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.


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!


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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