Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina Book Review

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Occasionally an original thinker comes along, and everyone benefits. Steve Pavlina is such a person and his new book is destined to become a classic. It’s called “Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth.”

What I appreciate most about Steve’s style is that he has a fresh perspective. He’s obviously very intelligent (he earned a Bachelor’s degree in 3 semesters), but beyond his keen intellect is a well-balanced student of expanding consciousness. Yes he has a big brain, but his heart is equally well developed. Most personal growth experts are either brainiacs or love gurus. Steve has pioneered a refreshing blend of head and heart based on common sense and direct experience. This is a rare quality.

“My greatest breakthroughs usually come from personal experimentation…” — Steve Pavlina

His refreshing approach is obvious at the beginning of the book where he outlines how the book was born and how it is organized. (And yes, it is very organized!)

“It took me almost two and a half years, but I eventually found the solution I was looking for. It consists of just three core principles: truth, love and power. Four secondary principles are directly derived from the first three: oneness, authority, courage and intelligence. Oneness is truth plus love. Authority is truth plus power. Courage is love plus power. And intelligence is the total combination of truth, love and power . . . these principles are universal; they cannot be successfully compartmentalized without sacrificing something far more important — our true nature as conscious beings.” — Steve Pavlina

The book is organized around these fundamental principles. Personal anecdotes from Steve’s life illustrate his points and keep the material easy to grasp. The principles are sometimes obvious and sometimes deep. I found myself occasionally thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” (Many times, I did think of that, but had never articulated it so succinctly.) I appreciate his honest communication style and his gift of making deep concepts easy to catch.

“Genuine personal growth is honest growth. You can’t take short-cuts through the land of make-believe.” — Steve Pavlina


I resonated deeply with Steve’s recommendation for the importance of discovering your own truth and then learning how to live it on a moment-to-moment basis. We have all grown up in an era where we are brainwashed by the media. I know that’s a harsh assessment, but my own personal experience convinces me that it’s true. It’s a matter of degrees — some of us are mildly brainwashed and know it, while others are thoroughly brainwashed and clueless. (I explored this idea in depth in previous articles, “The Trouble with TV” and “Trade TV Time for Habits of Personal Development and Success.”)

“The cumulative effect of mass-media exposure is to condition you to adopt a false view of reality — one that upholds pro-advertiser values. The more you expose yourself to mainstream media such as television, the more skewed your mental model of reality becomes . . . this is a path of long-term laziness, apathy, and decay, not intelligent self-actualization.” — Steve Pavlina


Here’s another topic that I have also explored in depth — connecting with other people. Steve explains how his wife, Erin helped him to open up to the fact that deep inside, we are really all one. Once that is experienced, relationships are forever changed. Close relationships become deeper, and new relationships begin to take on new dimensions. (I enjoyed exploring these important ideas in a previous article, “Meaningful Spiritual Relationships — Namaste Matters.” )

“There are few greater joys in life than the experience of conscious communication with another person. No ego games, false fronts, or manipulative tactics are employed. Both individuals simply want to connect with each other for the purpose of learning and growing. Once you’ve experienced such open, loving communication with another human being, it’s hard to settle for anything less.” — Steve Pavlina

Steve explains how Erin is a master of quick connections. She does this easily because she believes, rather she knows in her heart that we are all deeply connected, like individual cells forming one body. It’s not necessary for her to labor over creating new connections with people. Instead she just taps into the underlying connection she knows is already there. I’ve known a few people who can do this – my wife, Janey, for one, and it is a wonder to behold. It feels great, but I must admit, I’m still learning. I believe it, I love the idea of it . . . it’s just that I am still breaking through years of social conditioning and erroneous preconceived notions about our separateness.

“Instead of having to break the ice with someone, assume that there is no ice.” — Steve Pavlina


The idea of exercising your own personal power and deliberately creating your best life is a theme that has run through many of my articles. I have known the value of this for a long time and continually explore new ways to do it better and better. It feels right to take the reins of life firmly in hand and deliberately steer it toward your deepest desires. What could be more important or more satisfying than to manifest the best version of yourself and the best life possible? (See “Your Passion as Your Compass,” and “Integrity Through Self-Reliance” and “Goal Setting or Let Go and Let God.”)

“When you set a goal that improves your present reality, what does it matter how long it takes to achieve the final outcome? Whether it takes one week or five years is irrelevant. The whole path is fun and enjoyable. More important, you feel happy and fulfilled this very moment. This drives you to take action from a state of joy, so you’re productive too. Instead of going after goals you think will make you happy in the distant future, focus on goals that make you happy right now.” — Steve Pavlina


Successful people usually have it. Unsuccessful people usually don’t. That’s a good clue about the importance of self-discipline in a successful and fulfilling life. To me, the idea of self-discipline is simply a promise I make to myself based on my current understanding on what’s best. It has to be best for me, as well as the good of the whole, for me to be able to get behind it and push when necessary.

“It’s your fail-safe, your motivational backup system . . . motivation starts the race, but self-discipline ultimately crosses the finish line.” — Steve Pavlina

Besides the satisfaction of completing self-appointed tasks as a result of well-functioning personal self-discipline, it feels good while the task is in progress too. It helps you feel good about yourself when you know you are capable of making an important promise to yourself . . . and then keeping it. (See previous article, “Self-Discipline in 3 Easy Steps.”)


Socrates said, “Know thyself.” That’s a good first step to being authentic. You can’t be yourself until you know yourself. Social conditioning has a way of turning us into homogenous drones . . . cogs in the wheel of industry and consumerism. There’s more to life that that. Much more. It all begins with our personal authority. Unless you assumne your own authority, don’t expect anyone else to simply grant it to you by default. (See previous article, “Know Thyself — Ignore Comparisons and Be Yourself.”)

“When you live without authority, your default behavior is to squander your time. You may acquire some knowledge, but you won’t apply it well. You may take some action, but your movements will be chaotic and unfocused. You have the potential to live a powerful, self-directed life of your choosing, but until you step into your true authority, this potential remains a fantasy.” — Steve Pavlina

Each of us have the responsibility and the profound privilege to take the raw materials of our life and turn it into the life of our dreams. It’s satisfying beyond measure — easily worth whatever it takes to learn how to do it well. This habit of mental discipline is not done in broad strokes but in the small details of life. It’s the little things over a period of time that add up to making a big difference. What are you doing today that has the potential of making a lasting difference in the quality of your life and your personal satisfaction?

“People of authority focus on what really matters to them. They don’t waste time on trivialities . . . What’s important to you in life? What’s a relative waste of your time? . . . If you can’t honestly predict a positive long-term impact from your actions, admit that you’re wasting your time, and set some goals that really matter to you. There’s no substitute for investing your life in something that has the potential to make a real difference.” — Steve Pavlina


It’s easy to give up. Anyone can do that. And most people do. Succesful people, in all areas of life, are simply people who have tried and failed enough times to have gained a good education. They fall down, get up and keep going. They recognize it as part of the journey. The failures are opportunities to learn, so they don’t shrink from them. Instead they embrace the new lesson learned and press on. Persistent people are inspired people, and they are inspiring. (See previous article, “Persistence and Perseverance for Winners — Losers Just Quit“)

“I don’t get inspired by people who have all the external trappings of success like money and fame. I’m moved by those who I can see are destined for greatness, but no one else knows it yet. The telltale sign is always the same — persistence.” — Steve Pavlina


One of my favorite authors in Carlos Castaneda and the way he described his tutelage by the Yaqui Indian shaman, Don Juan. I’ve read all his books, some of them several times, so I wasn’t surprised when Steve Pavlina quoted Don Juan . . .

“Before you embark on [any path] ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path . . . When a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him.” — Carlos Castaneda

Does this idea hold any special meaning to you? The idea of a path with heart is a very personal idea, and only you can recognize the truth of your answer. It reminds me of the lyrics to one of my songs:

“And no one but you can find the answer to your quest
Your answer’s for you and not all the rest
(You know your answer’s the best, it’s not a contest)
The question is easy enough, and any honest answer is good enough
You really gotta know . . . . . what do you love?”
- From the song, “Do What You Love” by Tupelo Kenyon

When you are in alignment with what you love, your path has heart. You find it easy, even joyful, to take action. You’re commited, and you like it that way. It’s not a chore but a thrill to do things when you are on your path with heart. (To honestly explore your personal path with heart, see this previous article, “10 Steps to Discovering Your Life’s Purpose.”)

“It’s a great idea to consciously intent what you want, and I highly recommend you do that, but if you don’t want something badly enough to take direct action, then what does that say about your intention? Doesn’t that suggest you aren’t really commited to it? When you’re really hungry, will you wait patiently for food to arrive, or will you get up and make something to eat? When your intentions are important to you, direct action becomes part of the manifestation process. The best instruments of the Law of Attraction are your own hands and feet.” — Steve Pavlina


There’s something deeply satisfying about reading what an intelligent person has to say about intelligence. That’s one of the reasons why I have enjoyed reading Einstein’s words, who said, “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.”

Steve is a very imaginative person, plus he has learned how to apply the knowledge he has gained. It takes intelligence to do that. His book allows him to take the next step which is to share what he has learned. He has worked hard on his communication skills because he recognizes the importance of sharing the wealth of his intelligence with others. I love being inspired by articulate, intelligent, big-hearted people . . .

“Intelligence is the highest form of human expression. Our intelligence is what defines us as human beings. It is our greatest strength, our staunchest ally, and our most noble pursuit. Without it, we are nothingness; we are form without substance and existence without purpose. It is only through the deliberate exercise of intelligence that we give our lives meaning, a meaning that is consciously chosen . . . the most intelligent thing you can possibly do with your life is to grow.” — Steve Pavlina


Personally chosen, deliberately cultivated habits help keep us on track. They are tools that allow us to translate our resolve into our daily lives. They simplify the day-to-day activities that help us get from where we are to where we want to be. Good habits are our friends, and I really appreciated the following jewels of insight Steve offered on the subject of habits . . .

“How do you know if a habit is positive or negative? Use your mind’s predictive powers to imagine what long-term, cumulative effect each one will have if you maintain it for the rest of your life . . .

“Since habits wield power over your results, you must wield power over your habits . . .

“Take a moment to consider the social consequences of your actions. Do your habits help others align themselves with truth, love and power, or does your behavior lead people astray? . . . Which habits put you on a path with a heart? . . . When your habits are aligned with truth, love and power, the guy in the glass is your friend.” — Steve Pavlina


It’s inspiring to learn from someone who has figured out a way to harness his greatest gifts to experience abundance while helping others at the same time. This paradigm is still rarely manifested in our current society, but examples like Steve can inspire us to our own greatest potential of contribution.

“. . . the best way to optimize your income is to find a career medium that allows you to share your most important message. By sharing your message with others, you provide exactly the kind of value that can generate abundant income.” — Steve Pavlina

I appreciate Steve’s take on contribution vs. mooching. Many of us are taught to get as much as we can for as little as possible. That is, maximize the return while minimizing the input. The natural extension of this mindset is a nation (or a world) of people expecting a handout. It’s entitlement mentality run a muck.

Instead, Steve does a fine job of extolling the virtues (personally and globally) of a mindset based on contribution. When you provide value, it is inevitable that you receive value in return. It’s a wonderful idea and a tad sad that such a common sense approach has fallen out of favor in modern society. Imagine what it would be like if everyone dealt with one another with this dedication to contribution, rather than focusing on, “What can I get?”

“To build an authentic career, you need to find the path that keeps you aligned with truth, love and power. This requires paying attention to the following four questions:

1. Body (needs): What must I do?
2. Mind (abilities): What can I do?
3. Heart (desire): What do I want to do?
4. Spirit (contribution): What should I do?

“An authentic career is found in the place where all four of these questions produce the same answer . . . When you have all four areas working synergistically together, the combined effect is truly amazing. Instead of meeting your needs, you experience true abundance. Instead of applying your knowledge to your tasks, you unlock your true genius. Instead of tolerating your daily routine, you work in a state of joy. And instead of just putting in your time, you fill your days with a sense of purpose.” — Steve Pavlina


It’s best to learn from those who know. I once had a college instructor who never once demonstrated what he taught. He taught a swimming class, and he never got wet. It was difficult to believe the teacher was much of an authority on the subject when he shouted his instructions from the sidelines. It would have been easier to learn from him if he would have joined us in the game. is one of the world’s most popular personal development blogs (if not the most popular). With over two million visitors per month, he knows what he is talking about, whether he is speaking about personal development or financial development.

“. . . money is a human invention to facilitate the exchange of value. To shun money as something evil or unnecessary is a huge mistake. When properly aligned with truth, love and power, it becomes a valuable tool of conscious living — one that’s too important to ignore. If you want to live consciously, you must learn to use money intelligently . . . work within the area of overlap between your personal values and social values. This will enable you to do what you love while creating something that others treasure as well. Don’t force yourself to focus between your integrity and your income — demand that both be satisfied.” — Steve Pavlina

The section on money in Steve’s book is thorough and thought-provoking. It will challenge you to rethink your assumptions about money and how to get more of it. I feel confident almost everyone will benefit from this enlightened look at money.

“Do your best to create and share your value with others, and you’ll help create a richer and more abundant world for all of us.” — Steve Pavlina


True to his commitment to personal experimentation, many of Steve’s major health improvements have been a result of his 30-day trial technique. This is how he proved to himself that his body responded best to vegetarianism. More energy, clearer focus, less sleep required, and other benefits convinced him to adopt it as a lifestyle choice after the 30-day trial period was over.

I am also interested in diet, nutrition and health and have devoured many books on the subject. I wrote a thorough review on one of my favorites. (See previous article, “Finally the Truth About Diet — The China Study Review.“)

The ideas in Steve’s section on health and in “The China Study” are not mainstream. In fact, they are controversial, not because they are so outrageous but because we have drifted so far away from common sense in our dietary choices. Yes, we are the product of insidious social conditioning and are trained to eat, not what is good for us, but what is most profitable for the advertisers to sell. Recognizing this fact is the first step to assuming responsibility for our own health and deliberately choosing what we put in our mouth.

“In order to be healthy today, you must exercise your self-discipline to overcome the drag of social conditioning. Summon the maturity to make intelligent choices for yourself, regardless of what throngs of sick people encourage you to do . . . the truth is that if the average person wouldn’t consider your current health practices extreme, you probably aren’t very healthy.” — Steve Pavlina

Diet and nutrition is a science in its infancy. It’s easy to find conflicting advice from different experts. (That’s one reason why I appreciated “The China Study” so much. It’s not based on any fad diet or conjecture or marketing hype. In fact, it’s based in emperical scientific evidence gathered during the largest nutritional study ever done on planet earth!)

Ultimately, each one of us makes the decision of what we eat. That one seemingly simple decision has a major impact on the level of health and vitality we experience throughout our lifetimes.

“You can delegate control, but never responsibility . . . If I give you any particular advice in this area that doesn’t resonate with you, you should reject it and trust your own judgement instead.” — Steve Pavlina


We are all in this together and we are all in this alone. It’s an interesting paradox. Our lives are defined and given shape by the other people in our lives. The people we choose to spend time with influence us in many seen and unseen ways. Especially for those of us interested in personal development, we need to pick our companions carefully and deliberately in order to support our chosen direction of personal growth. (These ideas were explored in previous articles, “Choose the Companionship of Positive People Who Inspire You” and “Life Drama as Blockage to Personal Development.”)

“I’ve learned to place a great deal of trust in my feelings when it comes to relationships. When something feels wrong to me, I know the best thing I can do is to go to the other person and explain that something doesn’t seem right so that we can work together to sort it out. When you bring truth to your relationships, you build closeness and trust.” — Steve Pavlina

Some of our most important life lessons and aha moments come as a result of our relationships, so it makes sense to do our best to communicate well and be considerate of others. A little kindness goes a long way . . .

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting battles too,
Cruel wars within themselves, just like it is with you.
Be kind, because you’ll never know just how much good you’ll do,
A heartfelt word or two can soothe a hidden wound.

“Sometimes the ripples from our deed’s a gentle touch, doesn’t seem to matter much,
It’s like dropping flowers in the Grand Canyon.
And though we’ll never know just what becomes of them, it’s all the same to them,
So drop them anyway, because you can.”
- from the song, “Be Kind” by Tupelo Kenyon

One of the things I appreciate most about Steve’s book is the way he threads the themes of truth, love and power through all the aspects of personal development, including his very insightful look at relationships.

“Exchanges that are lacking in truth, love, or power eventually grow stale, but when all three elements are present, the blocks to deeper levels of connection and closeness are removed . . . What mix of truth, love, and power do you use to connect with others? Realize that your weakest channel will be the source of many of your communication problems . . . When you know your dominant connection strategy, you can use it deliberately to regain your closeness whenever you start feeling a little distant from one another.” — Steve Pavlina

Building close relationships involves an element of risk, but a little courage can make a big difference in the quality of your life. You can’t always expect other people to initiate the contact. Sometimes it’s up to you to extend your hand (and your heart) and invite people in. Imagine what you could miss out on, if you don’t.

“The biggest risks are missing out on laughs you never shared, people you never helped, and the potential partner you sentenced to solitude . . .

“Since all human relationships are impermanent, live with the awareness that every one of your current connections will eventually end. Take the time to appreciate them while they last, and don’t take them for granted. Even when a relationship ends in death, it can still continue in your thoughts. The memories of loving relationships can become your most sacred treasures.” — Steve Pavlina

One of our most popular songs explores this idea. Like love itself, it’s a timeless idea. Those we love go right on living in our hearts, long after they’ve left this world.

“And even though you’re hurting now, the hurting will not last,
The strength you gain from such a pain remains when it’s all past.
And even this will pass away, like this life itself someday,
And all that we take with us is the love we gave away.”
- from the song, “All That We Take with Us” by Tupelo Kenyon


In this section of the book, Steve challenges us to look at our idea of spirituality through the lenses of truth, love and power, rather than the conditioned habits of custom, peer pressure, and heredity. It’s an enlightened approach to spirituality, stripped clean of outdated dogma and exclusive ideas designed to keep us loyal to one particular brand. What passes for spirituality has a history of tearing us apart rather than bringing us together.

I love the way Steve encourages us to consider all things spiritual and take the best of what each has to offer. It assumes the ancient words of Shakespeare were actually true and that we actually care enough to keep an open mind rather than blindly clinging to any one viewpoint . . .”There are more things in heaven and earth than ever dreamed of by your philosophies.”

“Just as your physical senses act as a lens through which you perceive different subsets of reality, your spiritual senses also act as cognitive filtering mechanisms. These filters allow you to focus on bits and pieces of preprocessed information which may or may not be useful to you. The more spiritual sensory data you can access and comprehend, the richer your spiritual life will be, and the more accurately it will model truth . . .

“When we confront the key spiritual question of our lives, such as Who am I? And What is my purpose in life? . . . we can limit our input to a small subset of these channels. In general, when we limit our input too severely, we end up making things harder than necessary, much like trying to prepare a meal while wearing a blindfold and earplugs. This is what happens when we say, ‘I’m only going to consider this single spiritual point of view because it’s the one and only truth’ . . .

“Even though each channel of input has limited expressiveness, if you can access a diverse enough set of channels, each one compressed and filtered in different ways, you can develop a more accurate and complete picture of reality. Each belief system you consider provides another way of viewing the same underlying data, thus helping you develop a better understanding of the whole . . .

“By examining your problems from different philosophical viewpoints, you empower yourself. Holistic solutions finally start to emerge. You gain the ability to solve problems you were previously unable to solve . . . most of us are socially conditioned to overlook the simplicity of across-the-board, high-level solutions because we cling to fixed belief systems that prevent us from seeing the big picture.” — Steve Pavlina

These ideas are close to my heart as I look around the planet and see the result of so many people stubornly clinging to some particular brand of spirituality and refusing to see any merit in any other viewpoint. That’s got to be the manifestation of ultimate insecurity to not even be able to consider the validity of a different idea. (I explored this idea in previous articles, “Beyond the Brands of Truth” and “Beyond Science, Philosophy and Religion.”)

Clear thinking and honest exploration of truth is a refreshing approach to spirituality, and that’s why I appreciate Steve’s style of saying what he thinks and feels, even though it’s not the mainstream viewpoint. Far from it. But, I recognize that the tide is turning as more and more people worldwide are beginning to take responsibility for their own spirituality and making their own choices, rather than settling for being spoon fed by tradition.

“A multispectral philosophy of life — that is, one that combines input from multiple perspectives — aligns closely with what’s considered common sense . . .

“The point of spiritual exploration is to help you make conscious, empowering choices . . .

“Many serious conflicts in the world result from the decision to pass on beliefs that label other human beings as unworthy, damaged, or evil . . .

“Your beliefs are not merely observations of reality; they also shape and define your experience of reality. Many of the thoughts you hold most sacred may reveal hidden falsehoods once you take the opportunity to consider the alternatives.” —Steve Pavlina

Celebrating an Expansive Viewpoint

This empowering book, like all great books, performs magic. It allows us to take a peek inside one of the great minds of our time. As a result, it makes the inside of my head (and heart) feel bigger. What more could you ask for in a book?

These last Steve Pavlina quotes do a fine job of tying it all together . . .

“The ultimate goal of any sound spiritual path is to be infinitely truthful, infinitely loving, and infinitely powerful. By extension, this also requires infinite oneness, infinite authority, and infinite courage . . .

“If it were somehow possible for everyone on earth to come together and agree on a single spiritual philosophy, it would be one that incorporates the universal principles of truth, love, and power. These are the ideals that guide us not only as human beings, but also as spiritual beings . . .

“Invest in creative self-expression, service and contribution, and you will suffer no scarcity. Your greatest gift to the world is to share who you really are . . . No one is served by your refusal to shine.” — Steve Pavlina

Personal Appreciation

Although I don’t personally know Steve and his wife, Erin, they both feel like old friends that Janey and I haven’t yet met. Steve’s writings have been a source of inspiration and encouragement to me for a couple of years. I first went to his website as a result of a link in an email from Derek Sivers, founder of Derek was impressed that anyone could graduate from college after only three (very busy) semesters, and recommended an article Steve wrote on how he accomplished that.

I began exploring his other articles and it soon became clear I had found a kindred spirit. His example inspired me to begin writing again, and was born shortly thereafter. The blog spawned the “Inspired on Purpose” newsletter which provides satisfaction and inspiration for myself as well as others. I have Steve Pavlina to thank for all this.

Thanks Steve, for all you do . . . and all you are.

Tupelo Kenyon

P.S. Get this book, while it’s in first edition. It’s a classic, and I could only hint at it’s empowering breadth and depth in this (rather long) gushing review.

While reading, did you choose to hear the relaxing instrumental music linked at the beginning of this article? To learn more about it, click here.

Listen FREE to the songs below . . . chosen to enhance the ideas in this article.

Related Songs
Do What You Love
Discovering what we have a true passion for, and then figuring out a way to build a life around that passion is one of life’s greatest feelings of accomplishment.

Be Kind
Your example and the kindness shown to others can have a rippling affect that goes on and on.

All That We Take With Us
Even sorrow brings us gifts of deeper understanding and a clearer perspective of what is really important.

Endless Journey
Traveling has so many gifts to give! Spectacular scenery, interesting cultural differences, and the inspiring people you’ll meet. What a well-rounded education is provided by getting away and looking around . . . and, it’s an inspiring education that never has to end.

Songs by Tupelo

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Is truth absolute or relative? Is there anything beyond science, philosophy and religion? Many of the world’s top quantum physicists think there is. Celebrate life by stretching you imagination.

Articles by Tupelo

This is the end of the article entitled Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina Book Review published by Tupelo Kenyon on November 13, 2008 at 10:33 pm | In Abundance, Awareness, Belief Systems, Communication, Courage, Diet and Nutrition, Discipline, Health and Fitness, Inner Guidance, Integrity, Law of Attraction, Manifestation, Passion, Productivity, Purpose, Relationships, Self-Image, Thinking - Copyright 2007 - All rights reserved worldwide.

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