Take Yourself Out of Your Self-Development

How shutting up can give you the space to grow.

by Jess Robson

I became a woman obsessed. I took a deep dive into the world of self development and I didn’t stop talking about it. I bought out the Self Help section at Canada’s largest bookstore. I journaled like a madwoman. I watched all the TED videos the website could offer, then re-watched them to make sure I didn’t miss any life changing morsels of insight.

It took a solid four years of digging, reading, and talking to realize all the ‘work’ I had been doing was falling flat. And once I removed myself from the spotlight of self discovery, the real learning happened faster than speed-cuber Collin Burns solved the Rubiks Cube.


Self-development OGs Alfred Adler and Carl Jung expanded the view of personal development into the world of psychology. Their contributions broke the boundaries of psychology from strictly analysis into considering the drive of the individual to achieve wholeness and balance of Self.

Given the self-focused nature of this kind of development, it’s a no-brainer that yes, the conversations and reflections are personal. It’s about exploring the Self; tuning into personal thoughts, feelings and emotions; learning why we do what we do; examining behaviours, discovering strengths and weaknesses, understanding and connecting with our highest potential.

Unsurprisingly, ‘I’-centric conversations are at the heart of the process. It takes time to get comfortable peeling back layers and exploring the deeper aspects of ourselves. Like any learning experience, this can bring up serious questions and curiosities, which, when expressed through conversation, can be a source of even deeper learning and discovery through hearing others share their stories and insight.

Inevitably, though, there comes a time when Elvis Presley couldn’t have been more right when he said, “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.”


I took on the task of self-development like drinking out of a firehose, yet I’m guilty as heck for having a history of talking a big game and taking little (to no, at times) action. If I’m being honest, this is rooted in a fear of failure or an unwillingness to feel the discomfort when change is imminent. Also, I couldn’t keep up with the amount of learning I was putting myself through and quickly felt like I was drowning.

My talk sounded really great — I had the language of all the authors and other people sharing their stories and insights flying through my head — yet I lacked the application of these concepts.

When I put down the books and dialled back the rumination not only did I resurface into the social scene I had been missing, but I was able to put that talk to work. That step — getting out of the talk and into the walk — resulted in me eating some serious humble pie. And that’s when the real learning started to happen.


There are as many ways to elevate internal work as there are people looking for them. Here are three ways I discovered for making all the concepts and conversation around self-development real.

Put your moves where your mouth is.

Take action. Have the conversations you’re talking about having. Make the changes in your schedule you’ve realized you need. Set up solid personal boundaries around time for yourself. Commit to when work stops and the rest of your life starts. The things you’re realizing and learning about yourself require action to be fully expressed, so give them a chance to breathe

Get your community contribution on.

In the process of learning more about yourself, it’s likely that your passions and renewed purpose will emerge. Put those insights to good use, and give back to your community. Volunteer with an aligned organization, or bring a big idea to life and create a program, event, online community (you get the gist). Giving back puts your work to work, and deepens your growth.

Get out into the world.

Travel and geographical exploration — even close to home — offer the opportunity to take what you’re learning about yourself and put it to the ultimate test. Navigating different neighbourhoods, cultures, cuisines, transportation, languages, and currencies challenges the best of us and encourages a rapid unfolding of self-understanding.

In summary? Read the books. Try the courses. Take the steps towards discovery that work for you to see how you learn, what you like, and ultimately what sticks. Then, when you’re on your way and working on working on yourself, be honest about when to put the research on hold and actually go to work.

Jess Robson is an entrepreneur, artist, freelance writer, super-fan and retreat experience expert for Girlvana Yoga, and an ambassador for lululemon Robson in Vancouver. She’s also a self-proclaimed peanut butter addict with a pretty obnoxious sweet tooth. Follow her on Instagram.

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