Human relationships

Why Personal Development Should Focus More On Human Relationships

There’s a mountain of personal development literature out there about improving the material circumstances of your life, mostly by making more money and becoming more productive. A topic that gets less coverage, however, is what we’re supposed to do with all the extra money and time these books, articles and workshops promise us.

Money and time, of course, aren’t valuable unless we have inspiring ideas about what to do with them. If you received $1 million tomorrow, for example, but you weren’t allowed to spend it on anything, it would be worthless to you. If you could add an extra hour to your day by eliminating procrastination, but you had no compelling vision of what to do with that hour, it wouldn’t be very useful. As Martin Hawes and Joan Baker write in Get Rich, Stay Rich, “to set out to make a lot of money for its own sake, without a bigger goal, is to doom yourself to a life of disappointment.” Nonetheless, many of us treat acquiring more money and time as the principal goals of our journey toward personal growth.

Some suggest that, beyond sheer survival, our quest for money and time is about being able to do more, and spend more time with, our loved ones and friends. For example, with more money and productivity, perhaps we could afford, and have the time, to take the family to a foreign country for a week. I think this answer is close to the truth, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Merely spending more time with our loved ones—even if we do it in more expensive and exotic locales—doesn’t guarantee we’ll enjoy that time together. If relations between us are tense or uncomfortable, we may end up wishing we were back in the office.

Why Are Money And Time So Important To Us?

In my view, the main thing we want out of seeking money and productivity isn’t simply to increase the quantity of time we spend relating with people—it’s to increase the quality of our relationships with others, whether they’re with loved ones, colleagues or strangers. In other words, we want to feel more loved and understood by the people we interact with. We want to feel more respected and accepted for who we are when we’re with them.

Having more money and time can benefit our relationships in this sense. Maybe, for example, having extra time with our families might bring us closer to our loved ones. Or, having a big house might allow us to hold social events where we can enjoyably connect with more people. Often, however, we lose sight of the fact that we’re seeking material success to improve our relating with people, and we end up approaching our quest for money and time in a way that actually harms our relationships. This happens when we form unrealistic expectations about what money and time can do for our relating with others.

Some people, for instance, work extremely hard in the hope that, if they achieve a certain amount of material success, others will finally appreciate them. Perhaps, they think, others will find them more attractive, fun, interesting, or something else. Others who face conflict in their relationships—perhaps with their spouses or children—strive for wealth in the mistaken belief that more money will somehow make interacting with their loved ones easier. Maybe buying the family a bigger car or house will finally pacify them.

The stress these people put on themselves, however, actually creates strain and distance in their relationships. What’s more, when the work they do doesn’t create the deep and fulfilling interactions they want, they start to blame and resent the people around them. “I do all this work for them,” they say to themselves. “Why don’t they appreciate me more?” The result is more conflict and dissatisfaction, not less. As psychiatrist John W. Jacobs aptly puts it in All You Need Is Love, And Other Lies About Marriage, “if you each focus too much on your careers to the exclusion of your marriage, all the extra income in the world won’t undo the damage you can do to your relationship.”

What Can Bring Us More Fulfilling Relationships?

If money and time aren’t the keys to more satisfying relations with other people, what is? I think the first step in creating more fulfilling relationships of any kind is to keep your attention on how much you have in common with every person you see and interact with. The most important quality you share with everyone else, in my view, is the simple but often overlooked fact that you are alive.

On one level, each person is a separate entity with their own interests, dreams, dislikes and so on. On another, deeper level, every person is a form of life. Each person is a manifestation of, and is animated by, the same life energy as everyone else. In that sense, we’re all parts of the same whole. When we give our love and appreciation to someone else, then, we are really loving and appreciating ourselves. By the same token, when we criticize and judge someone, we do the same to ourselves as well.

When we hold in our awareness the life we share with all beings, relating with them becomes far simpler and more joyful. The anxieties, judgments, unmet needs and so on we tend to harbor in dealing with people no longer seem so important. When we view a conversation with someone as if it were simply life interacting with itself, we feel space to be loving and playful where before there was fear and defensiveness. As Eckhart Tolle writes in The Power Of Now, “in the stillness of your presence, you can feel your own formless and timeless reality as the unmanifested life that animates your physical form. You can then feel the same life deep within every other human . . . . This is the realization of oneness. This is love.”

Keeping our attention on the life we share with others can be deeply satisfying, even in the least “important” interactions. I’ve experienced this myself while ordering a tea at the local coffee shop. A few years ago, when relating with the “baristas” in the store, my attention would be entirely focused on what they could do for me, i.e., help me get caffeinated. I was barely conscious of the humanity I shared with them—to me, they might as well have been walking coffee machines. Not surprisingly, because I came in with this mentality, my interactions with the employees were stiff and uncomfortable.

Today, I get a surprising amount of fulfillment out of just ordering my tea. When I come into the store more conscious of the life I share with the baristas, I feel an inner warmth when I make eye contact and talk with them. We tend to smile and chat more often, with unmistakably genuine interest. On some days, I’ve gone in several times to get a tea just to enjoy feeling my shared humanity with the employees and patrons. If this sounds impossible or ridiculous to you, try the exercise I talk about below and see for yourself.

Awakening To Our Shared Aliveness

The next time you interact with someone, experiment with focusing your attention on the sensations you’re feeling in the moment. Notice the pressure of your feet against the ground, the expansion and contraction of your lungs, the beating of your heart, the warmth and tingling you may feel in various parts of your body, and so on. Bring your awareness into what you feel, and away from the worries, judgments, needs and other thoughts that tend to cloud our minds when we relate with people. Focus your attention on sensation rather than thinking.

Try letting go, for just one conversation, of any effort to defend yourself, look good, say intelligent or funny things, and so on. Consider, if only for a little while, the notion that, because you and the person you’re talking to are part of the same whole—life, being, consciousness, whatever we want to call it—you don’t have to prove anything to or get anything out of them. In a sense, you’re both cells of the same organism, and you are simply talking to and appreciating yourself. Holding your awareness on your body gives you a direct, physical experience of this.

You may find words coming from your mouth, or you may find yourself staying silent. It doesn’t make any difference. No matter what is done or said in the interaction, if you keep your attention focused on the energy you feel in your body, the conversation will likely have an enjoyable, satisfying quality. You may also have an experience of being deeply understood and appreciated. The reason is that, when you hold your attention on the being you share with the person you’re talking to, they start to sense your shared life energy and appreciate you from that place as well.

The experiences I’ve had using practices like this are one reason I’d like to see personal development literature put more emphasis on relating between people. I’ve come to realize that what we’re really seeking in our constant striving for money, time and possessions is the kind of relating I’ve been talking about—a form of relating that’s deeply conscious of the shared life of all people. There’s much untapped potential for growth and happiness in this area.

A New Era Of “Relationship Writing”

Of course, there is self-improvement literature about relationships out there, but these teachings tend to focus on the separation between us, rather than our unity as life forms. When personal growth literature does cover relating between people, it’s usually about ways to convince others to give us what we want in sales and business negotiations, rather than ways to appreciate our shared life essence.

There’s also personal growth literature about intimate relationships, but this advice similarly tends to be about how to “make” members of the opposite sex respond in certain ways. Men are barraged with tips about what to say and how to move their bodies to convince women they are “Alpha males.” Women are taught behaviors they can use to “make him commit—even if he doesn’t want to!” These books and articles treat members of the opposite sex as if they are competitors or even enemies we must outwit or defeat. As these techniques are not rooted in our shared being, any happiness we get from using them can only be minor and fleeting.

By contrast, when we come to our relationships with anyone, no matter how “significant” they are to us, from a place of recognizing the life energy we have in common with them, the need to compete with or defend ourselves against them disappears. It’s replaced with a compassion and familiarity that arise from a place deeper than conscious thought. The kind of personal development writing I want to see would focus on ways to keep ourselves aware of our shared being in all kinds of interactions—whether they’re marriages, parents raising children, business negotiations, or something else.

I don’t have anything against making money and becoming more productive. The strategies out there for achieving these goals certainly have their place in creating a balanced life. It’s when we rely completely on money and time to give us fulfillment in our relationships that we run into trouble. When we keep our attention focused on the life we all share, we bring a joy to our interactions that money and time can’t buy.

Copyright © 2008 Christopher R. Edgar. All rights reserved.

Christopher R. Edgar is an author and success coach certified in hypnotherapy and NLP. He helps professionals transition to careers aligned with their true callings. He may be reached at

Image by Batega.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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