What is self development?

This may be a strange, if not basic, question to ask yourself. Especially if you have been practicing as a natural therapist, attended workshops or have read self help books for years. While the question may be basic, it is an important one to ask. For your definition of self development will guide your actions, and therefore, determine the results you get.

Personally. And professionally in the clinic.

When working with clients of students for the first time, I ask them what their definition of self development is. I want to see how their mind works, what their beliefs are and ‘where their inner compass is pointing’. After they wrestle with the question for awhile, I tell them my definition and we compare notes. That way they get a clear picture about who I am, how I think and what our working relationship is about.

So, what exactly is “self development”?

Let’s break it down. The two words “self” and “development” provide a clue but are better understood when you seperate them.

  1. The word “self” is self explanatory – it’s about you.
  2. The key word to focus on is the word “development.”
  3. Development suggests that you are “developing something”. You are taking action. Moving forward. Making progress. Working toward an end goal. Building something and ironing out problems as you go. Making sure you are get somewhere and achieve results.

From this description, self development is about “growing up.”

This is exactly what we practice in my clinic. We practice being a grown up. Making adult decisions. Facing problems head on. We practice ‘standing on your own two feet’ & behaving like a fully capable grown up. I have my clients adopt this ‘mental posture’, right away. Not after therapy, but at the beginning of our work.

‘Standing strong’ is a posture that soon exposes what the real issues are, where support or adjustments need to be made & where work needs to be done to weed out any belief they are weak, incapable or inadequate. The process is simple, direct and quite cathartic.

As a side note, I dislike the phrase “self help” to describe self development for two key reasons.

Firstly, self help implies a position of weakness whereas self development implies a productive attitude to the work.

Semantics aside, there is a very real reason why I dislike the term self help. While the two are commonly interchanged, in my mind, self development and self help are two very different things.

  1. Self development is about “you & what you are doing to improve your life”.
  2. Self help is “an industry ( of products & services ) & what other people think you should do to improve your life”.

It is important to make this distinction as it can lead to a whole new set of issues.

  1. While having the support of other people can be insightful, inspirational and helpful, those external inputs can cloud your own thoughts, feelings and goals.
  2. At some stage, you have to put away the self help books and what other people think. And focus on what you think, feel and want to do with your life.
  3. Another persons path is not yours. Ultimately, your practice of self development is going to be very personal to you. It will be tailor-made, personalised and based on what you want to do with your life.

Self development is about taking full responsibility for your life. This is why I make the distinction between self development and the industry that surrounds it.

Okay. Now that we have a basic definition of self development, let’s talk about how to actually practice it. What do you do? After 30+ years of soul searching, clinical observation & sifting through esoteric / spiritual concepts, I realised that the practice is pretty simple.

  1. If you replace the words “self development” with the words “life skills”, then it makes it plain what you need to do. And practice.
  2. Self development is about “learning life skills.”
  3. It’s about “developing a set of skills that serve you in real life”.
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This is a common sense approach to self development and life in general, so we must be on the right track.

What should your self development program consist of? What skills should you focus on? To answer this, all you need to do is look at what human beings commonly experience. Start at the beginning.

  1. What are your basic needs?
  2. What do human beings do on a regular basis?
  3. What are the parts of life that you are obliged to participate in… and can’t avoid?

These things should be part of your program. These are the skills you need to develop, first. And if self development is about one thing, it’s about developing your weak side, first. This takes discipline.


  1. While your clients may want to explore their spiritual beliefs, delve into past lives or visit higher dimensional realities, the problem(s) they have is probably caused by ignoring the basics. Once a set of practical skills are in place, sure, they are free to explore and build out their lives in whatever way that suits them. But developing basic life skills has to come first.
  2. Soul searching and focusing on spiritual beliefs can be an escape from life. So watch for this.
  3. If your client has a weakness in an area, they will lack the discipline to address it in the early stages of therapy. They will rely on you as the practitioner to discipline them.

Here is a checklist of 5 areas of human life that should be included in any self development program.

  1. Physical Body Development – Looking after your body, healthy diet & exercise, learning to cook & caring for your illnesses and health issues.
  2. Mental Body Development – Learning new skills, clear thinking, logic, reasoning, planning, problem solving & decision making. Developing leadership skills so you can lead your life in the direction you wish to go.
  3. Emotional Body Development – Emotional development, acceptance of inner truth, fluent in your emotional vocabulary & self expression, emotionally robust and resilient while still being flexible & expressive.
  4. Financial Development – Financial education, being smart with your money, clever use of tax laws, proper management of time, money and resources, wise investment for the future. These things are an aspect of mental body development.
  5. Social Development – Social skills, healthy boundaries, relationships, communication skills & social awareness as to your role in society.

If I were to summarize the clients I have seen over the years, they commonly suffer from three things. (a) Poor thinking, planning & mental body development, (b) Are ‘lop-sided’ in their self development – I.e. ‘over-invested’ in inner studies & ‘under-invested’ in practical skills that serve them in real life & (c) Have problems with money & lack resources due to little / no financial education.

As a result, the self development program I use in clinic looks more like ‘project management’ and a business meeting than it does life-coaching, healing or therapy. We do those things, sure. But therapy is minimalistic and done behind-the-scenes. This keeps the focus on developing business strategies, financial plans and building ‘a portfolio of inner & outer assets’ that serves the clients needs. I find this approach gets the best results for my clients.

That is my approach to self development. I provide it merely as an example. You have to work with clients in a way that suits your style.

No matter what your approach is, the key to self development is to have the right mindset to begin with.

Brendan Rohan | The Skyflowers Project
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