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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 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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