Why Your Personal Development Efforts Fail and What to Do about It

When we work on our personal development, we usually work on an intellectual level.

We set goals. We learn new skills. We try to increase our productivity.

And let’s face it. We’re drawn to personal development to get more out of the world, not to give more to the world.

After a while, we realize that our efforts produce negligible results compared to the time we spend.

What’s going on in here?

The Impact of the Deeper Levels

There’s a level in our psyche that is deeper than the intellectual level. Our beliefs reside on that deep level.

Our identity is a part of our belief system, and it has a significant impact on our results.

If your identity doesn’t match the identity of the person who would get the results you’re aiming for, you won’t get those results, no matter how hard, long, or smart you work.

Your Identity is Your Beliefs about Yourself

Take a moment and answer the questions below. Write your answers down and reflect on your answers.

  • Who are you?
  • What kind of a man/woman are you?
  • What do you think about yourself?
  • How do you see yourself?
  • Do you see yourself as a winner or as a loser?
  • Are you creative?
  • Are you a problem solver?
  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Go over your answers. Does your identity serve your goals? Are your self-image and your goals congruent?

What Are Your Motivations?

What drives you?

  • Religion? Nationality? Ideology?
  • Being a part of a country, state, city, town, or village?
  • Being a member of your family, friends circle, community, or tribe?
  • Social relationships?
  • Money, possessions, or material goods?

The answers you give to those questions are all a part of your identity. They all have direct or indirect effects on your successes and failures.

If you want to succeed more and fail less, you need to modify some of the answers you give to the questions above.

Can you see which answers contribute to your successes and which ones lead to failure?

Impact on Multiple Levels

Your identity and self-image affect your life on multiple levels.

  • Perception
  • Attitude
  • Personality
  • Thought patterns
  • Habits
  • Behavior
  • Actions

Those functions are not only affected by your identity, but they also shape your identity.

Personality Traits

  • Do you have a positive or negative attitude toward life?
  • Are you cynical, critical, or complaining?
  • Are you decisive, focused, disciplined, and methodical?
  • Are you confident?
  • Do you have faith in yourself?
  • Do you have integrity?
  • Do you do what you promise to yourself and others?

If you can’t keep your promises on your daily action items, you won’t be able to realize your life goals.

Analyzing and modifying your personality is an essential part of building an identity. It goes beyond the scope of this post. I’m going to write more about it in future posts.

Daily Routine

How does your everyday routine look like? Your daily routine says a lot about you.

On the surface, waking up early won’t add much to your working day.

On a deeper level, it says that you’re willing to sacrifice the entertainment at night so that you can work more in the early hours of the day.

It shows that you prioritize work over entertainment. It has a symbolic value.

Exercising regularly might not impact your results directly, but it shows that you’re willing to go out of your comfort zone.

It builds discipline that you can use in other areas of your life.

Environment, Grooming, and Clothes

Your environment, including your grooming and clothes, affect your identity.

How do you perform when you work in your bedroom in your pajamas?

Compare your results with your work in an office in business attire.

Your grooming says a lot about how you take care of yourself and how much you love and respect yourself.

It also says a lot about your approach to life and work.

Role Models

Having a role model is an effective way of building an identity.

We are social animals. Copying others comes naturally to us. This is what we do as children. We keep doing it as adults.

Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are inspiring figures for many young people in the tech scene.

My Role Model

I’m inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach. I not only enjoy his music, but I’m also inspired by his productivity. He composed more than 1000 works.

Yesterday, I shared a simple mind hack to stay focused. It’s about a virtual vision board that consists of images that remind you of your life goals.

You can include images and quotes of your role models in your virtual vision board so that you let yourself be influenced by your role model.

Doing vs. Being

There’s a difference between doing something and being something.

  • Do you write? Or are you a writer?
  • Do you program? Or are you a programmer?
  • Do you start a business? Or are you a businessperson?

Writers write, but not everybody who writes is a writer. The same is true for all professions.

Involvement vs. Commitment

Doing something is merely an activity. Being something is a part of your identity.

If you want to excel in a profession, you need to become a professional.

You don’t become a programmer by programming a couple of hours a day.

You become a programmer by working in a challenging job, with real customers.

You take tasks that are outside of your comfort zone. You learn something new every day. And you do that for at least a decade. Then you become a programmer.

Being a professional means knowing your craft inside out.

Doing something is involvement. Being something requires a long-term commitment.

Knowledge and Experience

Your knowledge and experience are a part of your identity. What you learn and experience shape your identity.

If you want to change your identity in a particular direction, you need to learn a lot and experience a lot in that direction.


Personal development activities on an intellectual level produce only marginal results.

Significant results come from changes in deeper levels such as beliefs and identity.

Your identity has multiple layers. Your perception, attitude, personality, thought patterns, and habits are shaped by your identity. They also affect your identity.

Deciding on a role model and reminding yourself often of your role model will change your identity in a positive direction.

Learning and experiencing also shape your identity.

There is a vast difference between doing an activity and being a professional.

Being a professional requires a long-term commitment, which impacts your identity and maximizes your results in the long run.

Coming Soon…

Building an identity and cultivating personality traits are topics that I will go more in-depth in future posts.

Your Turn

  • Which parts of your identity are holding you back?
  • What’s your plan to change them?
  • Who’s your role model? Why?