DevInContext The Case For Personal Growth

6Jul/10Off

What Is Personal Development?, Part 2: Growth Vs. Advice

In my last post, I offered a working definition of personal development that goes like this:  "Personal development" perspectives and techniques are (1) consciously intended to work with our "inner experience," meaning our thoughts, emotions and sensations, and (2) meant to produce a lasting result.

As Duff pointed out in response to my last post, I've yet to discuss how one particular area of self-development fits into this framework.  I'm talking about approaches that try to harness our thoughts, emotions and sensations to create a specific result in the outside world.

Popular examples include visualizing something you want in order to bring it into your life -- whether it's business success, an intimate relationship, or something else; and energy healing intended to improve the client's health.

Such a technique is a form of personal growth, under my definition, if it seeks to achieve the outer result by transforming the user's inner experience, or the way the user relates to that experience.

To illustrate, as I said earlier, a book that teaches us ways to become more loving toward ourselves, on the theory that this will help us attract a partner, would amount to personal growth because it seeks to create an outer result by working with our thoughts and emotions.

While it uses the transformation of our inner experience as a tool to change our outer circumstances, this book nonetheless qualifies as personal growth because it involves consciously focusing on our inner experience.

Tire-Changing Isn't Self-Development

On the other hand, a book that teaches us how to dress to attract a mate is not a form of personal development under my definition, because it doesn't focus on transforming or relating to our inner experience.

For this book's purposes, the way we feel about ourselves is irrelevant.  Its goal is to get others -- namely, potential partners -- to approve of our appearance.  I may follow all of the book's advice and still feel miserable about myself, but the book has nonetheless fulfilled its purpose if potential mates like my style.

This caveat is important because it keeps the definition of personal growth from encompassing every possible type of advice, and every product and seminar out there that seeks to teach us how to do something.

I imagine most of us wouldn't think of books on changing a tire, investing in municipal bonds, or mastering Portuguese cooking as being about personal growth, and this observation explains why -- the techniques in those books don't focus on transforming your inner experience.  Those books, we could say, are about advice, but not growth.

The Consequences For Critics

One result is that, under my view, some ideas targeted by personal development's critics actually have nothing to do with personal development.  In SHAM, for example, Steve Salerno treats magazines like Cosmopolitan, which teach women "how to paint themselves, primp themselves, and acquire enough sexual know-how to keep a man satisfied and at home," as examples of "self-help and actualization" (a.k.a. "SHAM") literature.

However, from my perspective, advice about putting on makeup that doesn't focus on transforming your inner experience is not "personal growth" advice.  To say otherwise, I think, would likely expand the concept of personal growth so far as to render it meaningless.  After all, if makeup tips amount to personal development, why not tire-changing tips as well?

Next time, we'll talk about the second element in my definition:  the intent to produce lasting change.