We often think of self-development as a pursuit that builds positive capabilities such as courage, ambition, or a success mindset. And of course it can generate many positive results if we truly invest in it, such as loving relationships, a meaningful and lucrative career, and a rewarding lifestyle.
But we can easily overlook just how beautifully self-development protects us from major problems in life, including serious but common problems that drag many people down for years, if not decades.
I originally got into self-development as a path away from self-destructive behavior when I was younger. I turned my efforts towards personal growth largely because I wanted to shift away from who I was and towards becoming someone better.
If I hadn’t done this, I could very well have spent much of my 20s in and out of jail. Later in life I met someone whose story started out similar to mine, and he did just that, spending eight years of his life behind bars.
Instead of letting my life continue to slide in that direction, I started reading books and listening to audio programs. I built up my self-control and discipline, went back to school, and earned two degrees in three semesters. Self-development invited me to invest my energy in a constructive direction, and I’m grateful for that. It saved me from many problems.
While some people may take this for granted, sometimes I find it gratifying just to count how many years it’s been since I was last arrested – more than 29 years and still going. There was a time in my life where just staying out of jail was a pretty meaningful benefit of self-development, and I still like to pause to appreciate this from time to time.
If self-development work prevents even one addiction, that’s a huge payoff, especially since any addiction will weaken your self-control, which drags you down in other areas of life.
I’ve never had to deal with a nicotine addiction because I’ve never tried cigars or cigarettes. I don’t have to deal with alcohol addiction. The worst I’ve had to deal with addiction-wise was shoplifting, which I got over decades ago; and caffeine, which isn’t as hard to give up as some substances. I’m currently caffeine-free (and chocolate-free too since that’s a stimulant as well).
When I see the depths that people struggle with serious, long-term addictions, such as smoking – stealing many years from them, wasting so much money, and boxing in their social lives – I feel grateful to have avoided such a trap. I poured a lot of energy that could have been invested in various addictions into learning, reading, travel, relationships, and other beneficial experiences.
Preventing Loneliness and Depression
Think of how much time and energy people lose to loneliness and depression, including all the side effects such as more sick days, lower performance at work, and various relationship problems. If your investment in self-development helps you prevent or overcome such issues, that’s a huge (yet often invisible) gain.
I wasn’t the happiest person when I was younger, but I’ve learned to become happier over time by investing in habits that make depression unlikely and happiness more likely: a vegan diet with lots of raw foods and whole foods, regular exercise, lots of human touch and cuddles, doing meaningful work, and building good problem-solving and coping skills. I couldn’t just access those habits immediately. It took many years of working on myself to get my behaviors to align with creating happier results.
A lot of depression is caused by physical imbalances. The brain does something we don’t want it to do. If we can study and understand those patterns better, we can steer the brain towards better balance. Cardio exercise, for instance, is among the most effective mood boosters.
Preventing Health Problems
Lifestyle illnesses are commonplace these days, and many are highly preventable with sufficient investment in self-development. If you live a long and healthy life without having to deal with cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or other lifestyle illnesses, you may be tempted to take that for granted, but realize that most people do not prevent such illnesses and eventually die from them.
You may not be able to control every aspect of disease, but you can control many inputs that can prevent or reverse disease, assuming you build your self-discipline to the point where you have enough conscious control to develop healthy, long-term habits.
Imagine how many drugs, surgeries, and other medical interventions could be prevented if we all invested more in self-development. We might reduce the need for such interventions by 90% or more. Lack of investment in self-development creates not just a huge individual burden but also a huge societal burden. And which is easier and more accessible? To invest more time and energy in personal growth and encourage others to join us… or to fix the healthcare system?
Imagine also how many problems we prevent when one person who might otherwise decide to start another junk food business, pauses and reflects on her life purpose before making that decision. Suppose she chooses instead to open a chain of fitness studios with plant-based food and juice bars, thereby helping people to raise their standards and build more self-control. More self-development investment means more socially responsible businesses.
Preventing Major Setbacks
Setbacks happen, but many are preventable or predictable. It’s predictable that surprises will happen in life. We just don’t know what the surprises will be till we experience them, but the existence of surprises points to the need for preparation.
When you prepare well, a potential setback becomes an opportunity, or at least it’s just a pivot. You roll with whatever life throws at you, and you keep flowing your energy in the direction of growth. You learn to maintain a growth mindset instead of wallowing in a fixed (or victim) mindset.
You may not even realize how valuable self-development work is till you notice how well you’re managing a challenge that would have stifled you in the past, but now you’re able to handle it with grace and poise by developing qualities such as preparedness, resilience, and trust.
How many years of our lives could we lose to stagnation if we’re not careful? How many years have you been stuck in a misaligned job or relationship? It’s hard not to think about what more could have been created with those years.
A key aspect of self-development is awareness. You learn to look at many parts of your life to seek out areas of stagnation, bring them into the light, and work on them till you get unstuck and start progressing again.
Imagine what a little more awareness and a little more courage can do for you in terms of preventing stagnation. This could potentially save you from decades of being stuck in a misaligned situation.
Self-development can also help with defining your purpose, so you don’t stagnate due to a sense of meaninglessness. You can develop yourself into a person with a rich and meaningful life instead.
Sometimes the benefits of self-development are simple and right in our faces. Do you get to live and work in clean, clutter-free environments? If so you probably have self-development to thank for it, either yours or someone else’s.
When clutter piles up, it’s due to a lack of skill, a lack of attentiveness, or both. Organizing skills and attentiveness can both be trained up.
While the achievement side of self-development may seem sexier, it’s important to acknowledge just how much misery and struggle you may be saving yourself by investing in a lifelong journey of personal growth. Even a modest investment could save you decades of difficulty by helping you lean away from a single bad decision. Consider the value of never smoking that first cigarette.
Sometimes I like to pause and consider the many preventative blessings of this path. I’m not addicted to drugs. I don’t need any medications. I’m not depressed or lonely. I don’t have heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. And I got to write this article in an uncluttered office by candlelight in the early morning time, which is way nicer than trying to write from jail.
I started getting into self-development about 29 years ago. I like that because of that investment, each decade of my life keeps getting better, and more delightful memories are being accumulated. It’s not about the quick fixes. Very little changes over the span of weeks or months. But with years and decades of investment, the benefits really add up when you consider all the problems you successfully dodged. What really drives this home is when you see people your own age still struggling with the consequences of problems that you avoided but they didn’t.
And of course another benefit of self-development is that many problems that you didn’t actually prevent can be remedied after the fact. Focus on developing the personal qualities you need to create better solutions. Do you need more courage? More self-discipline? A deep dive into self-awareness through character sculpting? Where would a long-term investment pay off for you? You may as well start today. Starting anywhere is better than not starting.