DevInContext The Case For Personal Growth


Why Growth Is Good: New Free E-Book

WGIG Cover

I'm pleased to introduce you to a collection of articles from this site that I've put together called "Why Growth Is Good:  The Case for Personal Growth, Self-Help and the 'New Age'," which is available here as a free e-book.  I've edited many of my posts together into longer essays, and I've also written a new introduction.

These essays have the same goal as this site -- to present a compelling, organized argument for the value of personal development ideas and practices, and respond to their critics.

This book will be great food for thought if you've ever wondered about any of these questions:

* Are there practical benefits to self-development practices like meditation, yoga, and transformational workshops?

* Does self-help advice that encourages taking personal responsibility invite us to beat ourselves up?

* Does the same kind of advice discourage us from caring about others?

* Is psychotherapy about nothing more than whining about our families of origin?

* Did too much "positive thinking" cause the recent economic downturn?

* Do people who are into self-help tend to be more selfish and less generous?

* Is there a danger that self-development practices may make us feel "too happy" and neglect problem areas in our lives?

* Do personal development ideas discourage us from getting involved in politics?

I hope you enjoy this compilation, and I'm looking forward to your feedback!

(Sponsored by http://e-library.)


Growth As An Opiate, Part 5: Self-Development And The “War On Envy”

The idea that societies with more economic inequality -- whether in terms of income, net worth, or something else -- are less moral is nothing new.

In the past, people have usually made this argument from a philosophical perspective -- for instance, John Rawls' famous argument that, if you designed a society from scratch, with no idea where you personally would end up on the economic scale, you'd choose a society where inequalities were only allowed if they benefited the worst-off.

Today, however, people are increasingly making this argument in psychological terms.  The larger the economic inequalities in a society, advocates of this view argue, the more emotional distress and "lack of social trust" -- i.e., envy -- people will feel.

For example, in The Spirit Level, a book Evan pointed out to me, epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson claim that societies with more wealth inequality, and therefore more (if you will) envy per capita, tend to suffer from lower lifespans, more teenage pregnancy, and a host of other problems.  Not surprisingly, Pickett and Wilkinson argue that -- at least, in already rich countries -- more wealth redistribution will create a healthier and happier population.

Thinking about this argument raises two interesting questions for me.  First, even assuming envy creates social ills, is designing government policy with the goal of reducing envy a good idea?  Second, are there other ways to reduce society-wide envy that don't involve the use of state power?

Mission Creep In The "War On Envy"

I'll admit, the argument that the government should act to combat envy is disturbing to me.  One reason is that, although The Spirit Level and similar books focus on envy created by inequalities of wealth, there are obviously many other forms of inequality that cause jealousy.

For example, suppose I resent what I see as your biological superiority -- maybe you're taller and have lost less hair than me.  Or perhaps I'm jealous of your relationships -- maybe you're married to the woman of my dreams, and I wish she were with me.

If money-related envy causes social ills, I'd wager that other types of envy have similar effects.  In other words, if wishing I were as rich as you renders me more susceptible to disease and shortens my lifespan, surely "wishing I had Jessie's girl," or that I had somebody else's athletic talent, will also be debilitating.

You can probably tell where I'm going.  Does this mean the government should engage in "sexual redistribution," and compel attractive people (by whatever measure) to accept intimate partners they wouldn't otherwise choose?  Should we adopt Harrison Bergeron-style rules requiring, say, people with natural athletic ability to wear weights on their legs?

In other words, if we're willing to redistribute wealth in the name of fighting a "War on Envy," it's hard to see why social policy shouldn't reach into other areas of our lives in ways most people -- regardless of political persuasion -- would find repugnant.

Does Self-Development Soothe Envy?

Earlier in this series, I discussed critics of personal development who cast it as a sort of modern-day "opiate of the masses."  These critics argue that practices like psychotherapy, meditation, and affirmations, precisely because they're geared toward relieving human suffering, are socially harmful.

Why?  Because, these authors say, the main source of human angst in modern times is economic inequality.  At best, self-development practices only offer a temporary "high," because they don't attack the root of this problem.  At worst, these practices perpetuate injustice, because -- like "cultural Prozac" -- they distract the masses from the inequality-induced suffering that would otherwise spur them to rise up against an immoral capitalist system.

What if we took this critique at face value for a moment, and assumed that self-development does reduce some of the pain caused by envy?  In other words, what if meditating, saying affirmations, or doing similar practices actually can cause people to feel less jealous of others?  In my own experience, this has some truth to it -- the more I've kept up my meditation practice, the less I've found myself unfavorably comparing myself to others.

Perhaps the widespread adoption of these practices would make people less interested in redistributing wealth.  But if that's true, in all likelihood, these practices would also lessen people's tendency to suffer over other kinds of inequality -- envy about other people's intimate relationships, jealousy over others' looks and natural aptitudes, and so on.

So, if we take Pickett and Wilkinson at their word, and assume envy causes all kinds of social ills, it stands to reason that personal development -- at least, the types of self-development with real emotional benefits -- may help create a happier and healthier society.  On balance, maybe a little "cultural Prozac" isn't such a terrible thing after all.

Other Posts in this Series:

  • Growth As An Opiate, Part 4: "Money Doesn't Buy Happiness" Cuts Both Ways
  • Growth As An Opiate, Part 3: The Hard Work of Happiness
  • Growth As An Opiate, Part 2: The Hazards of Happiness
  • Personal Growth: The New Opiate of the Masses?
  • 9Nov/10Off

    Personal Development Politics, Part 2: The Elections and Self-Responsibility

    We've been looking at the argument, made by some personal growth critics (Salerno posted about this, for example), that self-development's emphasis on personal responsibility favors political conservatism.  If this is true, I've been asking, why do self-development teachers tend to be politically liberal?  Is it because they don't see the implications of their ideas?

    Like I said in my last post, I think the answer is no.  I've seen many examples of personal growth teachers consciously embracing both liberal politics and a belief in human beings' ability to control their circumstances.

    This recent Huffington Post piece by meditation teachers Ed and Deb Shapiro is a good illustration.  The Shapiros don't seem particularly thrilled about the recent U.S. election  — they describe it as characterized by “weird and unqualified people vying for top government positions," by which they presumably mean some of the Republicans who swept the House of Representatives.

    At first, the Shapiros may sound like they're counseling people who are upset about the elections to give up, and accept that there's nothing they can do to change the situation.  "It is our ability to be fully present and engaged that enables us to accept every situation exactly as it is," they write, inviting us "to embrace difficulties, deep sadness, upset feelings, or injustice while staying aware, present, and available."

    Self-Responsibility and Social Change

    However, the Shapiros go on to reveal a strong, perhaps even radical, belief in personal responsibility.  We can only work for social change, they explain, when we drop our griping about the situation, "for in that moment of acceptance we can move to transform it."

    Once we fully accept what's true right now, the power of our thoughts and actions to change the world is at its height.  "Everything we think, say, and do has an immediate effect on everyone and everything else," they write, and this "means that we have enormous resources available to us at all times."

    In other words, although they stop short of embracing a full-blown "Law of Attraction," and saying we can conjure up things we want through thought, the Shapiros clearly are firm believers in individuals' ability to shape their situation, and reject the Marxian notion that we're basically pawns of impersonal social forces.

    Also, notice that the Shapiros' belief in self-responsibility doesn't lead them to reject politics as a means of solving social problems -- their whole piece, though abstract, is about how adopting an attitude of mindful acceptance can actually empower people to reverse the current political trend.

    But What About "Blaming The Victim"?

    I can imagine a critic arguing that, although the Shapiros may think it's consistent to be politically liberal and believe in radical self-responsibility, they're simply wrong.

    This is because, the argument goes, a major tenet of political liberalism is that the government should create a fair society by redistributing wealth.  This, in turn, is based on the notion that each person's wealth is mostly a matter of luck -- how much they inherited, their genetic makeup, and so on.

    However, the belief that we can create our circumstances implies that we're responsible for how wealthy we are.  If we're poor, that can't be due to bad luck -- it must be because we're lazy.  And if we're lazy, that means we don't deserve to have wealth redistributed in our favor.

    As I've touched on briefly before, I disagree.  I don't think you need to believe that everyone's circumstances are solely, or even mostly, the result of chance to consistently be a political liberal, as I've defined it.

    I'll list four reasons why below.  (Notice how the arguments I'll make can also be used to justify voluntary charity, if government redistribution of wealth isn't your thing.)

    1.  Social Harmony. Some, like this organization that Evan pointed out, argue that societies with lower disparities in wealth are more harmonious, in that their people tend to live longer, they have fewer violent crimes and less teen pregnancy, and so on.

    I haven't looked in detail at their evidence, so I'm agnostic about what they say, but the point is that it can be used to justify economic equality regardless of whether the less well-off "deserve" contributions from the better-off.

    To illustrate, if I was certain that giving money to someone in poverty would extend my lifespan by five years, I'd probably do it regardless of whether he was responsible for being poor.

    2.  Compassion for people who make bad choices. Suppose your friend became a drug addict and, as a result, lost his job.  Would you feel no compassion for him, and refuse him help, because he chose to use drugs?  I don't think you would.  In other words, it's certainly possible to feel compassion for people whose predicament is arguably "their own fault."

    3.  The "Unconscious Beliefs" argument. It may be the case that (1) we're all totally, or mostly, responsible for the situation we find ourselves in, but (2) not everybody knows that.

    For example, suppose I harbor the unconscious belief that "I deserve to suffer and be poor."  I'm "responsible" for this belief, in the sense that it exists in my own mind, but I may not be conscious of its existence or my power to change it.  Many self-development teachers (T. Harv Eker is a popular example when it comes to money) see it as their role to make people aware of "limiting beliefs" like these.

    What's more, one might argue, so long as there are people who aren't conscious of their ability to control their economic circumstances, redistribution of wealth or private charity is sometimes needed to help such people.

    4.  Divine Command. As you know, many people believe that God, or another supernatural force, has given them an unqualified command to be charitable.  From these people's perspective, it's our job to help the less well-off, regardless of whether they're "at fault" for their plight.

    What do you think?  Is a strong belief in personal responsibility inherently conservative?


    Rainbow Right-Wingers, and Other Myths About Personal Development Politics

    Reading Barbara Ehrenreich, you'd think people who are into personal development must be rabid right-wingers.  The common New Age notion that you can create happiness from within, she says, supports a conservative political line.

    After all, she basically says, who needs welfare programs if poor people can just "think themselves happy"?  And the same goes for the Law of Attraction -- instead of relying on the government, why don't the less fortunate just "manifest" a BMW in the driveway, or a winning lottery ticket?

    What About Governor Moonbeam?

    However, it would be hard to dispute that the most "new-agey" U.S. politician today is liberal Democrat, and California gubernatorial hopeful, Jerry Brown.  In the '70s and '80s, when he previously served as governor, some called him "Moonbeam" because of his study of Zen meditation and interest in creating a California state space academy.

    By contrast, how many times have we heard Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich extol the wonders of meditation, herbal aromatherapy, or any other "woo-woo" idea?  The answer -- mostly for those of you outside the U.S. -- is zero.  Most conservative politicians would never admit to participating in "non-traditional" spiritual practices, and risk alienating their spiritually "traditional" constituencies.  (Nor would most liberals, for that matter.)

    We see a similar trend among personal growth teachers themselves.  For example, Tony Robbins, in this much-viewed speech, mentions that he wishes Al Gore had won the 2000 election.  Oprah Winfrey, whose show has skyrocketed the careers of many self-development and spiritual authors, is one of President Obama's most visible supporters.

    Is Self-Responsibility A Right-Wing Idea?

    Why, if personal growth ideas are aligned with political conservatism, is all this true?  Do liberals who are into self-development, and conservatives who aren't, simply fail to see the connection?  I don't think so.

    Why not?  As we saw, a big reason critics tend to cast self-development ideas as right-leaning is personal growth's embrace of what I've called the "responsibility ethic" -- the notion that each of us is responsible for their life circumstances.

    Some might see this as an inherently anti-government, or anti-political, philosophy.  After all, if I believe I have the power to shape my life situation -- to create the relationships, career, and so on that I want -- why should I depend on the government to provide me with, say, education or healthcare?

    Self-Responsibility Through Political Action

    This argument sounds good on the surface, but I think it misunderstands the responsibility ethic.  Here's why:  the idea that we can create our circumstances doesn't tell us anything about how we ought to create them.

    For example, suppose I think I'm paying too much in income taxes.  If I believe I have the power to change this situation, there are a number of ways I might choose to bring about change:  vote for a politician who promises lower taxes, move to a different state or country, learn creative ways to exploit tax loopholes, and so on.  As you can see, some options involve trying to influence the government, while others rely more on individual effort.

    What's more, in all likelihood, liberal politicians themselves strongly believe in their power to affect their situation (as do conservatives, I'm sure).  If they didn't see themselves as capable of bringing about change, they wouldn't have run for office.  After all, why bother getting into politics if you don't think you can make an impact?

    So, I think the truth is that accepting self-development ideas, generally speaking, doesn't require us to buy into any particular political agenda.  Here in California, for better or worse, we may soon have a "new-agey" liberal governor to prove it.


    Regulating Self-Help, Part 1: Defining Some Terms

    I expect that, once James Arthur Ray's manslaughter trial begins, calls to "regulate self-help" will become louder and more widespread.  Because there's a lull in media coverage of the Sedona incident, I think now is a good time to soberly consider some questions about whether and how the government could go about regulating personal development, and the impact regulation might have.

    I'm going to raise some of those issues in this series.  I think the first question to address is what we mean by "regulation," since we can't go into the particulars of what and how to regulate without that understanding.

    What Is Regulation?

    After all, self-development books, seminars, and so on are already subject to many generally applicable laws -- meaning laws that weren't specifically designed for personal development, but apply to it anyway.

    The criminal laws obviously apply to personal growth teachers, as we see in the Sedona matter.  Contract and tort law applies to self-development -- if someone sells a book or leads a workshop that doesn't do what its advertising promised, they can be sued for fraud or breach of contract.  In this sense, self-development is already "regulated."

    But in my experience, this isn't usually what people mean when they talk about regulation.  My sense is that "regulation" typically refers to laws and rules tailored to a particular business or area of life -- for example, self-help, or securities trading.

    Normally, regulations, as commonly understood, are also preventive -- meaning they require us to take precautions to prevent harm, rather than punishing people for inflicting harm.  Laws against driving without a license are a good example -- they don't punish people for causing accidents, but rather for failing to pass tests that, in the state's view, ensure that they will drive with some degree of safety.

    Some areas of personal development are "regulated" in this sense.  To hold yourself out as a therapist, in most of the U.S., you need a license, and to get that license you need to -- among other things -- earn an advanced degree in psychology and pass a test.  Other areas are not.  For example, I (thankfully) don't need a license to be a self-development blogger.

    The Need For Cost-Benefit Analysis

    So, the next important question, in my view, is:  do we need more regulations of the preventive sort in the self-development field?  To answer that question, we need some idea of the costs and benefits of personal growth ideas and techniques.

    I think this is a key point, because the criticisms and calls for regulation around personal development tend to focus solely on its costs.  But that discussion is incomplete.  For example, we often hear people decry the outrageous price of a product or workshop.  But without an understanding of that offering's benefits, we can't fairly judge whether its price is "too high."

    A new car in the U.S. typically costs tens of thousands of dollars, which to most people seems like "a lot of money" in the abstract, but people are often willing to pay that kind of price for a car because of the benefits they expect from car ownership -- being able to go various places quickly, and so on.

    Importantly, as a society, we regularly do this kind of cost-benefit analysis even when it comes to activities involving a risk of serious injury or death.  To go back to an earlier example, driving is obviously this kind of activity.

    If we only looked at the number of deaths and injuries that happen while driving, we would instantly decide that a total ban on driving was justified.  But that hasn't happened, because the benefits of being able to drive are widely recognized.

    Hold On, What's A Benefit?

    This brings us to yet another series of questions:  what are the benefits of personal development?  What qualifies as a "benefit"?  Who gets to make that judgment?

    For instance, if someone subjectively reports that they "feel better" due to some personal growth practice, does that mean they benefited from it?  Or will we require a "benefit" to be objectively measurable -- for instance, will we judge a product or service as worthwhile only if people who use it tend to make more money, "find the one," or something along those lines?

    All this and more . . . coming soon!


    Can Politics And Science Cure All Ills?

    It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled, but I was inspired to write here again after my recent review, on my other blog, of Robert Augustus MastersSpiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters.

    Spiritual Bypassing is about how we tend to use spiritual practice to escape from, rather than confront, our psychological wounds.  One thing that particularly struck me in the book was Masters’ statement that, ideally, spiritual practice is about releasing everything in our lives from the “obligation to make us feel better.”

    The point is that spirituality is certainly far from the only thing people use to “take the edge off” their pain.  Drugs are another obvious example, but there are subtler and more “socially acceptable” examples as well.  I regularly notice instances of what I’d call “political bypassing” and “scientific bypassing” in our culture.

    To illustrate the former, some people I know came close to hailing Obama as a messiah when he was elected — looking, for the next few days, like they were in a spiritually-inspired state of bliss, and their personal tribulations were healed or at least put out of their minds.  (Ironically, the same people usually scoff at the mere mention of spirituality, associating it with evangelical Christians and/or Republicans.)

    Most importantly for our purposes, we can also see the embrace of political and scientific “bypassing” among critics of personal growth and spirituality.

    Political Bypassing and Personal Growth

    I’ve commented before on personal growth critics who basically claim — much like Marx — that the main source of discontent among human beings is economic inequality.  Personal development distracts people from this issue, by encouraging them to focus on their private achievements and relationships.  Thus, self-development is not only ineffective — it retards social progress.

    These critics’ vitriol often obscures the wide-eyed idealism of their basic assumption:  that, if everybody only had equal material resources, nobody would suffer again.  No more loneliness, depression, or alienation for the human race, ever.

    If the notion that spirituality can address all our “issues” is unrealistic, I think, the same can surely be said of the utopian notion that state-mandated “equality” will cure all human ills.

    Scientific Bypassing and Spirituality

    As for scientific bypassing, I think we can see this in the “New Atheist” critiques of religion that have been so popular over the last few years, by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.  These critics say that spirituality and science/reason are in irreconcilable conflict, and we’d have a much better world if we only discarded the former and embraced the latter.

    One problem these critics face is that science seems incapable of answering moral questions.  Some have no problem with this, and simply deny the existence of objective morality, because “there’s no scientific evidence for it.”  But this answer is instinctively unsatisfying for many people — to use a timeworn example, can we really accept the idea that Nazi medical experiments on prisoners weren’t objectively wrong?

    Others respond that science can, at least, tell us what actions and policies will advance “human flourishing” — how to eat nutritiously, for example.  However, these critics need to explain why our actions should serve the goal of human flourishing at all — why shouldn’t kangaroo or algae flourishing be our priority?  Science can’t tell us why we ought to prefer the well-being of one species to that of another.

    My point is that I think it’s important to be wary of “bypassing” — relying on one particular practice or institution to “make us feel better” — in all areas of human life.  The realm of spirituality and personal development certainly isn’t the only place where this happens.


    Guest Post At Mindful Construct: “3 Things The Personal Development Critics Got Wrong”

    I've published a guest post at Melissa Karnaze's blog Mindful Construct called "3 Things The Personal Development Critics Got Wrong."  It mainly deals with critics' arguments against personal development's ethic of taking responsibility for your circumstances, including the claims that this ethic encourages selfishness and self-blame.

    I think this article will be a useful summary for people who have recently discovered my work at this blog.  I think you'll also appreciate Melissa's articles, which take an approach to personal development that's rooted in cognitive science and psychology.  Enjoy!


    What Is Personal Development?, Part 3: Progressive and Lasting Change

    Last time, we talked about the first part of my working definition of personal development -- namely, that, to amount to personal growth, an idea or technique must be consciously intended to work with our "inner experience," meaning our thoughts, emotions and sensations.

    I'll now talk about the second criterion an approach must meet, under my definition, to be personal development:  it must be intended to produce progressive and lasting change.  (Yes, I added the "progressive" part upon further reflection after my last post. :) )

    By "progressive" change, I mean that, each time the user does the activity, they make progress -- however gradual -- toward their ultimate goal, whether that goal is happiness, a better job, a Buddhist-style attitude of non-attachment to their experience, or something else.

    By "lasting" change, I mean the benefits of the activity must persist even when the user isn't doing the activity.  In other words, the user must take those benefits with them into the "real world."

    Why Therapy Isn't Like Candy

    If I see a psychotherapist, for instance, I will probably do so expecting progressive and lasting benefits to my mental and emotional health.  I'll desire progressive change in the sense that, each week that I visit my therapist, I want to feel more at peace with myself than I did during the last.

    What's more, I'll probably want those benefits to last in between therapy sessions.  I won't want the self-acceptance I feel to suddenly disappear the moment I walk out of the therapist's office.  In all likelihood, I'll also want that peace to persist even when I'm no longer in therapy -- I won't want it to fade away after the therapeutic relationship ends.  Thus, generally speaking, psychotherapy is a personal growth activity under my definition.

    By contrast, suppose I eat a piece of candy because I want to create a particular inner experience -- in this case, a taste sensation.  I probably won't do this expecting lasting changes in my experience.  In all likelihood, I'll get a brief moment of pleasure, and after a little while the feeling will pass.

    A few minutes later, I'll be "back to square one," emotionally speaking -- as far as my inner experience is concerned, it'll be as if I never ate the candy at all.  Thus, eating candy will not produce progressive change in my experience either.  (Duff raised the similar example of taking drugs in response to an earlier post in this series.)

    It's About Expectations, Not Results

    Finally, note that I said the activity must be intended to produce progressive and lasting change.  The activity need not actually create that type of change to amount to self-development under my definition.

    For example, if a person goes to an energy healer expecting to grow more relaxed and focused over time, but in fact each session only creates a fleeting "high" like the candy I mentioned earlier, the energy healing would nonetheless be "personal growth" as I use the term.

    I offer this caveat to avoid defining personal growth to include only techniques and perspectives that "work," because that would exclude the possibility of meaningful debate about the merits of specific approaches.

    As a result, even if you believe that no form of personal development is effective and it's all a fraud, you can still accept my definition.  Like I said in response to previous comments, my definition is purely descriptive -- it's simply meant to capture the conventional view of what self-development is, and not to judge whether certain techniques are helpful or moral.


    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.


    What Is Personal Development?, Part 1: It’s All In The Intention

    It just occurred to me that, in the "About" page of this blog, I promised you a working definition of personal development.  It feels a bit odd for me to keep talking about personal development without giving you that definition.

    So, here goes:  "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.

    We're In It For The Feelings

    Arguably, human beings do basically everything they do with the goal of having some kind of inner experience.  Whether we're meditating, giving to charity, getting an education, drinking alcohol, or something else, we're doing it because of the way we think that activity will have us feel.

    To use a common example, we don't make money just for the sake of having a bunch of colored pieces of paper.  We do it because of the feelings we think having and spending money will bring us.  Perhaps we want the feeling of security that comes with knowing we'll have enough to eat, a sense of accomplishment, the thrill of knowing we can buy a flashy motorcycle, or something else.  But in any case, what we're after is some inner experience.

    Some might object that they make money to take care of others (their children or elderly parents, for example), not because it helps them feel a certain way.  However, you wouldn't have any interest in taking care of others if doing so didn't give you a certain inner experience -- maybe a feeling of happiness, righteousness, or something else.  In other words, if you were emotionally indifferent to whether someone else lived or died, stagnated or thrived, you probably wouldn't be helping them.

    Where The "Conscious" Part Comes In

    While it's true that we do most of what we do with the goal of having an inner experience, we aren't always consciously seeking an experience.  In everyday existence, I think, most of us don't consciously contemplate how the things we do will have us feel.

    We don't ask ourselves, for example, whether we'll feel better if we go to work or stay home, or whether listening to the car radio will make the commute smoother.  Usually, we're just going through our daily motions.

    By contrast, personal growth activities, to my mind, are things we do with the specific goal of transforming our inner experience.  We do them consciously intending to create a specific mental or emotional state.  As a simple example, I may say the affirmation "I am lovable" to develop more self-appreciation.  Or, perhaps I'll do some yoga to get a sense of openness in my body.

    By my definition, the specifics of an activity don't determine whether it amounts to personal growth.  For instance, suppose (somewhat implausibly) that I'm in the habit of meditating every day simply because my parents told me to.  I'm not doing it because I think it will bring me inner peace, happiness, or some other feeling.

    In this example, meditation is not a "personal growth" activity for me, regardless of how others might use it, because I don't do it with the conscious goal of feeling a certain way.  The intent is what's important, not the specifics.

    In the next post, we'll talk about how approaches that work on our inner experience with the goal of producing a particular outer result -- for instance, visualization techniques that have us imagine business success to help us create it in the world -- fit into this discussion.