One Sentence Summary of Personal Development for Smart People: Being happy means being in perfect harmony with the universal principals of Truth, Love and Power, and their derivatives, Unity, Authority, Courage and Intelligence; this book guides us to be better versions of ourselves by showing us the theory and practice of each of these principles.
By Steve Pavlina, 250 pages, originally published in 2008.
Summary and Book Report:
(Note : This book is not part of the PMBA challenge)
Do you know Steve Pavlina? Video game programmer who was somewhat successful in the shareware domain – these are programs that you can try for 30 days before you purchase them – in 2004 he launched his blog about personal development with the ambition of becoming an important player in this sector, even though he had no references, no related degree, and had not written any books on the subject. But for 10 years he had read about 50 books a year on personal development and, feeding off this gigantic body of accumulated knowledge, he began to make connections between seemingly disparate concepts, and to innovate by testing and making mistakes. After two years, his blog was bringing in about $1,000 a day in advertising and affiliation revenue without him having ever spent a single penny on publicity or marketing!
I have met and am a huge fan of Steve Pavlina; I even interviewed him in January, 2017. I have read most of his blog which contains hundreds of articles on a wide variety of subjects, of which some are pure jewels sparkling in the middle of a pile of gold nuggets – don’t miss his best-ofs in the left-hand column, which are all must-read (they are really worth their weight in peanuts – as we say in France lol).
So Steve Pavlina published his first book about personal development, which is named after his blog Personal Development for Smart People. I am one of 400 happy bloggers who received a free advance copy in 2008 and I read it as quickly as possible, slipping it between the books for my challenge. So to re-read this book again in 2018 was a real pleasure!
First of all, even though there are numerous passages from his blog, this book is clearly not a compilation of his best articles: Steve goes much further by recommending a personal development system, which I would go so far as to call a philosophical system, in as much as it is coherent, profound and universal, and, at the same time, practical and progressive. I will paint you a picture.
For Steve, the laws of physics are universal and apply to everything in the same way; why should the area of personal development be any different? Shouldn’t laws of the universal conscience also exist? These questions struck him as he turned the pages one by one of the hundreds of books that he was reading, all of them about personal development, but all full of contradictions to each other, and also contradicting themselves.
So he set about thinking and, as a result of his research, came up with these fundamental rules which must satisfy numerous criteria, of which the most important are:
- Universality. These principles must be applied to everyone, everywhere in any kind of situation, and must function well in any area of your life: health, friendships, love life, professional career, spiritual development, etc. They are also expected to still work 1000 years from now, and they should have worked 1000 years ago. They are culture independent and they apply both individually and collectively.
- System. These principles must be complete and coherent, and provide for every essential element without missing anything. It should be possible to link all the effective universal laws of personal development to its foundations, and ideally these principles must themselves create a structure which is both simple and elegant.
- Fundamentals. These principles must be irreducible, like prime numbers in mathematics. They must serve as fundamental atomic units of human development. Thus, it must be possible to combine two or more fundamental principles to create secondary ones, and the resulting combinations must also be universal and coherent.
- Coherence. These principles must not contradict each other. They must interconnect logically and intuitively.
- Practice. These principles must be able to generate concrete and intelligent results in the real world. You must be able to use them to diagnose problematic situations and think up practical and achievable solutions.
As you can see, Steve Pavlina set the bar high, by setting the goal of discovering principles that would satisfy all these criteria. After two and a half years of research, he is letting us have them; there are three fundamental principles:
- Truth: The ability to stay in reality in the most exact manner possible, defined as:
- Perception: The ability to see reality with clarity.
- Prediction: The ability to efficiently predict the possible consequences of one’s actions.
- Accuracy: The ability to represent reality internally as closely as possible to actual reality.
- Acceptance: The ability to accept the Truth even in its saddest aspects.
- Self Awareness: The ability to be fully aware of yourself and your environment.
- Love: The ability to love living beings and to connect with them is defined by:
- Connection: The ability to connect with others and the world.
- Communication: The ability to communicate effectively and honestly with others.
- Communion: The ability to perceive, and create deep ties of camaraderie, friendship and love, together with the delicious sense of completeness which comes from sharing your true self.
- Power: The ability to fulfill your needs and desires, which is defined as:
- Responsibility: The ability to accept full responsibility for your life.
- Desire: The ability to understand and accept your deepest desires.
- Self-Determination: The ability to understand what you want in life and to make decisions that get you there.
- Focus: The ability to focus on the essential and not to waste time on futile things.
- Effort: The ability to work and put effort into the pursuit of your goals.
- Self Discipline: The ability to stick to what you have have decided and the work needed to achieve your goals.
Some of these ideas may seem like common sense to you. However, the principle of Truth is understood intuitively by scientists, the principle of Love is common to all the major religions, and the principle of Power is ever present in companies and governments. But these principles have a tendency to be separate, which weakens them and is a great mistake in our society, according to the author.
These three fundamental concepts combine together to form:
- Oneness (Love, Truth): The most mystical, to my mind, and the one that meant the least to me: the ability to feel the connection between all living beings and which is defined by:
- Empathy: the ability to perceive and understand the emotions of others, to see their emotional states.
- Compassion: The ability to feel an affinity for everyone and want to help them.
- Honesty: The ability to establish honest and true relationships.
- Equality: The ability to treat everyone in an honorable way and for the good of all.
- Contribution : The ability to optimize and enlarge your contribution to humanity and the world.
- Oneness: The global conscience. Complete responsibility, at an individual level and a broader level. If you think that the planet needs help, it is your responsibility to help it rather than to turn inward.
- Authority (Truth, Power) : The ability to totally take command of your life and to reach your goals, which is defined by:
- Leadership: The ability to make decisions with respect to yourself and with respect to an external authority, guru, leader or teacher.
- Efficiency: The real measure of authority. The ability to make enlightened decisions intelligently and to predict results with a small margin of error.
- Persistence: The ability to stick to your objectives and invest a considerable amount of time for a long time – often many years.
- Confidence: Real confidence is not the famous “fake it until you make it,” in appearance rather than in essence, the outer-game rather than the inner-game. It’s the deep, emotional recognition of a certain truth, the truth that you are a powerful human being.
- Importance: The ability to use one’s power for meaningful things rather than frivolous, unimportant things.
- Courage (Love, Power) : The ability to act and overcome an obstacle in order to reach an objective in the long term, to act when you foresee a sort term negative in order to attain a long term positive, which is defined by:
- Heart: A connection to your deeper self. The ability to choose the way of the heart, that which resonates with you internally. Always ask yourself “is my heart in this?”
- Initiative: The ability to take the first step, to keep things moving, not to let anticipation eat away at you.
- Franchise: The ability to go directly towards the goal rather than going all around the houses to minimize your risks of failure and rejection.
- Honor: The ability to live by honoring your principles, and making them central to your life.
- Intelligence (Truth, Love and Power) : The graceful union of the three principles, which define us as being aware. Our greatest strength, our greatest ally, our most noble goal, which is defined by:
- Authenticity: The ability to express yourself in a coherent manner. The image that you send to the outside world reflects your internal image, whether you are talking to a close friend or a perfect stranger.
- Development: The ability to improve yourself, to grow, to mature, to become more intelligent.
- Flexibility: The ability to go with the flow rather than fight against it. Your efforts will not be easy, they are directed at producing the desired results.
- Beauty: The ability to understand the underlying laws of reality, which make life unbelievably fascinating.
The author gives us an entire chapter on each of these principles to outline and elaborate on every point that could block us in accomplishing each of the principles, and concrete exercises in order to develop them..
The second part of the book is dedicated to the practical implementation of the principles. While the first part is fundamentally original, the second is less so for anyone who has read most of Steve Pavlina’s blogs; you will rediscover most of his best articles, but articulated along with the 7 principles, so with new advice all the same. Subjects dealt with are:
Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny
Stephen R. Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (1989)
This Covey phrase summed up the importance of habits well: put your regular actions on automatic pilot. Suppressing bad habits as much as possible and cultivating as many good ones as possible can create an enormous difference in your whole life: what if instead of smoking several cigarettes a day you were to take up a sport? What if instead of watching TV you read a good book on an interesting subject? What if instead of casually surfing the web you wrote something – a blog, a short story, a book, or even a diary? One hour a day dedicated to a project after a year could lead to remarkable achievements: a site that generates income, a finished book, a better, more defined physical form, a crazy challenge met … 😉
Steve explores the idea of habits passed through the prism of the 7 principles, and recommends testing 66 things, in 30 days for example, like:
- Pyramid: Spend 15 to 30 minutes doing some easy tasks to warm yourself up. Then undertake your most difficult part of the project for several hours. Finally, finish with 15 to 30 minutes on easy tasks to transition to finishing up the job.
- Tempo: Deliberately increase the rhythm and try to go faster than usual. Walk faster. Read faster. Type faster… Go home sooner.
- Punctuality: Always arrive early at your appointment. Punctuality reinforces authority.
- No: Just say no to non-critical requests. If it upsets people, so be it.
- Miracle Worker: Estimate how long it will be before a task is finished. Then start a timer, and force yourself to finish in half the allotted time.
The primary outlet of your creative expression. At the simplest level, what you do with your time. Steve recommends that you ask yourself numerous questions about your career, like those inspired by Maslow and his famous hierarchy of needs:
- Body (Need): What do I have to do?
- Mind (Ability): What can I do?
- Heart (Desire): What do I want to do?
- Spirit (Contribution): What must I do?
According to Steve, a real career is one that satisfies these four questions.
In this chapter, in addition to his practical suggestions, Steve even explores the concept of money. Society conditions us with so many contradictory views on this subject that it is not surprising to see so many people who are disoriented with regard to money.
Thus, Steve, like so many others, expands and develops these inconsistent beliefs about money: on the one hand, he sees very well that having money is good and important. Money can buy food, clothing, shelter, transport, education, technology tools, leisure, healthcare, etc. If you have money you have solutions. On the other hand, Steve doesn’t find it right that money buys privilege, like the best healthcare, healthy food, a decent education, nor that some people behave like thieves to get it, to the detriment of others.
For him, there are two basic ways to make money:
- Make a significant contribution to society, and receive payment with respect to the social value of this contribution.
- Take advantage of market failures to extract money without bringing any value to society.
He summed this up as:
It is hard nowadays to have to have a firm idea of what is good for our bodies or not, so many specialists often disagree on these issue: it is not hard to find a book that says exactly the opposite of what you currently reading on this subject.
Steve recommends a way to try and find your way through this jungle, essentially based on common sense and the application of the 7 principles to get a grip on your health.
Human relationships are a wonderful source of learning and growth, as well as a necessity for our happiness together. Steve explores then, in particular on the level of intimate relations, always through the prism of the 7 principles.
Steve recommends a way that might seem strange to some of you to explore your spirituality: explore different points of view. He was raised as a practicing Catholic, but freed himself from this religion to explore other points of view on spirituality. For him, adhering to one religion, thinking it is the only possible point of view on spirituality, is worse than the Truth, it is as if we were stating that the 2D representation of a three dimensional cube is the only one possible, rather than that it can be represented in a multitude of different perspectives. He challenges our beliefs in this way, whether we are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Raëliens, Atheists, Agnostics, etc, and recommends that we experiment with different points of view before believing that we are adhering to the Truth that we perceive, by all accounts, in a very narrow way.
This book is undoubtedly extremely interesting and extremely rich: it is one of those books you read and re-read over and over, partially or completely, and find something new to ponder and act upon every time.
The complete system that Steve Pavlina has developed seems coherent and relevant and very, very profound. To be honest, this is why I don’t hesitate in calling it a philosophical system: Steve Pavlina recommends more or less a complete guide for thinking and succeeding in life – on all levels – while leaving everyone a huge margin for freedom. Further, even though he could have overused the university or techno-scientific jargon that has unfortunately become the rule in university circles – Steve uses a remarkably clear and simple language that gets right to the essentials.
The corollary of this system, is that it could be a little too universal and directed. But the richness of the book is such that everyone will be able to get out of it something of interest that fits their needs and desires in that moment, and then stop and come back to it later. I think that everyone will find at least one idea and one action to perform that will be worth the price of the book and the time to read it.
To continue with its downside, however, I would say that Steve sometimes falls into naïveté which would have led to me sub-title the book Steve Pavlina in Disneyland if I was feeling like a smart-Alec. But I’m not a smart-Alec. I will just say that the system must be applied in an imperfect world with imperfect people, and there are some cases that seem to me hard to make use of. Case in point, competing companies that you need to oust in order to dominate the market. Also the matter of seduction, which Steve broaches in a very touching but also very naïve manner, and especially the real practical application of this system in everyday life, month after month, year after year for the majority of us? I think that this book unfortunately gives you lots of ideas of the sort that you think about and then forget. Yes, I know, that’s life, that’s life.
Finally, if you have already read most of his blog, the second part, the how-to part, will be familiar to you, since Steve reiterates some of his best techniques, like trying something for 30 days or the way to discover your purpose in life.
In conclusion, this book is a must-read. It is rich, complete, varied and extremely easy to understand. It would be a mistake to miss out on reading this book in its entirety.
Since you have got this far, I think that you are interested in this book. Steve offers the introduction and first chapter, that you can download here in PDF format.
- Solid and coherent system as a foundation for personal development
- Universal principles
- Rich, varied: something here for everyone
- Practical and theoretical
- Written in an extremely simple way: accessible to everyone without hurting your head
- Numerous passages will surprise you, make you think and make you say “Ah ha!”
- Sometimes naïve (Steve Pavlina in Disneyland), as is also The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- Numerous practical techniques are from his blog
My score : (if you don’t know Steve Pavlina or didn’t read most of his blog)
(if you read most of his blog)
Have you read this book? How do you rate it?
Buy this book on Amazon :
Steve was influenced by numerous sources. Among those that seemed most obvious were:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- Lead the field by Earl Nightingale
- Old video gamers will recognize perhaps the influence of a role game of the 80s of unparalleled depth, Ultima IV, in which the player pursued the Quest of Avatar, which consisted of 8 Virtues – Honesty, Compassion, Value, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, Humility- to find the ultimate wisdom and develop a new philosophy of life. One of the rare games of its genre where it is not necessary to kill an evil villain.