Self-development as an idea has many attractions; the lure of success and abundance, the prospect for achievement, the desire of promising relationships, life change and so on. I dare anyone to stand up and say they have never considered these things. At some point we have all thought about our personal development, empowerment and happiness. Self development can serve as a point of inspiration to bring about great personal change. But its potential for success is largely dependent upon the approach we take. And this is where the difficulties and problems often begin.
Before I continue any further, here are some points that will be addressed:
- Personal Development: Why the term self-development is far more practical and effective.
- Life Change: How your life can be changed with your own methods.
- Positive Thinking: An alternative and more realistic approach to positive thinking. How you can understanding your thoughts with “conscious thinking”.
- Understanding your Life: Develop an understanding of the symbolism in your life and its meanings.
- Awareness: Increasing your awareness and living more consciously.
- Spirituality: What place does spirituality have in your development?
Different people need different approaches to their development and life change. When it comes to this subject, for the most part, I tend to avoid the phrase personal development and instead use the word self development.There is a very valid reason for this. Personal development has become a business; it is a rapidly growing industry with all sorts of outlets that cater to an attitude of consumerism. In short; personal development is under the false impression that change and development is about people.
Does that sound crazy or paradoxical? Well bear with me for a bit and I will explain; there is a perception within certain circles which views all development methodology in terms of what works for people, rather than what works for individuals. It is a very materialistic approach which objectifies the human into a concept or an idea. That is; many personal development theories are based on the very flaws which cause us to have personal problems in the first place. Here’s why I say that.
In our society we are taught to externalize everything. We mistakenly believe the definition of our life is found in what occurs around us. Society teaches us a very materialistic perspective, because it focuses on aspects which really have no bearing on us as an individual; career, “the job”, money, appearance, beauty, business, wealth etc. These are seen as the objectives and meanings of our life. But that belief arises from a very superficial relationship with reality. All the things listed above are a symptom of how we live. They are the effect rather than the cause.
In many cases (and I do appreciate it isn’t all cases), personal development addresses these effects, by trying to cure the symptoms rather than the cause. As a result we end up with concepts like, life-coaches, so-called positive thinking, professional development and even employee development. In my view these are nonsense subjects, which are based in a world-view of materialistic beliefs. They are result orientated; trying to tune a person as though they are a high-performance car.
There certainly is room for personal development in this context, but it has to come as a result of inner-change, and deep seated individual understanding. That is where self development comes in.
What Self-Development is not
Self-development is not about directly changing the circumstances in your life; instead it is about you! If you feel the procurement of vast amounts of money is an essential aspect to your development, then you are in the wrong place. There are plenty of gurus out there who will sell you a very expensive ticket on that particular thesis.
And whilst, when I talk about self-development I do account for the ideas of abundance, motivation, inspiration and happiness – these things again, are not the focus of development, rather they come about as a result of your development.
When we worry too much about the symptom of happiness for example, we might ask; “Why am I not happy?” and look around us trying to find the cause. The problem is that this very search causes anxiety, stress and maybe eventually even depression.
We live in a culture of anxiety, and that means when we undertake a path of self-development – the wrong thing to be doing, is actively seeking to alleviate that anxiety by moving about parts and pieces of our life. That comes later, when we have a better grasp upon how these situations came about in the first place.
The development of our self needn’t be about materialistic ideas then, and we shouldn’t look at it as a “theory” of how people function because once again this is externalizing. As an individual, we are in the unique position to gain amazing insight into what is occurring inside of us. We can’t necessarily do that by following a methodology set out by someone else, or by following a pattern of linear steps. In short we are not a set of principles and ideas that we can follow like a trail of bread crumbs.
We don’t want to be the psychologist that looks at everyone else but himself.
Self-development begins with an inner-journey, the focus of which is very much about self-understanding. “Self” in this context isn’t the circumstances of your surrounding life, but the contents of your mind, your consciousness and your heart. If you want to change your life, then you need to develop an awareness of these vital elemental components of your being.
Create your own method
In order to encourage a realistic chance of self-development, I fully believe we need to learn how to create our own individual method of change and development. A Self is unique, therefore it can surely only develop along its own unique path. All we need are a few tools, guides and tips on how to create this path – and eventually we will stride forward creating our own self-development method as we go. Self development has to be our path, our own inner journey; not the musings of someone else, in another life or even another time.
Now even though we are unique – we still view the world (for the most part) in a linear manner. Although our thoughts tend to be jumbled and non-linear, our reasoning generally works in terms of specifics. For this reason the notion of Self Development can separated into a number of categories, but keep in mind that these categories needn’t be fixed. They can be as flexible and dynamic or as fixed as you like. The way I have set these categories out here is as a guideline, and also to provide the basics for creating your own self-development tools.
Tools of Self-Development
Conscious Thinking: From birth we find ourselves swamped in a world of conditioning, discipline, and semantic reasoning. During the course of our lives, each of these aspects assaults us on a continuous basis; from the emotional manipulation of our parents, to the peer-pressure of the education system and onwards into the materialistic dogma of society. It really shouldn’t be a surprise to us, to find that many of our beliefs, ideals, attitudes and personality traits are a result of this (in)direct social programming.
Many of the (in)decisions we make in life are based upon the accumulation of this programming. Even though we may feel we “reason” our way through a situation or issue – our conditioned programming plays an essential role in the outcome we eventually decide on. In short; this conditioned programming causes us to act with pre-determined decisions and actions.
It is a form of un-conscious thinking, and a percentage of our thoughts run on autopilot; to varying degrees (from person to person) our conscious mind is actually asleep. So whilst our everyday mind is asleep, it cannot see the processes that are occurring within the sub-conscious mind, we therefore fall under the assumption that we make our decisions consciously. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This semi-sleep-state is the source of many of our problems in life. And until we can cause our mind to awaken – if only a little – then we will continue to walk the same tired path and make the same mistakes over and over again.
This is the premise of conscious thinking; to be aware of your conditioned programming. It doesn’t matter whether you feel you can change it or not. Simply being aware of it, is more than enough to open your mind to new possibilities.
In the category of conscious thinking then, the task is to develop a personal methodology for becoming increasingly aware of what is occurring within your mind on all levels. It is perhaps one of the most powerful self-development tools available to us.
The following two parts of the “Life Change Series”, talk about this phenomena of (un)conscious thinking, and provide some tips and guides on how to begin to find our own conscious thought process.
Thought Symbolism: Many people believe we think in a logical manner; and that is understandable, we are taught that the mind is a semantic tool of language and reasoning. That it should follow a predictable, linear path. However, anyone that has spent any amount of time in their own mind will have long realized that the mind doesn’t work in a purely logical manner (or even a purely emotional manner come to that), this is one of the many reasons which makes the mind notoriously difficult to work with.
Theoretically, working with our own minds should be easy – due to the fact that we have a first-person perspective on its contents. Unfortunately that tends to make things more difficult; it can be very hard to create an objective perspective on the content of our minds. However it is certainly possible, we just need to take a step back and look at our mind in a slightly different manner, and we can then gain a very helpful insight.
Our mind functions in a symbolical manner! Think of the contents of our mind in the same manner as the contents of a dream. Dreams are full of symbolical meaning, much of it is deeply personal, yet it can be interpreted into a very profound and extremely practical context.
Once we gain a certain degree of conscious awareness of what is going on inside our heads – we can begin to view our thoughts in terms of symbolism. In this way we can stay personally close to and involved with our thoughts and feelings yet at the same time gain a form of analytical view on them.
Balance and Awareness: A good grasp on Conscious Thinking, Thought Symbolism and Personal Symbolism eventually lead to an increased self-awareness. Self-awareness is a form of balancing the mind, after all how can you change yourself – if you don’t even know who or what you are?
When you start to understand what makes you tick, as well as why and how you react in the way you do – you are truly at a point where you can start making effective change. It’s at this point that one can begin the process of changing the physical aspects of their life and personality.
Incremental Change: Change has a sound of permanence to it; many of us don’t like the sound of it, whilst others constantly strive for it. As permanent as the idea may sound, quite often the changes we put into effect within our lives do not stick. Before long we find we have reverted to our old ways and habits. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it simply indicates that we need to take a different approach.
One approach that has worked very well for me is to take everything in small steps. There isn’t any real need to jump in feet first at the deep-end of the pool. You can begin with paddling up to your ankles, and slowly move out until the water covers your shoulders, and so on.
This is what I call Incremental Change; it is by no means a new or original concept. However I have found that when put into practice with conscious thinking, it can be very effective indeed.
Awareness Development: Up to this point, everything I have mentioned has been in regards to self-development. That is becoming aware of who you are, and how you function – then using that awareness to change and develop yourself and your life. In short these are the basic building blocks which allow us to move towards what I term as “Awareness Development”.
Self-development, naturally leads to an increased awareness, not just of yourself – but also of your environment, and reality itself. The basic premise of developing our awareness is to bring balance between emotional and logical thinking, as well a balance between personal experience and a dependence upon authoritative knowledge.
Spiritual Development: Eventually, this is where all other development will lead. And this is the area that always causes the most contention – because different people see spirituality in different ways. Therefore spiritual development can rarely be given a fixed meaning. At the risk of making a trite overview though, in the context of this website; spiritual development is about developing your higher-faculties. That is the senses that exist beyond the five-physical senses.
The awakening of these higher-senses brings about the development of higher-awareness – which enables us to perceive reality in an entirely new context. This causes a whole new layer of understanding to unfold within us. In short – spiritual development is the development of our relationship with ourselves, reality, the universe, and life itself – and from there into a pure awareness of our consciousness.