This is How the Personal Development Industry Failed Us

And this is how to set yourself free.

Right now, your life is perfect.

How do I know? If it wasn’t perfect, you would have already changed it. Every change you want to make comes with its benefits and costs. You look at the benefits and you desire them. But deep down, you are aware of the costs. That’s why you avoid those changes.

Moreover, a lot of the changes you dream of contradict each other.

  • You dream of becoming a huge success in your field. At the same time, you dream of hanging out with your friends and family all the time.
  • You dream of having a meaningful relationship. At the same time, you dream of dating new people all the time.
  • You dream of a lean, strong body, but at the same time, you dream of sitting on the couch all day, eating delicious deserts.
  • You want the freedom and financial rewards of entrepreneurship, but at the same time, you want the security of a job.

I’m sure you have your own versions of these contradictions. Reality is stranger than fiction. I’m sure you have multiple desires that contradict each other.

I’d like to live in a buzzing city like New York. At the same time, I’d like to live in a house in a quiet neighborhood in nature. I’d like to live in a mild climate in Mediterranean where the local language is English, where there is significant economic activity, and beautiful beaches. All of which are contradicting each other.

Let me guarantee you, unless you are hyperrealistic, you have contradicting dreams and desires.

In other words, you are irrational and delusional. So am I.

The contradictions in your mind keep you from achieving your goals. They keep you from making any progress in your life. They keep you from living your dream life. They keep you from actualizing yourself, your full potential.

I beg to differ from Mr. Maslow.

“What one can be, one must be. This need we call self-actualization.” Abraham Maslow

You can’t be all that you can be. I can be a politician, a businessman, a bodybuilder, a professor, a CEO, and the list goes on, but I can’t be all of them. I have to choose one or two. That’s it. Anything more than that is delusional and/or being mediocre on each of them at best. If you want to be exceptional, you need to focus.

You can’t be a family person, a professional athlete, a businessperson, a professor, a rock star, and run for the presidency at the same time. It doesn’t work that way. However, the personal development industry is fooling us that we can. And we buy it. That’s why the tag Self-Improvement has 100K+ followers on Medium and Self-Discipline only 300.

I don’t blame the personal development industry. If you want to sell books, online courses, and seminar tickets, you need to say what people want to hear. People want to hear “you can have it all by sitting on your coach and daydreaming about it.” They want to hear “do what you love and the money will follow.”

I experienced it at first hand. One of my most popular posts is “Doing Nothing is Not Wasting Time.” My self-discipline related posts never make the top ten, even though I make it super-easy to develop self-discipline.

How to Set Yourself Free

This post would be nothing but a piece of rant, if I didn’t provide you with a technique to get rid of your delusions. So, that’s what I’m going to do right now. But beware, this technique isn’t for the faint of heart. It is tough.

It is tough to see all of your dreams shredded to pieces in your own hands, given that you’re honest with yourself.

You won’t be able to complete this exercise in a single sitting. Every session will be full of agony. So, give yourself the time and space to process the emotions that arise from doing this exercise. Don’t rush.

Step 1. Write Down All of Your Dreams and Desires

Write all of them down or as much as you can. Just by writing them down, you’ll see how they are contradicting each other and how it is impossible to realize them all at the same time.

Step 2. Pick One and Tear It Apart

Now, pick one of your dreams and write it down at the top of the page. Now, write down what keeps you from realizing that dream. What is the cost you have to pay? Are there external conditions that can’t be overcome? Write them all down.

If you do the exercise above, you will reach one of two conclusions.

  1. You are capable of realizing this dream but there is a price to pay.
  2. You are not capable of overcoming the external conditions that are in the way of realizing your dream.

If you come up with the second conclusion, kudos to you. You are realistic. No one in the world has the absolute power to bend the reality any way they want. Sometimes, it’s just unrealistic to realize a dream.

I won’t be able to build a buzzing city on a Mediterranean island with significant economic activity, where the local language is English. In other words, I won’t be able to create a new Silicon Valley and New York on a Mediterranean island. That dream is completely unrealistic.

If you came up with the first conclusion, you have a decision to make.

Do you want to pay the price at this moment in your life or not? Let’s be honest with ourselves. Do you want to do whatever it takes or not? If yes, to which extent?

  • What kind of sacrifices are you willing to make?
  • What kind of risks are you willing to take?
  • What is your game plan?

Go ahead and answer the questions above. Does your dream still look realistic? Will you be able to follow up on your game plan, take the necessary risks, and make the necessary sacrifices? Are you willing to accept the complete package?

If your answer is “Yes” to the questions above, more power to you. I encourage you to do it. I’m looking forward for your success story.

Step 3. Let Go of Your Unrealistic Dreams

If your conclusion is that your dream is unrealistic or you aren’t willing to follow up on your game plan at this moment in life, let it go. I know this is hard. Believe me, I have been through this. I know how disappointing it can be, but at the same time, it is liberating.

Embrace the fact that you will not be able to realize your dream, at least for now. It takes a huge weight of your shoulders. More important than that, it releases a huge portion of your mental power that you can deploy on projects that can make a huge difference in your life. It is like releasing your breaks.

If you can’t let go of your unrealistic dream completely, write it down on a piece of paper and put it into a safe place. You can pick it up later in the future, when you are willing to do whatever it takes.

Step 4. Repeat For All of Your Dreams

I know it was hard enough to do this exercise for a single dream, but I want you to repeat it on all of your dreams. At the end, you will be left with one or two dreams, which you have a decent chance of realizing and on which you can focus completely.

Do you want to have a dozen dreams you can’t realize or do you want to have one or two dreams that you can?

Step 5. Practice Letting Go

Letting go is a great book by David Hawkins. I recommend you read it, but it’s not a requirement for this step. The principle is simple.

Every time an unrealistic dream comes up in your mind, let it go. Don’t pay any attention to it. Don’t spend any more time thinking about it, daydreaming about it, fantasizing about it. After a while, those dreams stop popping up in your mind.

As you practice letting go, you have your complete mental capacity to work on projects that you can actually accomplish. Isn’t that great?

Summary

The personal development industry and the Western culture tell us that we can accomplish everything that we want and we buy it. That makes us delusional and keeps us from realizing our full potential. Letting go of all the contradicting and unrealistic dreams releases immense amount of mental power.

Letting go is a tough process, but using the released mental power on a few projects that truly matter will make all the change in your life.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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