The Four Purposes of Working with Groups, part two

If you missed part one, you can read it here.

In last week’s blog, I shared the four primary reasons that people both attend and lead groups:

  1. To get/disseminate information
  2. To acquire/develop skills
  3. To solve problems and clarify/expand possibilities for the future
  4. To experience self-improvement and personal transformation

This week, I’d like to take some time to focus on the “fourth purpose”, and in order to do that I’d like to clarify the distinction between traditional self-development and personal transformation…

a. Self-Improvement

“Don’t wish it was easier; wish you were tougher.”

-Jim Rohn

My first part-time job after I moved to London was to dress up as Lion-O, leader of the Thundercats, and stand outside toy stores in various seaside towns, subjecting myself to a disappointing amount of fear from young children and given the nature of the costume, a perhaps less surprising amount of mockery from teenagers.

The irony was that while dressing up like a superhero was my day job, trying to become one in real life was my obsession.

I went on every self-development course I could afford or talk my way into attending, ranging from Silva Mind Control to NLP and from Reiki to Alpha Healing. My official goal was “mastery”, which to my mind meant absolute control of my mind, body, and spirit. Tony Robbins was my guru, and the fact that I continually fell short of my image of perfection caused me not to question my aims but to redouble my efforts.

When something “worked” and I was able to visualize and achieve a goal, push through a fear, or resolve a conflict, my faith in the technique or methodology of choice was validated; when it didn’t, my lack of focus/commitment/discipline was clearly to blame. This sent me off on a search for better techniques and methodologies to improve my focus/commitment/discipline so I could better put to use the techniques and methodologies to master my life.

Every so often I would experience moments of peace and presence, but I would quickly turn those into proof that my quest for mastery was working and throw myself back into the “divine discontent” that my self-development heroes assured me would fuel my drive towards perfection.

Now, I have to admit that on the whole I found the whole thing mostly fun. I met a lot of really nice people and had a lot of very cool experiences. My life even got better, kind of. The fact that when nobody was watching I still tended to feel like a depressed, powerless loser stopped bothering me after a while, and I just accepted it as my own personal cross to bear. Overcoming my innate patheticness became the battleground for what Stephen R. Covey called “my daily private victory”, and day by day, in every way, I affirmed myself to be getting better, better, and better.

While I did explore the spiritual realms as a part of my journey into self-improvement, it was as one of the spokes of my imaginary “wheel of life”. It was only after an accidental epiphany in 2008 that I realized my true nature wasn’t suffering from neurosis or delusions of grandeur, but rather from delusions of separation. It was at this point that my journey took an abrupt turn from self-improvement to…

b. Personal Transformation

“Why are you unhappy?
Because 99.9 percent
Of everything you think,
And of everything you do,
Is for yourself —
And there isn’t one.”

-Wei Wu Wei

At the very beginning of The Inside-Out Revolution, I share the following thought experiment:

Imagine that a man comes to you for coaching. He’s about to turn 30 and he’s decided that it’s time to ‘grow up’ and take over the family carpentry business. He wants you to share innovative marketing techniques, work with him on how to make better personnel decisions, and coach him to incorporate technology to bring the business into ‘at least the new millennium.’

But even as you’re speaking together, something’s bothering you about the conversation. He’s saying all the right things and seems willing to do all the right things, and yet something still feels out of alignment. Following your intuition, you go back and review the client intake form he filled out when he first came to you, and to your surprise you see that his name is Jesus and he’s from a small town in the Galilean region of Israel called Nazareth.

Here’s the question:

Do you really want to work with him on becoming more successful in his carpentry business?

When we work with a group with the intention of self-development and self-improvement, we assess strengths and weaknesses, seeking to build on the strengths and improve on or mitigate the weaknesses. But when our purpose is transformation, we don’t really care about “how they’re doing”. What’s relevant is their degree of awareness of who they actually are and how life works. And the more they see about that, the more their innate mental health, wisdom, and wellbeing rise to the surface.

In a sense, we’re showing them how the mind actually works and then letting them go on their own learning curve about how to use it. And the more they understand the nature of the mind, the easier it is for them to use it to gather information, develop skills, solve problems, and expand into the full possibility of being a wave in the ocean of spirit having a uniquely human experience.

Here are a few questions for additional reflection:

  • How much of your time do you spend working on yourself (self-improvement) vs. looking to see what’s true beyond yourself (transformation)?
  • How have you personally benefited from each of these explorations?
  • If you work with groups, what do you see about the value of incorporating elements of personal transformation into sharing information, developing skills, solving problems, and expanding possibilities?

With all my love,
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