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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 August 12, 2019

    How To Start a Conversation with Anyone

    How To Start a Conversation with Anyone

    The hardest part of socializing, for many people, is how to start a conversation. However, it is a big mistake to go about life not making the first move and waiting for someone else to do it [in conversation or anything].

    This isn’t to say you must always be the first in everything or initiate a conversation with everyone you see. What should be said, though, is once you get good at starting conversations, a lot of other things will progress in the way you want; such as networking and your love life.

    Benefits of Initiating a Conversation

    First thing is you should acknowledge why it is a good thing to be able to initiate conversations with strangers or people who you don’t know well:

    • You’re not a loner with nothing to do.
    • You look more approachable if you are comfortable approaching others.
    • Meeting new people means developing a network of friends or peers which leads to more knowledge and experiences.

    You can only learn so much alone, and I’m sure you’re aware of the benefits of learning from others. Being able to distinguish the ‘good from bad’ amongst a group of people will help in building a suitable network, or making a fun night.

    All people are good in their own way. Being able to have a good time with anybody is a worthy trait and something to discuss another time. However, if you have a specific purpose while in social situations, you may want to stick with people who are suitable.

    This means distinguishing between people who might suit you and your ‘purpose’ from those who probably won’t. This can require some people-judging, which I am generally very opposed to. However, this does make approaching people all the more easier.

    It helps to motivate the conversation if you really want to know this person. Also, you’ll find your circle of friends and peers grows to something you really like and enjoy.

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    The Rules

    I don’t have many rules in this life, for conversation or anything; but when it comes to approaching strangers, there are a few I’d like used.

    1. Be polite. Within context, don’t be a creepy, arrogant loudmouth or anything. Acknowledge that you are in the company of strangers and don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable. First impressions mean something.
    2. Keep it light. Don’t launch into a heartfelt rant or a story of tragedy. We’re out to have fun.
    3. Don’t be a prude. This just means relax. This isn’t a science and conversation isn’t a fine art. Talk to people like you’re already friends.
    4. Be honest. Be yourself. People can tell.

    Who To Talk To?

    I’m of the ilk that likes to talk to everyone and anyone. Everyone has a story and good personalities. Some are harder to get to than others, but if you’re on a people-finding excursion, like I usually am, then everyone is pretty much fair game.

    That said, if you’re out at a function and you want to build a network of people in your niche, you will want to distinguish those people from the others. Find the ‘leaders’ in a group of people or ask around for what you’re looking for.

    In a more general environment, like at a bar, you will want to do the same sort of thing. Acknowledge what you actually want and try to distinguish suitable people. Once you find someone, or a group of people, that you want to meet and talk to, hop to it.

    Think of a few things you might have in common. What did you notice about their dress sense?

    Building Confidence

    The most important part of initiating conversation is, arguably, having confidence. It should be obvious that without any amount of self-esteem you will struggle. Having confidence in yourself and who you are makes this job very easy.

    If you find yourself doubting your worth, or how interesting you are, make a few mental notes of why you are interesting and worth talking to. There is no question you are. You just have to realize that.

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    What do I do? What is interesting about it? What are my strong points and what are my weak ones? Confident people succeed because they play on their strengths.

    Across the Room Rapport

    This is rapport building without talking. It’s as simple as reciprocated eye contact and smiles etc. Acknowledging someone else’s presence before approaching them goes a long way to making introductions easier. You are instantly no longer just a random person.

    In my other article How Not To Suck At Socializing, there are things you can do to make yourself appear approachable. This doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to flock to you. You’ll still probably need to initiate conversations.

    People notice other people who are having a blast. If you’re that person, someone will acknowledge it and will make the ‘across the room rapport’ building a breeze. If you’re that person that is getting along great with their present company, others will want to talk to you. This will make your approach more comfortable for both parties.

    The Approach

    When it comes to being social, the less analytical and formulaic you are the better. Try not to map out your every move and plan too much. Although we are talking about how to initiate conversation, these are really only tips. When it comes to the approach, though, there are some things you should keep in mind.

    Different situations call for different approaches. Formal situations call for something more formal and relaxed ones should be relaxed.

    At a work function, for instance, be a little formal and introduce yourself. People will want to know who you are and what you do right away. This isn’t to say you should only talk about work, but an introduction and handshake is appropriate.

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    If you’re at a bar, then things are very different and you should be much more open to unstructured introductions. Personally, I don’t like the idea of walking directly to someone to talk to them. It’s too direct. I like the sense of randomness that comes with meeting new people.

    However, if there is rapport already established, go for it. If not, take a wander, buy a drink and be aware of where people are. If there is someone you would like to talk to, make yourself available and not sit all night etc.

    When someone is alone and looks bored, do them a favor and approach them. No matter how bad the conversation might get, they should at least appreciate the company and friendliness.

    Briefly, Approaching Groups

    When integrating with an established group conversation, there is really one thing to know. That is to establish the ‘leader’ and introduce yourself to them. I mentioned that before, but here is how and why.

    The why is the leader of a group conversation is probably the more social and outgoing. They will more readily accept your introduction and then introduce you to the rest of the group. This hierarchy in a group conversation is much more prevalent in formal situations where one person is leading the conversation.

    A group of friends out for the night is much more difficult to crack. This may even be another topic for discussion, but one thing I know that works is initiating conversation with a ‘stray’. It sounds predatorial, but it works.

    More often than not, this occurs without intention. But if you do really want to get into a group of friends, your best bet is approaching one of them while they are away from the group and being invited into the group.

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    It is possible, like everything, to approach a group outright and join them. However, this is almost an art and requires another specific post.

    Topics Of Conversation

    Other than confidence, the next thing people who have trouble initiating conversations lack is conversation! So here are a few tips to get the ball rolling:

    • Small talk sucks. It’s boring and a lot of people already begin to zone out when questions like, “What do you do?” or “What’s with this weather?” come up. Just skip it.
    • Everything is fair game. If you are in the company of someone and a thought strikes you, share it. “This drink is garbage! What are you drinking?” “Where did you get that outfit?”
    • Opinions matter. This is any easy way to hit the ground running in conversation. Everyone has one, and when you share yours, another will reveal itself. The great thing about this line of thought is that you are instantly learning about the other person and what they like, dislike etc.
    • Environment. The place you’re in is full of things to comment on. The DJ, band, fashions; start talking about what you see.
    • Current events. Unless it’s something accessible or light-hearted, forget it. Don’t launch into your opinion on the war or politics. If your town has recently hosted a festival, ask what they think about it.

    Exiting Conversation

    Although I’d like to write a full post on exiting strategies for conversations you don’t want to be in, here are some tips:

    • The first thing is don’t stay in a conversation you’re not interested in. It’ll show and will be no fun for anyone.
    • Be polite and excuse yourself. You’re probably out with friends, go back to them.  Or buy a drink. Most people will probably want to finish the conversation as much as you.

    Likewise, you could start another conversation.

    If you’d like to learn more tips about starting a conversation, this guide maybe useful for you: How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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