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.

  • Matthew Bennett

    I agree, Scott, even small changes can throw you off if they don’t fit in with your friends and work contexts and these kind of comments always seem to come back to sleep and getting up earlier or not..:-)) I have been trying to change my timetable here in Spain for the last couple of months but it’s proving very difficult at times. The Spanish daily timetable is anyway very different from the UK or USA but on top of this my friends’ (and mine of course) enjoyment of late night meals and stories makes consistently getting up early in the morning very difficult, even during the week.

  • Scott Young

    I noticed this in particular after joining Toastmasters about just how powerful it is to be around people who simply have a better outlook. The friends you have mold a lot more of your behavior than you are aware of.

  • Handry

    Sometimes you must trust yourself and getting the best action in your own way.
    I really appreciate steve that could struggle in that kind of sleep.

  • Scott Young

    You should always trust yourself. If you can’t trust yourself then you can’t trust anyone.

  • Ramon Leal

    my, my, i do love this post- most of us never come to question what and why we are at a level that i find important, and seeing that we are very much so what we experience, we most often end up being a multitude of things that we wouldnt want to be otherwise.
    This common level of consciousness isnt truly aware, it is, much rather, pre-conscious, at the very least i say this in the matter of being self-aware.
    We perceive the world through our experience, through these shades that differ between each and every person, and so- how do we expect that we can trust our feelings which are often the fruit of such an inconsistant variable as experience?
    I think we should all be consciously aware and push from the social barriers that we have granted without realizing. There are innumeral things that we grant our entire lives without considering, for example many childhood beliefs- “if you swallow gum it will take 7 years to digest”, when we put logic into this we know that it will pass just as a quarter would. It is often because it was never considered with a developed mind that the thought may have persisted into middle school.

    this may seem to be somewhat off but i was glad to see a somewhat similar view on how society has strong negative effects on perception.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comment, Ramon.

    Raising your level of consciousness involves both skepticism and open-mindedness simultaneously.

  • James

    Hey, you have a great, informative and thoughtful blog here! I’m definitely going to bookmark you!