When Personal Development Conflicts with Society

Steve Pavlina recently reported that he has decided to switch from polyphasic sleeping back to ordinary monophasic sleep. For those of you haven’t been following Steve’s incredibly interesting journey with sleep, over five months ago Steve switched from sleeping through the night (monophasic) to sleeping in periods of naps throughout the day. Being one of the few people who have publicly succeeded in this experiment has drawn a lot of attention to Steve. The decision to switch back to normal sleep may come as a surprise to some people.

Steve’s main reasons for quitting were because he was finding it hard to function in a monophasic society with polyphasic sleeping. This is an example of how society does put barriers around our behavior by determining the limits for how we need to interact. I think the fact that Steve so brazenly ignored these barriers and the nay-sayers to take on this experiment is one of the reasons this story has drawn some much interest.

Barriers for how we interact exist at all levels of our society. Unfortunately, some people get stuck in a position where these barriers prevent them from really growing. Other people imagine far more barriers than actually exist, creating imaginary illusions for how they need to operate in society.

At the highest level are the barriers or structure of how humanity as a whole operates. Most of these barriers help society. The concept of morality could be considered a structure or barrier at the level of humanity. This causes people who are evil, destructive and push that barrier to become outcasts, rejected from humanity.

As we go into smaller groups, there are the barriers for which each culture operates and the barriers for how each community operates. These barriers continue down until you have the barriers for each social group. A group of friends likely have certain implied expectations and rules for how members of that group should operate.

What happens when you have a group of friends that are living at a far lower level of consciousness then you want? Those barriers form restrictions that can serve to trap you into a state where you can no longer grow. By surrounding yourself with mediocrity, you are restricted by their own mediocrity.

When this happens you have a couple choices. Your first option is to simply do nothing, and live a life of far poorer quality than you are capable of. The second option is to keep the friends and simply push against the barriers. The final option is to decrease your attachment to the group that created those barriers in the first place. This website is about personal growth so I’m not even going to discuss the potential for choosing option number one.

Option number two may suffice for some minor changes in behavior. If you want to change a minor habit, chances are it won’t push to strongly against the barriers created by your social group. If you decided to start waking up earlier, chances are that wouldn’t impact the barriers created by your social group.

What about those changes that really do push against the barriers of your social group? What if you want to become a non-smoker and all of your friends smoke, or you want to be optimistic and passionate when all your friends are depressing and nihilistic? In these cases option number three may be your only option. You may need to transition your place in society towards a group whose boundaries will encourage this new growth rather than stifle it.

I think the reason many of us were so fascinated and humbled by Steve’s polyphasic sleep habit is because he took up against the barriers that our entire culture have put up. Changing himself in a way that completely defies our culture gave a lot of us hope that we too could break through the barriers, even if they were for a much smaller scale.

Although Steve’s retreat to normal sleeping is completely understandable, I can see how this might create a bit of disappointment from the people who followed his path. In a sense, Steve’s own struggle with polyphasic sleep served as an important example of why we all need to push out against the mediocrity we surround ourselves with. Even if he has finished his experiment, I think we can all keep the lessons it teaches.