Daniel Catalaa

Personal Development for Smart People

(Authored by Daniel Catalaa on July 31st, 2009)
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Personal Development for Smart People, by Steve Pavlina (2008)

I admire Steve Pavlina because he took on the most complicated task before any human being: to devise a philosophy of life that is universal, timeless, and useful. The elegance of his teachings are in their simplicity. He conveys one basic message: align yourself with love, power, and truth, and good things will start to happen. When presenting his principles he uses a color palette metaphor where combining basic principles together yields secondary principles. So love+truth = courage, the same way that blue+yellow = green.

Emphasis is placed on two particular aspects of personal development. First, he encourages us to consciously direct our growth, instead of just letting things happen. He wants to change the "things just happen to me" thinking into "I make things happen for me" leadership. In other words, to shift roles and transition from passive spectators to active protagonists. A requirement to embark on this path is to take 100% responsibility for our lives, no matter what our previous or current circumstances are. The second point he makes is a mechanism for growth. He asks us to have the courage to experiment and risk occasional failure and rejection in exchange for the opportunity to expand our horizons, to leap up to the next level of awareness, and to fulfill our potential through creative self-expression.

At the beginning of each the first chapters, a triangular diagram appears that has power, love, and truth, at each of its vertices. It effectively illustrated the interconnectedness of these three key principles and how, when all are present in our lives, mind, heart, and soul can live a coherent harmonious life. There was one element that I thought was missing and that was "beauty". Beauty, whether aesthetic or of a different kind is a great motivator, yet it was absent from the diagram. And I belive that beauty would satisfy the criteria laid out to qualify as a central principle, i.e. universality, timelessness, and irreducibility. One other minor point is that what he calls "intelligence", others would call "wisdom", but I know what he means, and the message is vastly more important than the exact semantics.

One area that I would like to have seen developed further was polyamory. It was only mentioned in passing at the end of the Relationship section, though this may be one of the hardest concepts to grapple with and one of the most explosive ones in the book. How has Steve made polyamory work for his main relationship? Is it a better alternative to monogamous relationships?

A very liberating notion presented was the adoption of a flexible and changing belief system as opposed to using a rigid, static, one. Most belief systems self-protect by ignoring contradictory evidence and demonizing non-believers. Hence, it is easy to fall into the gravitational pull of a belief system that has as it's main goal its self-perpetuation. For example, unwarrented fear isolates those that are feared who in turn may resort to acts of violence. Then the original unjustified fear becomes justified. Another example are religions offer spiritual rewards for acceptance and punishments for rejection of their particular belief system.