“By talking to yourself every hour of the day, you can direct yourself to think thoughts of courage and happiness, thoughts of power and peace. By talking to yourself about the things you have to be grateful for, you can fill your mind with thoughts that soar and sing.”― Dale Carnegie
The idea of personal development might have different meaning for different people.
Some people avoid the self-development genre and perhaps for good reason.
I know some people who have become frustrated with the idea of personal development.
This is because they have not seen the results that they thought were possible. Perhaps a book or a seminar did not deliver on its promise.
Some people love the idea of personal development and become so engrossed in learning that they do not take action.
While some others become caught up with numbers or metrics. They might hope to become rich through personal development.
I believe that to not get disillusioned with personal development, some common traps need to be avoided.
“Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.”― Fred Rogers
What are some of the traps of self-development?
1. The Trap of Comparison with Others
“Personality begins where comparison leaves off. Be unique. Be memorable. Be confident. Be proud.”― Shannon L. Alder
Perhaps one of the biggest traps of personal development is the game of comparison. As humans, we make meaning and construct models of our reality by a process of compare and contrast.
After all, how can we measure success and development but with a yardstick?
For example, you may compare one experience to another and rate it, judge it and learn from it.
Our judging and discerning mind does that all the time and we make choices, decisions and meaning from the comparison.
Unfortunately, it may be possible to take this comparison and go overboard with it. This is a potent trap in personal development where you may be continually comparing your situation with others.
“It is unnecessary to heighten the glory of day by comparing it with the preceding twilight.”― Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie: or, Early Times in the Massachusetts
Your mind may judge and compare:
- Someone else has better flexibility and can do the yoga pose better or do it at all.
- Someone else reads more than you.
- Someone else has a better life than you do.
- Someone else is more lucky.
Well you get the idea.
While some comparison is natural and human, when it goes overboard, you suffer. When development transforms into metrics and statistics, it stops being enjoyable.
1. Realize that you are unique and have an unique situation.
2. Assess how comparison with others is making you feel? Is it empowering you or is it making you feel bad? Ask if this is the way you want to feel?
3. Allow yourself to become aware of the play of the comparing mind. Realize that comparison is the play of thoughts and you can allow them to float by.
4. Do something that makes you unique and brings out your strengths.
5. The only thing you may consider comparing to is a radiant and joyous form of you. Imagine that you have everything that you desire for and cherish. How does that feel? Great? Ok, now ask how should I get from where I am to where I want to be. What habits and structures, beliefs and actions do I have to change?
Read more about comparison here.
2. Trying to Improve the Already Perfect Self
“Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows.”― Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That
The reason why many people get frustrated with personal development is that they begin thinking that there is something inherently wrong with them.
When you think of yourself as lacking something, missing something or being less than perfect, you strive to fill that gap.
A lack of self-love and self-approval manifests as a need to improve and develop your life. And nothing seems to work and things do not seem to get any better even after years of seminars and books.
So what is the issue?
The way I see it is that I fell in the same trap many times on the path of personal development.
When I felt like that I was “not good enough” and could not love my current self, I took refuge in personal development. But before I saw any changes, I had to resolve the “me and not good enough” issues.
Imagine a piece of cloth that is sitting in a dusty room. Over the years, the cloth gathers dust and dirt. So much so, after a while you cannot even recognize it.
But if you shake the cloth and remove the accumulated dust, you will renew the cloth and see it as it is.
We are like that too. We have an illuminated and radiant self. We accumulate a lifetime of habits, thoughts, beliefs, patterns and actions over that self.
But instead of shaking the dirt and doing something different, we blame the cloth or the self. We find inherent issues with the self.
These false patterns and beliefs are the blocks to our personal development.
And when you realize that you are inherently awesome and radiant, the quest becomes lighter and more joyous.
Instead of improving a faulty self, you find ways to get back home to the radiant and happy self.
“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.”― C. Joy Bell C.
1. Love yourself and repeat: “I love and approve of myself.” This amazing tip is from the work of one of my teachers, Louise L Hay.
2. Recognize and approve of your radiant and unchanging self.
“Life is too short to waste any amount of time on wondering what other people think about you. In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn’t have the time to sit around and talk about you. What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself.”― C. JoyBell C.
Read more about loving the self here and here.
3. Excessive Perfectionism in Practice
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
This is a biggie. Let me begin with a story from my yoga practice many years before. I was practicing on a regular basis. I was going to the studio almost everyday and I had one of those unlimited yearly passes.
I was trying to perfect the downward facing dog, the sun salutation and every other pose with a fierce and burning passion.
Why exactly was I still unable to do the back bends and the seated poses?
It became somewhat of a perfectionist pursuit for domination of my yoga space and a show of perfect moves.
Then one day with much help from many wonderful yogis and yoginis and books and teachers, it finally dawned on me.
- Yoga was about union, not perfection.
- Yoga was about alignment and self-love, not striving for an unreachable ideal.
- Yoga was about letting go, not holding on and suffering.
- Yoga was about grace and joy and beauty and not about show and rigidity.
- Yoga was about flexibility, not rigidity and control.
- Yoga was about imperfection and being human and not about being a perfectionist.
- Yoga was about getting immersed in the journey, not getting caught up with the results and the end point.
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
I was facing the impossibility of perfectionism in a personal development practice. You may have a story like that yourself where it became less about development and more about perfectionism and control.
And then in a blinding flash of insight, I realized looking back at all the times that I had quit different practices and projects. It was not because I was a quitter.
It was because I was a perfectionist and nothing short of the impossible and non-achievable ideal was acceptable to me. So I quit because I could simply never measure up to the unrealistic standards that I was imposing on myself.
“In the end, perfection is just a concept – an impossibility we use to torture ourselves and that contradicts nature.”― Guillermo del Toro
1. Are you more interested in perfect or do you want to make progress?
2. Try to do the best that you can and then allow yourself to be ok with the results and launch it.
3. Strive for good enough and not for perfect. Drop your expectations and the stress that comes with them a notch.
“Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.”― Rebecca Wells
Read more about perfectionism here and here.
4. Collecting Information, not Implementing
“The future depends on what you do today.”― Mahatma Gandhi
Somewhere down the path of self development, we become collectors of information. When we have information coming at us at the speed of light, it is attractive to store it all for future use.
While this is not a disadvantage in itself, when we become only collectors and do not take action, we have a problem.
The problem is the classic “ideal-reality” problem. Ideal states that you act on everything and hence you collect things. But the reality is that you have limited time and resources available. It is not practical to act on all the advice and tips flying at you from all directions.
SO when we try to balance and juggle all the balls in the air, we end up acting on none.
1. Ask yourself if you are collecting information for development? Or if you are acting on some of the tips and suggestions?
2. Are you getting overwhelmed by the amount of information and do not know how to proceed. DO you have information overload or “analysis paralysis?”
3. You may have to Focus, Focus and Focus.
“Never confuse movement with action.”― Ernest Hemingway
Take action by implementing these.
5. Consuming and Not Creating Uniqueness
“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”― Joss Whedon
Sometimes we consume or assimilate a lot of information but do not create anything new with it.
In the previous trap, you became a collector and found it difficult to implement or take action. In this trap, you consume all the material for yourself but find it difficult to share it or create novel synthesis.
It might just be that things do not work for you because you are consuming but not creating. You are unwilling to set up an unique system for yourself based on your strengths and weaknesses.
For example, if you go to a meditation teachers training class and learn that you have to meditate for 45 minutes at a sitting. You have learnt how to meditate but find it almost impossible to carve out the time to do so. Before long, months have passed without a single day on the mat or the pillow.
What is the solution? You will have to come to creative solutions to jump start your practice. If 45 minutes does not work, craft a 5 minute personal meditation practice.
Besides, when you attempt to teach others of what you have learnt, you gain a deeper understanding of your practice.
My motto is simple. You are not training to become a student. You are training to become a teacher.
This inspiration is from the Kundalini Yoga and the wisdom of the late great teacher Yogi Bhajan. Yogi Bhajan wanted to train students to become teachers.
There is a reason for this. When you teach others what you know, it creates unique and creative synthesis of what you know.
We still keep learning new ways as we teach others. So the interaction is a cooperative give and take and benefits everyone and especially your development.
1. Ok, so you have been studying perfectionism or something else for a while. Have you made a course or a book out of it?
2. What do you know that you are suited to teach and share with others so that the world benefits from your expertise?
6. The Trap of Shame and Guilt
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”― Brené Brown
This is a big one too. We feel shame that we are not the kind of person that we want to be. We feel guilty that we have messed up and did not take the opportunities that came our way.
Shame and guilt researcher Brené Brown says that there is a difference between shame and guilt.
When we feel guilty, we think that something we did was not right and we can be sorry or do something to correct the situation.
When we feel shame, we think that something is inherently wrong with us. We do not want the light of awareness to shine on us and we want to hide.
Shame is more paralyzing and crippling. When your personal development process is a result of guilt or shame, you are falling in a trap.
According to Brené Brown, guilt is associated with recovery and with making things better.
Shame is correlated with depression, addictions and feeling unempowered.
Unless you address the deep issues that are causing the shame or the repeated guilt, you will make scarce progress.
If you are having problems with guilt or shame, read my post here.
7. The Trap Of Spiritual Materialism
“No matter what the practice or teaching, ego loves to wait in ambush to appropriate spirituality for its own survival and gain.”― Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
Is it all about the ego, me, mine and I?
If personal development becomes another conduit of feeding the insatiable appetite of the ego, it becomes a trap.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, one of Ani Pema Chodron’s spiritual teachers was the first to use the words “spiritual materialism.”
“Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.”― Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
So I ask myself if the meditation that I am doing is to strengthen the ego and broadcast my spirituality to others?
Or is the descent into silence and meditation a natural process of self-kindness and compassion? Does my practice bear the humility of the beginners mind?
Because the moment I become aware of the egocentric nature of my “great meditation” practice, I have snapped out of the peaceful silence. Now I am practicing for the sake of ego and not for the sake of spirit or for the sake of discovery of the self.
Ego path or spiritual materialism is about holding on and become a great meditator. The spiritual path is about letting go and allowing the gentle transformation through practice.
Egocentric path wants and demands and judges whereas the spiritual path accepts and loves.
8. Not Letting go of Anger and Bitterness
“The best fighter is never angry.”― Lao Tzu
Another huge trap in the path is the inability to let go of anger, bitterness and resentment.
When we do not see results in the path, we become angry and bitter. We scoff at the seminars and shut off anyone who praises a method. We call Yoga a fad and call meditation an useless pursuit.
We call personal development and link it to every negative resentment and bitter experience that we have.
We laugh at the self-help section of a book store while saying a sarcastic remark.
We have reached the angry and bitter part of the path of personal development.
We smile smugly at our righteous indignation at others who pursue these unnecessary paths of self development.
“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.”― William Arthur Ward
Now, it is human to feel the occasional pangs of frustration, anger and resentment. But it is a trap if the primary viewpoint of development and personal learning gets riddled with resentment and anger.
How can we let go of the anger and resentment that blocks our learning?
The best way I have found is to become honest with the self. We begin by recognizing the level of bitterness and anger that we have allowed to fester in our minds.
When we shine the razor sharp light of awareness on our escape mechanisms, we can gently allow their release.
Research has shown that contrary to popular belief, an outburst of anger does not release the anger.
In fact, in the long run it makes people more angry and resentful.
While we get a temporary relief in an angry state, it is not a permanent solution. Especially if the anger takes over and replaces the joy and happiness of life.
If the initial goal of personal development was to become a millionaire or become well off and that has not materialized over many years, the natural consequence could be anger and bitterness.
But the anger and resentment do not allow us to get to our goals any faster. In fact, they cloud the judgment and confuse matters.
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”― Thích Nhất Hạnh
9. Searching For Happiness
“The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.”― Audrey Hepburn
Yes, one of the goals of life might just be to live happily ever after. But there is a significant trap in the pursuit of happiness.
The problem is that you cannot pursue happiness. If you pursue it, that is where you will always be, behind it.
So cast aside the social conditioning of getting this and achieving that and then buying this and that and becoming happy.
The only way to happiness, research tested, is to find it in the here and now. It is to not outsource and place for future consumption. But the goal is to find the things in the here and now that make you happy.
From that tiny little fragment of happiness that you can embrace in this current moment, you will build into greater levels of happiness. And soon it becomes a habit.
Happiness becomes the path and the journey and not something to aspire to. So the next time you want to become happy by future events, bring your attention to what makes you happy now and go do it.
Do not search for happiness, but become happiness. Merge with happiness in the current moment.
10. Trying to Fix Everyone Else up
“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Another big trap in personal development is trying to fix everyone else up. You get so caught up in your own practice that you try “fixing” the whole world up.
Of course, when we are excited about something, we are dying to share it with family and friends.
But ask the question if they are willing and interested to listen.
If not, it is not right for them and it is not right for us to judge them based on their preferences.
11. Too Much Too soon and the Idea of Success
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”― Winston S. Churchill
Enlightenment in a flash?
Have you seen the popular idea about success not being a straight line but a curved and winding road that eventually gets there?
In one of his live lectures, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was asked what was the fast method of getting enlightened.
I remember to this day that his response was something that made me stop and think.
He said that people generally wanted a quick path to enlightenment but in reality this was impossible. It is difficult to realize things and get results in a short period of time.
What the Dalai Lama was referring to was the countless hours of work and the decades of tough sadhana or the practice.
If we are in it for the instant gratification like getting rich quick or getting masterful in a discipline fast, we may end up getting disappointed.
More often than not, the path to great success is a difficult and winding road filled with potholes and failures.
If we are all right with that, we will not bother the self with the lack of instant success. But if we in personal development as a “get rich quick” scheme, the results may not be satisfying.
This is a big trap we fall into. We get carried away in a method and then we want quick results. Chop chop, we say. But like Lennon said, Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.
12. Power, Control and Learned Helplessness
“If you don’t have peace, it isn’t because someone took it from you; you gave it away. You cannot always control what happens to you, but you can control what happens in you.”― John C. Maxwell, Be a People Person
And finally, if you are in the personal development for power and control, you might be disappointed.
The truth is that we cannot control things that are beyond the realm of our influence and the sooner we come to peace with that, the better.
Psychology says that we strive to make meaning of our world and as humans we attempt to have a certain amount of control of our outcomes. In fact, that personal staying in control and being able to influence our lives is essential for motivation and healthy striving.
But when the desire for power and control goes beyond the self and into the realm of trying to control everything else, we have a problem.
This is a quick way into learned helplessness because no matter what we do, we cannot control events and people. It is futile to control events beyond our realm of power and influence.
Instead, we should stay clear of power and control issues and attempt to enhance our personal power. We can strive to make an impact in our realm of influence and make it into a better place.
Now over to you! Did the post resonate with you and which trap seems most relevant to you and why? Please let me know in the comments below and on social media.
Dr. Kate Siner says
For a perfect personal development, I think the comparison is not important, As a consultant, I noticed it at different times. Avoiding comparison is good for personal development, I think so. What do you think, Harish?
Thanks for stopping by Kate!
Yes, I agree with you!
Avoiding comparison is wonderful for growth because we are not focused on others. People spend a lot of mental and emotional energy on the act of comparing with others. Imagine what we can do with all that energy when we funnel it into creative endeavors to create value for others and for ourself.