*This is the first of many long-form mental health articles that I will be posting to my site. If this is not your interest, that’s fine; you have been warned!*
There seems to be this culture nowadays of “personal development” and “growth mindset” and “self-development“. These are ideas that none of us can escape. This idea of needing and wanting to be better; to grow and develop into this super being. But how healthy are these mindsets? Is personal development dangerous for our mental health?
What is Personal Development?
Personal development is defined as, “activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations.” (says Wikipedia)
Sounds lovely, right? Sounds healthy. But I believe that there is an issue with this path in regards to our mental health, which I will discuss in this long-form mental health article.
Personal development, as I see it, and perhaps more simply put, is this idea and aim to better oneself. To strive for self-development and growth in your life. All noble pursuits that can lead to our downfall if we’re not careful.
Let me explain…
The problem with Personal Development
I think that there is a problem with this idea of personal development. I believe that the constant mindset of “I must better myself” is a rocky path to walk on a regular basis. If you’re not careful, it can become “I’m not good enough as I am, and so I must change,” which is a very different narrative – and a toxic one at that.
There is no harm in wanting to better yourself and your life. After all, it’s why we go to the gym or educate ourselves in the first place (generally), and so this is a positive thing. However, those who cultivate the whole growth mindset and personal development strategy as a lifestyle run the risk of taking it too far.
This means that in the end, nothing will ever be enough. It becomes this idea of more. More reading, more fitness, more money, more confidence, more social life, more education, more spirituality, more healthy eating, more time with family and friends…more, more, more.
There’s no end to personal development, which is supposed to be a good thing, but it can be daunting and encourage us to always push for more.
You’ve read 50 books? Great, well you should read 100.
You’ve run four 10k obstacle races? Great, run two marathons.
You’ve earned two Master’s degrees? Great, get a doctorate.
You make £60k a year? Great, make £100k.
There’s no end. There’s no “I’ve done it“. There’s always something more to achieve and something better that you can be. And that can really mess with your head.
Plus, there’s so much information out there, and a lot of it contradicts one another. As I said, there has been a rise in personal development as an ideal lately, meaning many YouTubers and influencers are now on the bandwagon.
For the whole of last year, I watched video after video from YouTubers who spoke about personal development and bettering your life (and success). But what I realised, in the end, was that there was no one way to do it. They all had so much information to give, with slight differences, and even they themselves couldn’t keep up. At least three YouTubers that I follow had to take “mental health breaks” from their work – meaning that the things they were putting on themselves to do weren’t, in the end, beneficial to their mental wellbeing.
I’m fully embedded in both the personal development and mental health worlds. This means that I have a conflict of interest because I see the benefits of personal development, obviously, but I also see how it can harm our mental health if we’re not careful.
What should we do?
At the end of the day, I think that you are better off striving for the idea of “intentional living” rather than “personal development.” For if you are living with intention, then you will be aware of what you do and why you do it. You will then implement the right things into your life, and let go of the wrong things.
Self-awareness is the key to developing personally and being mentally well. It becomes less about “I must do 5 yoga sessions a week in order to better myself” and more about “I’m aware that I haven’t done my yoga today, and so I shall.” This is a much gentler approach to health, wellness, and development.
The same goes for your mental health. If you cultivate self-awareness, then you will recognise when you feel off-balance or unwell (physically and mentally). You will be aware of your needs. Instead of getting frustrated or snapping at a friend because you’ve been low and stressed without realising it, you will catch yourself ahead of time and hopefully have the means of fixing it.
No pressure, no checklist, just living with purpose, intention, and awareness of what you truly want to manifest in your life.
Mental Health and Personal Development
If you are truly invested in this idea of personal development, but you want to do it in a healthier way, here’s some advice…
Personal development can mean:
- Wanting to read more
- Wanting to make new, healthier friends
- Wanting to eat healthier foods
- Wanting to travel more
- Wanting to experiment with recipes
- Wanting to improve your physical appearance (style, shape, hair etc.)
- Wanting to improve your fitness
- Wanting to improve your mental wellness
- Wanting to make more money
- And so on…
Personal development is, of course, personal, which means it can be different for each individual. This means that firstly, in the pursuit of healthy personal change, you must not take the advice of others too much.
Secondly, you must have a real reason for wanting to develop yourself in the first place; don’t do it simply because it is on trend or someone else said so.
Thirdly, try to set actionable goals and give yourself rewards along the way. Having something to strive towards that is reasonable and purposeful to you will help eliminate the idea of always wanting to do more or always feeling like you could be better. For example, have an aim to read 24 books (2 a month) within a year; or aim to be able to lift a certain weight at the gym or run for a certain amount of time.
This keeps you focused on what you actually want, why you want it, and the specific road to getting there – instead of floating in a space of constant development that doesn’t have any real goal or meaning.
Lastly, only subscribe to people who are doing what you actually want to do. Don’t go looking for new ways that you can “better yourself” which have no real meaning or place in your life. There is no rule that says that the perfect person does X, Y, and Z.
Always bear in mind that you should never come at personal development with the idea that you can one day be perfect. And don’t put others on a pedestal and aim to be like them; their life is probably not as amazing as it seems.
To conclude, I believe that it can be dangerous to blindly pursue the personal development and constant growth mindset. It is much healthier to instead practice intentional living and self-awareness.
Reasons why personal development can impede our mental health:
- The culture of doing and wanting more, more, more is toxic.
- Striving for perfect and better gives the illusion that you are not already good enough.
- With no real goals or reasons for doing it, you will feel stressed, overwhelmed and lost on this path.
- There’s always a new thing that you “must” do in order to be happy, healthy, and successful; so, you can’t win.
Bear these things in mind so that you don’t fall down the trap of personal development, self-development, and the growth mindset. Don’t let anyone convince you that you need to change. Don’t let anyone convince you that you are not worthy or good enough. Only you can decide what is best for you.
In order to live a healthy, happy life, all you need to do is want it. The rest will, in time, follow through your choices and beliefs at large.
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.
If you want to hire me to write about mental health (or other), then don’t hesitate to get in touch!