A principled life according to Steve Pavlina

4 minute read

Ever since college days where I got hooked onto the Internet, I have been an avid reader of self-improvement websites and books. I used to prowl for content, before the advent of lifehacking and productivity websites. I eventually stumbled upon good websites like 43Folders.com, and my friend Pradeep cajoled me to read Steve Pavlina's blog.

I was so glad he did. I ended up spending hours reading Pavlina's articles. Reflecting upon the ideas in these articles was very beneficial. When I read that Steve was releasing a new book, I jumped at the chance to get it.

The book was different from most self-improvement books because it didn't focus on productivity or time management. Steve claimed that he has discovered the essential principles of life!

According to Steve, there are just three core principles - truth, love and power. The secondary principles are:

  • Oneness = Truth + Love
  • Authority = Truth + Power
  • Courage = Love + Power
  • Intelligence = Truth + Love + Power
The Core 7 Principles

I found it incredulous to see someone make such a claim. So I started reading the book with a sense of disbelief.

While I started reading the book, I didn't appreciate its brevity but the upside was that I got through the book more quickly. The basic concepts were things I understood but concepts like 'oneness' was something I couldn't fathom.

Eventually, a friend called me up and was describing a personal problem, I started to test whether Pavlina's principles were applicable, and voila, I was amazed to pinpoint to something which I was convinced was the root cause. It was at that moment that I started thinking that Steve might be on to something.

I had a hard time reading through the book, not because it was bad but because for every other page I would stop and reflect upon the concept being described and I would do some journaling to help me clarify my thoughts. In the process, I realized I was applying the 'Truth' principle and finally accepting some things that I "delayed thinking about" (read as "avoid").

Eventually, I started reflecting upon the past ups and downs of life and see if the good things were as a result of cohesion of the three core principles. Well, it did. And at the same time, I could place a lot of my faults into the categories under "Blocks to Love" and "Blocks to Power" sections.

Strangely, I felt like I was reading one of those Linda Goodman books which claim to know every detail of the character of a person just based on the date on which they were born. The logical portion of my brain simply refuses to accept something like that is possible. Similarly, I have a hard time believing that someone can boil down the psychology and well-being of humans to such a simple list of things.

Nevertheless, the true impact of a self-improvement book is only felt months later, so I'm still in the process of applying some of the concepts and thinking to my daily habits. I find myself aligned with the principle of truth, but not with the principles of love and power. I hope some of the 30-day trials (as described in the book) in applying these concepts will pay off.

All in all, I would highly recommend Steve Pavlina's book "Personal Development for Smart People". It will make you think and hopefully make you grow as well.


Pramod Biligiri says:

I was wondering, If there's a book called "Personal Development for Dumb People", would anyone buy it? ;)

Karthick says:

I don't have the traffic yet to avail a free book :/. Do you think it's worth buying a hard copy of it ?

Girish says:

Wow... truly informative.
The data in the triangle is great..

Personal Development for Smart People Book Reviews says:

[...] https://www.swaroopch.com/2008/10/12/a-principled-life/ [...]

Ankesh Kothari says:

Thanks Swaroop for talking about personal development.

Pavlina's stuff is usually top notch - but haven't read the book yet. Will have to get it soon...

The best personal development book I've read is "Success is just one wish away" by Jon Spoelstra. (I think its pdf version is available for free from Jon's website too...)

But most of my personal development breakthroughs have come by reading psychology and neurology text books and understanding how our brains function.

Swaroop says:

@Pramod : Heh, Perhaps a "For Dummies" one would ;-)

@Karthick : Yes

@Girish : It's taken from the book.

@Ankesh : Interesting. I hadn't considered reading neurology text books!

srid says:

I find it strange that Steve defines 'Intelligence' as Truth + Love + Power. Intelligence is a neo-cortex thing, while love/power are affective energy from amygdala. Or, am I missing something here?

I agree with Ankesh on the usefulness of studying psychology/neurology and especially evolutionary psychology, but a subjective investigation would do even more good that a mere intellectual understanding.

Swaroop says:

@Sridhar I have found Steve's interpretation of the words 'love' and 'power' to be different from the dictionary meaning, so maybe reading the book will explain the terminology used.

Mohammed Ali says:

Thanks for writing this review, as I was considering getting this book but wasn't sure what to find in it!

I recently heard Steve's podcast on Purpose:


I found it to be quite good!

Swaroop says:

@Mohammed Ali : Yes, that was a good podcast. I'm sure you'll find the book thought-provoking too :)