Crossing the Line

In life, there often seems to be a line where many things move from being a positive to a negative. From a healthy part of our existence to an unhealthy one. From a functional and normal process to a dysfunctional and abnormal one. From something that should be life-enhancing, to something that becomes potentially life-destroying.

Food

Take food, for example. Over the years, I’ve worked with many people who have turned their healthy eating habits into completely unhealthy eating disorders. Somewhere along the way, they went from being focused on eating well, to being totally obsessed with, and preoccupied by, food. Something which is fundamental to human existence and survival (eating) somehow becomes their biggest challenge in life. The very thing that will sustain most of us, might well destroy them.

Exercise

The same thing happens with exercise. The unfit person becomes fit. Before long, they feel better, look better, function better and get lots of approval and recognition – all highly desirable (and potentially addictive) outcomes. So, they decide to get a little fitter and leaner and train a little more. And more again. They reason: “Well, if one hour of exercise is good, then two hours will be twice as good and three must be amazing!” Before long, they train whenever and wherever possible. They begin to lie about their exercise habits. They experience anxiety and even anger when they can’t do their workout. They start planning their life around their exercise regime. It affects them mentally, emotionally and socially. They lose perspective and the healthy pursuit of exercise has now become an unhealthy obsession.

Money

We see this type of unhealthy behaviour in a range of settings and wrapped around a plethora of everyday issues and responsibilities. For some people, making money will transition from being a normal, everyday responsibility and necessity to a complete obsession. They will eat, sleep and breathe it. Money will become their identity. Their self esteem. Their sole focus. Or should I say, soul focus? And, in the middle of their fanatical pursuit of the almighty dollar, they will become physically, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. They will lose themselves. Their success will not be success at all. Their practical and sensible goal (to earn and save money) will have become an unhealthy and destructive obsession.

Religion

And speaking of destructive and dysfunctional habits, behaviours and beliefs, I guess I could play the religion card… but do I really need to? Thought not.

Personal Development

So, let’s talk about the potential dangers of personal development instead; the reason I started this long-winded monologue. “But Craig, surely immersing myself in personal development can’t lead to any kind of undesirable or negative outcomes, can it?”

Er, only about a thousand.

Like anything else that we might focus on, the pursuit of personal growth can produce a myriad of negative outcomes when we go about it the wrong way. Some people will become quite fanatical and emotional about their new-found insight and reality. Which might compel them to evangelise their un-impressed family, friends and colleagues with an ever-expanding range of theories, ideas, stories and shonky research. And, naturally, that’s always well received.

For the most part, being excited, educated and passionate about something is good, especially when it leads to some kind of positive behavioural change and desirable outcome. When the information (like the mountains of stuff on this site) is the genesis for practical application and lasting transformation, then personal development is serving its intended purpose. It’s positive. It’s practical. It’s transformational. It’s a valuable resource.

The Reality

But when we step back from all the motivational language, the theories, the mantras, the affirmations and the emotion, can we honestly say that personal development products, programs, services and resources typically (that is, most times) result in significant and lasting transformation for the individuals who partake? Of course, there is no independent data or research to answer that question accurately or quantitatively (to my knowledge) but if I had to take an educated stab my answer would be… no, most people don’t create significant or lasting change. That’s not to say that they can’t but, rather, that they won’t.

Life Ain’t No Theory

For some people, the answer will be yes but it’s my experience, observation and opinion that far too many people delude, delay and deny themselves in the theory of transformation (yes, even people who frequent this cyber-classroom) when they should actually be rolling up their sleeves and immersing themselves in the practical, messy, uncomfortable reality of the change process. The doing part.

Stop listening, watching, reading, researching and studying, and start applying what you’ve learned.

After decades of teaching, coaching, learning, studying and watching this stuff in action, I’m of the opinion that, for personal development to be a genuinely effective transformational tool – in a practical, measurable and experiential way – the change process should be somewhere in the vicinity of ninety percent doing stuff (the practical) and ten percent learning stuff (listening, watching, reading, researching, studying). Of course, the percentages might need to vary a little depending on the individual goal and what stage of the journey we’re at with that goal but, for the most part, I think 90/10 works.

Sadly, for many people, the percentages are more like 1/99. That is, one percent doing and ninety-nine percent… not doing.

What are your percentages?

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