5 Reasons Personal Development has Failed You (and how to turn it around)

“Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.” ~James Allen

For me, personal development is all about self-respect. It’s an expression of faith in one’s own potential.

But it also reflects the sense of moral responsibility I feel to improve on the raw materials God and parents gave me. In a way, it’s an expression of the seriousness with which I believe in the inherent worth and value of humanity.

In fact, personal development is to humanity what sharpening is to a knife or Spackle is to a hole in the wall or washing is to laundry or binoculars are to beautiful scenery. It maintains, improves, amplifies, fixes and washes off the mud and stain of life as we clumsily pass through it.

To neglect this part of life is to limit our ability to improve. It is to keep our lives stymied in the shallow end of life, unfinished, waiting, unfulfilled and underdeveloped.

To Err is Human

This does not mean we should feel guilty for being flawed human beings. We shouldn’t. But to stagnate indefinitely, to choose not to grow, to close your eyes to personal development in principle is like taking a trip to an exotic location and refusing to leave your hotel room. It’s to leave an unfinished product intentionally incomplete, unable to do what it was meant to do.

To put it a little more forcefully, it’s a bit like giving birth, then refusing to do much to bring out your child’s potential, leaving it in its crib all day, neglecting it’s growth and development.

You are your own parent and you are your own child. Love you enough to value who you have the potential of becoming, doing what you have the potential of doing, learning what you have the potential to learn.

To be Human is to Err

And while it is always worth the effort, growth isn’t always easy and is sometimes downright difficult. We only complicate matters when we erect additional (and unnecessary) roadblocks along the way.

Here’s my take on why we sometimes stumble over junk we heap in mounds on the path we’re trying to navigate.

Five Attitudinal Roadblocks to Personal Growth (and 5 solutions!)

1. The Roadblock of Complacency

Complacent people are just fine with the status quo because, at best, they’ve seldom thought about things like flaws and weaknesses in need of attention. They don’t rock the boat. They let things ride. New tricks hold no charms for them.

Their thinking goes like this: “Why change when the boat is still afloat? When the ship starts sinking, then I’ll start patching up the holes.”


The reason for complacency varies from one indifferent person to the next. For some, it might be pride and for others, laziness. Some may feel defeated by past failed attempts at change while others are cynical of the process for other reasons.

In any event, an effective way to jump-start your desire to grow is to discover a compelling purpose for it. Sometimes marriage or parenthood or other life-changing experiences are enough to spur the introspection that can lead to personal growth.

Short of something life-changing is to connect deeply with the pain not improving can produce and to the benefits personal development can create. This activity generates a sort of push-pull effect that gets us off life’s couch and back into the game of taking on new personal challenges and overcoming a our most stubborn and recalcitrant habits.

2. The Too-Busy-For-It Roadblock

Other things are more important to those who prioritize everything else as weightier matters, more demanding or urgent. “How can I focus on myself, after all, when there are papers to grade, homework to do, dishes to wash, babies to feed, lawns to mow, piano recitals to attend, projects to finish, deadlines to meet, training to complete and a football game to watch on TV?”

When we add up the hours in the day and all the incomplete items on the to-do list, personal development just doesn’t make the grade.


If personal development is low on the totem pole right now, try combining activities to fit it in.

Do the dishes with a book on tape playing in the background on a topic of interest to your personal development needs. Your local library should have several options available you can borrow to get started.

Or you can watch football while on a stationary bike. Or mow the lawn while working on your gratitude by reviewing all that you’re grateful for, starting general and working your way to ever increasing specifics.

Another solution is to recognize the truism that the better you are, the better all other priorities will turn out. By focusing on some of your spiritual, physical and emotional needs, you’ll be bringing a better product to the table in the other areas of life as parent, spouse or project manager.

3. The Difficulty Roadblock

Sure, personal development can be difficult (mirrors are sometimes unforgiving critics when looked into deeply), but the real challenge is in sustaining change. It’s the persistence, commitment over time, and perseverance, which is not only key to personal growth, but the answer to why some people never really grow all that much.

Sprinting is no problem. But a marathon? No thanks! I can muster an all-out assault in one glorious push forward, but daily skirmishes with stubborn habits over the course of a month, or year, or ten? Call the troops home! I’m going back to bed!


Build endurance by pushing a little further than last time, then stepping back and celebrating the accomplishment of improvement, no matter how incremental. Baby steps are the name of the game.

Don’t condemn yourself for not being further down the road. Just get excited for traveling whatever distance you were able to travel. That should motivate another excursion deeper into uncharted territory the next time.

4. A Shallow Roadblock

Some people are disinterested in personal development because their inclinations and interests are self-serving. They have a what-can-I-get-out-of-you value system. They are superficial and artificial and are more concerned with looks and impressions than substance.

If they spend any time perusing the world of how-to books and blogs, it is of the “How to marry rich” and “How to get any girl in bed” type.


Read scripture and wisdom literature (Confucius, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Mencius, etc.) to connect with the deeper meaning of life and school your conscience and educate your soul. Being shallow is not the problem. Remaining shallow is.

So in addition to schooling your conscience with truth and inspiration, you can do acts of service to those in desperate need as a way of deepening your compassion and turning your attention outward.

I would also recommend you try dropping to your knees to pray for depth. Connecting with God and the divine has a humbling, yet motivating, effect. Besides, there’s not much that’s deeper than eternity. Try it and see what happens.

5. The Roadblock of Dismissiveness

Some perceive the personal development field as so much New Age fluff. And truth be told, some of the industry is just that. There is indeed garbage floating in the blogosphere and sitting on bookshelves just like there are unhelpful and unthoughtful texts in the education and management literature. There’s fluff just about everywhere.

But the generalized perception that self-improvement is so much air-headed silliness will keep many from joining what they perceive as the crystal rubbing crowd gripped in a universal group hug. But the fact is that most of the self-development field is much more substantive.

There’s a growing science-backed body of work being produced in the industry as well. Read The How of Happiness or Martin Seligman’s work to get a sense of what I mean.


Just as one bad experience (or even several) with a restaurant wouldn’t keep you from eating out again, reading drivel at one or more sites shouldn’t keep you away from the whole self-help industry.

So try another site. Google search an interest and click around to see what’s available (you have my permission to browse my archives or type in a topic in the search box as often as you like! Here are a few of my no-nonsense favorites: Barrie Davenport, Jonathan Wells and Tim Brownsen, in no particular order). Once you find a no-nonsense site (or book) you trust, get motivated and get growing! That’s what living things do, after all!

Final Thoughts

Personal development is simply the planned process by which we overcome, change and grow. Every major religion, every school of philosophy, every management course, every leadership seminar and everything in the natural world points to, urges and expects us to grow. It can be tough going, for sure. But it is worth every bit of the time and energy and the success and failure you experience along the way in the long run.