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The 4 Stages of Personal Development

February 20th, 2008 by Ryan

4 Stages of Personal DevelopmentHow effective are all these personal development books, cds, and blogs?  Has it transformed your life as much as you hoped?  If not, it may be because you are stuck in one of the stages.

I first got into self improvement in my sophomore year of high school when a friend sent me Jim Rohn's The Art of Exceptional Living.  Once I realized that I had the power to change myself for the better, it seemed like a whole new world had opened up.  

I dove in every book I could find about business, speaking, prosperity, real estate, positive thinking; you name it.  Fast forward almost 10 years to this blog and you'll notice my change of focus from self improvement to spirituality. 

The core difference in approaches is simple.  Self improvement works with the notion that you can change yourself for the better by attaining more knowledge and with constant refinement. 

Spirituality works with the notion that you already know or have access to all the knowledge in the world, it's just a matter of relaxing into your true self and realizing the power you've always had inside. 

I like the term personal development as a bridge between the two.

Along this path of self discovery, I've noticed four distinct stages that a person goes through in developing themselves: Read, Practice, Integrate, Teach.

1) Read or Listen to Gain Knowledge.   Reading, listening, or viewing will allow you to become aware of something on a logical level.  You understand the concept and the idea and you can imagine how it is true based on what you already know of life.  

This is the first stage of personal development as you become aware of new information.  The new information can act as a guide for future decisions, yet alone, doesn't immediately change you too much.

Most people assume that knowledge is the same as wisdom, and that by knowing more they will become more.  This is not the case, as they are forgetting a few steps.

2) Practice to Gain Wisdom.  Practice is the act of taking what you know and acting on it.  As advanced and smart as our minds are, they are no substitute for the real world. 

In the words of Dan Millman, Author of The Peaceful Warrior:

Only action has the power to turn knowledge into wisdom. Once Socrates and I were servicing a car, and I was doing the windows and he was pumping the gas, and I said, "Well, what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?"

He just looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, "Knowledge is knowing how to clean the windows, and wisdom is doing it." Wisdom is practice, practice, practice.

When we put an idea into action, we see how true it really is for us and this is the stage where change begins to take place. 

It's easy to know how to meditate or how to ride a bike but our body doesn't feel any different until we actually start to do one.  (Although visualization, which is imagining yourself taking action, can be effective to some degree).

Something my friend Ariel said that stuck a cord with me is this.  

Life IS meditation….Sitting cross-legged in a corner is like a first step. You DO meditation.  Do it enough and you BECOME meditative.

It's the same with compassion. You DO the Compassion so much that you BECOME compassionate. Anything and everything you do becomes imbued with compassion because it's simply a reflection of what you are.

Wisdom is different from knowledge in that you have information and experience to back it up.  

3) Integrate to Develop Character.  Once you have practiced something enough to become proficient at it, you can now integrate it into your life. 

Integration is like taking the skill that you've learned, and adding it to your personal tool belt, to be called upon automatically when it is needed. 

It's when you take your learning focus off of a concept and go on to focus on something else yet still retaining 100% capability of using it. 

For example, I've done EFT so many times, that now when I feel any fear or emotional block I go straight into doing a round of EFT.  I don't need to think about it or analyze it, I just do it because I know it works.

Now that I use this Emotional Freedom Technique so much, I am living with emotional freedom.  It has become a part of who I am, my character.

When things happen around me, I have emotional stability and strength.  Often others may be panicking or freaking out while I am only a little concerned or relaxed. 

The great thing about integrating something is that your body begins to automate the process for you. 

By clearing my emotions, such as when fear comes up, I am constantly training my body to release fear and eventually it begins to release fear by itself without me doing anything!

This is the key to becoming a more effective person, since as you are integrating, you are automating.

4) Teach to Transform.  There is something about teaching that rewires your brain so that you understand it on a whole new level.

I believe this is due to our Identity.  We see ourselves as one way and even if we learn to do something very well, we still may retain the old identity of being 'just a student.'  When you teach, your identity gets rewired so that your brain thinks "I'm teaching this, therefore I must be a teacher" and you suddenly have permission to do many more things that you wouldn't have dreamed of before.  

That's probably why this blog has helped me so much.  By teaching what I learn to others, I am training my brain to identify itself as a teacher of all the ideas, which then allows myself to retain more of the wisdom associated with each idea.  

Eben Pagen recommends that as soon as you learn something, teach it to someone else.  You will be FAR more likely to remember it plus you get the goodwill associated with helping others (just remember how to give advice).

Many people (myself included) get in the habit of thinking that knowledge is the same as personal development, when it's really just 1/4 of personal development. 

Reading a book is great and it's the first step to changing yourself, but if you don't take action after reading it then your transformation is incomplete.

Many people feel like their lives aren't changing enough for the better so they keep searching for more knowledge when they are already overloaded with knowledge. 

The answer is not more knowledge, it's more practice.

My bookshelf is filled to the brim with great books, yet I've realized that I only need one or two really good books or programs on any one subject.  There's enough knowledge in just a couple good books to practice for many years.  

I see guys frantically going from one teacher or guru to the next, trying to get that part of their life handled (I did the same thing for a while). 

A better plan may be to just pick one teacher that you really resonate with and stick with them. Then go out and practice their program until you reach the integration stage.  Once you've integrated it you can move on to something else.

So ask yourself, "What knowledge do I have right now that I can practice?"

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23 Responses to “The 4 Stages of Personal Development”

  1. Evan Says:

    Thanks Ryan.

    A great post. I find that I read lots on a topic and then zero in on the one or two books (or ideas) that I find worthwhile.

    You are so right that information does not automatically bring transformation. How I wish this could be a slogan on all personal development courses!

    I find too that teaching me forces me to think through the content more rigorously and so need to understand it more thoroughly.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. Stefan Says:

    Very solid post! These points are so key and I’ve been doing this stuff for a while. The teaching part really re-inforces the new information.

  3. mergingpoint Says:

    Very very true and informative, Ryan!
    Knowing the edge –knowledge, letgo leads to wisdom. Thats exactly applying the knowledge. Practice until it becomes a part of the whole. Surrendering to one Master is vital and let the surrender be complete. Yes, sharing does really acts as a self booster. Great post.

  4. Jared Says:

    Thanks Ryan for the great post. The part about practice is so true. Only through practice can you start to integrate knowledge into your life.

  5. Rebel8 Says:

    Ryan, thank you for the awesome post! Your approach sounds like it’s coming from an enlightened point of view. I shall bookmark this page for further reference. Thanks again.

  6. DatingWar Says:

    Great pic – practice is key!

  7. law of attraction Says:

    Thanks Ryan ,

    I love your site, keep up the great work! I’ll be back to check you out again also!

  8. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    Hi Ryan!

    This is a very Insightful post, Ryan. I’d say proof positive of your practical application of its Wisdom.

    You have seen beyond one of our veils of separation – that what is “spiritual” has no practical application on this “plane” of activity or to the life we are currently living.

    You’ve said it but may not have realized WHAT you have said… that once you change the relationship you have with an issue, the World responds by changing to reflect it. “Our outside mirrors our inside.”

    For fellas, it is the relationship guys have with their own emotions that is the key. For gals, is it the relationship we have with our own wills. When we claim both our own Will and our own emotions, then we have become a Whole being.


  9. Bart Says:

    One thing I’ve been doing, in part because of Ryan, is actually reading less and listening to myself more. Not to say that I don’t learn from Ryan, because I do. I just read OTHER peoples’ blogs less.

    In a conversation I had with him, I realized that in his humility he is “enlightened”. By this I mean that he is pointing forward towards truth and not standing still. He is on the path. Instead of telling people “Come here, I’ve got the truth” it seems like he’s saying, “Beyond that hill lies truth. Discover it for yourself.”

    He, nor I, nor Sue Ann Edwards are the font of knowledge; I appreciate his tireless reminder to find wisdom in the doing and not the reading.

    Furthermore, to me, Yangtown is becoming less and less a place attempt to gain new knowledge, but rather to participate in a community where people are vibing around a spiritually positive nucleus. I feel like I’ve grown giving my voice via these comments, as well as learning quite a bit from the other commenters. Does any one else feel this way?

    Anway, nice post Ryan.

  10. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    You Honor me in your mention Bart. I recognize it and I Thank You for that gift.

    Honestly, the easiest way to make me disappear is to perceive me as any font of knowledge. Empowerment isn’t about looking outside of ourselves.

    Most of the time I say not to just believe me. I share we must look inside our own Hearts for validity and verification. For what brings us joy, for what makes our individual heart sing. That’s what the Liberty of creating our own path is all about.

    I endeavor to direct us inward. That is where genuine *knowing* comes from. Not just the knowledge that comes from Intellect. Once we *know* ourselves, for ourselves, we don’t need anyone’s agreement or support. It’s something we just *know*.

    We each walk our inner path alone but we have much company when it comes to doing it. On our inner levels, we are all the same. With all the same gifts and all the same issues.

  11. Ryan Says:

    Man, time seems to have flown by, it’s been a week already. It’s exciting to see such great discussion.

    Evan, good to hear you have found similar success with focused effort. Focusing is one of my greatest challenges as I see opportunity for growth and change everywhere I look.

    Stefan, appreciate the input. I know you’ll have first hand experience with this as you are out there teaching one on one.

    Merginpoint, you bring up a good point about knowing one’s edge. That’s something I am still exploring and find crucial to masculine power. Thanks for the stimulating thought.

    Jared, good to hear. Rebel, enlightened…perhaps more light than most : )

    Datingwar, and law of attraction – thanks for the comments.

  12. Ryan Says:

    Sue Ann, that first comment you mentioned “that once you change the relationship you have with an issue, the World responds by changing to reflect it.” This is one of the most incredible useful insights I’ve heard. Power comes from perception.

    Bart, I truly appreciate that comment. The underlying goal of Yang Town is really to create a place to gather, share, and develop. You’ve been a powerful catalyst here along with Sue Ann and the rest of the gang. Perhaps one day Yang Town will be an actual place to visit that embodies all these spiritual principles….

    Sue Anne, you mention walking our inner path alone but in the company of others…that is something that I’ve been feeling but unable to put into words. It’s like we create our own reality yet at the same time we are with our friends and family who are doing the same. Put them together and you get one unexpectantly exciting synthesis of life.

  13. Tuplad Says:

    I finally got around to read this 🙂

    This is very insightful, really nice! Synchronicity rocks, I have been thinking about this lately myself. I love Yang Town! 😀

  14. job Says:

    Thank you for sharing this article..practice is so important..practice enable people to apply the knowledge into our real life..from this we gain the ‘experience’..

  15. Ryan Says:

    Hah, cool to hear Tuplad. Job, that’s a shameless seo plug….but at least you read the article so I’ll let this one stay, lucky you 😉

  16. personal development Says:

    The wide ranging field of personal development is my study project at the moment, so this is interesting.

  17. Self Hypnosis Says:

    I just wanted to drop you a short note to let you know that I really enjoy your blog. Thanks! Keep on the good work

  18. buddy Says:

    Even the sharpest sword will be blunt , so yes even you mastered it you still need to practice . this is a great article ,I enjoyed reading this .
    .-= buddy´s last blog ..reasons and how to gain muscle =-.

  19. saimon Says:


  20. Cherilyn Lautzenheiser Says:

    I like how you seize the essence of the idea, really good writting approach, I enojoyed it!

  21. Divorce in Corpus Christi Says:

    Great on how you differentiate Wisdom and Knowledge and I totally agree. I guess that’s why wisdom is mostly related to old age as you’ve already done so many things in your life.

  22. Travis SEO In Connecticut Says:

    Thank you for this post. I love #4 “Teach to Transform”. I can speak from personal experience that sharing knowledge, wisdom, experience, whatever you want to call it, does rewire your thinking and reinforces the concept(s) in your own mind tremendously.

  23. Jimmy Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    not sure if you are still blogging. Just found your site while researching on personal development.

    You write with great authority and clarity. The four stages you described are absolutely essential for us to go through to gain most from personal development. I find that the last three stages need not be sequential. When have the courage to act and teach at the same time, I think we integrate the wisdom much more quickly.

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