Why personal development will make you feel miserable

“We can’t ignore problems — we just need to approach them from the other side.” — Cooperider & Whitney

Life is a never-ending puzzle. The moment you figured out something, a new challenge arises. Thus, personal development is a perpetual quest — becoming the best version of yourself requires everyday practice.

But there’s a dark side to personal development: some approaches are manipulative — they make you feel there’s something wrong about you.

This dark side approach — in the form of a book, workshop or video — encourages an obsession toward perfection. It forces us to compare to others. And promotes unrealistic expectations. We end thinking we are not good enough.

The dark side to personal development promises you a better future at the expense of enjoying your present. Avoid any approach that offers nothing but rehashing your vast inadequacies.

You are not a problem to be solved — your life is something to be discovered, not to be fixed.

Discover the other side.

You are not a problem

There’s only one thing I’m certain about: I don’t have everything figured out.

That I coach teams, facilitate workshops or write about change and personal growth doesn’t mean I have all the answers.

I’ve learned a lot in my life and throughout my career. The most important lesson is that things don’t go our way most of the times. It’s not always easy. But realizing that things don’t go wrong just because of me has helped me a lot. I reflect and think of how I can improve my behavior. But I don’t blame myself.

I’m not a problem to be solved (you are not either).

Most of us were brought up thinking there’s something inherently wrong with us. Most educational, religious, and psychological approaches operate under the premise that people have a problem. And that we need to be cured.

The belief that we need to be fixed harms our growth.

We pursue unrealistic expectations: Having goals and challenges is good, but letting other people define your achievements is not healthy. Pleasing others is a moving target — you end pleasing no one, yourself included.

We get stuck in what’s wrong: Approaching your life as a problem makes you focus on what’s not working. We are all full of flaws and imperfections, but we are more than that. We need to see the other (positive) side to improve.

We compare ourselves to others: Seeing other people as inspiration or role models is good, but using others as a bar is deceiving. We are never good enough. We end seeing the good in others and what’s wrong with us.

We end taking take ourselves too seriously, as I wrote here.

What if we start considering ourselves (and our lives) from a place of abundance rather than of deficit?

Leverage your uniqueness. Appreciate your personality, strengths, emotions, experiences, and happiness — your positivity life’s assets.

A positivity framework

“The negative screams at you but the positive only whispers.” — Barbara Fredrickson

Your emotions affect your outlook. A positivity framework encourages building on what’s already working instead of being obsessed about what we need to fix.

Negative emotions narrow our momentary thought and action repertoire. When we feel fear, we focus our attention and energy on surviving — we want to get rid (or run away) from the menace.

Positive emotions are more effective — they encourage new ways of thinking and action.

However, as positive emotions don’t emerge when under attack, we don’t give them their deserved value — we are used to paying more attention to our problems than to what’s working.

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson extensive research discovered that positive emotions provide two key benefits:

  • Open our minds: they increase awareness and expand our peripheral vision
  • Build resilience: they prepare us to bounce back from adversity.

Fredrickson’s Broaden-and-Build theory states that positive emotions allow people to step back and see the bigger picture. Research validates how positivity feelings widen the scope of what we see — they help us discover more ideas and possibilities.

According to the expert, there is a whole range of emotions that change the boundaries of our mind. Like being grateful, feeling inspired by great leaders, being in tune with our environment, sharing laughter with a friend, or feeling the love and closeness of people we care for.

Multiple studies show that giving a bag of candy or asking people to remember a positive emotion before a test or a job interview dramatically impacts their performance.

Unfortunately, positivity fades quickly. We must increase our daily intake of positive emotions.

Fredrickson recommends a 3-to-1 positivity ratio — that proportion can predict flourishing. 80% of Americans fall short. You can take the quiz and see how you score.

The impact of positivity goes well beyond your mood. The psychologist explains how positive emotions affect our cells development too. By broadening our awareness, they change who we are in the future.

The best of what you are

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

We grow in the direction of what we persistently focus on.

Encouraging positive emotions promotes an appreciation mindset — we acknowledge the good stuff in our lives.

Rather than focusing on what we need to fix, we can leverage the best of what has been and what is.

That’s the approach behind Appreciation Inquiry, a change management methodology grounded in theories from organizational behavior, sociology and psychology. Its principles can be applied to personal development too.

Appreciation Inquiry is the act of recognizing the best in yourself and the world around you. It uses questions to uncover what’s working — it encourages amplifying the good, instead of ruminating on what’s wrong.

The process includes four stages:

  • Discovery: To find, emphasize, and illuminate any factors that have led to ‘the best’ in a given situation. What gives life? Focus on appreciating what’s working for you.
  • Dream: It’s about challenging the status-quo and imagining possibilities — you begin to dream of what could be or needs to be. What might be? Visualize an exciting future state.
  • Design: You focus on creating what you want and how your ideal scenario could work. It’s about identifying concrete and actionable ideas that will move you closer to your dream. How can it be? Define how the dream would look like.
  • Destiny: An invitation to construct your future — it’s the commitment toward your aspiration. You involve those who will help you get there as well. What will be? Craft an actionable plan and make it happen.

Appreciation Inquiry helps us cultivate the best within ourselves — broaden your possibilities.

The other side of personal development

“Find the goodness that is already within you.” — Eckhart Tolle

The dark side of personal development is built on certainty — it provides truism and advice regardless of the context. The other side encourages you to find the answer — questions uncover what is working and will work for you.

Inquiries provide direction — they move us from ignorance through curiosity to discovery.

Most questions are loaded — they carry a constructive or destructive purpose. Beautiful questions invite us to see ourselves and our reality through a different lens — we don’t judge the question, we want to find better answers.

Our culture prioritizes certainty over curiosity. Most people feel intimidated — they fear being seen as ignorant if they ask questions.

The power of Appreciative Inquiry lies in seeing questions to acknowledge the positive, stimulate reflection, and notice what is valuable. You are expected and encouraged to ask questions. AI creates a pathway to inspire, intrigue, excite, discover, invite, and co-create.

Here are some questions to get you started.

1. Identify High-Points

Think back through your life (or career). What has been a high-point experience when you felt most alive, successful, and effective. Describe how you felt, and what made the situation possible.

What are the most significant stories in your life?

Where are things going well in your life?

Where are you making a difference?

2. Understand the Why

Why did it happen that way? Examine Beliefs, Values, Perceptions.

What stories were you telling yourself or images were you portraying in your mind that led you toward the outcomes?

When has that happened other times?

3. What You Value Most

Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself (or your work or your organization)?

4. Apply Learnings

What can you continue doing to keep amplifying the good?

What can you begin to do to move your life (or team) in the direction of our greatest desires?

What can you stop doing because it no longer serves or gets in the way?

How would you apply the learnings elsewhere?

5. Dream The Future

Describe your three concrete wishes for the future of your life (or organization). Imagine the future three years from now.

What’s happening that makes it vibrant and successful?

What has changed? What has stayed the same?

How have you contributed to this future?

— — —

The dark side of personal development wants to make you think there’s something wrong with you. But there’s not. You have flaws — just like me and everybody else.

Positivity not only expands your mind — it helps you discover the good within you. Focus on what’s working, not on what needs to be fixed. Move in the direction of what you most desire.

Gustavo Razzetti is a change instigator that helps organizations lead positive change. Author, Consultant, and Speaker on team building and cultural transformation.

This article first appeared on Medium.