Anyone who has an interest in personal development and who spends any time online should be familiar with Steve Pavlina and his personal development website. I’ve had the privilege of receiving an advanced copy of his book Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth, published by Hay House in 2008.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Steve Pavlina as he writes informative and useful articles. In fact, he was one of the inspirations for this website. So of course I had high expectations for his book and looked forward to reading it. He opens by telling the reader: “In order to help you grow, this book must violate your expectations and give you some unexpected “Aha!” moments”. And he delivers: even though I have spent a long time in the field of personal development, I haven’t often come across the volume of valuable new information and insights provided here.
I have long searched for a book that presents foundational principles that can be used to build a productive and rewarding life — like axioms of a mathematical system or the laws of physics when designing a machine. Personal Development for Smart People provides such a foundation. Pavlina shows the reader how to combine these principles and build on them to develop into the person you want to be; he helps you define and create the life you want to live.
The three core principles discussed throughout the book are:
- Truth, the accurate perception of your situation
- Love, making meaningful connections with yourself and others
- Power, exerting effort to affect change
The reader is taken through these principles then shown how they combine to form oneness (truth plus love), authority (truth plus power), courage (love plus power), and intelligence (the combination of truth, love, and power). Pavlina demonstrates how these principles apply in many areas of life.
Personal Development for Smart People doesn’t focus on low-level detailed practical advice such as how to schedule your time, conversational techniques, or dealing with anxiety (though there are many practical tips throughout the book). Instead, the author shows how adopting the core principles will allow you to overcome any practical obstacles between you and your goals by using your own internal resources. Despite the focus on principles there is a chapter on habits which I found especially interesting. This chapter presents many ways to develop positive habits and provides a list of 66 habits to increase your personal effectiveness.
Throughout the book, Pavlina uses examples from his own life, both public (as game developer and writer of his popular website) and private, to illustrate how he has applied, and continues to apply, the principles he presents in the book. These examples serve to illustrate his points and make understanding them easier. I would have liked to see more examples and anecdotes involving other people, such as the readers of his website, to get different perspectives on the application of the principles and see how they have influenced the lives of others. However, upon reflection, I found that there are examples in my own life.
I can see times in my life when I was applying the principles, though not necessarily with an explicit knowledge of what I was doing. I started studying martial arts a few years ago. This is something that I had wanted to do for a long time and I was eager to learn. However, I soon became discouraged when I understood that one of the main skills I would have to develop is pain tolerance which is achieved by being exposed to lots of pain. Like most people I’m not a big fan of pain. I thought this issue over for a few weeks and seriously considered quitting. I ultimately decided to stay after the following thought process:
- I first accepted my fear of pain and accepted that if I did nothing I would likely continue to be afraid of pain the rest of my life (truth principle)
- I realized that in order for me to grow I would have to trust my teacher and fellow students to continually challenge me but not put me in situations I couldn’t handle (love principle)
- I took responsibility for my situation even though I knew it would involve some amount of discomfort (power principle)
Several years later I am still practicing martial arts and am close to getting my black belt.
I think Steve Pavlina has done an excellent job of describing the importance of personal development and I agree with his point that “The most intelligent thing you can possibly do with your life is to grow”. His book helps the reader by providing tools to deal with many of the pitfalls along the way. He doesn’t hesitate to point out the many discouraging challenges that one may face in life. The value of persistence and intention in achieving your goals is paramount; not everyone who sets out to accomplish something, be it success in business or a black belt in a martial art, succeeds. Those who persevere in a focused manner, do. As Pavlina says: “If you train in martial arts, what are the odds of becoming a black belt? Does it make any difference what percentage of white belts eventually become black belts?”
Steve Pavlina has written a book of great value. I highly recommend reading it and applying the principles therein. Your life will be richer and more rewarding for doing so.
Bonus: Read the introduction and first chapter of Personal Development for Smart People.
Related PagesPersonal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth
Introducing NLP: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People
Children Learning Reading Review
The Study Method Review
Ron White Memory in a Month Review