5 Facts About Personal Development That We Need to Talk About

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I think it's time that we had a little truth-telling session about the realities of personal development.When I first started down the rabbit hole, I had no idea what I was getting myself into (in a good way). In the beginning, I had many pre-conceived ideas about what personal development was, how long it took, the process, and more. In hindsight, I would say that, oh, none of them turned out to be correct.Here are the facts, as I've experienced them:

1. It takes time

The seedier side of the personal development world makes a fine fortune selling quick fixes. The trouble with quick fixes is that, even if they get short-term results, they don't last."Do this one simple thing and you can CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER" doesn't exist. People are not stupid: if it was so quick and so simple, then most of us would be doing it and the personal development industry would die.The myth of quick personal development is similar to the myth of the overnight success story, where the public focus is on the meteoric rise to fame, not the unsexy part that involved years of consistent hard work beforehand.I've been doing some of the unconscious things I do for nearly 26 years. Am I going to be able to right those things overnight? No.The more we've used a particular thought pattern or reaction, the longer it's going to take to shift those neural pathways.I used the following metaphor with a coaching client recently to illustrate this idea:Think of the existing habit or behaviour like a well-trodden woodland path. If you want to create a new pathway (i.e. a new habit), it's going to take you time to make your way through all that undergrowth and create a clear trail that you can follow in the future. Carving out that new path is going to feel like hard work, and it's going to be a while before that path is as smooth and easy as the original path.The more you wear down the new path, however, the easier it becomes.

2. You will make mistakes

Here are some of my most common in-the-moment tripping points:1. I don't want to be mean, I don't want to be deliberately hurtful, and I don't want to mirror the way that people behaved towards me when I was a kid, but I still get a kick out of unleashing my inner snark.2. Honesty and transparency are really important to me, yet I'm still capable of doing the whole "No, nothing's wrong, I'm FINE" thing—when I'm totally not.3. I value truth and self-awareness, but sometimes I'm aware I'm acting out on people, and I go ahead and do it anyway because it provides a temporary emotional release and I want to be the one that's "right" in the situation.I'm not happy about this stuff, but I accept it. Recognising when we've tripped up is a painful, but inevitable, part of personal growth.Making mistakes is not the problem. The problems start when we don't allow ourselves to mistakes.The minute I stop allowing myself to screw up, I become less likely to acknowledge when I have screwed up and number 3 on the list above becomes a way of life.Remember that beautiful new woodland path you're making? Remember how hard it feels to carve out that new path? Well, during that time, you're also going to face constant temptation to take the smooth, well-trodden path by default. It's familiar, in the short-term it feels easier, and we will inevitably realise we're on that old path again at some point or another.Those times really suck, but they're a valuable part of the learning curve.

3. You can't eradicate self-doubt and other uncomfortable feelings

One of my biggest peeves with the "self-help" movement is the grandiose claims that one book will "cure your self-doubt forever!" or "Free you from negative thoughts and feelings for good!"First, not all self-doubt, negative thoughts, and uncomfortable feelings are automatically bad.Negative thoughts and feelings show up for a reason. Anger is a healthy response to certain situations. If I don't allow myself to feel that because someone said in a book or a workshop that I shouldn't, I'm denying myself key information about my emotional experience.Second, we can't get rid of our feelings just because we don't like them.Remember, they show up for a reason. The minute we stop allowing ourselves to feel certain emotions, we stop being conscious about how those emotions are influencing our thoughts and behaviour.While uncomfortable feelings aren't automatically bad, they definitely have the potential to be unhelpful. The difference between the helpful and unhelpful versions of these emotions is that helpful feelings are based in present reality and unhelpful feelings aren't. Equally, helpful emotions help us prepare for what we really want to do, while unhelpful emotions stop us doing what we really want to do.The key to recognising this difference is awareness, not censorship. Without awareness, we lose control over whether we act on these feelings. With awareness, we are totally in control of how we respond to our feelings.

4. There is no finish line

In a world where standardised testing, grading and performance measurement are the norm, many of us long for the time when we will be 'developed' and our self-work will be done.When I first started seeing a counsellor, I really thought that one day I would get a flash of inspiration that would enable me to finally understand how the world works and what 'normal' looks like.Nope.Personal development is a life-long process.I like this fact, because it means there's constantly more I can learn about myself and other people. I've known people who were highly invested in being developed, did some work on their self-awareness and then decided they were done. They have been some of the most unaware people I've encountered.

5. There is no 'one size fits all' approach

We're all individuals working at our own pace, in our own way and with our own histories. What works for one person doesn't work for another.I can jump online and point to multiple people who have found great value in concepts like chakras, qi and Law of Attraction. Equally, some people find Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or the "Just stop doing it" approach helpful. Personally, none of those things work for me.I've found that the ideas of Carl Rogers and Marshall Rosenberg resonate most with how I view the world. At the same time, I usually find bits and pieces of useful information that I can cherry-pick from different books, approaches and resources.A key part of personal development is about finding which approaches work for you and which don't, not sticking religiously with the first author, speaker or  we find.

You are your own guru.

 Photo Credit: bogenfreund