ll look into it while also looking at it’s antithesis.
Curious about affirmations? I’d also look for a school of personal development that offers a critique of affirmations and see what they have to say. The more paradoxical and contradictory information you can comfortably process, the richer your understanding becomes.
Brevity is also important for psychological insulation. The only long term commitments I’ve made have been peer-based masterminds or one-on-one coaching that’s about “holding up the mirror”. Myself and 7 other amazing male entrepreneurs have been meeting every Monday in New York for the last 2 years, to mutually coach each other at the intersection between life, business and relationships.
For me, this sort of thing creates a valuable opportunity for contradiction and constructive conflict. I’m not going to get walloped with dogma. Depth and variety is the basis of keeping things real in every psychological sense imaginable.
Whenever a guru offers a one-stop-shop for enlightenment or riches, always be suspicious – true growth is always messier than that.
You’re responsible for your personal growth.
You. You have to find opportunities to push your envelope and explore your edges.
Anyone who offers to take care of that for you, is robbing you of the opportunity to find incredible knowledge, growth and epiphany through reality itself.
And that’s my ultimate problem with zombie devoted acolytes. Personal development junkies live a tragedy devoid of all beauty and meaning besides what their dear leader provides.
To the zombie, art offers nothing. Nature offers nothing. Connection and friendships? Nothing, unless they’re “me too” reflections of the same dogma.
The crazy thing we forget is that art IS the original personal development. And before art, our prehistoric ancestors gazed into the night sky and told each other tales to explain their worlds.
Art + Nature + Friends
Let these three be your seminar. Let these inspire you to grow.
My good friend Nicky blew me away when he wrote this post on why he doesn’t ask people for advice.
“I see every word someone says to me and every act they perform as advice. I benefit not from what the people around me explicitly offer but rather from what I observe them do.”
He goes on to say that asking for advice basically results in pre-packaged soundbites based on how the advisor thinks things ought to be – rather than how they are, or even really were.
If you ask Nicky for advice about productivity, he might tell you about various strategies he’s tried. But he admits that he’s likely to gloss over the fact that this is something he still struggles with. He’ll give you the shell, but hold back the nut.
Instead, Nicky’s philosophy is one of curiosity-in-action. He observes and deliberately considers the people around him.
My point is to almost take this one step further. There is definitely a ton we can learn from directly observing that charismatic friend or stylish relative – the opportunities for this kind of growth are limitless if you have a good social circle. Or even just geographic proximity to amazing people.
Beyond people, there’s personal development opportunities everywhere.
Entrepreneurs with exercise habits will often find the solution to their stickiest strategy problems at the bottom of a swimming pool, or on the top of a mountain.
Lateral thinking theory suggests the source of creativity lies in synergistic application of totally unrelated ideas – by studying, playing and just living well in all different areas and fields you can pick up old ideas form one place and make them brand new (revolutionary) ideas somewhere else!
You might be the traveling entrepreneur who spends an hour observing a hawker in an open air market in Morocco, imprinting copywriting and marketing tactics onto your brain stem, while simply marveling at the guy’s ability to move his merchandise.
You might be the martial artist who realizes that the same principals you use to throw an opponent on the mat also apply to negotiation domination in the boardroom.
The classic example is of course Steve Jobs, who allowed himself to follow his nose into calligraphy classes after dropping out of college. When he connected those dots to the computing industry, he created the PC User Interface as we know it today.
If you’ve signed up for pre-packaged insight from a guru, just make sure you’re not missing out on what life has to offer you. It’s too easy to get lazy and allow one well marketed philosophy to develop a monopoly on your development.
Instead of treading the well worn path, go out into the long grass and lose yourself.
You might just find something no one has ever seen before.
“Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” – Mark Twain