Personal Development for Smart People Book Summary



“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” — John Keats

What if you could wake up motivated, energized, and enthusiastic for your day?

What if you could create a fulfilling career that honors and hones your unique self-expression?

What if you could consciously create the life you want to lead, instead of the life you luck your way into?

The Power of Personal Development

That’s the power of personal development.

Life your truth.  Live your power.  Live with love.

Personal development is a way to consciously create a better version of yourself.  Personal development is your personal journey of building your self-awareness, developing your strengths and talents, and become all that you are capable of.

Personal Development for Smart People, by Steve Pavlina, is a book that helps you master personal development.  You do so by learning the seven timeless principles of personal development that apply to all aspects of your life.

Habits, Health, Money and More

In Personal Development for Smart People, you learn how to courageously explore, creatively express, and consciously embrace your personal journey of enlightenment using the seven principles of personal development.

You then learn how to apply the seven principles to your habits, your career, your money, your health, your relationships, and your spirituality.

It’s not some marketing gimmick or cursory overview.  Steve covers the tough stuff with depth and breadth and helps you boldly go where you may have failed to go before.

Chapters at a Glance

  • Chapter 1 – Truth
  • Chapter 2 – Love
  • Chapter 3 – Power
  • Chapter 4 – Oneness
  • Chapter 5 – Authority
  • Chapter 6 – Courage
  • Chapter 7 – Intelligence
  • Chapter 8 – Habits
  • Chapter 9 – Career
  • Chapter 10 – Money
  • Chapter 11 – Health
  • Chapter 12 – Relationships
  • Chapter 13 – Spirituality

What You Can Learn

Here are some of the things you can learn from Personal Development for Smart People:

  • How to play the game of life with courage and conviction
  • How to attract empowering relationships with loving, compatible partners
  • How to awaken your inner genius and resolve conflicts between your logic and intuition
  • How to develop a deep sense of inner peace and reduce your feelings of doubt, worry, and stress
  • How to think accurate thoughts and speak truthful words
  • How to conduct personal experiments to discover the habits that boost your personal effectiveness
  • How to develop your power of persistence
  • How to achieve inspiring goals with disciplined daily habits

7 Principles for Personal Development

If you are familiar with Stephen Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership, then you can think of Personal Development for Smart People as a Principle-Centered life.

Steve Pavlina dug deep to figure out the core principles that would serve as a firm foundation for the conscious pursuit of personal growth.

Here is a table that shows the seven principles and their corresponding key components:

Principle Key Components
Truth perception, prediction, accuracy, acceptance, self-awareness
Love connection, communication, communion
Power responsibility, desire, self-determination, focus, effort, self-discipline
Oneness empathy, compassion, honesty, fairness, contribution unity
Authority command, effectiveness, persistence, confidence, significance
Courage heart, initiative, directness, honor
Intelligence authenticity, creative, self-expression, growth, flow, beauty

Growth Blitzing

Steve gives you some quick ways to “blitz” your growth for each of these principles.  For each principles, he provides some mini-challenges that you can use as a starting point to win some personal victories and bootstrap your growth.

Principle Exercises for Growth
Truth Confess to a lie or a secret you’ve been concealing (easy: confess to a stranger over the Internet; hard: confess to someone you’ve been lying to.)Write down your most realistic prediction for what you think your life will look like five years from today; then ask someone else to make a similar prediction for you, and compare your answers.

Invite an intelligent friend to debate you on a subject where you suspect you may hold erroneous or inaccurate beliefs.

Love Start a conversation with a total stranger, and try to figure out what’s most important to that person.Find a creative way to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I care about you’ to someone who’s never heard it from you before.

Give someone an unexpected gift to let this person know he or she is appreciated by you.

Power Write a fresh list of goals for every area of your life.Set aside at least one hour to work on your single most important project.  Refuse to do anything else until the time has elapsed.  For a more challenging version, make it three or four hours.

Name something you’ve always wanted to do that you could accomplish in less than a day if you were totally committed; then go out and do it.

Oneness Perform an act of kindness for a stranger.Identify an area from your life where you’ve been unfair to someone, and take immediate action to remedy the situation.

Spend a couple of hours hiking alone in nature.  Quiet your thoughts and pay as much attention to your senses as possible.

Authority Volunteer to be in charge of a group or family project, and see it through to completion by delegating tasks to others.Conduct a personal experiment you’ve always wanted to try, such as a new diet, a new sleeping pattern, or a new way of interacting with others.

For one day, wear an outfit that no one seems to like but you.

Courage Identify an opportunity that you know is worthwhile but that you’ve been afraid to pursue, and go for it anyway.Walk up to someone and state in no uncertain terms exactly what you want from that person.

Do one that today that scares you.

Intelligence Call someone you know, and do your best to communicate as authentically as possible during the entire call.Identify a recent setback you’ve experienced, and devise a creative plan to work around it.

Brainstorm a list of 20 new ideas you can use to improve your life.

With the personal development principles under your belt, now let’s take a look at some highlights and gems of insight from Personal Development for Smart People…

Intelligence is Beautiful

Intelligence is everywhere and it’s a beautiful thing.

Steve writes:

“We naturally recognize intelligence as beautiful.  As you witness how elegantly the principles of truth, love, and power operate in your life, you may even consider it a spiritual experience.  It’s almost like discovering a new law of math or physics.  Suddenly you start seeing it everywhere as part of the underlying structure of reality.”

Truth, Love, and Power are Universally Attractive Traits

What if there were attributes that everybody finds attractive?  According to Steve there are.  Everybody is attracted to people who consistently demonstrate truth, love, and power.

Steve writes:

“While there’s a wide variety of personality traits people find attractive, the principles of truth, love, and power are universal attractors.  No sane person wants a relationship filled with lies and deception.  No one wants an apathetic or uncaring partner.  And no one intentionally enters an abusive relationship.

Despite our differences, we’re all attracted to the same fundamental qualities in each other.  We all desire relationships centered in truth, love, and power.  The more you develop these within yourself, the more universally attractive you become.”

A Fixed Belief System Limits You

Who limits you?  You do.  If you have a belief system that is rigid, you limit your ability to grow, and you limit your ability to find new truths and perspectives that would otherwise open and expand new possibilities that are all around you.

While some say, “you have to see it to believe it,” there is another perspective that says, “you will only see it, when you believe it.”

Steve writes:

“One of the most empowering choices you can make is to decouple your spiritual beliefs from your identity.  Despite how firmly held your beliefs may be, they can never define you.  If you can your faith, you’re still you.  A fixed belief system can only limit your ability to grow; it’s like permanently closing one eye and denying yourself access to your natural stereo vision.”

Surround Yourself with People Who Empower You

The people you surround yourself with can lift you up, or break you down.   Find the people the help you rise and shine, and that bring out your best.

Steve writes:

“It’s been said that you can predict your future by looking at the people with whom you spend the most time.  This isn’t far from the truth.  Your relationships will have a tremendous influence on your self-development.  If you find yourself using all your power and self-discipline to resist the negative influence of your own friends, you’re fighting a losing battle.  Use your power to break off such relationships, and surround yourself with the people who naturally empower you.“

Just Get Up and Leave

Along the lines of Nike’s “Just Do It”, you can “just get up and leave” if a situation is holding you back.

Steve writes:

“As a general rule, whenever you find yourself stuck in a disempowering environment, don’t fight the situation.  Just get up and leave.  If you still wish to address the problems of that environment afterward, you’ll be in a stronger position to do so from the outside looking in.”

All Relationships are Temporary

According to Steve, accepting that all relationships are temporary will help you really appreciate what you’ve got, while you’ve got it.

Steve writes:

“Finally, it’s important to accept the true nature of human relationships.  All of them are guaranteed to be temporary.  No matter how strong your bonds are, they’ll eventually end in separation or loss.  No relationship can possibly endure, at least not in physical form.  Allow your awareness of this truth to give you a deeper appreciation of the people in your life.  When you accept that your relationships are temporary, they’ll become more precious to you, and you’ll be less likely to take other people for granted.”

Financial Goals are Worthless Unless they Empower You

It’s easy to set financial goals that are completely worthless.  If you want worthwhile goals, then connect your financial goals to what truly matters deep down inside, not to your bank account.

Steve writes:

“Self-help literature often recommends that we set clear financial goals.  We’re told to decide in advance how much money we want to earn and how much we want to have in the bank.  I’ve often set such goals for myself. Sometimes I achieve them; many times I didn’t.  Eventually I learned a more important lesson: in order for our financial goals to be sound, they must reflect our truest, deepest desires.  A goal is worthless if it doesn’t empower you.”

Setup a System vs. Selling Your Time

You can get a job and sell your time because that seems like low risk, but Steve points out that if you have a job, you can get laid off, or fired.

According to Steve, a better option is to create a system that generates income, because it gives you more leverage than selling your time, and it’s actually more secure in the long run.

Steve writes:

“Perhaps the most common way to earn money is to sell your time.  Get a job and trade hours for dollars.  The greater your ability to deliver social value through your labors, the greater your earning potential becomes.  The difference between earning $25 per hour versus $250 per hour is the latter work has much greater social value.  This isn’t anyone’s fault; the difference is due to the social consensus about the value of certain work.  Take note of the difference between absolute value and social value.  Top competitive athletes may not perform useful societal work in an absolute sense, but their compensation is based on their collectively agreed upon social value of their performance, which currently runs very high.

Another way to earn money is to build a system that earns money for you, such as a business.  This is my personal favorite, since it provides much more leverage than selling time.  It’s also less risky in the long run, since owning and controlling an income-generating system is more secure than a job where you can be fired or laid off.”

Build an Authentic Career

Wrap your career around creating value that fulfills you.  It’s that simple.  It’s genuinely you.  And use your career as a way to honor your creative self-expression to change the world with your personal twist.

Steve writes:

“When you aim to meet your needs above all else, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing soulless work to earn a decent income.  The longer you follow that path, the more skilled you build at something you don’t enjoy.  As you gain experience and seniority in that line of work, your income may continue to rise.  But you aren’t happy and you probably aren’t contributing in a way that fulfills you

The longer you follow this path, the deeper a hole you dig for yourself.  The secondary gain of your income substitutes for the true fulfillment you really crave.  If you find yourself in this situation, I’m sorry to tell you that the best way out is to allow yourself to crash. 

Bring truth, love, and power back into your life and you’ll realize that no amount of external success can compensate for betraying the guy in the glass.  Your true self cannot be bought at any price.”

The Time Travel Meditation

What do your past, present, and future self have to say about the matter?  Consult them.  According to Steve, a powerful way to build congruence and gain tremendous insight is to meditate about a conversation with your past, your present, and your future self, and bring it all together in a way that reflects the true and inner you.

Steve writes:

“You’re sitting in one chair and in the other chair is your future self–the person you’ll become five years from now.  Your future self knows everything you know, as well as everything that will ever happen to you during the next five years.  Now imagine having a conversation with this person.  Ask anything you want, and listen for answers.

When you’re ready, ask your future self to get up and leave the room, and imagine that your past self from five years ago walks in and sits down.  You are this person’s future self.  Take a moment to recall what your past self has been going through.  What was your life like exactly five years ago?  Imagine your past self asking you questions about how your life turned out; and see yourself answering with empathy, understanding, and reassurance.  Tell your past self about some of the challenges that will be coming up in the years ahead, challenges that you’ve already faced.

When you’re finished connecting with your past self, imagine that your future self reenters the room and all three of you stand up.  Your bodies begin to glow and become translucent.  You float toward each other and merge into a single being of light.  When this happens, you may experience an intense release of emotion.  The three of you are now an integrated whole, a single being who exists outside of time.  This being is the real you.”

Stair-Stepping to Change Habits

Steve shares a great way to chip away at changing your habits.  You can chunk them down into stepping stones or, in this case, “steps” in a staircase.   Rather than try to change your habit all at once, you change part of it.  This helps you make it easier and easier to succeed in changing your habit, because you are setting micro-goals.

Steve writes:

“Whether you want to lose weight, give up coffee, quit smoking, or become an early riser, you can use stair-stepping to

For example, if you want to stop drinking coffee, first take note of how much coffee you currently consume.  Then set an initial goal to reduce your daily intake by 25 percent.  So if you drink four cups of coffee a day, you’ll either drop to three cups a day or you’ll drink four cups that are only three-quarters full.  Maintain that new level for a week before taking the next step.”

Orchestrate Small Rebellions

With a rebel yell, you can break free of the chains that bind you.

Steve writes:

“To become the authority of your life, you must become comfortable making independent decisions, whether or not other people agree with you.  You can’t be an authority unless you break free of the conditioning effects of peer pressure.  One of the best ways to do so is to intentionally violate other’s expectations by orchestrating small rebellions.”

Ask, “Where is the Path with Heart?”

Follow your heart.

Steve writes:

“The heart-centered path is often a winding road.  As soon as you think you have it figured out, it takes a surprising turn.  Even after you’ve found the path, it’s easy to wander off and get sidetracked.  When you realize you’ve disconnected from your heart, stop, and ask yourself:  Where is the path with a heart? This will help bring you back to your core.”

Create an Intelligent Microcosm

Get a fresh start, and leave your baggage behind.

Steve writes:

“Instead of trying to improve the preexisting parts of your life, this exercise challenges you to add a new activity where you’ll do your best to stay aligned with truth, love, and power from the very beginning.  So instead of correcting old problems, your goal in this case is to avoid introducing problems of misalignment in the first place.

Suppose you meet someone new.  This person doesn’t know you yet, so you don’t have any previous baggage together.  You’re free to get this relationship right from day one.  Try to be as open and honest with this person as you possibly can.  Skip the superficial chatter, and aim for deep conversations about subjects that truly matter to you.  Take the initiative, and invite this person to participate in interesting activities with you.  See how quickly you can develop a genuine bond of trust.”

Rate Your Life

Steve shares a quick exercise to get a handle on where to invest your time and energy based on where you are with your life.

Simply rate the following categories on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is awesome and 1 leaves a lot to be desired.

  1. Habits & daily routine
  2. Career & work
  3. Money & finances
  4. health & fitness
  5. Mental development & education
  6. Social life & relationships
  7. Home & family
  8. Emotions
  9. Character & integrity
  10. Life purpose & contribution
  11. Spiritual development

You can live more fully, learn more deeply, and lead your life by design.

Operate at your highest level with truth, power, and love on your side.

Get the Book

Personal Development for Smart People is available on Amazon:

Personal Development for Smart People, by Steve Pavlina

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    • It’s like a Russian nesting doll, too, where you can rethink old ideas you thought you knew and unpack some new opportunities for growth.

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