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Dmitri Sarle: Three Pitfalls Of Self-Development Explored

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Goal selection, meditation, yoga, books, sleep practice, educational retreats, leadership courses, daily physical exercises, journaling, gratitude practice, habit management, diets, holotropic breathing, mentoring, living in the moment, Ikigai, kaizen, let us throw in some ZaZen for good measure.

The self-development world is rich, vivid, and full of variety. In the next sentence, yes, this one, you might expect some words of encouragement as to why you should be doing all of the above. Instead, I will proudly announce that very often - the activities listed - are a trap.

That's right, a trap. Some people have stepped right in, got engulfed, and can't get out.

Now, do not get me wrong. Not only do I like self-development, and practice everything listed nearly daily, I also believe that when done right - it leads to a much more fulfilling and meaningful life.

That said, there are important exceptions.

Namely - three. First - when you try all of the techniques, but your life does not seem to change. Second - when you find a single solution and stop exploring others. Third - when you use self-development as an excuse to be stuck.

The Problem Solving Method Selection Problem

There you are, doing everything you can to better your life. Taking care of bad habits, exploring your personal values, doing sports daily, watching motivational videos to start your day, even practicing saying mantras out loud, and yet, somehow, your life is still the same as it always has been.

Well, then you might be experiencing what my best friend called: "The Problem Solving Method Selection Problem" or PSMSP for short.

This happens when you (more often your subconscious mind) choose the tools that are too easy and that you like from the get-go.

The problem is that very often the things you enjoy will not deliver the results you might hope for.

For instance, you could already be very good at sports, so you choose yoga. You have clear goals, so you start journaling and writing them down. You like to sit in the quiet, so you decide to start meditating. Nothing really changed, and you did not push yourself to modify your daily life enough to make a difference.

Worst of all, you might not be personally aware of it. This happened to me. At some point, my day was filled with self-development activities, but some of the key areas of my life remained unaltered. That is until I discovered PSMSP.

Very quickly, I have jotted down some possible solutions to the problem.

Pick activities you desire to do the least: If you feel resistance to do something, it is very often the very thing you need to do. It is also a sure sign that the activity is not perceived as easy.

Our natural instinct is to put these kinds of activities away. To hide them in the deepest corners of our psyche and to make sure that they are at least on the fifth page of our to-do lists. Yet, it is the very thing that is the cure. It is the medicine you never liked to take as a kid.

For instance, if you are feeling down and trying to decide what to do, you might have the following solutions in your mind: “Going Away For One Day, Watching A Netflix Show, Meditation, Calling A Friend, Changing Your Daily Routine, and Reading A Book”.

If you have a strong sensation that you want to do meditation the least, then gather your willpower and just do it. If it reading that you fear with every fiber of your being - then go and pick up that book, clean the dust off the cover and read. If, for some reason you don’t want to watch a Netflix TV show, then your mind is using reverse psychology to get its dopamine hit.

Go towards your fears, and you shall conquer them.

“Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it… that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.” —Dale Carnegie

Outsource the problem to someone else: As a mentor myself, it seemed a little strange to get a mentor, especially at a point where I felt happy about my life. However, I did want to change a few things about myself that seemed to not budge - no matter what I did. So I asked my mentor to pick activities and exercises for me. As a result, the suggestions were things that I would never have come up with on my own. We all need someone to show us the mirror.

Go the random route: One other potential solution that I had in mind was to let chance guide my path. Take a six-sided die, give it a few good options for self-development, and follow its bidding. This way, you are also outsourcing it, in a way.

The Dogma Problem

If PSMSP is trying too many things, then The Dogma Problem is quite the opposite.

When I first heard of Alan Watts, I dropped everything else and just listened to what the man had to say. For days on end. He was God, he was The One, he was The Mentor Of My Life. Thankfully, he also spoke of the dangers of dogma, and how he is not a guru.

“When you get free from certain fixed concepts of the way the world is, you find it is far more subtle, and far more miraculous than you thought it was.” – Alan Watts

If your life is in shambles, and you see no escape, but then something or someone picks you up and gives you the strength to go on - you will think and feel that you have found the holy grail of life.

In fact, you will cling to it, you will swear by it, you will spread it. This is the birth of dogma.

The danger lies in thinking that what you have discovered is the only path of life that can help you. This leads to indoctrination and narrows your ability to look for even more powerful tools. In clarity hides the danger.

It is easy to forgo the problem, however.

Be open to other possibilities: one can think that if a technique/religion/method has helped them dramatically, then that technique must be the best in existence. One can just as easily adopt the view that if there is one method that is so powerful, then there might just be an infinite number of them, and some might be even more powerful - if you are to keep an open mind.

“I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color--something which exists before all forms and colors appear... No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea.”

― Shunryu Suzuki

The Bear Problem

Imagine that you happen to be taking a casual stroll in the woods, and you wondered in quite deep. Suddenly (but not too suddenly), a bear appears directly upon your path. What do you do?

If you do not have the 'Bear Problem', you would act by the book, and without any hesitation. For those of you wondering, “by the book” means that you would stand your ground and would not move. In order to make the bear not be interested in eating you as its prey - you would slowly make yourself appear larger. Should the bear start showing signs of aggression - you would yell loudly and decisively (For Dune fans - use “The Voice”). Finally - you would never, under no circumstances - run. For more details on bear survival etiquette, click here.

If you do have the Bear Problem then you would stretch out your yoga mat, attempt to meditate, and flip out your favorite book Zen & The Art Of Bear Encounters. You get the point.

The Bear Problem basically means that you start using self-development as an excuse not to live your life to the full.

It is when you fill your day with self-development techniques but do little else. It is when you meditate with the sole purpose of getting something out of it instead of just sitting around doing nothing. It is when you think: "I am going to self-develop first, and THEN I will start doing that which is my purpose."

True growth goes hand-in-hand with action. It is about applying that which you have learned. It is no use to have spent three weeks of journaling and working on yourself to uncover your true values if you are not going to immediately apply them to every life situation.

In Conclusion

Coming onto a path of self-learning and growth is a rewarding experience, but it is crucial to be aware of the pitfalls.

The three listed are just the ones that I have personally come across and had to deal with. There are others, for without them - the journey would not be as rewarding.

Perhaps most importantly - I found that the best way to approach self-development is with a curious beginner's mind, without any expectations of the possible results.

They say that "It is all about the journey, not the destination", but what remains unsaid is that it really is all about the journey - the destination will reveal itself in the process, not before. Leave your expectations at home.

Let me leave you with a little gift:

It's on. The fight. The battle. The war. The troops are assembled, the battleplan - ready, the training - completed. Countless hours of meditation, months of intense contemplation, a workshop or two, and even a talk by a guru for your personal war.

Will that be enough? Will I finally win? Just to be sure, I think I should schedule an ayahuasca retreat, a few relationship workshops, throw in some time-management books, a couple of TED talks, a strict sports regimen, and a perfect sleeping routine.

Something is missing, I feel it down in my bones. Perhaps I need a little more calcium, or maybe less meat. I gotta stay strong and read a few books on willpower and stoicism, for tomorrow, it starts.

The day that will be the beginning of change, the day when I will stop holding it back, the day when I let myself go. The day when I will fully express all the beauty within, without fear or pain.

Just need to stay focused and prepare like hell. Water, hydration, routine. If anyone can ever be ready, it's me. Wait, I need to make a few notes in my journal before I begin. Some affirmations will help, a few goals for the night, and a plan for the next day.

Dream interpretations. Past trauma recapitulations. Strong, loving relations. Wake up, get up, do some yoga, and martial art preparations. Breathing techniques for good measure.

Today is the day. Today I begin. Just let me get to my screen.

Open my laptop, log in with my password. Today is the day. There will not be any distractions, and I will only do positive, affirmative, and life-supportive actions. I will follow my purpose, my dream, I will find the success that's within.

Just don't look at the notifications, don't open distractions, don't... Wait, what's that? A new meme? Oh, just one click for a second, I have to see this Reddit short film.

Eight hours have passed. F#$@. Well, I guess I will just have to do it all over again. Maybe some detox is needed, cold showers, and a little less pain.

It's on. The fight. The battle. The war. Tomorrow it starts. The day that will be the beginning of change, the day when I will stop holding it back, the day when I let myself go. The day when I will fully express all the beauty within, without fear or pain.

Never give up.


Dmitri is the founder of #WeeklyAction Club. Using examples from entrepreneurship, business, chess, martial arts, and life in general, his goal is to nudge you in many different, unique, and fun directions. Once a week, every week, Dmitri sends a newsletter with a singular suggested action that you could take that week. It could ask you to find your values, break routines, or perhaps - to take a rather special kind of break that you definitely deserve.

Dmitri is also one of .Cocoon Program mentors. .Cocoon is a startup founders personal and business growth program, that supports founders who want to solve their challenges. Let's talk and see if we can support you to solve your biggest business challenge.




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