Posts Tagged ‘self-actualization’

The Paint-By-Numbers Guide to Your Creative Self-Actualization

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Yesterday, an email arrived in my inbox from a popular “lifestyle design” website. This sales letter encouraged me to become a rebellious Jedi Knight and design my life on my terms by joining a mentoring and training program along with like-minded revolutionaries. The pitch contained the following hilarious typo (emphasis mine):

The [product name removed] is the belief system (or faith) that underpins an accomplished, virtuous, successful, and joyous life – a life free from the tyrannical oppression of independent thought and independent action.

Ah, finally some honesty in advertising. For what is the consumer of such a personal development product really wanting than a guaranteed blueprint to self-actualization, a life free from the oppressing existential dread of having to make decisions amidst a backdrop of groundlessness and meaninglessness!

Ordinarily we think of freedom as an unequivocally positive concept. … Yet freedom viewed from the perspective of ultimate ground is riveted to dread. In its existential sense “freedom” refers to the absence of external structure. …the individual is entirely responsible for…his or her own world, life design, choices, and actions. “Freedom” in this sense, has a terrifying implication: it means that beneath us there is no ground—nothing, a void, an abyss. A key existential dynamic, then, is the clash between our confrontation with groundlessness and our wish for ground and structure.
~from the introduction of Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom

The ebooks, video courses, life coaching, blogs, and email newsletters of many a budding personal development guru largely aim to provide a pain-free “paint-by-numbers” structure for one’s existential condition—all the while promising liberation that can only come from a direct confrontation with that groundlessness and desire for stability.

In fact, for all the talk of freedom, liberation, creativity, meaning, and purpose, few if any bloggers in our community seem to be wrestling with the existential dilemmas that give rise to such: the inevitability of death, the burdens of responsibility, one’s feeling of existential isolation from others, feelings of meaninglessness, existential anxiety, despair, and dread. While personal development and even lifestyle design promise solutions to existential problems, the cult of positivity prevents even the most superficial discussion of the underlying issues that might lead to their resolution. Indeed, considering existential questions is not something one does in polite company. It’s as if we fear that if one stares into the void too long they will be transfixed as if by Medusa’s gaze, unable to look away, trapped forever in overwhelming despair.

The title of this blog post was of course a joke. Years ago I remember reading about Albert Einstein and becoming inspired by his creativity. I remember clearly having the thought “I want to be creative—just like Einstein.” I laughed out loud at the absurdity! Clearly if I was creative in the same way as Einstein then I was a copycat and thus not creative at all. I hope more and more people will wake up to the absurdity of attempting to solve one’s existential dilemmas with a $47 ebook or the equivalent. Perhaps such products, failing to resolve the problems of the human condition, will also lead some of us to face our lives with resolute courage, allowing us to finally come to terms with the deepest struggles of being.

Synthesization of Money and Mind

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009


It has now been nearly three weeks since James Arthur Ray reached the rank of level 60 cult leader after his “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge ceremony left three of his followers dead.  McDuffee wrote two excellent posts following the incident,  him and Theo have since gone on to face Ray personally at his event in Denver a few weeks ago, and was quoted in the New York Times in the process. Nevertheless these events have brought to the forefront the potential damaging consequences of the super-star personal development guru all over again.  This incident has caused many people to think about the persuasive processes utilized and technologies of the self that James Arthur Ray and other guru’s have so consistently offered to the masses.

There are a wide variety of assumptions that come into play when individuals find themselves involved in personal development.  They must trust that the guru knows what they are talking about, that they have their best intentions at heart, aren’t going to walk off the stage after five minutes of talking and so on.  However, the most pivotal and important assumption is the belief that understanding how technologies of the self-function translates directly into the ability to effectively use them in the world. This is where I split from most of the personal development paradigm.  I think that technologies of the self must be synthesized by the self in a subjective manner. (more…)

The Science of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, and the Implications for Society

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

I recently watched a very interesting, much-linked-to-and-discussed TED talk with Dan Pink entitled “on the surprising science of motivation.” Pink presents a case for why extrinsic motivation—rewards and punishments—worked great for manufacturing and compliance, but is counterproductive for knowledge work and creativity. He cites many interesting psychological studies as to why intrinsic motivation—a desire for autonomy, mastery, and purpose—works much better for engagement and self-direction, critical factors for contemporary knowledge work.

Pink presents two kinds of radical changes to workplaces that increase intrinsic motivation: 20% time and the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). 20% time is famously employed at Google, where employees get to work on whatever projects they want for 20% of their designated hours. This unusual work structure has been said to have given birth to many of the cool Google features many people love, such as Gmail. ROWE is an even more radical idea, which is that employees are given full autonomy to work whenever they want, from wherever they want, and meetings are optional. The only things that matter are getting results defined by the company.

Many blogs in the personal development/marketing sphere have covered ROWE and 20% time, usually very positively, and rarely covering any socio-cultural, economic, or political aspects of these ideas besides that of increased productivity. What would be the likely implications for society if such measures were much more widely implemented? How might they benefit society, and what potential risks or drawbacks would there be?