If you are one of the tens of millions of people interested in self-improvement—and if you’re reading this blog you probably are—taking responsibility for improving your life is something you just take for granted.  Wouldn’t everyone want to change for the better?  Wouldn’t everyone do whatever they could to free themselves from their suffering?

bigstock-Personal-Development-103013Actually, the surprising answer to these questions is, no.  Only a relatively small percent of the total population is interested in self-improvement.  We have to be ready to grow before we get interested in improving.

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist who is known for postulating a “Hierarchy of Needs,” suggested that we need to handle our “deficiency needs” before we can even think about “growth needs.”

“Physiological, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs (also known as D-needs), meaning that these needs arise due to deprivation. Satisfying these lower-level needs is important in order to avoid unpleasant feelings or consequences.

“Maslow termed the highest-level of the pyramid as growth needs (also known as being needs or B-needs). Growth needs do not stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to grow as a person.”  (The Five Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Kendra Cherry.)

In other words, most people are so focused on their “deficiency needs” that they have no time to focus on any possible “growth needs.”

So, in order to even be thinking about self-development, you must have already handled your basic needs of life, and tens of millions of people have not.

Psychotherapy or self-improvement

Once you are ready to start thinking about the possibility of a happier life, you have two fundamentally different approaches:  the conventional psychotherapeutic route or the self-improvement route.

Psychotherapists have years of training and there are thousands of research studies that validate specific therapeutic approaches.  So you’d think that people interested in improving their quality of life would look for a good psychotherapist.  A lot of people do.  As many as 15 million Americans seek professional counseling or therapy services each year, according to Arden Psychological Services.

But tens of millions of people who are interested in self-improvement do not choose the therapy approach.  According to research conducted by sociologist Paul Ray, there may be as many as 40 million people interested in self-improvement.  (“The Potential for a New, Emerging Culture in the U.S., Report on the 2008 American Values Survey,” Paul H. Ray, Ph.D.)

Why would people interested in improving their emotional well-being opt out of psychotherapy for some type of self-improvement program?  Some reasons include an unwillingness to disclose problems to others, fear of stigma and embarrassment, lack of time for treatment, geographic influences, and desire to handle problems on one’s own.  Cost is another factor.  Despite the fact that some self-improvement programs can costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars, there are a lot of books and programs for under a couple of hundred dollars.  Seeing a psychotherapist for many months at $100+ a week can add up quickly.  And despite the fact that professional psychotherapists have helped many people, many have not been helped.

How do you choose a self-development program?

One problem with trying to improve oneself by oneself is the overwhelming number of offerings.  There are literally thousands of books, webinars, courses, blogs, CD and DVD programs, etc. promising to improve your life.  Very few of the people who write the books and lead the courses have professional degrees.  Very little research has been conducted on self-development programs.  So there is virtually no objective evidence that would enable you to choose one program over another.

How do you know which ones will help you and which ones are a waste of your time and money?  Here are a few suggestions.

  • Read the material published about each program and see which ones resonate with you.  Which make the most sense to you given the issues you want to work on?
  • Testimonials can be useful, but make sure they describe specific improvements and don’t merely rave about vague changes.
  • Try to find people whose opinion you trust and ask what program(s) they found valuable.  Did they get the specific results they desired?  Did the programs do what they claimed to do?  Obviously everyone is different and what works for one person or one type of issue may not work for you and your issue, but a personal recommendation can be valuable in making a decision.
  • If there are demonstration programs, try one and see if it produces the promised result and if you feel comfortable with it.

You’re already ahead of the game

If you are interest in self-improvement, you are already ahead of the game.  You have handled your basic needs and are now ready to grow.  You are honest enough to acknowledge that there is something that doesn’t work or that can be improved in your life.  And you are committed enough to look for someone or something that will help free you from your suffering.  Congratulations.

Don’t get discouraged if one program doesn’t work.  Keep looking and you will ultimately find something that will free you from your suffering.


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