Friday, October 31, 2008

Review of Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina

I first heard of Steve Pavlina when a friend referred me to his blog during his polyphasic sleep experiment. For over 150 days, Steve abandoned sleeping nights, and instead took six, twenty minute naps a day. I was immediately intrigued. And the more of his writing I read, the more I liked the message.

There are hundreds of articles on his website, all about how to grow as a person. His approach is an intriguing mix of hippie, mainstream American, and strait-up crazy person, and from my perspective, the best of each. His thinking and writing is decidedly left-brained, and he doesn’t shy away from financial or career growth issues. At the same time he eats a 100% raw-vegan diet and talks with dead people.

From no other author have I found such accessible, intelligent, practicable personal development advice, and rarely such a warm and inviting tone. So when Steve announced he was publishing a book and would offer free advance copies to bloggers who would review it, I immediatly wanted to participate. That was the original impetus to start and grow this blog, and this review is the result.

The aims of the book - Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth - are ambitious on at least two counts:

  1. To be sufficiently different from and superior to the hundreds of articles on his website to satisfy his massive readership (he claims two million visitors a month).

  2. To lay out the fundamental principles of personal development.

The book is highly structured, and will probably work better for "thinkers" than for "feelers" on the MTBI T/F spectrum, which may be what Steve alludes to with his tag line “Personal Development for Smart People.”

The book is divided in two parts. The first is the seven fundamental principles of personal growth. Truth, love and power are the three primary principles. From those are derived oneness (truth + love), courage (love + power), and authority (power + truth). And the seventh is intelligence, which is defined as alignment with truth, love and power, and is the "highest form of human expression." Here’s a graphical representation:

I’m not convinced that these principles represent any sort of underlying order to personal growth, mostly because I'm unconvinced there is any such order. The three primary principles seem right to me, but the secondary ones feel forced. I’m not sure, for example, that courage is a combination of love and power. In the section on how to build courage, one of the suggestions is to educate yourself, which I agree is a great way to overcome timidity, but seems to come from the primary principle of truth, not love or power. I can also think of no compelling reason why personal growth should rest on such a neat foundation.

As a tool though, a way of thinking about and planning growth and handling life’s problems, I think this scaffolding will be valuable. Perhaps it is the neatest possible representation of an inherantly complex, chaotic pursuit.

Each of the seven principles is broken down into its key components. Truth, for example, breaks down to perception, prediction, accuracy, acceptance, and self-awareness. Each component is explained and described, and sometimes a how-to improve this component is given. On prediction, for example, he says, we grow from exposure to new patterns: when our expectations are met it reinforces our beliefs; when they are not, it forces us to build new ideas about how the world works. Thus we should seek stability and routine only as a launching pad for exploring new areas. In order to side-step denial we can bring the process into the conscious part of the mind by making conscious predictions and comparing our expectations to how reality turns out to operate. He also says that emotions are predictions: when we have negative expectations we feel bad and when we have positive expectations, we feel good. That’s just one component of one of the seven fundamental principles. I wanted to detail it to illustrate the depths the book reaches.

For each principle, he also lays out some common blocks to alignment with the principle. For truth, for example: media conditioning, social conditioning, false beliefs, emotional interference, addictions, immaturity, and secondary gain. And each block is described and explained with similar detail. As I read these, many of the obstacles to growth that I face, some of which I've been struggling for years to elucidate, become immediately clear.

Finally, for each principle, he provides several techniques for coming into better alignment. For truth, he suggests a quantitative self-evaluation in various aspects of life (the process is described in detail), journaling on a regular basis, and forgoing all media, at least for a trial period of time.

In the intelligence chapter, there are extensive quizzes and evaluative material to determine where and how you can best serve your personal growth.

The second part of the book details six primary areas of life: habits, career, money, health, relationships, and spirituality. Suggestions are offered for how to improve congruency in each area with each of the seven principles. If that sounds overwhelming, it reads as detailed and useful.

For example, in the section on habits and oneness, there is a discussion of how our habits influence others and how we might be role models to the world with them, and also how we can use habits to develop congruency with the principle of oneness, like going for long walks in nature, smiling at strangers on the street, or offering hugs instead of handshakes.

I thought there was more value in the first part of the book, and it was more fun to read than the second. When I return to the book to do the exercises suggested — which I will begin this weekend — I plan to spend more time in the first section. On the other hand, if I ever feel in need of help in a certain area of life, the organization of the second section would be of great value.

In sum, this is an excellent book and one that I will use for years to come. I fully recommend it to everyone, and especially those who prefer a rational/logical approach to complex issues (which can be hard to find in the “self help” section of a bookstore). I’m not sure that it succeeds in its most ambitious task, but it is still immensely valuable, even to someone who has read almost all of Steve Pavlina’s website.

9/10 stars.


Anonymous said...

A valuable post on Personal Development

Karim - Positive thinking

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fiona grimland said...

You raised a pretty valid point here but don’t you think its conflicting. What I mean to say that your point of view is different from traditional views on this topic.SELF IMPROVEMENT

Danica said...

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