Friday, 27 August 2010

How self-development actually takes place

"The principle is one, but its manifestations are many," wrote Chinese philosopher Cheng-Ha a thousand years ago. If we had to establish the simplest possible formula for maximizing happiness, it would probably contain just one instruction. In fact, a single word would suffice: growth.

Some define self-development as becoming more of what you are and reaching for more ambitious goals. In pure biological terms, growth implies dilatation or enlargement. Paralysis, most of the time, involves some form of pathology. Stasis is equivalent to death.

Increasing one's ability to live is the fundamental driver for animals and plants. For humans, extending our breadth and depth of experience is the only goal that can be all-encompassing. If you are looking for a permanent and comprehensive recipe to make the best of your life, growth is all you need.

The unpredictability of personal development is what makes it so difficult to pursue successfully. Growth frequently takes place in areas where it is least expected. On the other hand, concentrating all efforts on developing a certain skill might, paradoxically, constrain overall personal growth.

How does self-development actually take place? In which way can it be facilitated? Why must each man follow a different path towards personal growth? These questions have occupied psychologists for years. Here are two ideas that you can use.

* GROWTH IS SELDOM LINEAR. When you learn a foreign language, your knowledge does not increase following a precise pattern. By memorizing 20 new words per day, your ability to communicate does not expand at a fixed rate, for example, at 1% per day. Even with sustained study and practice, your progress will now and then stagnate. Sometimes, you will even forget words that you had already learned. Finally, after extensive effort, one day, you will reach a point where you can speak that language fluently.

* GROWTH IS NOT ALWAYS SYSTEMATIC. Still today, despite decades of research, there is no guaranteed method to achieve growth. Some focus on a limited set of skills and try to develop them to perfection. Others prefer to learn bits and pieces on various subjects and put them together in original ways. Using commonplace elements to produce unexpected combinations is a great development strategy. Breakthrough ideas result, on many occasions, out of curiosity rather than from the organized approach of research laboratories.

What experience seems to prove is that understanding the varying speed of self-development is a prerequisite of peace of mind. Pushing the human body beyond its capabilities does not tend to accelerate, but to hinder growth. Do not try to run too fast and make sure not to carry too much weight.

The important lesson is that taking daily steps in your chosen field is the best formula to make yourself ready for growth. When opportunities materialize, you will be able to seize them. Regular work and steadiness of purpose usually lead to a better life. There are many variations, but the theme is one.


[Image by jpctalbot under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]