De-personalising Personal Development

Here’s a thought that might spin your head.

Personal development is not personal! It’s not about you.

It IS personal in that what you ‘personally develop’ is particular to your beliefs, your skills, and your situation – but it’s not about the you who is unconditionally valuable and beyond judgement.

I said it would spin your head. But stick with me, there is good news to come.

Some words in the English language are what is called in linguistic studies – multi-ordinal. This means, in brief, that the same word means different things in different contexts. This is obvious if you consider that saying: ‘I love you’ to your fluffy cute dog or cat is not the same as saying it to your husband or wife in bed. It’s the same word, different context and hence different meanings.

So why is this good news for you and your personal development?

It’s good news if you are someone who personalises comments, who feels that you’re being talked about, that you have to have your radar always on in case someone says something bad about you.

Secondly, if you are someone who says “‘I’ failed” and feels bad about yourself (rather than just not getting the result you want), it could be because you are confusing the levels of ‘you’ involved in what actually happened.

It’s good news because you are not what you do. It’s not about you.

Despite what the people around you say.

This might help: NLP pioneer Robert Dilts created a model called the Neuro-logical levels which suggested that change could be made at the following levels:

· Mission
· Identity
· Values
· Beliefs
· Capabilities
· Behaviour
· Environment

You will notice that Identity (who you ARE) is at a different level to Capabilities and Behaviour – what you do.

As a Meta-Coach I find that the act of linking judgements of performance with personal worth often stops people from taking actions and risks they need in order to progress. They feel that the essential core of who they are is being threatened.

The you that knows itself as ‘I’ doesn’t want to change.

But who or what is ‘I’?

Try this: say to yourself: “I have feelings but I am not my feelings…my feelings change but I remain (pause)…I have beliefs but I am not my beliefs…my beliefs change but I remain (pause)…I have a body but I am not my body…my body changes but I remain.

Emphasise the ‘I’. It has a strange effect, doesn’t it?

So if ‘I’ am not any of these things…then what am I?

Many say “I think, therefore I am”.

Up front I’ll state my perspective.

I’m a Christian and I believe that God created me and put His life in me. That life is unconditionally valuable and cannot be devalued. That is what constitutes ‘I’ for me.

I also believe that He gave me the kind of consciousness that enables me to think about myself and all aspects of myself.

Thus, – you might want to read this twice – the thinker (which is me/I) is not the same as what is thought about – my thoughts.

So for me ‘I’ is a spiritual issue, and I (and its/my value) is separate from what I think. “I am – therefore I think”.

I know others will have different ideas and we each have to choose what we base our understanding of ourselves on.

What I have done, however, is develop a concept of ‘I’ that is not affected by the judgements that are made about what I do.

How would this idea work if you did it?

For one, this makes it much easier to pick up the phone and have my ideas rejected rather than my ‘self’ rejected.

And concerning ‘failure’ (which is another one of those ‘multi-ordinal words.) if you fail, what exactly failed?

Was it YOU – the entire mind body system that supposedly constitutes who you are?

Did you mind shut down?
Did your blood stop pumping?
Did your immune system shut down?
Did your muscles atrophy?
Did your throat muscles die?

Did those things ‘fail’? Because that is what you are saying if ‘I’ am my thoughts-body etc

Was it the YOU that remains even if your beliefs and values change? (I stopped believing in Santa at least two years ago…)

Or is it just that your mental blueprint for doing something was incomplete or inaccurate?

You had a missing piece of knowledge.

Something you knew was out-of-date.

Would that be so bad? After all, databases need updating, don’t they? We’ve all had letters for previous tenants or with the name misspelled.

I like to think of my thoughts as tools. Along with my understanding and application of my faith, I want my mind and body to serve me.

Distinguishing ‘I’ as director and overseer from the ‘I’ who thinks and acts may seem a little schizophrenic to some.

But if you consider that since the ‘recession’ started there have been several high profile suicides of very rich people who lost a lot of money – and who may have connected some important aspect of self with the amount of money they had – maybe separating worth and doing, worth and possessions is not such a bad idea after all.

Jesus said: “A man’s life does not consist of his possessions.”

So – do you still think that if I get something wrong the failure is about my worth?
Is personal development still personal?

Look me in the ‘I’ and say that.

Please leave a Comment to Show your appreciation of the author


About Joshua Cartwright

Joshua Cartwright (formerly Douglas Cartwright) is a Professional Effectiveness Consultant who works with those who's aim in life is to improve the lives of others - on a massive scale. He coaches and trains those with vision to develop thinking and behaviour that lives out the values of that vision. He has written two books: Meta-Reflections: 16 Philosophical and Practical Keys to Personal Growth & Self-Esteem is Just a Big Con (in paperback or Kindle) along with the mind-blowingly effective Reboot Your Mind Audio Course which enables you to change limiting beliefs in moments.


  1. Hello, thanks for this very interesting read! You got me on the line: “Personal development is not personal!” I learned a lot of things from you and I’m excited to try out your exercises and work on my personal development.
    .-= Nikka´s last blog ..Business Growth Starts With You =-.

  2. Fantastic post. As said many times before, sometimes self-development isn’t improvement, per se, but destruction. That is, we break down the barriers (usually mental) that prevent us from acting as our spiritual core dictates with self-development (or at least that’s how I see it).

    Excellent post.
    .-= bretthimself´s last blog ..Just Breathe =-.

  3. Great article! You definitely made me think about personal development in a new light when I read this, which is awesome. Thanks!
    .-= Positively Present´s last blog ..kicking ass with kindness =-.

  4. Douglas, great article. I really think that personal developmentis really is personal (hence my tagline is “making personal development personal”), but the question is what is personal at all. The word person comes from the latin and meant originally “character in a drama, mask”.

    So the person we think we are is a mask covering the core of our being. Indeed we can be many persons but only have one core that I would call I. And I totally agree it is all spiritual.

    So I is spiritual and Person is a mental consctruct we made up as self-definition.

    End therefore development must be on the personal level because on that level the enveloping process took place. The spiritual core (=the I) could not be developed, it is all it is. Like in “I am what I am”. There is nothing more to say,

    Therefore I agree with you, that we need to differentiate between who we really are – and what we associate us with. Indeed no failure could harm your real core, you could only be dissillusioned from an illusion of your persona, your mask.
    .-= Patrick @´s last blog ..Would You Pay a Thief to Steal from You? Well, You Do! =-.

    • Thanks Patrick, that’s a powerful statement by itself: “Indeed no failure could harm your real core, you could only be dissillusioned from an illusion of your persona, your mask.”


  5. Nice post. Great blog here.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Going for Discounted Large Cat Litter Boxes =-.

  6. Ahh, very interesting post and one that really made me think Doug. I really never looked at personal development like you have put it here, and it was very interesting to read.

    Thanks for the wonderful post!

    .-= Dayne |´s last blog ..Face to Face With God : A Near Death Experience =-.

  7. Hi Doug, thanks for this interesting post. This kind of reminds me of looking at yourself in 3rd person rather than in 1st person. “I” can be deceiving when only look at it from one perspective. But when we look at it from a different perspective, we start to understand that personal development is not as personal as we may think it is. Thanks.

    P.S. I enjoyed your pun at the end. :)
    .-= Tristan Lee´s last blog ..The Illusion of Success =-.

  8. I think more needs to be said about the biological seat of the self in the brain. People have been known to have severe shifts in personality after whiplash due to tiny brain lesions. And it is tragic to witness a loved one enduring Alzheimer’s to the point where they can no longer remember people who have been central to their lives for years.

  9. I get it: so you’re not really developing the I, just your skills, behaviors etc. Which linguistically speaking, doesn’t qualify as personal development.

    Interesting distinction! Maybe we need a better word than personal development, to makes us realize that we never change our core and it’s OK.

    .-= Ideas With A Kick´s last blog ..Enough with the mind reading: get a 360 feedback! =-.

  10. I liked the whoel idea of separating the THINKING from the THINKER. My first encounter with this concept is from Eckhart Tolle. You have explained it further. Thanks

  11. Hi Doug, great post on separating the thinking from the thinker… not an easy concept for people to understand, but I think you’ve done it well. What I particularly like is you’ve outlined that we can use that separation to stop taking rejection personally, and not to let fear stop us. Thanks for sharing this!

    Miche :)
    .-= Miche | Serenity Hacker´s last blog ..Accepting Suffering and A Call for Compassion =-.

    • Miche, thanks so much for your comment.

      I really wasn’t sure whether I could pull it off in the space I’d allowed but nothing ventured… (!) developing these ideas has been part of a journey of growth for me and one which I now more effectively help others make as a Meta-Coach.

      Blessings to you



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