Lessons Learned from Steve Pavlina
“Seek truth with open eyes.” – Steve Pavlina
Have you heard of Steve Pavlina? He’s the author of Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth . Chances are you may know him as a personal development leader or a successful blogger or a raw food guy. If you go back in time, you might know him from his days as a successful game developer.
The game developer link is an especially interesting one. Steve brings his game development skills to the personal development arena, and to the ultimate game — the game of life. As a developer, it’s about designing experiences, figuring out how things work, testing results, getting the bugs out, refining as you go, and paving a path forward. Life’s like that, too.
When I first came across Steve’s about page, a few years back, I didn’t know what to make of the stream of attributes: "blue-eyed, colorblind, left-handed, well educated, vegan, lucid dreaming, purpose driven, happily jobless, reality manipulating, meditation practicing, risk taking, goal seeking" … etc. The one that struck me though was "insatiably curious seeker of truth. That what resonated with me—I too am a truth seeker.
What I especially like about Pavlina’s work is that he is often able to put into words, what I already know to be true.
Steve covers a wide range of topics from personal productivity to personal development to personal growth and conscious living, along with experiments in life style design. This post is my attempt to highlight some of the lessons that I think you’ll enjoy the most, as well as where to go for more.
25 Lessons Learned from Steve Pavlina
Here are 25 lessons from Steve Pavlina that just might change your life:
- 3 attributes of personal development. Steve says personal development has three attributes: 1) getting an increasingly accurate view of reality (understanding how reality works, interacting with reality), 2) experiencing your desires, and 3) becoming stronger (capable of achieving greater goals. Watch Self-Development Video Interview with Steve Pavlina.
- Get perspective from your past, present, and future self. In this exercise, you visualize versions of your past, present and future self (e.g. You 2005, You 2010, You 2015.) Have a conversation with your future self. Ask your top of mind questions, and listen as your future self answers with compassion and confidence. Next, have a conversation with your past self. Let your past self ask questions, and notice how easily you can answer them. Next, step into the future and be your future self, and have a conversation with your present self. Let your present self ask questions, and notice how easily you can answer from the vantage point of your future self. See My Favorite Meditation.
- The Past Does Equal the Future. You can predict the future in a general way. Steve says, “If you want to know where your current path is taking you, look to your past. That’s the best way to predict where you’re headed.” According to Steve, “The truth is that past performance is in fact the best predictor of future performance, not just with individual human beings but with teams, companies, technology, political bodies, and other time-bound entities.” See The Past Does Equal the Future.
- You have the right to be wrong. Don’t be bent on being right. After all, you’re only human. Trying to be right all the time, takes away your freedom to experiment and go out on a limb. According to Steve, “You have the right to make mistakes. You have the right to fail.” See You Have the Right to Be Wrong.
- Take your ego out of the picture. Divorcing your ego from your outcomes, and taking it out of the picture, is a key to growth. It enables you to see things more accurately, because you don’t have to be right. It enables you to go out on a limb, because it’s OK to fail, because you don’t have your sense of self wrapped up in your outcomes. Steve says, “Separate yourself from your ideas and your work and see them as something separate from yourself, you’ll feel you truly have the right to be wrong. If an idea fails, why not let it be the idea’s fault instead of your own? Allow your ideas to fail without turning them into personal defeat. When you fail you discover your boundaries. You map out the edges of your capabilities. And this allows you to eventually move beyond them. Being wrong eventually leads to being right. And even where it doesn’t, it’s still a more interesting path than being nothing.” See You Have the Right to Be Wrong.
- You are your consciousness. Who are you? According to Steve, “what defines you as a person is your consciousness. Your consciousness gives you the capability of self-definition by choosing your thoughts. So if you associate the failure of your ideas as a personal failure, then you use your own consciousness against itself (to define yourself as a failure).” See You Have the Right to Be Wrong.
- We’re all cells in the same body. Steve says, “I realized that we are all cells in the same body, and that the health of the body depends on the cells.”
- Focus on the good things in your life. Rather than focus on your financial debt, focus on the good that’s around you and what you want to experience. Why feed so much time, energy, and attention on the worst part of your life? Focus on the stuff you want to experience, feed your time and energy into things you want to experience – abundance and creativity. Create your own abundance vibe. Creating Abundance.
- Don’t give your power away. You limit your relationships, career, and social life when you give your power away. On relationships, Steve says, “The basic pattern is that you decide something else has to happen first before you can attract the relationship you truly desire.” On career, Steve says that instead of using your power to create work that fulfills and inspires you, “you stick with unfulfilling work to make ends meet. You feed your power to your bills, as if those small pieces of paper somehow control your destiny for the near future…” On social life, Steve says that instead of surrounding yourself with friends and family that uplift, encourage, and support you, you feed "your existing disempowering relationships. You obsess over what others think about you, people who really don’t encourage you to be your best self anyway. You worry about what your Mom thinks about you." See How You Give Your Power Away.
- Stop creating false prerequisites. Progress is faster when you focus on what you want, over focusing on your problems. According to Steve, the answer is to stop creating false prerequisites. Instead, feed your desires. Steve says, "The idea of feeding your power to your desires is incredibly simple. All you need to do is decide what you want and then focus your thoughts, feelings, and actions on those desires."
- Build a strong ego. If you think of your ego as your personality and sense of self, not arrogant, there’s a good reason to build a stronger ego. Building your ego then is a character building exercise, where the goal is to build out a strong character with well-defined attributes. Steve says, "Your ego is your character, an important part of your human avatar. If you try to weaken your ego, you’re simply weakening your character." Steve teaches us that many spiritual seekers end up in limbo when they try to detach from their identities and possessions. Steve says, "They can’t get themselves to relinquish all attachment to their identities and their stuff, so they strive to get by with a sense of minimalism. But they’re never really satisfied living in this halfway space, so quite often their “spiritual practice” devolves into attacking others they believe are more ego-based than they are. It temporarily makes them feel better about themselves." According to Steve, you can grow your character, build your ego, experience a better life, and create more good for the world, by 1) owning your character, 2) engaging with life, 3) focusing on intelligence, and 4) focus on character building (honesty, courage, exploration, service, acceptance, discipline, and connection.) See How To Build a Stronger Ego.
- Balance self-acceptance and personal growth. Accept the now, while you grow to who you want to be. Steve asks the question, "Why not fully accept yourself as you are and also be totally committed to lifelong growth?" It’s an oscillation along a spectrum — "The more you accept where you are, the less motivation there is to grow. And the more you push yourself to grow, the less satisfaction you derive from your current position." According to Steve, the conflict between self-acceptance and personal growth is due, in part, to a linear mindset, where your life is moving down points on a line. The first point is your birth, the last point is your death, and the points behind you are your past. In a linear mindset, it’s natural to rate the quality of your experiences on those points on the line and compare them. When you compare them, you want to improve or increase the quality. The problem is this fluctuates a great deal depending on your situations and positions in life. If you root your self-acceptance and sense of self in your positions, then you don’t have stable ground. Instead, root yourself in something durable, while enjoying your unique journey of growth. See Self-Acceptance vs. Personal Growth.
- Root yourself in something durable, and keep your self-esteem separate from your circumstances. Don’t root yourself in something changeable, such as any form of position or status. Instead, find a firm foundation in something durable, such as unconditional love, service to humanity, compassion, etc. Steve says that if you separate your position from your identity and attach your ego from your outcomes, then you find inner peace … "your position can rollercoaster all over the place, and you can still be at peace on the inside no matter what happens." See Self-Acceptance vs. Personal Growth.
- Experience drive without attachment, ambition without ego, and peace without passivity. Steve says, "You don’t have to withdraw and be totally passive. You can enjoy being an ambitious overachiever and set and achieve goals like a maniac — and have a great time doing it. But meanwhile, you don’t see your identity in those fluctuating outcomes." Ultimately, "you can experience drive without attachment, ambition without ego, and peace without passivity." See Self-Acceptance vs. Personal-Growth.
- Clarity is an important quality of success. Steve shares 11 ways to gain clarity: 1.) assume 100% responsibility for your own level of clarity, 2.) stop creating the opposite of clarity, 3) harvest and apply the clarity lessons from your past, 4) use visualization to create the vibe of clarity, 5) ask for help, 6) put your goals in writing, and review them daily, 7) accept that any goal is better than no goal, 8.) crystallize your goals, 9) pay attention to the path, not just the end result, 10) stick with one primary goal at a time, 11) explore and experiment. See 11 Ways to Gain Clarity.
- Conduct your own personal growth experiments. Steve says, “Whenever you come up with a new idea for increasing your effectiveness, test it to see what effect it has. Don’t dismiss any ideas until you’ve actually tried them.
- Courage plays a key role in relationships. When it comes to relationships, according to Steve, you need courage to: 1) initiate new connections and overcome the fear of rejection, 2) intimately connect with people, 3) face the truth about relationships that have gone awry, and 4) end those relationships that no longer serve you.
- Sense the big picture that emerges from multiple viewpoints. Switching perspectives is a skill you can build. You can switch perspectives, by asking questions, such as, “How would a Buddhist view this situation?” Steve says, “When you first attempt to perceive reality through multiple lenses, especially those that seem to inherently contradict each other, it will feel as though you’re trying to do the impossible. You’ll be like a new-born baby trying to make sense of garbled blobs of light, noise, and pressure. You may feel overwhelmed and frustrated, as if you’re flooding your mind with utterly useless information. Be patient with yourself. With sufficient practice, you’ll gradually learn to combine data from multiple viewpoints into a single coherent picture.”
- Seek truth with open eyes. Steve says, “Seek truth with open eyes. Courageously accept your discoveries and their consequences. Rid your life of falsehood, denial, and fear of what is. Make truth your ally, not your enemy.”
- You exist only in the present moment. Along the lines of Peaceful Warrior, you are this moment. Steve says, “Your past is composed of memories, but you still access those memories in your present. Your past is only real — it only has existence to you — when you consciously focus your attention on it. It is your attention that gives your past its power, and it is also your attention that feeds your ego. You can choose to stop focusing so much attention on your ego and your personal history, and instead you can redirect that attention to identify more with your consciousness and your awareness.” See Trial and Error, Ego and Awareness.
- Find the sustainable path. If you take care of yourself first, you can take care of others better. Don’t ignore your own needs or you won’t sustain your journey. Steve says, “This made it clear that if I wanted to effectively serve others, I had to make sure I was also meeting my needs, or my work wouldn’t be sustainable.”
- Be the boss of you. The problem with a job is you only get paid when you show up. Another problem is that many jobs are about being a cog in somebody else’s wheel. You have to fit the mold and follow the instructions. This robs you of your creativity and you trade your time for money. Instead, focus on your creative genius and deliver value up, while growing yourself and creating value for the world. Setup system that make you money, even when you’re not working. “Non-dummies eventually realize that trading time for money is indeed extremely dumb and that there must be a better way. And of course there is a better way. The key is to de-couple your value from your time.” See 10 Reasons Why You Should Never Get a Job.
- Show up. Turn abstractions into actions and show up. Simple practices over time can yield amazing results. Showing up is more than half the battle. While it doesn’t guarantee success, it gets you the bulk of the way there, and keeps you in the game. Steve says, “Showing up is always the limiting step. Showing up doesn’t guarantee I’ll become a black belt, but it will get me about 80% of the way there if I stick with it.” Steve goes on to say, “If you allow abstract concepts like health or love to remain abstract, you won’t move forward in these areas. Abstractions are wonderful tools for thought, but eventually you need to turn them into concrete physical actions.” See Showing Up.
- Shape your personal brand. You can shape your brand through awareness and authenticity. On your external brand, what three adjectives would people use to describe you? On your internal brand, what three adjectives would you use to describe yourself? People will label you whether you like it or not. You even label you whether you like it or not. It’s natural to have labels, since people are pattern matchers by design, and labels help us simplify a complex or overwhelming world. If you accept this, then the question becomes what are you going to do about it? You can influence and shape your personal brand, by being mindful of how what you say, how you say it, and what you do. The simplest way to be congruent and make this low stress is to be yourself, and be authentic. There’s only one you in the world. It’s a lot of work to try to be somebody else, especially somebody you’re not. Steve says, “I think the best external image to project is the one you believe best reflects who you really are. Being yourself simply means being honest.” See Personal Branding.
- Use creativity to serve you. Don’t be normal. The planet needs more creative problem solvers. Use creativity to get results in your health, relationships, finances, personal productivity, motivation, and happiness. Use creativity to overcome boredom and as a competitive advantage. According to Steve, one way to do this is, “figure out what everyone else is doing, and then do the opposite.” Steve says, “If you’re not very bright, then following the masses is generally a good idea. But if you have a half-decent intellect, then you can do much better than average, so hold yourself to a higher standard.” Steve goes on to say, “Obviously not everyone in the business world will appreciate your creativity, but if most of your competition is wholly uncreative, you’ll stand out from the crowd and get noticed, which can bring you opportunities that uncreative people will never be offered.” See Creativity for Smart People.
7 Principles of Personal Growth
This might very well be Steve’s most important contribution to the personal development space. It’s a simple framework and lens. Steve identified 7 universal principles of personal growth. There are three core principles: truth, love, and power. There are four secondary principles: oneness, authority, courage, and intelligence. Oneness = truth + love. Authority = truth + power. Courage = love + power. Intelligence is when the principles of truth, love, and power are in harmony.
Here are the 7 principles at a glance, along with their key components:
- Truth. Truth includes perception, prediction, accuracy, acceptance, and self-awareness.
- Love. Love includes connection, communication, and communion.
- Power. Power includes responsibility, desire, self-determination, focus, effort, and self-discipline.
- Oneness. Oneness includes empathy, compassion, honesty, fairness, contribution, and unity.
- Authority. Authority includes command, effectiveness, persistence, confidence, and significance.
- Courage. Courage includes heart, initiative, directness, and honor.
- Intelligence. Intelligence includes authenticity, creative self-expression, growth, flow, and beauty
Steve says, “observe how a lack of truth creates problems for you, how a lack of love causes you to feel disconnected and alone, and how a lack of power makes you feel helpless and victimized. Discover how much easier life becomes when you align yourself with truth, love, and power.”
Top 10 Steve Pavlina Quotes
Here are my top 10 quotes by Steve:
- “Be afraid if you must; then summon the courage to follow your dreams anyway. That is strength undefeatable.”
- “Being normal is a myth. There’s no such thing.”
- “Beneath the surface chaos of reality, there are many governing patterns to be found. As you become aware of these patterns, life becomes incredibly fascinating.”
- “Embrace your unique path of growth.”
- “I see my beliefs as a toolbox of lenses to choose from; they’re an extension of my senses.”
- “The closer your internal model of reality matches actual reality, the more capable you become.”
- “The purpose of planning is to focus your present-moment decisions.”
- “Total clarity is a rarity.”
- “Where is the path with a heart?”
- “You can focus your mind on the inside, and take disciplined-action on the outside.”
Quotes Organized by Category
I’ve included some of my favorite Steve Pavlina quotes below. For simple scanning, I’ve organized them using the following categories: Career, Courage, Ego, Growth, Intelligence, Relationships, Self-Discipline, and Spirituality.
Catalog of Steve Pavlina’s Resources (Sites, Book, Videos, Posts)
Steve has a vast body of knowledge, from articles, to posts, to videos, to books. For simple scanning, I organized Steve’s collection of resources into the following buckets: Key Links, Book, Videos, and Popular Posts
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