Review of Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development for Smart People – how does it apply to dieters?

One of the bloggers who I’ve been reading for a long time (over two years now) is Steve Pavlina. In fact, it was his articles that first inspired me to start The Office Diet – so this blog’s very existance is probably owed to him!

As you can imagine, then, I was delighted (in an over-excited fan girl sort of way) when Steve announced that he had a book coming out. I duly snapped up a copy from Amazon as soon as it was available in the UK, and read it cover-to-cover in the space of a few days.

So, what’s Personal Development for Smart People (PDfSP) about, and why should dieters get themselves a copy?

Overview of Personal Development for Smart People

Perhaps the easiest way to start a review about PDfSP is to explain that it’s quite different from many other “self-help” style books. My frustration with these books in the past is that they seem to trot out a series of fairly common-sense ideas, along with the occasional trite maxim – there’s rarely anything in them which gives me a new flash of insight about any life problems I’m having.

PDfSP, though, is an extremely in-depth and well-thought-through take on personal development. It’s clear that Steve invested a huge amount of time in thinking about this book, rather than just writing it. The first part is quite abstract, dealing with seven principles for “growth” in all areas of your life. Steve presents this as a diagram, with three “core” principles (Truth, Love and Power) combining to form the secondary principles (Oneness, Authority and Courage), and all six of these forming “Intelligence”.

The second part of the book deals with the nitty-gritty of applying each of these seven principles to different areas, such as “Career”, “Money” and “Health”:

Keep your fitness routine simple and direct. Don’t overcomplicate your life with fancy or expensive exercise equipment; and don’t mistake manufactured supplements, powders, and shakes for a healthy, natural diet. Here’s a simple rule of thumb that will save you a lot of money: if it comes in a can, bottle or canister, you don’t need it.
– from Health and Courage

I personally liked the abstract, almost quite academic approach, and felt that it gave the book a coherence and structure that many standard “self-help” books lack.

What I liked most about Personal Development for Smart People

A few things stood out for me about this book, that made it well worth the money:

  • Steve’s style is extremely motivating. He’s challenging at times, but in an inspiring way (not like an Army boot camp instructor or anything). Just reading PDfSP made me feel energised and encouraged in my health goals – and my other life goals.
  • The book is detailed, in depth and packed with material, not fluffed out with cute cartoons, quizzes, and so on.
  • Steve presents some genuinely new ideas and ways of thinking (new to me, at least!) My post a couple of weeks ago about Set goals which change your life NOW was sparked off by reading Steve’s words on goals.
  • This is a book that you could return to time and time again. I read it through quite fast (I tend to be greedy when it comes to books – and chocolate…) but I want to go back and work through the chapters slowly, taking some notes and doing the exercises along the way.

I also liked the way that Steve is looking for “principles” of growth, so that his advice can be applied to any area of life. So often, self-help books seem aimed at putting a sticking-plaster over the holes in one part of our life, whilst not providing any help with other problem areas. As part two of PDfSP demonstrates, Steve’s principles can be applied to a number of areas, from “Money” to “Health” to “Relationships”.

Steve is also very honest about his own experiences, particularly ones which might not be considered especially glowing! His Introduction opens with:

Do you remember the exact moment you first became interested in personal development? I certainly do. It happened in January 1991 while I was sitting in a jail cell. I’d just been arrested for felony grand theft. This wasn’t my first run-in with the law, so I knew I was in trouble. I was 19 years old.

What I didn’t like about Personal Development for Smart People

Enough with the good – what’s the bad stuff? On the whole, very little! There were just a few aspects of PDfSP that I found didn’t really work for me:

  • Steve places a lot of importance on fitting everything into a neat structure (here, the seven principles). I felt that in some cases, the principles weren’t sufficiently different (I kept getting muddled between “power” which is one of the primary three, and “authority” which is the expression of “power” plus “truth”), and sometimes the structure felt a little forced. Anyone with a strong maths or science background, though, might find this a refreshing approach to self-help.
  • I’m a committed Christian, and whilst I try to stay open minded (and certainly do my best to respect other people’s views and beliefs), I did find Steve’s chapter on “Spirituality” hard to agree with. Again, this is not exactly a criticism of the book, more just reflective of what I brought to it as a reader.

Should you buy Personal Development for Smart People?

Whether you’ve got a shelf-full of self help books, or whether the idea of self-help makes you grimace, I think this book could be very valuable. Why not at least download the free sample chapter from Steve’s site, to see if it might be for you?

If you do like it, you can buy it here:


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