Reading & Applying Personal Development for Smart People, by Steve Pavlina – Chapter One, Truth

July 27, 2012

“We primarily grow as human beings by discovering new truths about ourselves and our reality.” – Steve Pavlina

To his credit, Steve wastes no time after his introduction and immediately moves right into his material with an opening chapter on truth. Truth being, in his view, one of the three foundations of his personal development system, along with love and power.

It’s hard to argue with the idea that truth has to be one of the roots of any worthwhile personal code… so I won’t. In fact, it’s a pretty obvious idea but maybe one that gets short shrift in many self-help books. So it’s good that Personal Development for Smart People starts out with a statement as plain and useful as:

“If your thoughts, beliefs, and actions aren’t aligned with truth, your results will suffer. Positioning yourself in this way [aligned with truth] isn’t enough to guarantee success, but siding with falsehood is enough to guarantee failure.”

Steve then continues with the outline-driven approach that characterizes his writing; that is, he breaks the basic idea into pieces and writes about the pieces. In this case, he identifies the key components of truth as perception, prediction, accuracy, acceptance, and self-awareness and then devotes a few paragraphs to each of these. Similarly, blocks to truth are identified: media conditioning, social conditioning, false beliefs, emotional interference, addictions, immaturity, and secondary gain (i.e., short term benefits from lying). And then, a few ways to become more truthful: self-assessment, journaling, and media fasting.

I won’t be listing all of the book’s components and subcomponents as I proceed with this series, but it’s worth taking a moment to make a meta-point—Steve is not really a great writer, and Personal Development for Smart People is not really a classic of the genre in the way that, say, James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh is. His writing is clear, the organization of his material is impeccable, and he is never vague or mysterious. These are great qualities. That said, neither is he going to wow you with an amazing metaphor or beautiful language and it’s possible to get a little bored with his approach.

To contrast him with Gregg Braden, who I’ve also been reading lately, Steve is more clear and less interesting. He’s more accessible, but less surprising. More thorough, less personal.

It’s not a big problem, his writing totally ‘works’ in the sense that he certainly gets his points across. And importantly, they’re good points. But the writing and organization can feel a little ‘samey’ after a while, and it sometimes feels as if he’s deliberately trying to up his word count, or is at least unwilling to edit for brevity. Like I say, it doesn’t bother me too much, and he is definitely worth reading. But, this is a review of sorts and it seems worth pointing out—his style, after all, could work better or worse for you than that of other writers.

I can’t say that this chapter really knocked me out. Much of it seemed obvious and I’m certainly in agreement with the basic principle; if you want to make changes in your life, you have to start by honestly acknowledging your starting point. And, you have to be just as honest with others.

Doing Pavlinian Exercises
I’ll be applying a few ideas from this chapter.

First, I’m going to try journaling with a software tool for a while, rather than my usual Moleskines or cheap, unlined marble pads. Steve points out that typing is faster than writing, and that the ability to search and organize journal entries is significantly useful. He may be right. So, I let this be the final push I needed to install Evernote on my laptop and iPod Touch, and we’ll see how it goes. I haven’t actually been doing much journaling of any kind lately, so I’m also recommitting to the basic concept. Steve says, “By getting your thoughts out of your head and putting them down in writing, you’ll gain insights you’d otherwise miss,” and this seems plausible. So, I’ll be using Evernote on a regular basis for several weeks, and appending my thoughts to this post as an update.

Update Friday; July 27, 2012 Since writing the above, I went ahead and started journaling. I find that actually writing in Evernote is kind of a drag, so I write the post in another editor and cut and paste it into Evernote. This seems a bit lame, but the search and ssociative capacities of Evernote may make it worthwhile. However, I am finding that typing is a good way to journal; I appreciate the speed of it, and the immediate accessibility. It really does seem useful to ‘get my thoughts out of my head and down in writing. A useful recent journal entry was to describe an ideal scene set five years hence. I’ve also been writing about some health initiatives I’m undertaking, and came up with a useful checklist of things to do as I start a new eating plan. So, I’m high on the journaling idea. Of course, I’ve previously journaled regularly. End of Friday; July 27, 2012 update.

I also did a self-assessment Steve recommends. He lists several areas of life, such as health and fitness, career and work, spiritual development, etc., and asks the reader to rate all of them on a scale of one to ten. I did this. Then, he writes, “Take every rating that isn’t a nine or ten, cross it off, and replace it with a one.” His reasoning is:

“You see, if you can’t rate a given area of your life a nine or ten, then obviously you don’t have what you really want in that area… A seven is what you get when you allow too much falsehood and denial to creep into your life… people commonly rate some part of their lives a seven (or thereabouts) when they’ve disconnected themselves from the truth.”

Well, this was sobering for me; after applying this principle, I’m all ones. There isn’t a single area of my life that I can rate a nine or a ten. Even more uncomfortably, for me, is that I can look back at times in my life when I did have several nines or tens going, so I know it’s possible.

So if I accept Steve’s premise, my life really requires a dramatic overhaul. And the thing is, I think I do accept the premise.

For another interesting reaction to this self-assessment exercise, see this link wherein Derek Sivers uses the concept as a scheduling tool.

You might also like Derek Sivers notes on Personal Development for Smart People.

It’s not something Steve mentions in his chapter, but I also started weighing myself and measuring my waistline every morning this week, and recording the results in a spreadsheet. This felt like an application of the principle of truth; I really need to be honest and objective with myself about my current plumpness, and measurement is a good way to do that.

Finally, I did one more exercise Steve recommends, one which took a bit of courage; I wrote to several friends and asked for their realistic assessment of where I’ll be in five years. Health, environment, money, relationships, etc. I don’t know why it took courage. Maybe the prospect of confronting honest mirrors was daunting. As I write this, I’ve received emails back from two friends with a couple of paragraphs each. They were great; I feel they encouraged me to make changes, as my friends seem to have positive feelings about my ability to create the life I want. They also had some instructive differences from the five year scene I envisioned for myself. I’d say it was also good to get on record with friends that I’m trying to create some conscious positive change in my circumstances. The bottom line is that it was an easy exercise and one that proved to be valuable. And I still expect to receive a few more assessments back. Incidentally, I kept my request low key, told everyone not to worry if they weren’t into it and to not write too much, and offered to perform the same service for them, if they were interested (no one has been, so far).

All in all, this was a good chapter, and it was helpful to actually do a few of the exercises.

Next post: Love!

P.S. If you like this essay, you’ll love my new eBook, Confessions of a Heavy Thinker.

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