Joka van Wijk


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Follow your path as you discover it

Personal Development

Personal Development is about accessing and evaluating your strengths and weaknesses in order to improve the quality of your life. This often includes looking for greater spiritual awareness, or searching for meaning in life. Learning and understanding more about ourselves will help us to understand others better, and enable us to have more fulfilling relationships. Personal Development is about creating a feeling of harmony within our body and mind so we can reach our full potential and feel more connected to a larger reality outside of ourselves.

Personal Development has been studied and implemented for over 6000 years by philosophers, theologians and psychologists. In the East the belief and practices of yoga - originating in India - have used breathing techniques and postures to create a greater sense of inner awareness. In China, T’ai Chi, with its wider links to traditional Chinese medicine, also incorporated breathing and energy exercises. And it was the Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato and in particular, Aristotle who looked at the mind, and laid the foundations for Personal Development in the West.

For Aristotle (384 -322 BC), the main concern was ‘What is the best way to live?’ He believed that one could become the kind of person who, through practice and training, would acquire wisdom. As a result, behaving in an appropriate way in all different situations would become a habit. The right kind of character and dispositions or virtues, would lead to the right kind of behaviour. These virtues of character are expressions of what the Greeks call ‘eudaimonia’, best expressed by the idea of ‘flourishing’ or ‘enjoying a good life’ (Dupre 2007). The key thinking was that this state of character is a result of choice and is inextricably linked to reason or rational thinking.

How does Personal Development work?

Rational thinking can help us to identify thought processes and behaviour patterns. Often these are the result of triggers that are based on situations or relationships in our past. Behavioural therapy assumes that we operate on conditioned responses and by changing the conditioned triggers through different behavioural techniques we can develop new ways of responding that are more relevant or appropriate to us now. For example, an authority figure, such as a teacher, might have made us feel timid in the past, but there is no reason now to not question the authority of others, or to stand up for our own opinions.

Cognitive thinking can help to identify thought patterns that stop us fulfilling our potential, for example, ‘black and white thinking’, personalizing or predicting the future. Just because something happened once in a particular way, doesn’t mean it always will. We can learn to think differently - more positively - which will help us to act differently, and in turn this can help us to feel more positive too.

Cognitive psychology takes as a premise that learning is not just an accumulation of facts, but takes place when these facts or processes are understood. Cognitive thinking and conscious awareness can be very valuable tools in helping us develop and cope better with life. It will also lead to understanding ourselves better, and as Socrates (469- 399 BC) said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

Thinking patterns and habits are important factors in the way we behave and as a result of that behavior, feel. However, that is often only part of the story; human beings are driven by incompleteness, a search for meaning and in order to find answers we need to go a little deeper.

Meditation, mindfulness, prayer, and yoga are only some of the practices that help us to access that inner stillness within ourselves. Listening and discovering allows us to build a connection with what some people call an ‘inner wisdom’ or ‘intuition’, the subconscious or a ‘higher self’. Regardless of what you call it, it is by connecting with that inner core that we can really begin to understand ourselves. Going inside yourself allows you to step back and in that way come to a much deeper understanding.

Self-realisation is not always easy, and being more aware of your feelings can hurt. However, getting to know yourself, and realizing you are not perfect can be an important step towards accepting and being compassionate towards yourself. Life is not easy, but ultimately the realization is that we are all in this together and part of something that is bigger than ourselves.

Personal development is about actively seeking to improve your life, as Tom Rusk (1978) said, “Following your path, as you discover it”. It is a wonderful opportunity to explore, expand and deepen our awareness of ourselves as we grow and evolve throughout our lives.

Personal Development, can through understanding and accessing a stillness within us ultimately lead to feeling more confident and fulfilled, as well as more loving towards ourselves and others. It will give us the freedom to express our true selves so that we can live the life that we know deep within is right for us.

Joka van Wijk, London 2012


Dass, Ram (1978) Journey of Awakening, A Meditator’s Guidebook .Bantam, New York

Donmar, Alice D and Dreher Henry (2000) Self-Nurture, learning to care for yourself as effectively as you care for everyone else. Penquin, New York

Dupre, Ben (2007) 50 Philosophy ideas, you really need to know. Quercus, London

O’Stevens, John, (1971) Awareness, exploring, experimenting, experiencing. Eden Grove Edition, London

Trower, P, Casey, A and Dryden, W (1988) Cognitive-Behavioural Counselling in Action. Sage Publications, London

Rusk, Tom M.D and Read, Randy M.D (1978) I want to change, but I don’t know how. Price Stern Sloan, Los Angeles

Topic: Personal Development