Personal Development Courses and Progress

The trouble with many personal development and performance improvement books and courses is that they don’t deliver. They say things that sound right and are motivational but afterwards you are left with nothing substantial and useful. Years ago I attended a one-day personal development and performance improvement programme. As you would expect, it was presented by an enthusiastic and inspirational speaker. One of the sections was about belief systems. The point was that we all filter information. Information which agrees with our beliefs is accepted, and information that disagrees is rejected. The presentation stated “The average person tends to reject new information that either disagrees with beliefs or in fact has no link with information already stored in the brain. People who tend to succeed in life take down the screen in order to take information on board. They test out ideas, play around with them and then decide to accept or reject them.” (Jack Black, Mindstore, The Course To Take For The 90’s) This statement sounded reasonable, and the presenter told a story about Grandma’s perfect roast beef to illustrate the point. A family tradition had grown up around having a great Sunday lunch. Everyone agreed Grandma’s roast beef recipe was the best. It always delivered a great meal for the family to enjoy and now three generations were using it. One Sunday Grandma was invited to a family lunch by her grand-daughter, and the traditional roast beef recipe was used. The meal was a great success and afterwards when everyone was content and relaxing the conversation drifted onto how good the food was and how the recipe never failed. The hostess explained how she had followed the recipe to the letter. The beef had been carefully selected and prepared. One-third of the joint was cut off and put aside. The remainder was prepared according to the instructions in the recipe and roasted. Grandma looked puzzled and asked, “But why did you cut the joint like that”. The whole family responded, but cutting the meat like that is what makes the recipe the best. Grandma laughed and then explained. Originally when she had first written down the recipe, she was newly wed, and her first oven was very small. So she would buy a standard sized joint of beef and then cut it to fit the oven. The remaining portion of the meet was saved for cooking another day.

The story made the point that the family were slavishly following the recipe unnecessarily. It was a nice story to justify the message that you should be more open-minded. It sounded plausible and who would criticise being more open-minded and testing ideas.  But there is a problem. This is where the personal development course failed to deliver. It did not say how to be open-minded and test out ideas. The anecdote makes this sound easy. All you have to do is ask Grandma, and it will be obvious. However, to progress towards your goals you need to find and apply ideas that are true but finding the truth is challenging. There are millions of ideas, but only a few are useful. You don’t want to be wasting your time being open to all the ideas. You want to filter out ideas that are very unlikely to be true. If an idea has stood the test of time, you want to hang on to it and be a little closed minded. The challenge is getting the balance right, and personal development courses typically don’t go into any detail about how to test the truth.