Reading & Applying Personal Development for Smart People, by Steve Pavlina – Chapter Three, Power

“… power remains an essential component of conscious growth. Without it, you can be no more than a passive victim of your reality. With power, you become a conscious creator.” – Steve Pavlina

Power can seem like a strange thing to list as a core principle in a philosophy of personal growth; after all, we trust in the universe and the various laws of manifestation, right? And power is only desired by our greedy corporate overlords, right?

Well, no. As Steve Pavlina points out in Personal Development for Smart People, power is something like money—you absolutely need it in some circumstances. And, even Biblically, it’s not money that’s the root of all evil; it’s the love of money. The same is true of power. Really, to consciously accomplish anything in your life you need some amount of power, if only the power to decide what you really want for yourself. And, like money, the use of power can be good or bad, dark or light; it’s not inherently or automatically anything, it’s merely a neutral resource that can be developed and tapped.

And of course, when a righteous, generous, intelligent, and otherwise virtuous person has a measure of power, they are able to do things that benefit all of us. We want some people to have power, the more the better.

So, how does one develop power? Steve begins with an idea that appears in a lot of self-help and channeled literature, an idea that I agree with absolutely… and I am not really an ‘absolute’ kind of guy. He says, “It’s impossible to build your power until you accept total responsibility for your life.”

Don’t blame others, don’t blame genetics or fate, don’t blame circumstances. Don’t complain or whine or seek revenge. Don’t spend your life looking for the right diagnosis. Don’t try to evade or deny your role in creating your life circumstances. To give a concrete example, if you’re overweight—you’re the one who ate what you ate.

What about extreme circumstances? E.g., what if you’re in jail for a crime you didn’t commit, framed by some evil person? Or what if you’re born into a violent, poor society, as exists in some parts of the world? The thing is, even if you can identify other people who have done bad things to you, it’s still best, for you, if you accept responsibility for your circumstances. That attitude leaves the power to make changes in your hands. If you have problems, you are the one who will need to solve them anyway—odds are, no one is coming to rescue you. As Steve says, “Blame can only make you powerless. It doesn’t matter who contributed to your current situation—all that matters is that you must live with it. No amount of blame can make that burden any easier.”

A New Criteria for Goal Setting
Under the subheading Focus, Steve makes a point that’s new to me; good goals will do something positive for you in the present. That is, one way to evaluate a goal, and it’s resonance with your values, is to determine if setting the goal makes your life better right now. For instance, you could make it a goal to own your own business in two years. And maybe the thought of owning your own business makes sense and seems logical. But if it’s really a good goal, for you, it will do something positive for you immediately even if that something as simple as giving you a sense of inspiration. In the case of a goal to own your own business, possible immediate benefits are easy to list: less concern about current office politics, clarity about what to do with an inheritance, motivation to take a class you enjoy, etc. Conversely, the thought of owning your own business could feel overwhelming, or perhaps it makes sense ‘on paper’ but you really can’t develop much passion for it. Analyzing the immediate effect of a goal, even a goal that could take years to accomplish, really is a great way to evaluate goals. That was a very useful takeaway for me.

On the other hand, Self-Discipline (another subheading) is needed to keep working on a goal. I think Steve is at his best with chapters like this; he’s completely comfortable with concepts like the Law of Attraction, and manifesting, but he’s also forthright about the effort and discipline needed to make effective change. It’s useful and meaningful to discuss these concepts in a book on personal development. He says, “Imagine all the wonderful accomplishments that will be within your grasp once you become disciplined enough to consistently follow through on your best intentions.” He’s right of course, and his advice on developing self-discipline is helpful.

A Few More Interesting Points
Steve links power with desire, which I found interesting. It reminded me of another writer, (Seth Godin, maybe?) who talks about an ever-present danger in our culture; becoming a cog. In other words, we find a job that slots us into a certain role, and as we learn to live a passion-free life filling that role, we steadily give up more and more of our personal power. If we really want something, if we desire it strongly, we will find ways to make it happen… and that’s power. So one way to build power is to identify the things we really want, and use that desire to fuel our passion and our commitment to change.

Under the subheading Self-Determination, Pavlina addresses social conditioning that can prevent us from clearly identifying what we want in a given situation.”Life is constantly asking: What do you want?” he writes, “You have the freedom to answer that question however you wish.” This is an extension of the above point about desire; to really tap into power, we need to evaluate goals to see if they come from within, or from social conditioning. You may feel some pressure to advance at work, for example, because that’s what people do. But if it’s not really what you want, you’re unlikely to make real change happen.

You have to get over cowardice and timidity if you want to build power. A tolerance for failure is present in all powerful people and, as another writer has said, “The willingness to be embarrassed is one prerequisite for an interesting life.” Together with negative cultural conditioning, cowardice and timidity are the three blocks to power Steve discusses and the remedy for all of them (and other things besides—he likes this concept) is Progressive Training. That is, find ways to gradually increase your power and self-discipline, rather than make big dramatic resolutions. It’s much like weight training; by progressively adding small amounts of weight at intervals, one can work up to lifting very heavy weights. Similarly, by finding easy ways to progressively build qualities like self-discipline and responsibility, one can eventually become a truly powerful person. For example, one can gradually develop the ability to work productively for eight hours a day by first committing to a daily quota of just one productive hour, or half hour, each workday… and then adding, say, 15 minutes per day per week. Practical ideas are given, such as setting quotas and establishing more productive morning routines.

A Check In
I started reading and posting about Personal Development for Smart People back in July, so maybe now is a good time for a check in on my own experiences. I have been journaling, and find that very helpful. But I can go further with that; I tend to pick a topic that’s on my mind and write freely about it, and that works great, but I wonder if I could be a little more proactive with my writing by selecting things I want or desire, rather than always writing about the challenges I face. Journaling on ideal scenes, which I’ve done once, seems extremely productive.

The chapter on Truth has proven to be extremely powerful for me. I wrote originally that it, “…didn’t really knock me out,” and I hereby retract that. In fact, by focusing on truth and clarity I have made some dramatic changes so far this August. I have begun a morning practice of weighing myself and measuring my waistline, and recording those figures on spreadsheets. I also work out my current financial net worth each morning, and record that as well. All the spreadsheets include a line that graphically tracks the change I need to make each day in order to meet one year or five year goals.

It’s been transformative. Not only did I completely end my denial about my current health and weight and financial standing—which, I don’t mind telling you, precipitated a couple of ‘come to Jesus’ moments—I also know definitely whether or not I’m making progress on health and wealth goals. And for three weeks now I’ve seen numbers going in the right direction, with ample evidence that the all-that-is is providing enthusiastic encouragement.

I don’t have similar feelings yet with the chapter on Love. But I’m encouraged to go back and pick a few exercises and put more effort into application. And I’ll be looking for ways to progressively train myself to be more productive—the quota method appeals to me. To sum up, I’m glad I’m reading and applying Personal Development for Smart People.

Next post: Oneness!

Steve Pavlina’s blog is here.

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

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