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Self development course reviews – Part 1: Intro

 
I opened a company after taking a self development course. I did that together with my day job. With no budget. With no management experience.
It's as if future-me came back in time to give me tips about life that it would take me 20 years to find out. Imagine you could go back in time 10 years and give your young-self some life advice. What would you tell them? Well, there's stuff you can learn that will totally impact you, and some self development courses teach that.
Some are rubbish, of course.  A waste of time and money.
So how to tell the difference?
I took and read about many of the world's leading self development courses and methodologies (Yes, many exist, and yes, they ARE different). I experienced their impact first-hand. I saw my friends experience. I volunteered in a few. And I also opened my own course and monitored the grad's results (yes, with excel and everything!).
Here's how I'd pick a course.
 
The goal of a self development course, as defined subjectively by me:

  1. The participants get objective physical results that are important for them. For example: They get a raise, they start dating, they start learning piano, they don't fight with their room mate any more.
  2. The participants have a subjectively higher quality of life. For example: They were depressed and now they aren't, they are happy with their work place.
  3. #1 and #2 last for a long time and do not fade away 3 days after the course.

 
Why it is difficult to judge how good a course is
Most self development courses convince the participants that the course was good, and by the powers of conformity, consistency, authority and others, the participants are often convinced.
My point is that most participants will report that "this was good, you should do it", but these reports do not have a strong correlation with how good the course actually is.
My second point is that judging by how much the participants report "I am happier now" is also a bad idea. This is too subjective, both because they probably expect they should be happier now, and (this is a secret) because they want you to know it's good and come too, and (this is a bigger secret) because they can always justify to themselves and others that the course was good, even if it wasn't, by believing (that they believe) that they are happier now. This is unarguable.
 
To sum up the "subjectiveness" problem, here is a conversation that should be a red flag. This is a real example, by the way, of me with a grad who has been active in a course for over 10 years:
Me: "What results did you get from the course?"
Grad: "I got more confident."
Me: "Where does that effect your life, for example?"
Grad: "At work."
Me: "How does it effect you there? What do you do differently? What new results do you have since the course?"
Grad: Well, I'm more confident. Nothing else changed. I feel more confident now.
"YEAH RIGHT. You got more confident and didn't take any different action than normal and didn't produce any new result. Okkk…", is what I totally didn't say.
 
Anyway, another direction you might look for information, is by the courses marketing material and/or promises (in the nature of "everything is possible"). I hope I don't have to elaborate why THAT doesn't correlate with ANYTHING.
 
So how CAN I make up my mind?
1. Listen to objective physical results that happened outside of people's heads. Like the "I got a raise" example above. A friend of mine almost doubled her salary after a course like this. That is unarguable. She also went to a medical checkup that she was delaying for over a year, she tested a spot on her skin, and she discovered it's cancer, and she got rid of it in a few days, forever. That is an awesome physical result.
2. Look at friends results. You will probably notice even their happiness levels change, their communication skills improving, and other hard-to-recognize things.
3. I will give my own opinion about the quality of distinctions (the material) in different courses. I will even write a more detailed article about how to pick good distinctions for your own self development course.
4. Monitor the results over time. This is also hard, but doable with friends, or, in my case, by following the graduates of your own course 🙂
 
Let the reviews begin

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