Personal Development

Ancient Philosophy and Modern Personal Development

It is a common occurrence when someone is trying to take a step up in terms of their diet or exercise regime for unexpected saboteurs to appear. Most often the source of the sabotage is those who we had expected the greatest support from. This includes our partner, our mother or our best friend. Usually they do have our best interests at heart. Regardless, they often advise against what may appear to them to be an extreme or unusual path that we have chosen.

The result of this sabotage is doubt. We begin to question our own decisions. Perhaps I shouldn’t push myself quite so hard when I exercise. Maybe it is ok to break out of my dietary plan every now and again. Do I really want to continue with this fast? I’ve seen it happen and experienced it myself on numerous occasions. The disapproval of others, particularly those closest to us, however misguided and uninformed, can take the wind right out of our sails.

While this issue rears its head most often along the path of physical health it is also not uncommon on the journey of personal development. If you have experienced this problem you should know that you are neither alone nor is it a new problem. The ancient philosophers in their love of wisdom (the definition of philosophy) observed its occurrence in their own time.

It was Epictetus who said, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” This is because many people are simply being swept along with the flow and the direction of the flow is dictated by popular opinion and “common” sense. Alain de Botton in his book The Consolations of Philosophy elegantly stated that, “the approval of others often forms an essential part of our capacity to think we are right.”

Personal development and growth often does not fit so well into the mold of consumerism, materialism and rat race work ethic that is currently prevalent in society. Quit your secure 9 – 5 job for something that pays less, is more work and looks risky and others will not only think you’re crazy, they’ll tell you so as well.

You may have realized that the pay’s good but the secure job is meaningless because it doesn’t fit your core values. Really it is a vampire that has got you by the neck and is gleefully sucking your soul dry. It’s probably the same for most of the people you work with. Just they don’t have the courage to do anything about it.

Many people resist, mistrust and fear both change and journeying into the unknown. The journey of personal development requires us to embrace change. Growth and change are at the very heart of what we are trying to achieve. Hunter Thompson once asked: “Who is the happier man? He who braved the stormy sea of life and survived? Or he who stayed securely on the shore and merely existed?” Because of their own fear the people on the shore often try to stop those who want to live the real adventure of life out on the ocean.

What you should keep in mind when others knowingly or unknowingly throw up barriers to your progress is that we are each completely responsible for ourselves. It is no use blaming others for your failure to take action and follow through on what you knew in your heart was right. It is your life and however you might like to shift the blame it is you who has to live it.

Socrates, possibly the most famous philosopher of all time, spent his life questioning what was held to be common sense. Socrates concluded that a correct point of view cannot be determined as such simply by whether it is held by a majority, or believed for a long time by influential people. That said you should know that the opinion of the majority being equal to truth is deeply ingrained into western culture. This conditioning dates all the way back to the democratic society of ancient Greece. Democracy is majority rule.

So as you continue to grow and change those currently close to you may begin to resent you and feel like they can no longer understand you. You should be prepared for this and know that it is okay. If it becomes necessary let go of your relationship with love and gratitude for their friendship and move on. Don’t fall into the trap of returning resentment with resentment. This will only drag your energy back down from the level you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Instead consider how they suffer from their own fear and mental disquiet and feel compassion for them. At some point it is likely that you were in their position.


This post was written by Stephen Cox of Balanced Existence.


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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