Of the many different incomprehensible expressions, sentences and ways to express your thoughts, there is one phrase that chokes me more than anything else. That is: "personal development".
...Because isn't personal development the thing that most harms our desire to grow, learn and live humanly and happily? Isn't this just an invitation to engage in mental masturbation?
Well, okay. These words of mine may seem strange to you. Especially if you know me as Daniela Debesylas, the author of a blog that seems to be about personal development.
(If you don't know me, then hello! Nice to meet you.)
I believe that it is important not only what we want to say with our words... But also how we say it.
And the phrase "personal development" is something I'd like to eradicate in the world of self-development. Not because I'm a chatterbox from VLKK, but only because "improvement" is harmful to everyone who wants to live a better, nicer, fuller and happier life.
"Development" is a small and poisonous word that we should avoid like the flu. And there are very important reasons for this.
I'll start from the beginning. I warn you right away - the beginning will be long, and the main point of the article is in the middle and the end. But you'll need this introduction to understand why I encourage you to abandon "improvement".
This article is for you if you have recently become interested in self-education or, on the contrary, you are an experienced self-education teacher.
Perhaps the most important philosopher of the 20th century and the logic of his language.
We are what we think. And we mean what we speak. Or rather, we perceive the world through parts of speech (usually words).
This thought in 1921 in the book "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" 1 spreading philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein shook the academic world at the time. And he became probably the most influential thinker of the 20th century.
As a person, he was quite a strange personality. And some of his philosophical works are worthy of criticism (and were criticized by him in later years). But one thought is really worth noting:
"Words and their structures in sentences represent reality." - L. Wittgenstein, philosopher
According to Wittgenstein, it is not our thoughts and their lack of originality 2 invented and introduced words to the world, and words gave ideas to mind. Similar to how a road sign "stop" conveys the idea that it is appropriate to stop.
In other words, we convey meaning through words.
And the most interesting thing - since we say and listen to words all our lives (and both of us, probably, mostly in Lithuanian) - these words change our thinking. We think with the words around us. Not in abstractions. Not in bits and pieces.
And if you don't believe - then wait, stop. And come up with an argument against. I'll be surprised if the thoughts run through your head without using words.
Contemporary psychology and language research.
However, what are some philosopher's ideas worth? Well, he was a respected philosopher, but still? Is there any scientific basis for the idea that words influence thoughts?
Turns out there is. Wittgenstein was not the only one to talk about the connection between thoughts and words. In a very similar way, but without the call to clean up the language, the world of psychology has drawn attention to this connection.
It started with the famous Sigmund Freud, 3 who was still alive in 1922 and delved into the human subconscious and its influence in life. But then everything changed faster Whorf and Sapir 4 in honor of those who started the general theory of language and thought.
This theory claimed the same thing as Wittgenstein's and quickly became
one of the most famous in the world. And if you've ever heard sayings about Chukchi and 100 words to describe snow; or how rare languages have no words to describe time - here is the same topic.
true problem: Whorfism was criticized at the end of the last century for the lack of evidence for a word-action connection. 5 As neuro-linguistic programming, which originated from Whorfism, came to be. 6
What we hear is what we think. And when we think, we adapt.
So. Let's go back to personal development:
What does "improvement" promote?
Four ideas can be associated with personal development. It encourages…
First: ...Never be yourself and become better.
Why be yourself when you can be perfect? Energetic like Tim Ferriss, cunning like Niccolo Machiavelli, strong like Žydrūnas Savickas and smart like Algimantas Čekuolis? 8
Some people also manage to turn this desire to become better into an idol.
For example, there are even three self-development projects in Lithuania, with original names such as: Tobulėjam, 9 Development 10 and let's improve. 11 And yes, they were created by different people.
In one of them, the author has even founded a Facebook group with the motto "Improve, achieve goals and become an attractive personality".
Because, you see, if you don't belong to the group of true perfection, whether you're Dalia Grybauskaitė or Senis Šaltis, you're not attractive enough. Because you should never be yourself, you should always improve, improve...
Second: ...Constantly striving for perfection.
If the topic of personality self-development was a popular topic for books and training (hey, wait, it is), then the authors of this topic would be very happy (hey, they are).
Because you can create endlessly on this topic - even if you repeat the training and sell one idea in fifteen books with different covers - those who want to improve will still buy it.
Because people who strive for perfection never get enough of it. Indeed, it becomes like an obsession. Instead of learning to learn, you improve to "become better". Illustrations of quotes, tits and cars are shared on Facebook and it is believed that all this will come with perfection. 12
The Secret series of books and movies, 13 Robert T. Kiyosaki's Rich and Poor Dads books 14 and the Dale Carnegie Association, 15 knows well the endless desire to improve. And this is how smart businessmen exploit it to earn euros. Roughly 12 billion euros per year in the US alone. 16
Just a question: How does the constant pursuit of perfection benefit the aspirant? Especially when the mindset changes from "I learned and I'm happy" to "I learned and I'm happy, but I want to become EVEN better"?
Personal development drives obsession.
Third: ...To reach the level of perfection defined by who knows not.
But wait, what defines perfection? And as I mentioned, how beneficial is it to the aspiring? Unfortunately, perfection is often defined by the same salespeople of the "perfect life".
Some say that the perfect life is living in wealth, others say that the most important thing is to hang a beautiful girl with bangs (mmm bangs!). The third goes to the point that the perfect person is the one who follows some religion.
And a person who has fallen into the trap of personal development will never think about whether his goal will help him achieve that kind of "perfection". Why the "why" questions when you can buy, buy, learn, boost your ego by sharing all kinds of quotes and otherwise masturbate?
Why live imperfectly if you can buy books and teachings and strive for the highest level of spiritual and physical Perfection? 17
Fourth: ...To live perfectly.
And finally, it is possible to combine all the above ideas into one. It is a call, sometimes even forced, to live a perfect life.
But what is that perfect life? Seriously. Answer me because I don't know.
Is the life in which you are the way you are - maybe not the best, but more or less satisfied - perfect or imperfect? And my grandparents, who didn't know their "meaning of life" all their lives, were they perfect or not?
And if life is imperfect, is it worth living? Maybe it's better to go kill yourself right away and then reincarnate into some cat that sleeps half the day and snoozes the other half?
Is the perfect life when you buy books about perfection and never feel truly happy?
Again, a serious question.
Let's replace "perfection" with growth.
But I suggest another way. Instead of struggling with an unattainable Perfection invented by some shrewd businessman, we can grow. Like trees. We can learn and be happy together.
I suggest changing the phrase personal improvement to personal growth first. And then, gradually, to change the perception of yourself and those around you, what is the meaning of that self-development.
Because its meaning is really not to buy expensive courses just because someone suggested it.
Personal growth would encourage…
A) ...Being yourself, in your own way.
Imagine a tall, twenty-five-year-old oak tree growing in the corner of your yard...
I have two questions:
- Is this tree perfect?
- Has he grown big?
The answer to the first question is quite straightforward - it is there is no perfect tree Its trunk is crooked, in some places wrapped around the bars of the gazebo, bent and arched by the wind. Its foliage isn't oval or circular, and it's only home to maybe three blackbirds, not twelve.
But this tree grew from an acorn. This is how all oak trees appear - no one gives birth to them and does not artificially print them.
It grew and grew. And it's likely to keep growing because no one is going to cut it.
The oak tree planted by my grandfather after his first heart operation, 18 grew up big. And it holds nests for starlings and thrushes. Its leaves are delicious to earthworms and the shade is pleasant on a hot day.
Why should we, who desire to develop ourselves, abandon such a natural, human order of growth and seek artificial perfection? We can grow like trees. Not necessarily perfect, but there happily.
A life of growing up in your own way is better than striving for an impossible standard of beauty, success, and happiness.
Who has the right to say that in order to be happy it is necessary to do sports, get up at four in the morning, read a lot of books or, say, start a family?
After all, some people are happy without listening to all kinds of guru advice. Probably just because they live their own way.
b) ...Take conscious action.
Well, if you're thinking that personal development is also educational, it is you are right. But growth in education works better. Because:
Growth is a perceptual verb. He invites you to grow. Up, to the sides and with roots in the ground. And improvement calls... What exactly to do?
What exactly is "improvement"? Where did this word come from in our languages? And what does it mean? After all, no one says "the tree began to improve" or "the plumber improved the water pipe".
...And "growth" is a word that even the smallest children understand.
Personal growth encourages doing what philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, who lived in Lithuania Minor in 1724-1804, named growth as the essence of man. And this word says more than improvement.
c) ...Accept your life as YOUR OWN.
And then, although it is not encoded in the word "growth", it is written in the full phrase. Personal growth is growth where a person grows as a person. Personally and myself.
It is not the propagation of a grove of trees and it is not the creation of a successful business. But this is your personal journey, on your own personal path.
And it helps to remember that the people most capable of changing ourselves... are ourselves. Although others influence us, our actions remain the most important, which helps us take control of ourselves. 19
The idea: let's start growing, not procrastinating for perfection.
I encourage you to join. No matter who you are - a newbie in self-education in search of yourself (or happiness) or a professional teacher in this field. And replace the addictive word with a freer one.
It's a small change in language, but a big change in thought. Small in word, but big in life. Little work, big rewards.
We need to put an end to personal "improvement". Time for growth.
For growth that is natural. 20
...Are you online?
First published in German, Annalen der Naturphilosophie; you can read the German version here. The work was translated into English by Kegan Paul; you can read the translations here or, in my preferred format, on this interactive page. Press the pluses and you will open more detailed sections of the book. That's how Wittgenstein wrote - in points.↩
I told you about it "There is no originality. And all the world's most famous creators knew this".↩
Edward Sapir was an anthropologist and linguist who lived in the USA in 1884-1939. Benjamin Lee Whorf – a linguist who lived in the USA between 1897 and 1941. With these days VLKK linguists Whorf and Sapir are difficult to compare. They were among the first language researchers who did scientific research work.↩
You will find more in the 1982 edition "Toward a Cognitive Psychology of Syntax", in 1986 "Syntactic Persistence in Language Production" and 2006 "The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy".↩
It is said that once three trainees asked Čekuolis for cigarettes. After a brief conversation of a few minutes, they walked away with their doctorates.↩
Update January 2021: There was 'tobulejam.lt', but the page was closed and the domain was bought by unknown persons.↩
This one has already closed - he had set great personal goals for himself
Which suddenly appeared in our world in 2006 and enslaved the heads of millions of people absurd nonsense. "The Secret" contains no new ideas and presents them through mystical, supposedly scientific examples, using twisted quotes from Albert Einstein and various unknown personalities. This is content made for sales. Not for help.↩
Which unexpectedly turned into N-part epics for every possible buyer. I could probably repeat everything I'm saying now, specifically for women, changing the genders of the references, and then announce that I've created something completely new.↩
In comparison - in 2016 Lithuania's GDP in the third quarter was worth 10.34 billion euros. The development market is still winning.↩
Psychologist Lina Vēželienė wrote an article about this: "Goals That Lead to Nowhere, or When Do Self-Help and Self-Deception Go Hand in Hand?". I recommend it. As recommended by the other 4.2 thousand. readers who shared the article.↩
Or, in other words, given a second life.↩
You can also choose other words, such as "educate", "teach", "repair", "build" or something like that, as mentioned by the Debesylians in the comments below. But I personally stick with growth. At least it's not as imprisoning as the pursuit of perfection.↩