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Review: Personal Development for Smart People

Review: Personal Development for Smart People

    Steve Pavlina’s credentials in personal development are impressive: he’s written about productivity, goal setting and more on his blog and in other venues. This month, Pavlina’s book — Personal Development for Smart People — hit shelves.

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    With a name like Personal Development for Smart People, I have to admit I was expecting something a little more technical than what Pavlina wrote. I was expecting a system, maybe a few worksheets and some definitive steps that Pavlina might recommend to readers. If you’re looking for a how-to guide, however, Personal Development for Smart People isn’t going to meet your needs.

    Rather than producing a user’s manual for personal development, Pavlina created something more philosophical, more theoretical. His book provides a basic framework from where all other parts of finding a workable system, be it for productivity or careers or something else entirely. It works as such and can provide a good introduction to underlying principles. I think, at least in part, Pavlina’s approach is a reflection of how he came to the topic of personal development. In the introduction to the book, he relates the moment when he decided he needed to straighten out his life — he was 19 years old and in jail. He decided he needed to start from the ground up, down to the point where he needed a new code of ethics. I doubt Personal Development for Smart People could have been written by any personal development expert who came to the field needing to solve just one problem or answer just one question. On a fundamental level, Personal Development for Smart People really is about building from only starting principles.

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    Consider the first half of the book’s table of contents:

    1. Truth
    2. Love
    3. Power
    4. Oneness
    5. Authority
    6. Courage
    7. Intelligence

    These are the topics that Pavlina considers fundamental, and after reading his book, I think I agree. Consider the issues we’re always looking to tweak: our careers, relationships and other fairly surface issues. Pavlina set out to find commonality between all these problems we run into, on the grounds that there must be fairly universal approaches that could work across the boundaries between career and relationships. Pavlina’s criteria were simple:

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    …these principles must be universal. They must be applicable by anyone, anywhere, in any situation. They must work equally well for all areas of life: health, relationships, career, spiritual growth and so on. They must be timeless, meaning that they can still be expected to work 1,000 years from now, and they would have workd 1,000 years ago.

    That’s a pretty tall order, but Pavlina managed to find three principles that fit the bill: truth, love and power. The other four (oneness, authority, courage, and intelligence) are secondary principles derived from those three. It isn’t a stretch to consider most of our questions about personal development in those terms: I know a lot of my own productivity pitfalls have amounted to whether I was really being truthful with myself from goals to my own capabilities.

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    Pavlina didn’t really let me down when it comes to concrete advice on developing parts of my life, despite dedicating the first half of Personal Development for Smart People to a broader over view. The second half is the “Practical Applications” section and I did find plenty more to chew on in the second section. Pavlina really puts the theoretical concepts he discusses in the first section to work when describing his principles’ practical application. Chapter 7 particularly stuck with me: it covers habits, starting with their connection to truth and leading through love and power. With truth, Pavlina suggests a few moments of brutal honesty:

    What are your best habits? What are your worst? Do you have any addictions? Do these habits serve you well or hold you back? Do they help you align with truth, or do you feel compelled to lie about them? What habits are you hiding? What habits are you most proud of?

    Pavlina is suggesting a very difficult conversation to have with yourself, and his approach to handling your habits doesn’t get any easier. When he looks at habits through the lens of love, he has equally tough ideas — including removing connections to friends that make it harder to break your addiction. Nobody ever said that personal development was easy, however. Beyond connecting his discussion of habits to principles, Pavlina does cover some helpful hints on actually breaking negative habits and creating positive ones, such as 30-day trials and stair-stepping. From there, Pavlina dives back into his principles and covers how habits interact with the secondary principles, such as oneness and authority. He does the same with Career, Money, Health, Relationships and Spirituality.

    I don’t know if Personal Development for Smart People is going to be a game-changing book as far as personal development goes. While it is packed with good information, it has a ground-up approach that may not work for everyone. So many people are looking for help with just their careers or just their relationships that it seems not everyone is ready for such a broadly-based book. But for those individuals who are ready to tackle some dramatic changes — especially those interested in starting from scratch — Personal Development for Smart People really could be the right fit. On that note, I recommend adding Personal Development for Smart People to your reading list.

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    Last Updated on February 25, 2020

    Face Adversity with a Smile

    Face Adversity with a Smile

    I told my friend Graham that I often cycle the two miles from my house to the town centre but unfortunately there is a big hill on the route. He replied, ‘You mean fortunately.’ He explained that I should be glad of the extra exercise that the hill provided.

    My attitude to the hill has now changed. I used to grumble as I approached it but now I tell myself the following. This hill will exercise my heart and lungs. It will help me to lose weight and get fit. It will mean that I live longer. This hill is my friend. Finally as I wend my way up the incline I console myself with the thought of all those silly people who pay money to go to a gym and sit on stationery exercise bicycles when I can get the same value for free. I have a smug smile of satisfaction as I reach the top of the hill.

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    Problems are there to be faced and overcome. We cannot achieve anything with an easy life. Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to gain a University degree. Her activism and writing proved inspirational. She wrote, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

    One of the main determinants of success in life is our attitude towards adversity. From time to time we all face hardships, problems, accidents, afflictions and difficulties. Some are of our making but many confront us through no fault of our own. Whilst we cannot choose the adversity we can choose our attitude towards it.

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    Douglas Bader was 21 when in 1931 he had both legs amputated following a flying accident. He was determined to fly again and went on to become one of the leading flying aces in the Battle of Britain with 22 aerial victories over the Germans. He was an inspiration to others during the war. He said, “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”

    How can you change your attitude towards the adversity that you face? Try these steps:

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    1. Confront the problem. Do not avoid it.
    2. Deliberately take a positive attitude and write down some benefits or advantages of the situation.
    3. Visualise how you will feel when you overcome this obstacle.
    4. Develop an action plan for how to tackle it.
    5. Smile and get cracking.

    The biographies of great people are littered with examples of how they took these kinds of steps to overcome the difficulties they faced. The common thread is that they did not become defeatist or depressed. They chose their attitude. They opted to be positive. They took on the challenge. They won.

    Featured photo credit: Jamie Brown via unsplash.com

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