As hypnotists and NLP practitioners we’re constantly trying to nail things down. If somebody says they just want to be “happy”, we need to know what that actually means. What makes me happy might drive another person to the depths of despair, and vice versa. The same is true in the field of personal development. Personal development isn’t a final destination It’s a process involving a set of skills, and just like any other process, personal development skills can be learned – once you know what they are.
Strange as it may seem, it’s only in recent years that the question of healthy personal development has been looked at in any depth. For much of its history, psychology (at least in the West) has tended to focus on unhealthy or problematic states of mind. This is understandable, but it left a huge gap in our knowledge and some even bigger misconceptions. Many people believe that their personal development is entirely random and outside their control, or even fixed at birth like their star sign. Fortunately, thanks to the work of pioneers like Martin Seligman in the US and Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell in the UK, we now know the skills a person needs to grow and develop in a healthy, positive way.
1. Tolerating Uncertainty
Human beings just don’t like ambiguity, which is odd. You’d think we’d be used to it by now – every single person who’s ever lived has faced uncertainty, and until we develop reliable psychic powers, that’s likely to be the case for a long time to come. True personal development means accepting that state of affairs, and relaxing with it. Rather than dreading the future or jumping to premature conclusions, the healthy response is to be comfortable at those times when you simply don’t know what’s going to happen. As Sean Connery says in The Untouchables, “don’t wait for it to happen. Don’t even want it to happen. Just see what does happen.”
2. Challenging Emotional States
At the risk of sounding clichéd, emotions are like fire – a great worker, but a terrible boss. Personal development really does depend on being able to challenge unhelpful emotional states as they arise. Fortunately, nature has endowed us with the ability to do this, via our critical thinking faculties. You’ll never escape your emotions, and neither should you want to, but you can ask yourself if they’re justified, and you can change them if they’re not.
We’re constantly bombarded with information and novelty, so much so that we can begin to feel very anxious if we’re not being stimulated in some way. This is like driving your car flat out and never checking your oil and water – sooner or later the engine’s going to overheat and burn out. Learning to relax properly is a vital step in anyone’s personal development, and I’m afraid watching TV or playing Grand Theft Auto doesn’t count. I’m not suggesting you enter a Zen retreat, but five minutes of self hypnosis a day will do more for your well-being and development than any amount of web surfing. Finish reading this article first, though!
4. Paying Attention
This is connected to the above. Modern culture seems to conspire against the human attention span. So many cell phone conversations to have, so many browser windows to open, so many links to click. In practice, this means we’re never where we actually are, and we miss an awful lot. Worse, attention is a finite resource than quickly become exhausted, leading to all sorts of mental and even physical problems. Your personal development depends on building up those attention muscles.
5. Gaining Distance
Can you step back and observe your actions and behaviors from a neutral standpoint? Are you able to detach yourself from your problems or do they totally overwhelm you? Can you envisage a future when your problems are simply no longer there, or does it feel like this is the way it’s going to be for eternity? The human mind has the unique capacity to detach and contemplate itself. Developing this observing self is an important step in personal fulfillment.
6. Thinking Creatively
This doesn’t mean painting or writing poetry, necessarily. What it does mean is the ability to make connections, arrive at solutions and find better ways of doing things if the thing you’re doing isn’t working. It naturally follows on from the other personal development skills, since an enhanced attention span increases the amount of experience you have to draw on, and the ability to detach yourself allows you to consider multiple viewpoints.
Effective communication really is the royal road to personal development. Making yourself understood to others and understanding them in turn will make your life considerably richer, easier and more fulfilling.
There are many ways of acquiring these essential personal development skills. I’ve talked about some of the more effective methods on this blog already, and I’ll continue to do so in the days and weeks ahead. Rather than a “how to”, this article is “where to”. As I said at the beginning, an important part of our work is nailing things down. Personal development may not be a final destination, but you need to know you’re following the right signs along the way.