Time for a book review! Welcome to my thoughts about Personal Development for Smart People. Author Steve Pavlina is a raw food vegan, but this isn’t a book about veganism, or about motivation for vegans, although it is mentioned in places as an example of self-improvement (who’d have thought there was a connection?… ha.).
Self-help books have been coming out of the publishing world’s wahzoo for the last decade in insane numbers. People can’t get enough of feel-good quackery and quick-fix pick-me-ups. But, if you’re like me, most of what you’ve stumbled across will have gone in one ear and out the other – either the author’s are repeating what you’ve heard a million times before, or they’re not quite hitting the mark where your issues are concerned, or they’re spouting tired, old rhetoric you can do without.
If you want help or new ideas about how to get things done in life or to take life up a notch, and you don’t want to be one of Those People who hangs around therapy offices throwing money at psychologists (whose patients, for the most part, only have an average 30-something-% success/improvement rate), what do you do? Improving diet is a good start – keeping it clean to keep out unnecessary hormone and chemical imbalances. You might look to friends and family who have something in common with you, often, but failing that – then what?
How about some people with similar interests and ethics who are writing self-help books? How about nerdy vegan bloggers who can string together coherent sentences? They ought to be capable of ringing a few bells in the old noggin if you’re anything like me! But looking for non-fiction books by vegan geeks that aren’t about veganism specifically narrows the field a little… and then along comes Steve Pavlina and his shiny new tome Personal Development for Smart People.
About the book
I have plenty of positive things to say about this book, but! I’m going to quibble nonetheless. I hate a review that doesn’t quibble in the slightest, even if the result is 5 stars! I think slapping the perfection label on something is a bit lazy… but, to be clear, this book certainly doesn’t nuke any fridges. It doesn’t even come close (and thank goodness for that! I’ve had about all I can take of people surviving nuclear blasts by hiding in refrigerators for this year!).
Personal Development for Smart People starts out well: it draws you right in – like any book worth half its salt should! – but towards the end of Part I it started to lose me. Part I is the theory behind his personal development practices, and it goes into a lot of detail. It will probably improve on a second or third read-through, if you apply his methods studiously and refer back to the text during that time, but straight up I was keen to get into some practical application a little earlier on. Most of it was pretty darn inspiring nonetheless! Steve Pavlina assumes his audience is smart, and his conversational, blogger-influenced tone is far from condescending or instructive, which is probably what stops a lot of people from acting on the useful information hidden within the depths of most personal development books.
Part II grabbed my attention very early on with methods of putting his theory into practice: I’ve read a lot of self-help books over the years, and truly this is the first one that’s ever got me off my butt immediately upon reading it! There’s some magic in them thar pages! But towards the end of Part II, the applied theory seemed to fade back into the realm of theory a little… but perhaps that was just me! The career chapter was quite motivating for me, at this point in my life, and the other sections, perhaps, are not so vitally important to me right now.
The spiritual components of the discussion may throw some people. An element of New Age creeps in, but for those familiar with personal development books of old, such as The Power of Positive Thinking, this will be seen as a very welcome improvement! Authors inevitably share themselves in motivation writing – this is not Psych 101 where the doctor keeps his issues strictly separate (or tries to) from his patients. This is your friendly neighbourhood überblogger, and he knows you – his audience – quite well and you probably know him already, unless you’ve been living under an 8-bit rock or confined yourself to a self-help-free zone. A great deal of the power behind Personal Development for Smart People comes from the personalised approach… and here’s where I’m going to delve into a few of the parts that interested me the most, and that are most relevant to the content of this blog…
The vegan-related bits!
Chapter 11 discusses health-improvement aspects of personal development, and, like all the other chapters in Part II, is divided up into sections that relate to each of the theory chapters in Part I: truth, love, power, oneness, authority, courage, and intelligence. Under the heading of “Health and Love” we find a piece about Steve Pavlina’s journey into veganism that is quite fascinating.
” … The principle of love helps you to connect with the foods that are most naturally attractive to you. Pay attention to which ones feel intuitively right and which feel intuitively wrong. How do you feel about an apple? A hot dog? A bowl of rice? A stalk of broccoli? Do some items feel healthy to you while others don’t? Could you improve your health simply by doing a better job of honoring what your intuition is already telling you? Are you treating your body in a loving manner?
I feel most connected to foods that sprout from the earth itself, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. Items that emerge from a factory or a slaughterhouse feel intuitively wrong to me. I feel more loving and connected when I eat natural plant foods.
When I think about eating animals, however, I feel disconnected from empathy and love. I’m forced to connect with the reality of rotting, decaying flesh. I know that a living being has been violently killed before its natural life span is up, usually after being imprisoned its whole life under conditions any human would consider torturous. I know that slaughterhouses experience massive employee turnover because few human beings can stomach such work for long. I know that enormous amounts of resources must be expended and tons of waste produced in order to deliver animal foods to my plate. I see major incongruencies and unfairness, with some animals being valued as loving human companions while others are treated as edible substances, merely because of differences in taste and profitability. I see a living being that’s been reduced to a dollar sign.
The only way I can justify eating animal foods is to disregard my intuition and dismiss my conscience. Since I’ve committed myself to conscious living, I cannot possibly do this. I’ve eaten no animal flesh since 1993 and no animal-derived products since 1997. I wish I could say that these realizations were the catalyst for those changes, but the truth is that I conducted a 30-day trial of eating no animal foods purely out of curiosity, and my awareness of the consequences of my food choices increased during and after the experiment to the point where I could never go back.
When I eat processed, packaged foods, I feel more foggy and disconnected. I see lifeless chemicals that may fuel my body but can never fully nourish me. I know such foods are marketed and sold based on their profitability, not their health properties, so these products don’t feel loving to me. I see falsehood promoted as truth, fragmentation presented as wholeness, and weakness pitched as strength. Eating large quantities of such foods lowers my consciousness and makes me less of who I am.
What do you feel when you tune in to the foods you eat? … ”
Personal Development for Smart People is by no means a non-mainstream book, but here, within the pages and anecdotes, we nonetheless find ourselves with some vegan smarts usually not brought up for fear of frightening people off. And the one above is not the only mention made of his preferred ethical and healthful approach to life.
Steve Pavlina is known for being forthright, and his book is no exception. It’s a relief! And it’s honest, and it encourages you to bring more honesty and directness into one’s own life. To me, the whole book is about healthy living! I was a bit wary about reading chapter 10 about Money, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there, too. I thought the Spirituality chapter would bug the hell out of me (excuse the pun), but it was a holistic, dogma-free approach that was more about philosophy than religion… although a religious person approaching it from a different perspective would probably interpret much of it otherwise!
So… I think I’ll cut it short and end the review here… yes, short. There’s plenty more I could say about this book! It’s sure to find a home on my “favourite books” shelf in my rather extensive little library.
Stars? Is it possible to put a value on a useful book? Really? If I have to, then I give it: 4.5 shining stars out of 5… but, as I said, some sections of the book may improve on a second or third read-through, so that score may be amended in the future.
Personal Development for Smart People is available in bookshops all over the internet. I’m not going to give you a link to Amazon, because I’m not a fan. Instead, here’s a link to The Book Depository, which has free (free!) postage… worldwide! Nice. Interestingly that means that it works out to be the cheapest online bookshop for Australians to buy from… Wacky.
You can also check out Steve Pavlina’s blog over at stevepavlina.com, where you will find him currently engaged in a trial of a juice fast! Fascinating stuff, and some good juice recipes to boot. Yummy. Check out his blog archives for other fascinating trials he’s conducted on various ways of living/improving, such as polyphasic sleep.
Coming up next…
I’ve updated the look of this blog over the past few days! I think it’s pretty, but let me know if it bugs the heck out of you.
I’ve noticed a lot of vegan blogs are participating in Vegan MoFo – “Vegan Month of Food” – in which people post about what they’re eating and other vegan-type things during the month of November, rather than participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). So… count me in! It’s about time I started updating this thing on a regular basis again.
I’ve pretty much got into the swing of incorporating a lot more raw food in my daily life, and my pregnancy has settled down and the little bits of nausea and tiredness and other bothersome issues have passed by now… So, onwards, and into Vegan MoFo, with recipes, photos, research tidbits, news, and other fun (hopefully!) bits and pieces. The beginning of next week is a bit busy, and includes my 20-week ultrasound, various homebirth midwife and other baby-related things, and also World Vegan Day stuff, so the first week might be a bit scant, but I’ll do my best to post daily-ish… or thereabouts! See you ’round the interwebs!
Happy Halloween/Samhain, northern hemispherians! & Happy Beltane to the southerners!