5 Myths About Personal Development Everyone Should Know

by Alli Polin on July 21, 2015

change takes assimilation bust personal development myths

When I was in college, three of my roommates were taking Landmark Education’s the Forum and often asked me go with them; I always declined. They told me it was life changing and consciousness raising yet all I saw was their almost cultish devotion and the significant ongoing expense.(If you’re not familiar with the Forum, you may know its predecessor, EST.) Finally, I said yes just to get them to stop asking. Needless to say, after my session, I didn’t enroll. However, it was my first taste of personal development training, watching how much people crave it and wondering about the long-term impact.

Personal development is still hot. Twenty-five years after I attended my evening at the Forum, I now have a greater understanding of the drive to improve your life and personal leadership – I’m firmly in that group. However, our options for personal development have exploded and, unfortunately, very little results in lasting change.

What do you do to foster your personal development and long-term growth?

  • Read books
  • Hire a coach
  • Attend a seminar
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Join hangouts
  • Subscribe to blogs (like Break the Frame!)
  • Take a MOOC (I loved this MOOC on Positive Psychology)

And when do you sleep? See friends, family? Exercise? Go to work? We all have 24 hours in a day and it can be difficult to find the time for everything you want to do for yourself and your life. For many, personal development is the first to go yet it comes down to choice.

5 Myths of Personal Development (plus a free bonus myth):

Personal Development MYTH #1: There’s a finish line.

What? This personal development thing is forever? Like a lifetime? Yup. Not a great way to kick off the myth list, huh? However, personal development is not about attending a course or reading a book or reaching a final destination with a cool label like “happy” or “actualized” or “whole.” Truthfully, it’s about the change in you – the outcome of your investment. With every shift, there’s another place within you to explore, grow and understand that was unavailable to you yesterday.

Personal Development MYTH #2: Feeling inspired = long-term change.

Don’t get me wrong, books that inspire you to change are keepers. However, temporary motivation and inspiration aren’t the same things as making a sustainable shift. When I read the Anatomy of Peace for the first time, it led to more reading, yes, but also to nearly a year of study with the Arbinger Institute. Still, despite all the study and reading, without the daily immersion and inspiration, it began to fade. My choice was to shrug and move on or dig in again to put it back into daily practice. (I chose to double down on the work)

Personal Development MYTH #3: It’s a competition for self-actualization.

People who are into personal development often have friends who are on the same wavelength; Sharing inspiring quotes, images, constantly attending yoga retreats… Here’s the deal, your aha! may not come from the same place as your friend. Leave bandwagons, well, for the band, and focus on places that resonate with you instead of following the latest craze or guru. There is no race to the finish line to be the most, um, developed. Go at your pace and let go of the pressure.

Personal Development MYTH #4: Habits, once formed, stick around forever.

I’m embarrassed to write that I want to start exercising more regularly – again. I did it six days a week for months, months! I thought it was a stick around kind of habit, but the piece I was missing was that it was always a daily choice. Will I or won’t I? I stopped short of automatic. It boils down to this: many changes in the way you feel, think or act are temporary. You may take a class or listen to a podcast and feel a new resolve or a new way of thinking – that’s a start, not the change.

Personal Development MYTH #5: If you’re not changing you’re falling behind.

I’m all for a change having worked in the people side of change management since the early 1990’s; however, constant change can leave you spinning. Change needs time for assimilation. Some people try to make huge changes, one after another with no time for reflection, understanding or stickiness. Many of these people are moving forward, but only at a very superficial level; you deserve more.

Let’s reframe the concept of change and focus on growth. Are you deepening your understanding of yourself and the world? Are you expanding your go-to knowledge, thoughts and behaviors? If you answered, “yes,” you’re right where you need to be. If you answered, “who has time for that inner-work mumbo-jumbo?” check out the next personal development myth below.

Personal Development Bonus MYTH: Personal Development is all Woo Woo – not for us serious folks.

I know people who teach deep breathing to their clients over the phone. Do you have time for that? If you said “no way!” you’re not alone. There are a range of books, ideas and practitioners out there, and you can’t lump it all under one umbrella. Personal development lies on a spectrum ranging from solely thinking about change to taking significant bold actions.

There are executive coaches, personal leadership coaches, life coaches, books and seminars that are meant for you, right where you are in your personal development. If you’ve tried in the past and hit the wrong note, try again. Ultimately, your success depends on it.


Be a Personal Development Myth Buster – create a framework for yourself to assess the impact of your personal development investment.

Here’s a quick and easy way to break down your personal development efforts and increase your learning integration and accountability. There’s something to be said for writing it down…

learning integaration

What change do you want to make and need more support than a book to have it become your reality? What keeps you up at night? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

Is now the time for you to invest in your personal development? Let’s talk. I can help.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz July 21, 2015 at 7:17 am

Great myths busted, Alli! Having a healthy self-awareness really solves all, coupled with the ability to do something different based on what you really know. This is challenging to do, no doubt. However, it is the long-lasting way to personal development.

Always appreciate your jolt of reality and action. Engaging points, as always! Thank you. Jon


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 6:07 am

Thanks, Jon! Self-awareness sounds so easy, doesn’t it? It can take years to truly cultivate. I’m with you!


Cynthia Bazin July 21, 2015 at 7:25 am

LOVE this article Alli! GREAT reality checks for all of this. I appreciate your amazing leadership my friend. You rock!


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 6:15 am

Always appreciate your support! Thanks a ton, Cindy!


Ed Davies July 21, 2015 at 8:18 am

Great post. So glad you picked up on the ‘when do you see your family/friends’ side of it. For me it came down to a simple question I started asking myself at the start of last year: ‘Will doing this help me get to where I want to be?’

Suddenly all the dead time I was wasting watching TV with my wife after putting the baby to bed I’m now reading. All the dead time driving in the car for work is now listening to podcasts thanks to a new bluetooth. I’ve even bought a digital recorder so I record key points in the car.

Once I got my head around all the dead time I was wasting, I found plenty of time available to improve myself. Plus I value my ‘digital detox’ weekend once a month a lot more now.

So thanks for reaffirming I’m doing the right things.


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 6:21 am


Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment! Really appreciate that you shared your personal story. Hope it helps others look at their lives and see the places where they can easily shift how they use their time.

It’s amazing how often I hear from people that they don’t have the time for personal development (or very limited time) We all have packed days but it’s choosing how we want to spend our time that really matters.

Would love to hear more about your digital detox weekends too!

Thanks again ~




John Bennett July 21, 2015 at 10:58 am

A couple of thoughts:

1. It is important that good efforts become habitual. And it does take time for an action to become a skill and for that skill to then become a habit. I believe strongly that it is self-assessment and refinement that are the keys for this to happen. Something like your worksheet helps for sure. Why? Because you put it in writing what the habit is, how you will know you’re succeeding. I’d suggest making it the first page of an e-journal. I’d add some sort of documentation of the transition to success – in a spreadsheet or in the daily entry. Most importantly, I’d make sure it’s part of my periodic Covey-inspired reflection on how things are going and how could it go better; a deeper assessment / revision.

2. The myth of having an end date is truly a myth for sure. Even thinking that way goes quite far in insuring failure. If we do this, we can’t help but count down the days for motivation rather that note the improvement. I don’t care what the desire to succeed is; there are always new research, new products, new success models, …. that we can improve with or through. Nobody, repeat nobody, has everything perfect. ‘Perfect’ is two things: it’s not attainable by anyone and it’s always a moving target…


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 6:33 am


First of all, a big yes from me on how futile it is to chase perfection. Growth, however, is absolutely attainable.

It can sometimes feel exhausting when you realize that personal development is never ending, but, in truth, that’s where the fun starts. Learning, expanding, shifting – it’s what makes life interesting!

Lastly, appreciate your suggestion to integrate a similar form into a daily or even weekly journaling process. Would be great to be able to look back on key learnings and “how will I know I’ve changed” to continue to move towards those habits that will take you to the next level.

As always, thanks for your additions and insights!

~ Alli


LaRae Quy July 21, 2015 at 11:10 am

I love all of your myths, Alli, but my favorite is #1: there is a finish line.

That was an important concept for me to understand—I would ALWAYS be a work in progress! Once I became comfortable with the fact that “life” will always be about “learning” and “growing” it started to become easier.

Once I stopped being a learner, I stopped. Whether my body was buried then, or 40 years later, the mind had simply died…


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 6:37 am

“Always” can definitely feel overwhelming. I’m reminded of when I first started my learning with Arbinger in the first course I ever took with them – I had a stuck place in my life that I completely reinvented by putting their teaching into practice. It’s important to look back on those time in our lives when the learning was palpable – helps motivate to keep learning and growing.

Your final thought is a really powerful one. So true.

Thanks, LaRae!


Scott Mabry July 21, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Thank you Alli. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by all the things I would like to learn or change or do so I end up not doing anything. Time is consumed thinking about all the what ifs and getting distracted by another article that has me thinking, “I should learn about that too”. Good reminder to just take it one thing at a time and make it stick. Chasing too many changes (or just thinking about them) is not the path to any meaningful progress. Thanks for sharing these great points.


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 6:43 am

I’ve been there too. In fact, there have been times that I’ve been so busy reading blogs and books that I’ve left little time for implementation. Scaling back and making choices to try one thing at a time made a big difference.

Chasing change… feels so familiar and fleeting too.

Really appreciate that you took the time to comment. Many thanks, Scott.


Terri Klass July 21, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Fantastic post Alli!

The myths you outlined are so true about each of our perseverance of self development. I think self development involves taking smaller steps but continuously. To empower myself to overcome my disgust for marketing, I researched the best marketing strategist for me and began a dialogue. It took months to obtain a rhythm of understanding how to make marketing a part of my daily routine.

Thanks for your excellent points, Alli!


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 7:18 am

I think that’s a great way to frame it – smaller steps continuously. That gives us the room to assimilate learning, practice and create new habits. Every day we can step a little further.

Love your story about marketing too! And, I have to admit, I laughed at your “disgust” – you’re not alone! Action outside of your comfort zone pulling you and pushing you to play bigger… even when you didn’t want to – but knew that you had to do it.

Appreciate you tons!!!


Ingrid July 21, 2015 at 10:27 pm

No. 5 really resonated with me Alli. “Change needs time for assimilation”, or consolidation.

I once worked for a man who’s mantra was “change for the sake of change”. He believed this kept his staff on their toes, but what his management team found was that the staff simply got confused. There was not enough time to understand, trial, and consolidate one change at a time. People need time to understand, reflect, and then put things into practice.

This applies equally to my chosen sport of ballroom dancing. If you try to change too many things at once, without giving yourself time to absorb the changes, you can ruin all the good things you are trying to build upon. In my view, time for assimilation is absolutely necessary.


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 7:24 am

Oh my gosh, Ingrid! I feel like I’ve worked for the same person! Constantly tweaking… never really giving any time for any of the changes to show results before moving on to the next big thing. Was a really tough environment for everyone and ultimately, they were asked to leave.

Great example from ballroom dancing too! The concept of building is critical! If you are only changing and not building… it all falls apart.

A sincere thanks for your additions to the conversation!!




Karin Hurt July 22, 2015 at 6:39 pm

You and I really do live parallel lives. Although, I was a little older and didn’t go. Some of my closest friends swear by it.


Alli Polin July 22, 2015 at 9:31 pm

How funny! I think if I reconnected with my roommates today, they’d say it still had an impact.


Chery Gegelman July 23, 2015 at 2:41 am

What a wonderful post to be the first one I read – post vacation! Thank you!

I’m with Scott – sometimes overwhelmed with all the choices. Other times quite pleased with how learnings have been pondered and led to further change in thinking and behavior.

Hugs to you!


Alli Polin July 23, 2015 at 5:50 am

Welcome home! Hope your vacation was wonderful!

There really are a million places to get new info and ideas and nowhere near enough time to get to all of it. I’m all for meaningful changes instead of knowing a little about a lot. Totally can relate to it being a challenge!

Thanks, Chery!


LaRae Quy July 31, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Loved ALL of these myths, Alli!

My favorite was Personal Development MYTH #1: There’s a finish line.

The work of our life is to continue to develop…there is no finish line or expiration date—we are a work in progress until the day we die. I love the idea that there will always be something to learn or better understand.

In church, a 92 year old lady stood and said she was grateful for our sermon because she learned something—isn’t that wonderful…to be willing to be taught no matter our age!

Loved this!


Alli Polin August 5, 2015 at 7:16 am

What a fantastic story about the woman at church! That’s the way I want to live my life too.

Thanks so much, LaRae!


Leave a Comment