self improvement traps

The 3 Deadly Personal Development Pitfalls

Personal development is something that every person strives for on some level. For someone like me, it’s a huge life focus. I think if you’re not growing as a person, you’re shrinking. In my endless pursuit of improving myself and learning, I’ve uncovered 3 show-stopping personal development pitfalls that can hamper our journeys to become better.

1. Perfection Permafrost

Permafrost is a geology term that describes soil which remains frozen for two years or more. When someone wants to improve and somehow they remain frozen, it’s likely that they’re stuck in perfection permafrost. It’s easy to happen and it’s easy to see why it happens.

When a bumbling fool wants to start a business, he jumps right in. Maybe he makes a few mistakes, but he has a business up and running in just a week. His business model is as simple as selling things for more than he buys them for. A perfectionist, however, will read seven books on why small businesses don’t work. He will think of five different models for generating revenue. He’ll circle this business opportunity as he examines it, trying to figure out the best way to tackle it.

The ideal is somewhere in the middle of these two for businesses, but for personal development, be a bumbling fool!

Personal development by its definition requires new actions, not perfect actions. A few years ago I wanted to exercise consistently. I tried so many different strategies, even designing a complicated point system that rewarded me for my efforts and punished me for my laziness. These days, I exercise regularly. After years of trying various methods, what worked?

Nothing, but everything.

There was no single method that caused me to become consistent, but it was the process of continually struggling to do it for years. I realized the difference in the way I felt when I exercised. I saw the benefits over time and occasionally felt the consequences of not doing it. My mind finally accepted that it’s as essential as brushing my teeth.

But whenever I find myself thinking about the best way to exercise, the best time to exercise, or when and what I should each with different exercises, I hesitate greatly. The mistake is when we create this false dichotomy – either do it right or don’t do it. Note to self: It’s better to exercise at 2 AM after eating a huge bowl of ice cream than to never exercise!!!!!!

The solution is simple. Replace “do it right” with “do my best” and you’ll melt your perfection permafrost instantly.

2. Going Big = Going Home

“I’m going to climb a mountain!”

Hmm, why don’t you tie your shoes first?

Personal development in hindsight looks a lot more like a gradual slope than a steep hill. Our minds simply aren’t built to make huge leaps overnight. When it seems like we make a huge leap, it’s usually the result of days, weeks, months, or years of preparing ourselves for it.

It fine to have a goal of climbing a mountain. In fact, goals should be big. But tasks should be small. When you confuse a goal with a task, you’ll overwhelm your mind as it tries to make climbing a mountain one giant step. It’s more like 33,392 steps. Even supercomputers execute instructions one at a time – they just do it really fast!

There is a reason Dave Ramsey has been wildly successful in helping people overcome debt. The main theme of his advice is always to take “baby steps.” This phrase puts people at ease about their intimidating debt levels and helps them to focus on what they can do right now. They reach their goal because they don’t feel like they have to raise $100,000 in one weekend.

Break your huge goals into tiny, minuscule, so-easy-a-caveman-could-do-it, steps. Then you’ll step closer and closer. It will happen faster than you thought once you get moving.

3. Accepting Your Trophy Too Soon

How many people have lost weight, held up their super thin trophy, and put the pounds right back on? More than fifty.

When you accept victory, the game you were playing had better be over! Just yesterday I saw a sports special on one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. The video showed Jay Fiedler of the Miami Dolphins saying, “there’s no way they’re coming back on us.” The Jets scored 30 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 30-7 deficit. They did come back.

There’s no reason that you can’t get worse in any area of your life. It’s when we’re overconfident that we’re vulnerable to defeat. Humility and confidence allow us to make giant strides forward and retain the results.

I recently read a study about goal achievement with a surprising result. Those who told friends about their goal intentions were less likely to achieve their goal. The researchers suspected that they felt a sense of satisfaction from saying their goal and getting the favorable, positive response from friends. In other words, they may have felt like they had succeeded before they had even started!

“Oh, that’s great you’re going to lose 30 pounds!”

Yes it is, but according to this study, it might be a better idea to wait until it’s done to tell people about it. The one exception might be if you’re telling someone to keep you accountable. The pitfall is seeking praise and affirmation in advance of goal completion.

Conclusion

If perfection, oversized tasks, and accepting victory too soon are the pitfalls of personal development, what does that tell us?

It tells us the keys to personal development!

Do your best to take one small step at a time, stay humble, and only tell people about things you’ve already done!

 

Stephen Guise writes at Deep Existence – Personal Development’s Deep End. He has no interests,but sometimes he writes in Opposites!

  • http://www.everythingaboutmotivation.com/ Petra Botekova

    It makes perfect sense! I agree that a big goal requires a lot of small steps at first. Also when you´re trying to adopt a new habit, the best thing to do is to work on it a little bit every single day. You may start we 5 minutes and end up with one to two hours a day. Even Rome wasn´t build in a day, right? Thanks for your advice!

    • http://twitter.com/deepexistence Stephen Guise

      You’re correct, Petra!

      Daily movement towards an end goal is a great strategy. Jerry Seinfeld famously wrote jokes every day by crossing out each day with a big X on his calendar when he did it. It became more difficult for him to miss a day than to keep it up because psychologically it’s undesirable to break such a strong pattern. This can work against us too, as lapses can become a pattern of inaction that becomes difficult to break. Life is a game of momentum!

  • http://twitter.com/UpbeatBrain UpbeatBrain

    Great points about the pitfalls, Stephen! We all face some challenges in believing in the power of small steps, so it always helps to hear this strategy over and over. Likewise, no teacher trumps experience, so every time that someone succeeds through small steps maybe they’ll believe that they can use the same technique on another challenge.

    • http://twitter.com/deepexistence Stephen Guise

      Yeah, isn’t it tricky? The life skill I’ve been fostering has been to see the hidden progress when I have no obvious evidence of it. After I used the elliptical two days ago, I noticed my greater sense of well-being the day after (endorphins?!). 

      But yes, small steps are the spice of life. They work better than anything I’ve tried.

  • http://twitter.com/UpbeatBrain UpbeatBrain

    Great points about the pitfalls, Stephen! We all face some challenges in believing in the power of small steps, so it always helps to hear this strategy over and over. Likewise, no teacher trumps experience, so every time that someone succeeds through small steps maybe they’ll believe that they can use the same technique on another challenge.

  • http://twitter.com/UpbeatBrain UpbeatBrain

    Great points about the pitfalls, Stephen! We all face some challenges in believing in the power of small steps, so it always helps to hear this strategy over and over. Likewise, no teacher trumps experience, so every time that someone succeeds through small steps maybe they’ll believe that they can use the same technique on another challenge.

  • http://mindfull.co/ Good Guy Robert

    Get started; start small to avoid overwhelm; stay vigilant. Great advice! I find toning down the perfectionism to be a big hurdle every time, but it’s well worth it because you actually GET somewhere. Haven’t received my ‘trophy’ yet, but be sure not to become complacent when I do!

    • http://twitter.com/deepexistence Stephen Guise

      Perfectionism is always a challenge for self-improvement aficionados. I struggle with it when I think theoretically. In practice, I can easily see the value of doing good things that give me progress, but aren’t perfect.

  • http://www.thoughtful-self-improvement.com/Metaphors-for-Life.html Natalie

    Wonderful article Stephen. I love the ‘Perfection Permafrost’ concept. It is similar to ‘Analysis Paralysis’ and you explain it so well.

    This reminds me of a couple of quotes I’ve read.
    “Mistaking thought for action never accomplishes anything.”
    “You want more success? Make more mistakes.”

    • http://twitter.com/deepexistence Stephen Guise

      Those are fantastic quotes Natalie. Thank you!

  • http://suchismita-onthebrink.blogspot.in/ suchismita

    Great post. Most often these days everyone tweets/ posts/blogs about their plans even before they have figured out all the details . Good to talk about what is done.. or else everything may come undone.

    • http://twitter.com/deepexistence Stephen Guise

      Great insight! I’m working on a project, but I don’t plan on announcing it until it’s done. I also want to avoid doing everything last second to make a launch date. 

      You might be famous for that quote at the end one day! ;-)

  • Stupefly

    Agree with the gist of the post. But one analog falls very flat: “Even supercomputers execute instructions one at a time – they just do it really fast!” In actuality, even your desktop computer (an soon most smartphones) probably executes multiple instructions at a time. A supercomputer executes a whole LOT of instructions at a time.

    Humans aren’t computers. We’re pretty poor at parallel processing. So your advice holds even if the analogy doesn’t.

  • Uday

    It’s a nice one which I have come across in recent times. Still I would like to add one more point here. We should stay positive even when the things are not going according our wish. Positive thinking will have extra effect on the Personality Development.

  • http://www.lifestyleupdated.com/ Slavko Desik

    Great article Stephen!
    I especially loved the conclusion comprised into the last sentence. We would thought otherwise, but it’s really that simple. 
    Do it perfect or don’t do it at all, as a mindset, made as many setbacks for me I cannot even keep count. It’s a self-delusional, self-preserving mindset, in which we only favor procrastination over everything else. Sure, we masque it under false assumptions and under different names, but the bottom line is that even knowing the outcome we still dread change and leaving our comfort zone.
    Tiny steps make the perfect sense not only in the lines of making progress, but also in regards to fighting the first obstacle you talked about. Admitting that we must move from squat and build up from there, to an extend pushes us to overcome the mindset of preparing for perfection, and forces us to abandon the charade. 
    As for being humble, we are better off understanding that our A game is constantly improving, thus not leaving place for complacency yet. 

    Great article my friend, it really resonated with me.

  • http://glynisj.com/ Glynis Jolly

    Yes, small dinky steps are the best. However, right now I am struggling with one of these tiny steps. I’m in a permafrost as you say but it isn’t about being perfect. This one is about just getting this small step to work so that I can go to the next one. Frustrating to say the least. Persistence is my only friend at this point.

  • Ellie Salrin

    Wonderful points –  thank you! In regards to #2, I was reminded of this quote and image I found a couple weeks ago. The quote reads, “Success will never be a big step in the future; success is a small step taken just now.”

  • http://www.whitedovebooks.co.uk/ Will

    Ah yes – I have definitely been guilty of accepting my trophy too soon, especially when it comes to breaking bad habits. It takes a lot more than the resolution, in which my higher self is seriously committing to a new direction, for my other self to decide to comply.

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