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Why We Should Say No to Self-Improvement : My Interview with Derek Rydall

01/18/2011 02:38 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Can we change the world by dropping the idea that we need to improve ourselves?

That's the radical but rational notion put forth by author and licensed therapist Derek Rydall, whose book "The Law of Emergence: A Revolutionary Principle for Achieving Your Full Potential" is due out this year.

Lee: The New Year is a time when a lot of people think about self-improvement, but you talk about the "end of self-improvement." Why is that?

Derek: Well, the main premise of most success strategies is that we are incomplete or broken or wounded. This is a pretty common theme, whether the advice is spiritual, metaphysical, or business-inspirational and motivational. People are told that it's because of past experiences, upbringing or social conditioning -- and that we need to do all these different things to heal the past, fix the broken places and improve upon the less desirable aspects of our character.

That sounds like common sense. But in truth, self-improvement is impossible.

This is because the real Self, when rightly understood and uncovered, is already perfect. This isn't really a new idea; it's what all the great mystics and truly deep-thinking philosophers have discovered and articulated. In fact, what most of them have said is that true personal growth or spiritual unfoldment is about letting go of that which you really aren't, rather than adding a bunch of stuff to you.

I think of it like the analogy of Michelangelo's "David." When he sculpted that, he said that he saw the already completed masterpiece in the block of marble, and just chipped away everything that wasn't it. This was based on his philosophy that, as an artist, he wasn't so much creating things as he was catching a vision of what was already created in Heaven, then giving expression to it. That was a philosophy gleaned from Plato and his belief that there was a realm of "perfect forms," and that all earthly forms were a shadow or reflection of those.

Lee: Are you saying that people shouldn't make changes in their lives?

Derek: No, but the changes are first and foremost internal ones -- not to make something out there happen, but to make it welcome.

You can do this by chipping away the false concepts and self-images that are covering up and obscuring the masterpiece hiding in this block of mortal stone. Then it naturally begins to emerge in their life as improved selfhood and better human conditions in every area. That's the real premise of The Law of Emergence, which is a term I coined to describe this universal principle of emergence.

Lee: So is this just an issue of semantics? Don't people still have to work on themselves?

Derek: Yes, there's still work to be done, but it's not about improving yourself; it's about cultivating the right inner conditions for the emergence of this perfect self "made in the image and likeness of God," to quote a scriptural reference.

I often use the analogy of an acorn. The acorn doesn't improve itself to become an oak; it doesn't have to go out and "make something of itself" or "achieve its goals" or even attract an oak to it. The acorn is already an oak in potential. And when the conditions are right, the oak naturally emerges. The other key thing is that there is much less struggle and striving when you live according to the Law of Emergence.

Lee: Why is that?

Derek: Well, to use a metaphor in nature again, it's like the farmer. When he or she plants the seed, they don't get down in the dirt and struggle and strive to make that seed grow. What's more, they don't have to "feel worthy" of growing that plant. They just plant the seed and cultivate the soil. And if they've done it in alignment with the law of emergence -- the law of the soil -- it grows.

To bring this back to our own personal development, when we put our attention on cultivating the inner conditions of emergence rather than going out and trying to make a bunch of stuff happen, we not only actualize our potential with greater ease, but we also fulfill things without the negative byproducts that so much of our self-improvement efforts create. And the outcomes are usually better than we can imagine. The biggest problem is that we're often trying to change the world -- including our little world -- while remaining the same person. And that just doesn't work. As Gandhi said, "We must become the change we want to see in the world."

Lee: How would applying this concept work practically?

Derek: Oh, it's completely practical, although at first it might be difficult to break the habit of self-improvement and all the achievement-oriented thinking and behaviors that create more stress than positive results. I mean, isn't having peace and true fulfillment a practical need?

I think it's one of the most practical and most ignored needs. And the result is that we struggle and strive to manifest a bigger paycheck, but often just feel broke at a higher income bracket. Or we sacrifice our peace -- and a lot more -- to get that bigger house, but end up feeling less at home. That is, if we ever even get a chance to be home for long.

Lee: I'm not knocking "peace of mind," but are there other practical benefits of working with the Law of Emergence?

Derek: Sure. Here's how it works: because the perfect idea of whatever you're trying to make happen in your life is already within your consciousness, when you create these healthy inner conditions, that potential expresses in your life in very practical terms. For example, if you're working on a project, and you use this principle, it can lead to incredible inspiration, guidance and compelling right-action that leads you to the right people, places and things to fulfill the project.

When you use it with your whole life, it can lead to all kinds of surprise twists and turns that create opportunities you may never have imagined, and talents you never knew you had. And because this perfect idea in you comes with everything it needs to fulfill itself, if you require more money, physical healing or a new or improved relationship to fulfill it, the Law of Emergence will bring that forth, too. But it goes so much further than that.

When you live from this place, you become a visionary in your own right and begin living on what I call the emerging edge, where you can lead the field in your area of endeavor. It's like tapping into that evolutionary impulse within you and stepping on the accelerator.

For more information about Derek's idea, visit his website, LawofEmergence.com.