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Why Personal Development?

Why Personal Development - man

There are two principal parts of personal development. The motivation to change comes from internal factors pushing against external factors. Psychology sees life as a kind of obstacle course. There is something that drives us forward rather than just sitting on the ground and waiting for food. But there are the obstacles that keep it from being easy.

We are not like spiders or alligators. We don’t spend our lives sitting in the dark waiting for something to be trapped in our webs and we don’t spend our lives sunning ourselves on a rock waiting until we get hungry. We always move and always change. The two sides of human motivation have been called by different names, and the names have different subtle connotations.

Need vs Press

In the 1930’s Harvard Professor, Henry Murray, and psychoanalyst, Christiana Morgan put together the Thematic Apperception Test, a package of pictures that stimulate people to tell stories. From the stories, the scorers glean the test takers’ principle motivation patterns. They classified motivation into two categories. Needs are internal drivers that push people forward (some, like fear, pushing them from behind, and some, like curiosity, pulling them). Press motives are the barriers that direct movement–the constraints from the outside that have to be passed through or around.

Motivator factors vs Hygiene Factors

In the industrial realm in the 1950s, Frederick Herzberg and Roy Hamlin expressed the duality in terms of “motivator factors” against “hygiene factors.” The motivator factors are the aspects of the environment that drive people forward, interesting surroundings, challenge, potential reward. Hygiene factors are the barriers and the factors that make people stop developing, uncomfortable workspaces, irrational rules, de-motivating or punitive managers. In essence, motivator factors are the internal drivers, hygiene factors are the walls and constraints that drive people to escape or get around.

Dissatisfaction vs Blockage

The duality of human development is demonstrated throughout life. Developmental psychologists since Freud have talked about two basic conditions to encourage development and growth.

To cause growth, there has to be a push. The human being has to be dissatisfied with his or her current state. The current state has to be confining or limiting somehow. If the current state is too easy and satisfying, growth will not occur. At the same time, the barriers to change can’t be so impermeable that people can’t overcome them.

Freud developed the idea of fixation to express what happens when either growth stopping conditions occur. A person who is too comfortable may never venture into anything new. A person confronted with impermeable barriers may never be able to take further steps and learn the skills beyond the barrier. Growth happens best when there is a balance between dissatisfaction–driving people forward and opportunity–make it possible to grow.


Fixated people are stuck in early stages of human development. Eventually, everyone grows up in years, but the personalities of those who are fixated show lags and gaps in the skills that we expect of adults. The fixation shows up in terms of failure to achieve or in deep dissatisfactions that can’t be overcome.

Human change and development are, of course, not one-dimensional. Personal development proceeds in many directions at once. Someone who fails to develop at work can be a wonderfully developed and skillful parent. Someone who developed rapidly and creatively in early life can end up stuck and fixated in his career. Finding the sphere of life in which personal development is most possible is the real search for fulfillment and happiness.

Often, the blockages to development can be removed late in life when impossible barriers suddenly vanish, or when a person decides to change careers or even jobs. The ultimate goal of human life is to grow.

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