Thoughts on Development of the Self.

As an avid reader, I’ve concluded that I have a very different conception of self-development than most people. I prefer the term “development of the self” because it’s more accurate. It’s not about concentrating only on yourself but on how you interact with the world. It’s not about the amount of money you have in the bank, the attractiveness of your partner or the things you own. In some ways, it may well be easier to improve yourself when you have less, purely because there is less to distract you.

I think self-development can be broken down into three steps.

  • Improving the body. This is an often disregarded aspect. A healthy body is like a quiet library. It gives you an excellent place to contemplate and work.
  • Improving the mind. Learning to see reality for what it is. Learning to control our initial reactions and use reason and objectivity to make decisions.
  • Improving our actions. This should, in theory, come naturally after steps one and two, but it can’t hurt to think about how we should act. After all, it’s not what you say but what you do that defines who you are.

The crucial thing is to acknowledge the fact that we can all improve. We have all made mistakes in our lives, and while we should be content with what we have, there is no harm in wanting positive changes in our lives. The approach I want to take encompasses a philosophical ideal of breaking self-improvement into such small steps that it’s virtually impossible to fail.

I cannot think of a better way to approach this subject. After all, if you start something with an almost guarantee that you will be successful, you will be far more likely to want to do it.

That’s precisely what Self Development is: the want, the hunger, the primal need that every person has to improve their lot every day. Hopefully, if we can develop ourselves enough as human beings, we can then begin to work on developing the world into a better place.

Epictetus, the philosopher who created a superb manual for life called the “Enchiridion of Epictetus“, thinks that self-development is all required to make the world a better place. Adding an “honest citizen to the city rolls” is enough; you don’t have to make considerable contributions to society to improve it; just not doing any serious harm is already an outstanding contribution, and leaving things better than you found them goes a long way towards that aim.

And while this can feel relatively unambitious as a goal, I think there is a lot to think about here. Does the way we live our lives scale up to a level of society where billions of individuals need to somehow interact with each other? If you don’t steal, and the concept of stealing is entirely foreign to you, then the world would be very different if everyone were like you. Doors wouldn’t need locks, the amount of money saved on insurance would be incredible, and overall anxiety would be reduced. If you don’t eat wish, a significant portion of the world’s species that live in the ocean would not be threatened with extinction due to overfishing or the side effects of fishing and trawling.

While it doesn’t feel like we can accomplish much in one day, small efforts compounded over time, multiplied by billions of individuals, are the way towards making real change that positively impacts everyone around us.

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