Three Sneaky Traps of Personal Development

by Henrik Edberg

Three Sneaky Traps of Personal Development
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Fran-sis-ca (license).

Personal development is a wonderful thing. It can help you improve your health and body, your social life, your happiness and financial situation. But there are also a few pitfalls. A few, pretty serious problems I have run into myself. Stuff that can really hurt you and your life instead of improving it.

Here are three such sneaky traps.

1. Personal development information becomes a place where you can hide.

There are many ways to escape reality and the suffering/pain/uncomfort you may be experiencing. Drugs or too much shopping, TV, exercising or World of Warcraft can be such ways. So you may realize that and have started to get interested in personal development material to leap out of such escapist behaviour and improve your life.

Just be careful so you don’t jump from one such way of escape into another.

If you are reading a lot of personal development book but are not taking much action to improve your life or if you feel a sort of high every time you read a about a new, exciting idea that you think will “fix” your problem then you may be using personal development as an escape. Just like WOW or shopping each new article or book may give you a temporary high that you start chasing. Instead of a tool that you use practically in your own life.

Now, I think a lot of people get stuck in reading for some time when they first start learning about this stuff. That’s pretty natural since you’re new to it all and perhaps a bit confused. But at some point you have to review what you have done with what you have learned so far. And become aware that you may have to start reading less and doing more.

2. You take in too much information and can’t focus on anything.

This problem can come from reading too many personal development blog or books at once. You get all these great ideas and tips all the time and want to improve everything right now. So you focus on improving too many things at once.

The problem is just that your mind isn’t really built to focus on many things at once. And change is slow. If you try to improve many areas of your life at the same time it is very easy to get emotionally and mentally drained from that process. It may work well for a week or two but at some point – in my experience – it just becomes too much and you start slipping back into your old behaviour or start rationalizing why you don’t need this change right now anyway. After a month you are pretty much back to your old ways.

A better – but less exciting – way is to for instance focus on one thing each month. That may sound too easy and simple on paper but it’s better to use this month to get one thing right instead making little progress in three or four areas. The main focus is to actually improve something in real life, not how many things you can fit into your schedule.

For instance for me, January was about focusing on what I’m eating and my new workout program. For me, the eating – portion sizes and what I eat – is now is now pretty much on auto-pilot and nothing I have to think about that much. The same goes for my workout combination of weight training and bodyweight cardio circuits.

Putting this stuff on auto-pilot and as something I just do just – like brushing my teeth and taking showers – leaves me with more energy and available focus for more interesting things right now.

3. You create problems that weren’t even there.

Or overcomplicate every issue and make it an intellectual discussion instead of a solution.

Yeah, personal development books or blogs can help you solve problems. But if you read too much you’ll just wind up with 25 different ways to help you solve your problem and get confused.

Also, this is of course a business so people write long books on different topics. Now, some may have great points all the way through. Other books may overcomplicate problems just to fill the 400+ pages in the book.

The thing is, the more you read about a topic the more complicated it seems in your mind and is also becomes “heavier”. What may have been pretty straightforward in real life becomes this huge struggle, where you are Rocky Balboa taking slow painstaking steps uphill against horrific odds. Yep, it’s a real inspiring thing as you struggle as the heroic underdog.

It’s also a great way to make things so much harder for yourself. It’s you putting up imaginary obstacles in your own mind that aren’t even there in reality. The Rocky way of thinking about these things is very seductive. But life becomes so much lighter and easier when you just let that stuff go.

So make things simpler and less “heavy”.

And be careful with the time you spend online. Hanging around blogs or forums is a great way to learn and get to know people that are similar to you. It’s also a way to discuss, discuss and discuss around in circles, have new “INSIGHTS!” every week and not getting much done.

This is of course just my opinion, but I think your time is better used if you cut down on that and do more things and gain understanding of how things work for you from real life experience.

In the end, we all learn the quickest and best from making our own painful mistakes and failing. But I hope at least some of you can learn something useful from the mistakes I have made.

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{ 16 comments }

Vixel March 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm

When I first started my blog I think I was writing “personal development” (in parenthesis as I’m not really writing the big, life-changing stuff, just short, positive articles) information as an escape myself. I felt that by writing with a positive outlook I was in some way achieving one in my own life, and it wasn’t really working!

After a switch to “challenges” and lifestyle experiments, ensuring that I write from personal experience not just considering what *should* be the case, my blog has gone from strength to strength and I’ve definitely developed as a person.

paul March 10, 2009 at 6:28 pm

good topic. i was really lost at where to start when i first started reading your blog. too much (good) information.

i’ve decided to start with being present when you posted the ‘where to start’ post, and now included the exercises to fill me up with more energy.

Marlowe Aster March 10, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Brilliant topic, Henrik.

But, honestly, I don’t think it’s all as dire as you make out.

People will ALWAYS seek to escape pain and hurt (even animals like to get drunk when they have the opportunity – it’s hardwired into us) so escaping into an overdose of books, courses, blogs that offer us alternative ways of looking at our problems is not a bad way to go.

Remember, we are trying to rebuild new habits of thinking and reacting, and we are up against a LIFETIME of established behaviours and responses. So it might be actually be helpful to “overwhelm” the mind with alternative ways that other people think, feel and act.

And even overanalysing isn’t necessarily bad. Remember, you’re re-training your habits of feeling, so reframing past or current events may be a good way to practice. Sure, you might be making mountains out of molehills, but according to whose rules? Emotional Pain is a very subjective thing.

My position is that there is nothing “bad”. It’s all just learning.

Hugs to you and your readers,
Marlowe

Daily Jump Start Guy March 10, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Great post. With all the personal development help on the net it’s easy to get sucked into the black hole and think you’re improving when, as you so well put: you’re really going from one escape to the next. Good work, thank you.

DJSG

Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. March 11, 2009 at 3:48 am

You hit on the potential problems with self-help and personal development. I’m prone to fall victim to #3 by overreading and overthinking symptoms and problems. Fortunately, when I get that “heavy” feeling it snaps me back into reality. That’s when I put the information aside and do what my common sense tells me to do about the situation.

Thanks for sharing this.

Jaclyn March 11, 2009 at 5:28 am

Thanks, I needed to hear this today actually. :)

Saidely March 11, 2009 at 10:56 am

Brilliant work Henrik

one of the most important key issue for every genuine self-development fan you are mentioning here.

I really appreciate your creativity in writing topics , personally experienced these traps , lately realized it and NOW overcoming it.

Thank you for his blog in the first place , hope we continue to learn from each other & implement what we learn.

God Bless
Saidely M./Iraq

N.C./London, UK March 11, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Great post and very timely as I was getting upset this week at how I wasn’t making any progress because I was trying to change too much. In turn, I thought I was back to square one and that little voice at the back of my head was telling me I was indeed a lost cause.

I will be doing one thing at a time from today.

Thank you for a great website.

Laurie | Express Yourself to Success March 11, 2009 at 9:15 pm

You’re right, Henrik: these are “sneaky” traps that we don’t see coming. I especially like your first point. Action, any action, is essential to improve – or just get out of an unpleasant situation. Too much thinking and too little doing rarely creates the life we want. Thanks for the post.

Ace March 12, 2009 at 12:28 am

Focus. Focus. Focus. And get started. Most people know the things they can change in their personal lives but never get around to it.

Henrik Edberg March 12, 2009 at 12:34 am

@ Vixel: Sounds great. Glad that making that switch has worked out well for you.

@ Paul: That sounds like a good start. :)

@ Marlowe Aster: Interesting points, although I think the goal here is to not do what people often do and try escape but as best as one can stand up and face those things instead so we can grow. I think you have some good thoughts there, I just want to tell the readers to be careful of winding up in doing those things too much or for too long. I think there are more useful ways to go about improving your life.

@ Daily Jump Start Guy: Yeah, that’s a good point, it has become easier to use this as an escape with the Internet nowadays.

@ Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D.: Thanks! Great to hear that the heavy feeling snaps you back into common sense.

@ Jaclyn: Excellent, glad it went up on the blog at a good time for you.

@ Saidely: Thanks a lot, man! Glad to hear you are overcoming those things now.

@ N.C./London, UK: Sounds like a good plan!

@ Laurie | Express Yourself to Success: Yeah, I agree, action of whatever kind it may be is the most important thing. That’s how you change things for the better.

Henrik Edberg March 12, 2009 at 12:57 am

@ Ace: Awesome and concise comment. Yeah, people often know what they need to do but take a long time to get around to it. It’s easier to escape than face your challenges.

Sun-Shine March 12, 2009 at 2:45 am

I agree entirely. I have a load of books-Stephen Covey ,Wayne Dyer, Victor Frankl etc.., I have read them but not finished them. I can relate to every topic but then feel overwhelmed.I also end up feeling like I have fallen behind-because I was not like I am supposed to be. The feeling of HEAVINESS describes it exactly.
thank you!

Dennis Dalton March 12, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Excellent insights. I tend to bury myself in improving myself quite possibly to avoid issues that really need attention now!

Isobel Joaquin March 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I totally agree..

A lot of people become personal development nuts, taking in so many personal development programs all at the same time. Without realizing that instead of improving themselves they get trapped with so many ideas and it leaves them unfocused.

Also if we try to keep up with so many stuff we’ll end up with cluttered thoughts and no direction.

To add to this article, I think the best way to improve oneself is through Kaizen, or gradual but continuous improvement.

I’m glad to have stumbled on this article.

Laurie March 23, 2009 at 3:35 am

So true! When I first got into transforming me and my life oh so many years ago, I definitely found the traps.

I read and listened to everything I could get my hands on and never took a time out to take what I’d learned and really concentrate on applying it. I’m sure there were things I would have assimilated sooner had I taken the time to digest.

And it definitely was an escape. If you concentrate all of your attention on pouring more information in, you never have to look at what’s already in your brain. LOL! At least it’s a reasonably healthy escape!

Thank you for raising these points.

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