The Don'ts of Personal Development

September 12, 2020

Sometimes what you Don't Do is more Important than What You Do Do

To get the most out of personal development, it’s often what you don’t do that makes the biggest difference. What slows people down the most is persisting with something that just doesn’t work. It might be some pet theory that someone espouses without ever checking it for effectiveness. Or we may be hooked on doing something that worked for someone else simply because we want it to work so badly.

Going to one extreme or the other is often a bad idea.

Here are a few things to avoid doing to excess, but which you also have to do at least a little. It might explain why some advice seems so contradictory. Rest assured it’s all brought together at the end of this blog.

Don't Do It Alone

We’ve all been there, being a lone wolf, a hero, doing things that are meant to help us grow but which too often don’t succeed because:

  • The personal development method itself fails to consider human nature and our need for community
  • We let ourselves off the hook too easily and get distracted by the ups and downs of life
  • We unreasonably expect ourselves to be inspired all the time
  • There is a lack of understanding from others and thus a lack of real support from others
  • We are not reminded of and thus lose track of what really matters to us

Developing yourself in a vacuum is incredibly hard, and often impossible. It may also stop you from actually getting any practical or worthwhile progress. Encouragement from other people and being part of a team of like-minded people has its own issues too. So, it’s important to not listen to others too much.

It’s imperative that we have time to ourselves but also that we consider the perspectives of others to enrich our approach. This can enrich our own lives.

Don't Listen to Other People Too Much

Even the best-meaning advice with the best intentions can be the worst advice for us in our own unique circumstance. It all comes down to correct application of the right remedy at the right time and in the right proportion.

When we rely too much on advice from others or shop around for what we want to hear, we risk:

  • Losing ourselves in the opinions of others
  • Getting confused by differing opinions
  • Failing to honour ourselves by not checking in with what is true for us
  • Accepting a limitation or a projection in our situation is simply not applicable
  • Losing the opportunity to take personal responsibility for our own lives

The opinions of others ideally will serve as a sounding board for us to make our own decisions. However, when we get advice from friends and relatives there is so often a bias or a projection that they bring into what they share with us. It’s best to listen to yourself and use the input of others to assist you in your own choices.

Don’t Avoid Trying Things (within reason)

So much personal development is missed out on because people simply don’t give it a go. Try things out instead.  If you read a great idea in a book or see something online that seems like it could enhance your life, do something with it, even to the tiniest degree. Theorizing about it without applying it gets you nowhere, except perhaps into a deluded state that you know what a process, a method or a discipline will produce. The worst that can usually happen is that it doesn’t work. If it is too dangerous or risky for you, do some risk minimization or even get a professional to advise you.

If you’ve read hundreds of self-help books (and maybe not even finished them) and attended loads of seminars or webinars without taking any real action, you are probably missing out on:

  • Lessons that can only be learned by having an experience
  • Living life in the real world, not just in your head
  • Making discoveries about yourself and your surprising capacity that you may have thought were merely wishful thinking
  • Expanding yourself in ways that logic cannot predict but which bring you so much more than logic alone could allow
  • The simple wonder of boldly and courageously exploring yourself which is its own reward, regardless of the actual outcome.

Life is to be lived. Our modern society puts too much emphasis on learning theories and pretending an opinion means as much as actual experience. Be bold and live your life as though you don’t have forever to do what matters to you, because you don’t.

Don’t Keep Doing What is Not Working

So much personal development is less effective because we think that some idea or theory is more important than our actual experience. You are the authority on how you live your life and some guru or expert no matter how enlightened, wise or educated does not know your life and your situation better than you. What’s more, the mistakes you might make are yours to live with and the rewards and fulfillment of success are likewise yours to savour.

Avoid sticking to some theory or method that is simply not right for you. Sometimes methods take time to produce results but if it simply isn’t giving your results or it feels wrong in your belly, then sticking to it could mean:

  • Losing out on opportunities for growth because of misplaced loyalty to a guru or a method that is not right for you
  • Actually harming yourself due to trying to hard to fit yourself into a system or method that could see you literally getting injured or otherwise hurting yourself through shame or guilt
  • Wasting years, maybe decades trying to do something that will result only regret and loss
  • Being taken advantage of because you are loyal to a system or belief and place it above your own welfare and above your own innate wisdom, unfortunately this does happen
  • Losing touch with yourself because you place your loyalty in something outside your own freedom of choice, your own wisdom and your own right to choose your own life

Don’t Be Extreme

A lot of personal development is hampered because we are too extreme in its application. Or perhaps we are too extreme in our expectations of ourselves. Jumping in head first without real consideration can be waste or energy and potential as much as doing nothing at all.  Being extreme in our approach means that life often has to teach us balance. The more unbalanced we are the harsher the lessons about balance will be.

If you are too extreme in your approach to how you grow within yourself you may experience:

  • Burnout – this is becoming so common that a lot of personal development itself is moving from promising ‘extreme results’ to a self-care focus
  • Major consequences for your actions – in some cases this has literally resulted in death
  • Alienation from loved ones, especially if you believe they should instantly believe what you believe without necessarily checking in with them about what is right for them
  • Financial loss due to poor planning and management and trusting
  • A more extreme disconnection from yourself if you are also doing what is not working

Being extreme in your approach to personal development can also prevent you from consolidating and incorporating what you’ve learned about yourself, the world and your chosen role in it.

The Do’s of Personal Development

The ideal way for most people to grow is in a way that transcends the contradictions by ensuring you:

  • Don’t Do It Alone
  • Do not have the opinions of others thrust upon you
  • Are encouraged to try things out in your own way and your own time
  • Focus on what works for you and can honestly reflect on what does and does not work

    This is a challenging mix to get right and to get it right you need to be around:

  • People who can listen objectively
  • People who can provide feedback without any vested interest in what you actually do
  • People who care about you but are not so close to you that they need to unduly influence you
  • People who are actively increasing their wisdom and insight
  • People who are trained to listen and provide feedback in a way that puts you in the driver’s seat of your own life and lets you live your life

    This environment can be found in Empowerment Circles.


Peter Hagerty is the founder of Genuine YOUniversity. He has coached people of all walks of life since 1990. His methods assist business owners and entrepreneurs to harness their unique abilities and their nature and apply them directly to making the world a better place.
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