Personal Development, Fad or Fiction

Recently I was humbled to be invited to write a post on personal development for Merrin and George from Absolute Wealth  and as always I have received feedback that has not always been positive…just how I like it.



Well no actually, in fact I am not sure personal development actually exists. Well not in a way that we are bombarded with in Magazines on TV or the internet etc. You see it all starts with the word PERSONAL and this may well be the start of the problem as although we may display similar characteristics to other people, we are in fact all unique. And the only person qualified to understand who you are, where you have come from is you, and with no course taught at school in understanding yourself its probably not a surprise we all generally misdiagnose ourselves.

This is due in part to the fact that we prefer to see ourselves in a positive light and generally don’t enjoy people pointing out our faults. And rightly so…or is it. As with our reputation, who we are is judged by those who interact with us and being human they are subject to their own prejudices which is the reason why people will say “oh he’s a really nice person” and you might think “we can’t be talking about the same person.”

This discussion often happens when people are talking about the new person you are getting into a relationship with, and your friends trying to warn you but to no avail. And it is this chemical flooding of the brain that leads people to marrying totally the wrong person, as current divorce rates show.  So if we are able to so easily suspend our tastes, behaviors and even sometimes our core values isn’t that a backward step in our personal development?. Some of you might argue no, in that people make irrational decisions all the time especially when it comes to purchasing things and that in no way has anything to do with personal development…..



Maybe the first thing to clear up is the definition of Personal Development.  Most of my life I had people telling me to “Grow Up” as though my view of the world and how I behaved in it was some how immature or childish, you know like not really wanting to have a “proper job”

Point one….. the society we live in sets some of the standards for our personal development by putting time lines against behaviors and expecting people to conform with them, the only time the western society puts a twelve year old into an adult status is when you are booking a seat on a plane. Yet in other cultures twelve years old is the time to get married, an act we consider and act of maturity, so are we actually talking about social norms when relating that to personal development.

We hear people describing (men mostly) ‘they are just a big kid’ as if you have to let go of a behavior or something you love simply because you got older. It is this societal thinking that has brought about some of the western societies greatest atrocities , an  educational system that fails to teach children how to interact with each other, coupled with a advertising culture that forces children to act out ideas beyond their emotional development. Add to this a narcissistic culture  obsessed on being young through radical surgery, and then throw in a pharmaceutical based response to this uncertainty administered by a group of people as sick if not sicker than the people they are paid to help, and who should be surprised by the result.

If you mange to live through this manufactured process we call life is it any wonder we wake up from this nightmare with an aching to know who we are and where we belong. And it is at this point of self realisation when were are seeking answers that we stumble upon the personal development path. This is not to say it is always voluntary quite the contrary some times it is our employers or even the courts that force us to that position of having to look at our actions and the consequences……



Personal development is not something to be measured by someone else’s standards it is something to be measured against ourselves, which brings me to the theories of adult development and the obvious differences advanced by the so called experts. It has been my experience people working in this are are keen to say they are at a certain level but the very fact they offer that opinion shows they aren’t, this should be a warning when seeking wisdom from others.

So what is this all about and how does it help you, truth is I am not sure but one thing I have experienced is that change usually is the result of a powerful event that shakes us out of our comfortably numb state enough to say there must be a different way. And it is at that point the next cog slips into place and we can move forward.

So actually people can’t help us until we are ready to hear the message and as you can’t make people hear the message then this is a totally inward journey. And I guess my point is that this is not so much about emotional (feeling) rather than intellectual (thinking) that moves us forward, realisation isn’t emotional it is intellectual. So if this is the case then who we are and where we are going is totally in our heads. If this is true then shouldn’t intelligent people be more likely to progress than the unintelligent….maybe.

So what is this common goal we are all striving to become and is it really the same place for everyone…of course not. There is a very fine line that separates our behaviors from our emotions, and which one has dominance leeds to how we act in certain situations. For me one of my behaviors that dominated my actions was my anger problem, which stemmed from my need to be heard….not that I wasn’t loud enough, but born from a life of not being able to get my mother to listen to me. This lead to frustration which in turn leads to anger (no brainer) still I digress.

I wasn’t physically violent to people but I reacted to not being heard in a very angry way, this drove within me the need to always be right and to constantly argue with anyone who disagreed. Not that agression didn’t have its good points, I was quick to support the underdog and reasonably fearless in taking on authority… was at the point of my  life that I became depressed that the next major change in my personal development occurred. In the depth of my depression I didn’t actually have the energy to be angry and that in turn lowered my defenses enough to hear what other people were saying, and start to get an understanding of their views and why they behaved in certain ways…..BY UNDERSTANDING OTHERS I began to realise that I could understand myself and at that point I made two seismic changes to my behavior.



Was the hardest thing for me to do, as my need to be admired was put in serious jeopardy. Nobody likes to be told NO and as a business strategy it seemed to go against all the rules ( they will go somewhere else, they will never give me another chance, they wont like me )..and this maybe true but the people who behave like this will always be bad customers anyway. It is the fear of saying NO (society tells us it is not polite, parents and the education system beat it out of us ) that by the time we get away and become our own people we have been robbed of the single most important tool for our personal development.  It is actually by saying NO that we free ourselves from the users and hangers on in our lives, and the ones that stay respect your TRUTH.

And that was the other change I made, I learned to tell the TRUTH…no little white lies to stop from hurting other peoples feelings, no false reasons for not doing things ( I’d love to pour your drive this weekend but my mothers sick and I have to do her washing)……add your own here. The TRUTH does indeed set you free but it also comes at a cost and…. most of us fear that cost. Once you learn to say NO the TRUTH follows and you can move forward in your personal development.



Do I think we need people to help us with our personal development…. absolutely, we all need people to bounce things off and support us in the  tough times.

Can they help us… this is personal which means only you can do it.

How do you start…. you already have, just by reading this means you are aware.

Do you ever get to end….no you just get better at being a human being.

How do you do it….one step at a time, this is not a course, there is no quick solution, you need self belief ( not confidence) personal development is like stopping smoking not all of us can go cold turkey.

And be prepared to fail…its by constantly challenging ourselves that we learn to change ( I looked in the bathroom mirror every morning and said to myself ” I always tell the TRUTH and can say NO” ) and one day I realised I was actually doing it……now for some of my other failings.


WARNING…once you have started down this path you will upset people you know , loose friends you have and open your life to endless possibilities.


Feel free to leave me a comment.












About Nick

I don't say things to be liked I say them because I mean them. Reputation doesn't come from being liked it comes from standing for something.

28 Responses to Personal Development, Fad or Fiction

  1. Phil Bilbrough June 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Good work Nick. This post is quite something. Great work again.

    I think that there is worth in personal development books, columns, mentors but only as a catalyst or a stimulation to one’s self into into thinking about your own thinking. I believe that the process of thinking or analyzing how your thoughts, assumptions, prejudices are arrived at is an important part of self awareness. To shift from a state of going with the flow or just existing to play out your routine habits to one of being aware of your thoughts and way of being is a major first step of any personal or personality growth. Once taken you might feel more confident to say “No”, to tell the truth and be prepared to take on more risk.

    • Nick July 2, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      Hi Phil,

      Indeed I totally agree understanding who you are is indeed a crucial step. Thanks for you thoughtful comment I really appreciate it.
      Cheers Nick

  2. Keith Lightfoot July 5, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi Nick
    Wow! You are constantly changing and growing … which I guess is part of the message you are looking to impart to others in your blog.
    Your comment …
    “It has been my experience people working in this area are keen to say they are at a certain level but the very fact they offer that opinion shows they aren’t, this should be a warning when seeking wisdom from others.”
    … struck a chord with me.
    People are always looking for advice/approval from their friends and family, particularly about buying stuff, career changes, investing and pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.
    Yet statistics tell us that 95% of people in the world are financially broke, living pay cheque to pay cheque or only-just-secure in their middle class portfolio.
    So, the likelihood/chance of you actually getting useful advice from anyone you know, given that most people (ie. 95%) are only able to offer theory (unless they clearly fall into the 5% success bracket) is extremely remote.
    Be careful who you ask for guidance … learn to follow your heart and your passion.
    This is “your life” … make the most of every moment and live a life of no regrets!
    Take care. Keith

    • Nick July 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      Hi Keith,

      Lovely to hear from you and your comments are indeed frightening when looked at from a statistical perspective. But indeed we do hold the answers within us and a life of no regrets is indeed a life of success. Take care and thanks for taking the time. Cheers Nick

  3. Werner Kaffl July 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Interesting article Nick…
    Actually I sometimes felt like looking into a mirror when I read it.
    Where I came from, I thought I was the only one with opinions like this and was often in conflicts with society… But I didn’t really care. To betray my own opinions because if society doesn’t like them never felt right to me… And I don’t like doing things not feeling right to me…

    • Nick July 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      Hi Werner isn’t it great when we find out we are not alone in how we think and start to understand that society is in general made up of people who are too frightened to say what they actually think. Personal Development is about empowerment and a lack of fear of ridicule from the masses.
      Walk tall my friend.


  4. Des Pitfield July 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Well Hey Nick !!
    I was just looking at your name in my contacts list this morning, wondering what you were up to… and then your email turns up. Funny how things happen. And how things connect. Im now two years in Melbourne, missing our Wellington coffee catch-ups, and realising not everythng was changing for me and going as I had hoped …
    So just recently I started looking for some answers. I totally agree that personal development and change comes from within..No one can do the push ups for us and yes we lack (confidence and dont have) self belief in our own abilities … I think this is the biggest hurdle for me. However I found a good person who has a greater understanding of how our heads work than I and she has been good to talk to and Im now finding some of the questions I need to ask myself… Im sure I will find a heap more !!

    Accepting that we are in control of our own lives & destinies is not what a lot of us want to acknowledge. Its easier to find other reasons to blame for how our lives turn out than to say “Hey this is all my own doing” . Anyway Im no expert but Im learning more about me the last two years of and living and standing on my own ..
    I think if someone is lost in the wilderness of life the reality is that no one is going to hold their hand walk them out to safety, no matter how long they wait and hope.. .. but its OK to to look for help when you finally realise youre lost have someone say “do you think you might be going in the wrong direction mate?” “Have you thought about trying another way? ” Then ask yourself what would happen if I went that way ?? (big hand pointing ) 🙂

    Very thought provoking stuff Nick – thanks for the email link…
    Take care
    Des in wintery Melbourne …

    • Nick July 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

      Hi Des,

      So lovely to hear from you and to see you are persevering against the odds, and yes it is scary and yes it is a journey not a destination but you my friend sound like you are treading the path.
      Great to hear you have found someone to bounce ideas off, it is certainly less lonely and easier with support.

      Drop me an email I would love to hear more.

      Cheers Nick

  5. colin July 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Good to remind that progress can be a wavy course. Deviation does not mean failure.

    • Nick July 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

      “Deviation does not mean failure”. damm I wish I had written that. Indeed Colin I find myself zig zaging my whole life but they are getting closer together the more I do it. Cheers for your comment. Nick

  6. Phil Wollerman July 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Hey Nick,

    Ripping good article, covers many of the things I’ve been forced to consider during my own less-than-usual journey.

    I think that only experience teaches you, and while it’s good to learn from the mistakes of others, as Otto Von Bismarck observed, until you are in the hot-seat that stuff is just theory. Like the joke going round at present of the darwinist and the creationist, the creationist standing at the edge of a cliff, and the adherent of evolutionary theory saying “Go on, gravity’s just a theory…”.

    You get messages to conform pounded into you at school and by society, but we are also very much under control of genetics, especially when it comes to social interactions such as consumerism, competition and our response to fear and security.

    A couple of very near-death experiences got me to change my thinking – I don’t recommend a brain tumour (AVM) or epilepsy, you know, they’re not for everyone – but waking up in Intensive Care with your frightened parents at your side brings you into a different perspective on what’s important and what is valueless. Life is hort, you get to choose whether you waste your time or make it count.

    Money is ok, I like having enough to get the things I want, but not everything I want actually makes me happy – we are easily fooled by the agendas of others who have their best interests at heart. The one thin you can’t do without is your health – can’t buy it, and you very rarely can get it back when it’s gone. Especially once you are dead, to labour the pont!

    I know you will be interested in a book that I am almost finished – Hutt Libraries (Bless them) got it in for me, but I suspect as a NYT bestseller it will be at Wellington, or in the better bookshop (Unity).

    Get a copy of “Predictably Irrational – the Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely.

    Totally insightful, great for allowing you to consider you motivations, and how you are being influence from without and within – Why does a 50-cent aspirin work better than a 1-cent version?

    I could go on but I’m not selling books.

    Good to hear from you, keep at it – as I know you will.


    • Nick July 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

      Hi Phil,
      Thanks for your insightful response and the reading material. I totally agree near death experiences are a very good way of learning what matters and what is dross.
      I am pleased it found resonance with you and I hope you are well. Give me a call.
      Cheers. Nick

  7. Phil Wollerman July 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    Could have proof read that. I’d like to add a capital “D”, an s, a k and a d. Sorry, I reckon it still makes sense though.

  8. Gwyn July 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Hi Nick, who would have thought, after all these years we still on the same page about many things!

    • Nick July 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Gwyn,
      So lovely to hear from you and we have certainly seen some water under our bridges. I am pleased we are still on the same page and thank you for taking the time to read my post. Take care Nick.

    • Nick September 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Hi Gwen, great to catch up last night… this working?

  9. Horia July 5, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    Nick, it’s delightful to see you so willing to show such vulnerability openly – it’s a sign of great spiritual strength in my view. Seeking to understand a human (be it someone else or ourselves) is hard! When we try to understand someone else, if we are to truly place ourselves in their skin, we run the risk of losing ourselves, their perspective overwhelming our awareness. When we try to understand our own self, we’re often blind to the typical perception that others have of us, and thus we may miss vital clues!

    As far as I can tell, it seems to all come down to the question: What’s a Human?
    Is it a body? Is it a bubble of awareness inhabiting a body? Does it share its essential awareness in unity with all other beings & the Universe at large?

    Your preference for a response to the “What’s a Human?” question will constrain your view of improvement, personal or otherwise. All improvements are changes – though not all changes are improvements.

    How are we to measure a change as an improvement? It is a matter of agreeing meaning. It is an arbitrary choice, albeit guided by the system of values in which we find ourselves operating at the time.

    In my experience, changes that tend to maximize kindness, compassion, love, unity of spirit have a much higher chance to prove themselves as improvements.

    Deep respect for all humans (and any other beings) doesn’t cost anything, but requires profound courage. It says “You have value in existence. Your being is worthy of appreciation and attention. I am courageous enough to focus my awareness on your being for a while, unafraid that you might inspire me to change my ways of perception.”

    What is personal improvement in such a context? It may be an increasing fearlessness, kindness and love borne of the realisation that we are all one in spirit. What do you think?

    • Nick July 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      Hi Horia,
      What can I say other than what a fantastic reply and indeed I only scratched the surface when it comes down to the question on what is human?. I loved your observations and in depth thinking and I share the same values on our relationships to all things on earth. We are part of a living breathing planet and we should respect all life as we are it and it is us. Whe should be honored to live on this earth instead most people feel it is owed to them, and this is where the problem starts.
      Thank you for taking the time to give such a thoughtful reply and I look forward to catching up for a chat.
      Cheers. Nick

  10. Tom LG July 6, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Hi Nick,
    Interesting blog post. It struck me like one of your knives that when you are talking about personal development, in the first half of your post, I relate to this as ‘personal instinct’.

    Personal instinct is something that all of us have, it is the little voice inside you that says when something is fundamentally wrong, or ‘I dont want to do this’, or ‘ I wish I could do that with my life’. It is the same voice that tells us when we can trust someone after meeting them for around 30 seconds, or that the guys a snake and we never want to meet them again.

    Other people call it ‘gut feel’ or even ‘fear’. (there is even business books called ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’! when advocating about starting your own business.)

    Personal development is simply about getting more attuned to that part of you which, ufortunately, due to how we are brought up to conform to rules and what other people think is best and that your opinions don’t matter leads us to question its validity all the time.

    There are many different ways to try to listen to your personal instinct.

    Most involve just trying to remove the ‘noise’ which surrounds us in everyday life, and finding some peace and quiet in a structured way in order for the voice to be heard.

    Yoga, Gym, Psychiatrist couch, walking the dog, going to church – however you do it, the key factor is that you take some time to listen to what your guts are telling you, and then try to act upon it, becasue you know it is rght.

    And when I say ‘right’, thats right for you, not your vicar, not your shrink, but you. Most people go to a psychiatrist because they want them to tell them what to do. They are in a pickle and they want someone to take control and make the tough calls. I know thats what I wanted (for 2 years+).

    But int the end, Nick, you are dead right in that no-one can make those decisions for you.

    Hell, even Obi-Wan Kenobi said ‘You must do what you feel is right, of course’, rather than making Lukes decision for him.

    Listen to your guts. Come stay with us in Melbourne someday.


    • Nick July 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      Hi Tom,
      Man what a great reply and I so totally agree that we are born programmed with intuitive thought but we soon get that beaten out of us. Funny but when the shit hits the fan and mankind is brought back to earth and face to face communication is the only one we have those of us with developed instincts will indeed be the survivors.
      As for the quite time it took me years to understand how important it is and how had it is to find as life comsumes us at such a pace.
      I would love to come and vist you, so please email with your new details.
      And thanks so much for your effort in responding I am amazed and humbled by people actually reading my posts.
      Take care. Nick

  11. Mary Lewis July 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Thanks Nick for taking being so brave in writing openly about your own development. It is so astounding that as we get older the revelations get thicker and faster.Acting on them is harder and by knowing that others are committing to that improvement journey helps to make me more committed. And its that commitment each day which makes the difference to saying no and forgetting about approval. I have been an approval seeker as well and now as I make strong choices every day about not having to put up with behaviour which is not helpful to me I notice two benefits. One, is it is much easier to spot the people who are helpful and similarly committed and two, such a change from me sometimes influences others to challenge their own behaviour. Thank you for sharing

    • Nick July 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

      Hi Mary,

      So lovely of you to take the time to read my blog I really appreciate it. And I agree it is surprising how when we learn to say no that it opens our eyes to the possibilities out there. Saying yes all the time commits us to wasting our lives in the vain hope that someone will reward us for our effort. Much nicer to reward ourselves an choose who we give our time to.

      I look forward to catching up soon. Cheers. Nick

  12. Tim July 7, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    That’s one insightful blog post, Nick. After reading it (twice) I was thinking about my own ‘personnel’ development.

    And I admit I also look at ‘personnel’ development through the eyes of our society. I’m very close friends with a Japanese girl, and recently she told me she was going back to Japan when she turned 30. Not because she didn’t like New Zealand, but because she would have to take care of her parents. That’s ‘more than normal’ for many Japanese. After my initial shock I realize that culture and upbringing determines who you. What gives me cold shills doesn’t necessary mean it’s strange or awkward for others.

    I think we all like to be liked, to be listened, to be respected… Hey, I think I’m a likeable guy, I got what it takes and quitting isn’t in my dictionary!! At least that’s what I tell myself. And when your self image is not confirmed, than follows the frustration, disappointment,…

    Saying ‘no’ to others and telling the truth is still ‘work in progress’. Let’s face it, being yourself and follow your own path isn’t an easy option. I guess what it comes down to is having a supportive environment that let you chase your own dreams. Like you said, you need to bounce of your ideas, you need to get some support along the way.

    I’ve got that supportive environment in Belgium, and back in Wellington you were part of that support, Nick. Thank you. It are those though moments, where your emotions take over your intellect, that you need support to get back on track.

    I believe that personnel development is a mix of elements. The path one has to follow isn’t the same for everybody. And who we are right now is shaped by our own experience and those of others.

    Thanks for the email link.


    • Nick July 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for such a thoughtful response and as you know I understand where you are coming from and indeed all our self improvement is a work in progress. And as you say about culture it is different for all of us but also its not, as I believe that really being a human being is the same experience for us all its just that different societies either help or hinder that.

      Take the fact that Japan has been faced to accept that the government and Nuclear industry is to blame for Fukushima melt down. That right there is a nation moving on from a crisis and they will never be the same, the cog has turned and now maybe as a people they will learn how to challenge and say no.

      Tim are you still in NZ as I would love to catch up.



  13. Paul Devlin July 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Nice go here Mr. Nick.

    Personal development is certainly the path of our lives and I agree fundamentally with the point you make that the definition of that development comes from ourselves and not any external quorum. I grow a lot of plants and one of the things that delights me to behold is how each one is bent on actualizing both the possibilities of its genome and the reality of its environment. I have children and I always tell them that I do not know what they will become except that I love to watch them thrive. In general human progress is as much a journey of personal discovery as it is the fulfillment of even a general formula.

    I am not sure about the point you make “… I guess my point is that this is not so much about emotional (feeling) rather than intellectual (thinking) that moves us forward, realisation isn’t emotional it is intellectual.” Realisation in some ways is existential, we can have a thousand reasons, (emotional, intellectual, physical, psycho-spiritual) for not being able to see something from a certain angle (and thus ‘realising’). It’s a tempting sell to put it all in the mind but a greater charity might be to accept any liability as an impediment to realisation. If I were to convince your mind of X it might not convince your being.

    Also I have always been one of the auditors of appropriate usage of the term ‘TRUTH’. I know that sounds crazy but I speak truthfully when I say it, for nothing troubles me more than when I encounter manipulative usages of this notion. Your usage here is benign but important, suggesting that until one is as adept at saying no as saying yes one will be unlikely to access one’s personal participation in the truth. I think that’s a great thing to point out, especially in our society of followers.

    Even if you only highlight the points of inflection in personal development and throw a wise framing of context around it I think yours here is good content.



    • Nick July 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      Hi Paul,

      As usual you use of the English language leaves me somewhat lacking in an adequate response. I do take your point on intellectual (thinking) but I think you are working on a different level to most people. As for TRUTH you are right I was referring to YOUR truth rather THE truth.

      I love that you only want your children to thrive, that is such a positive and supporting attitude.

      Than you for your ongoing support and please let me know what you are up to.



  14. Elyssa Pallai August 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Hi Nick

    Wow. That was huge. One thought that does come to mind for me is that it is ourselves that get in the way of ourselves in terms of self development (which you cover reflecting on your own experience with anger). Often we are our own worst enemy. It’s not until we come to the realization that everyone around us has something awesome to offer I think that we truly grow. When we look at everyone and say – they are Awesome. As well as look at ourselves and say, well I am not so awesome at this, but I really am awesome at that. That is when we really take off? — in business, and in our personal lives. Being critical of people is easy. Sitting back and absorbing the awesomeness around you seems threatening until you realize how amazing it is (notice I didn’t use the word awesome!) to build on everyone’s strengths and ignore their weaknesses – as we all have both aplenty. Thanks for being so open.

    • Nick August 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

      Hi Elyssa,

      Thanks for taking the time to digest this and your poignant response. I totally agree that being critical of people is easy and it is sometimes hard to let go the anger and hurt when moving on but you have to let go of things in order to grow. I look forward to catching up.

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