Review of Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina

I first met Steve Pavlina probably back in 2003 on the DavidCo discussion boards where many of us gathered to help each other understand and implement David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodologies. I was especially intrigued by some Personal Productivity articles he shared on his Dexterity Software web site. When he started his own Personal Development blog back in 2004, I became a regular reader and I’ve read most of the 700+ articles he has written. I don’t always agree with Steve, but I do believe he does a great job at making people think about things in new ways–as Steve would probably say, “That resonates very strongly with me.”

When Steve announced his upcoming book Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth, I looked forward to reading it. I was thankful to be one of the few to get a pre-release copy to review here.

Let me begin by getting one small thing off my chest. When I first started reading it, it felt really slow and I couldn’t figure out why. Finally it occurred to me that the publisher had chosen a sans-serif typeface. Sans-serif is great for reading on the screen, but it really slows me down in long prose. I missed those little serifs on the letters to help pull my eye along. Maybe this was a conscious decision to force readers to slow down, I don’t know, but I didn’t care for it.

Steve says that in this book he set out to write a book on personal development that was unlike any other. He has spent many of his recent years searching for the “prime numbers” of personal development. He identifies these as Truth, Power, and Love. Steve spends the first half of the book explaining these four elements, including the combinations of Oneness, Authority, Courage, and Intelligence. In the second half of the book he provides chapters on how to apply these elements to the areas of Habits, Career, Money, Health, Relationships, and Spirituality.

The book is a very interesting read. It held my attention well and I enjoyed the stories he shared, even though I had read some of them on his blog before. Although I don’t agree with anyone about everything they believe (where would be the fun in that?), I do think that Steve has come a long ways towards providing some structure for understanding human growth. Although Steve applies his findings to personal development topics throughout the book, the overall concept is very much a philosophy.

I haven’t yet read any of the reviews by other readers (batch 1, batch 2, batch 3), but I think we’ll have to wait a few years to see if Steve’s philosophy holds water. The proof will be in how people apply the information presented here, and how they share those applications with other. Steve has done a good thing in getting bloggers on board with reading and reviewing his book–he definitely understands marketing. I look forward to reading how others have applied this information. Just as hundreds of people have created various systems and programs to help them apply David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodologies, it will be interesting to see if people begin creating systems and programs to help them apply the concepts of Truth, Love, and Power.

One thing I picked up quite readily is how well Christianity, as I understand and practice my relationship with Christ, identifies closely with the core concepts Steve lays out. I’ve been thinking a great deal in recent months about the personal growth movement, Christianity, how these two interrelate, and how to maximize people’s growth in Christ. I need to re-read the entire book in this particular light, but I’m optomistic that this will provide a good pattern for that.

That’s what Steve has provided in this book: a philosophical framework that can be applied to most any area of our lives. I know that much of this works becuase it’s the way I, and I believe lots of other successful people, naturally relate to the world around us. Regardless of whether or not this work becomes the foundation of future personal development, I think it is certainly worth reading–at least once, but probably a few more times to make sure the concepts are fully understood. As with all personal development books, the proof will be in the application. You can’t grow very much by only reading. You have to begin applying what he teaches.

If you’ve read Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth, or have specific questions about it, contribute to the conversation in the comments!

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  • Reply
    11/1/2008 at 10:00 am

    I like books that encourage us to be better than we are. I’ve tried to do the same by using poems and poetry to help us lead more meaninful, satisfying lives.

  • Reply
    Reinout van Rees
    11/1/2008 at 11:41 am

    I found Steve’s dexterity software articles before he started his current blog and so I’ve read his blog from day one. Till a few months ago. Nothing wrong with what he writes. About 60% is very useful and thought-provoking, the other 40% is easily ignored.

    Till a few months ago. Then he posted an article that was so unbelievably rude, vitriolic and sickening. He totally rejected the christian faith whole-scale. No “ifs” and “buts” and exceptions. Each and every christian was held accountable to every wrong thing about it that he could find.

    I spend two hours reading the comments on that article, trying to find some nuance. Or some “I didn’t mean to say x or y”. Or at least a decent explanation. I did find others wondering about the uncharacteristically hateful article, making clear that they took it badly.

    And the only thing I found from Steve in reply boiled down to “get a grip, you’ll just have to accept reality”, “I totally mean it” and, strangly, something like “It isn’t even necessarily my opinion even though I wrote it and it is on my personal blog”.

    I can take quite a lot of damage and vitriol. But the next day I unsubscribed from his blog and deleted any reference I could find from my own websites (I pointed at his articles in some blog entries, pretty sure I still missed some). And that’s something I haven’t done before.

    So perhaps you have some additional insight to offer or some extra background information that’d make me reconsider. Assuming you know which article I’m referring to 🙂


  • Reply
    11/3/2008 at 8:54 am

    Reinout – I remember very well the article you are talking about. It caught me off guard too. It seemed to me that Steve was attacking organized religion of all sorts and not just Christianity. Steve also believes that each of us is the god of our own lives, so he is opposed to anything that is contrary to that. He believes that relegating power to another, whether God or another person, weakens you in some way, rather than seeing that we only have our fullest power when we are in one accord with our Creator.

    Steve has had some very bad experiences with “religious” people–by that I mean those who see Christianity as a system of dos and don’ts instead of a vibrant relationship with Jesus. I believe many have perverted Christianity into a religion instead of a relationship though and it has hurt many people’s overall perception of Christ. People like Steve who have been hurt in this manner are difficult to reach with the truth. I can’t reach them and share the benefits of a relationship with Christ if I alienate myself from them, however.

    I do believe that Steve has some good things to say even though I don’t agree 100% on everything he has to say. Just as I have indicated in my review, Steve is much closer to true Christianity than he realizes in many of his beliefs. In reference to that particular article, I keep in mind Jesus’ own prayer as He was being crucified: “Father forgive them for they know now what they do.”

  • Reply
    Nancy Wylde
    11/22/2008 at 1:40 am

    The idea that we are the god of our own lives, in fact it takes a great deal of courage to share with others how you view God, religions etc.
    I agree with Steve, and this comes from my own intuitive perceptions and experiences. This is something I have discussed to some degree in my book which is mostly based on personal development as well.

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