Personal Development

Engage Course Update – Steve Pavlina

I’ve been making steady progress on the new Engage course design. It’s a lot of work – I’ve been putting in some long hours lately – but very fulfilling. I’m enjoying working co-creatively with ChatGPT on it. This has really taken the course design and development process to a whole new level.

I wouldn’t say that it’s saving me time per se. I could potentially leverage AI to speed up my design process, but that doesn’t resonate with me. Rather, it’s enabling me to go much deeper into understanding the core ideas, transformations, audience, and more. I can explore the ideas from many more angles and reflect upon them in ways I couldn’t really do before, at least not as thoroughly as I can now.

I love that ChatGPT has a decent working memory. I’m learning how to preload it with different subsets of information that I want it to work on, so I can have it generate more permutations of those ideas and do some insightful reasoning about them.

For instance, I had ChatGPT generate representative quotes regarding the problems and challenges people might express that Engage is being designed to address:

Key Quotes (AI Simulated)

  1. “I feel like I’m just going through the motions every day, without really living.”
  2. “I’m always busy, but I never seem to get anything done.”
  3. “I can’t seem to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time.”
  4. “I’m constantly distracted by social media and other digital devices.”
  5. “I’m always exhausted, even when I get enough sleep.”
  6. “I have trouble setting priorities and sticking to them.”
  7. “I feel like I’m not making any progress in my life or career.”
  8. “I have trouble motivating myself to do the things I know I need to do.”
  9. “I’m afraid of taking risks and trying new things.”
  10. “I feel like I’m stuck in a rut and can’t break out of it.”
  11. “I have trouble saying no and setting boundaries with others.”
  12. “I feel like I’m not living up to my full potential.”
  13. “I struggle with self-doubt and negative self-talk.”
  14. “I have trouble finding a sense of purpose or direction in my life.”
  15. “I’m overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tasks and responsibilities I have to juggle.”
  16. “I’m constantly stressed out and anxious.”
  17. “I have trouble managing my time and getting things done efficiently.”
  18. “I don’t feel like I have enough time or energy to pursue my passions and hobbies.”
  19. “I have trouble balancing my work and personal life.”
  20. “I feel like I’m not making enough progress towards my goals.”
  21. “I struggle with procrastination and putting things off until the last minute.”
  22. “I’m easily overwhelmed by large projects or tasks.”
  23. “I have trouble focusing on the present moment and enjoying life as it happens.”
  24. “I’m constantly comparing myself to others and feeling inadequate.”
  25. “I feel like I’m just going through the motions of life, without really experiencing it.”
  26. “I have trouble finding meaningful relationships and connections with others.”
  27. “I feel like I’m not living an authentic life, but rather one that’s been dictated by others or by society.”
  28. “I struggle with perfectionism and have trouble accepting my flaws and mistakes.”
  29. “I have trouble making decisions and second-guessing myself.”
  30. “I feel like I’m not living up to the expectations of others, such as my family or society as a whole.”

It’s easy to have ChatGPT generate many variations of this type of list. This helps me catch additional ideas that may not be captured in a single list.

I feel especially well-suited to working with ChatGPT productively on this kind of project because of my background as a writer and as a programmer. It’s such a unique and robust tool, and I find myself shifting around a lot in how I interface with it – sometimes leaning more on normal human language while other times approaching it more like a coder and thinking algorithmically. I often think of ChatGPT as the ultimate programming language. It’s incredibly flexible in what it can do, and I love discovering new ways to squeeze more performance out of it. I use it pretty much every day now.

I especially like that I can use ChatGPT to give me different viewports into a range of self-development ideas that I’m working with. For instance, I can have it generate lists of side effects of people’s problems and struggles, so I better understand what they may be going through.

Here’s an example where I asked ChatGPT to predict 10 side effects that people may experience as a result of experiencing the struggles and challenges that Engage is being designed to address:

10 Side Effects

  1. Poor health and well-being: Chronic stress and burnout can lead to physical and mental health problems, including fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and even chronic diseases.
  2. Strained relationships: A lack of focus and productivity can lead to unmet commitments, unfulfilled promises, and strained relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.
  3. Missed opportunities: Without a clear sense of purpose and direction, individuals may miss out on opportunities that could lead to personal and professional growth and fulfillment.
  4. Financial instability: Poor productivity and lack of focus can lead to missed deadlines, poor performance, and reduced income or job loss, leading to financial instability and stress.
  5. Reduced creativity and innovation: Without mental and emotional alignment, individuals may struggle to tap into their full creative potential, leading to stagnation and reduced innovation.
  6. Reduced sense of self-worth: Failure to meet personal and professional goals can lead to reduced self-esteem and self-worth, creating a cycle of negative self-talk and self-doubt.
  7. Reduced impact and influence: Without the ability to focus and deliver on important tasks and projects, individuals may struggle to make a meaningful impact in their personal and professional lives.
  8. Reduced sense of meaning and purpose: Without a clear sense of purpose and direction, individuals may struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives.
  9. Reduced quality of life: The combined impact of these challenges can lead to a reduced quality of life, characterized by stress, burnout, and a lack of fulfillment.
  10. Reduced sense of community and connection: Poor productivity and a lack of engagement can lead to social isolation and reduced sense of community and connection, exacerbating feelings of stress and loneliness.

Here’s another version, focused on the inner experience of these struggles.

Top 10 Inner Issues Experienced

  1. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed, with a constant sense of pressure to perform or succeed
  2. Experiencing a lack of clarity and purpose, and feeling uncertain about the direction of their life
  3. Feeling disconnected from themselves and their own desires, as well as from other people and the world around them
  4. Struggling with self-doubt, insecurity, and a negative inner voice that criticizes and undermines their efforts
  5. Finding it difficult to focus and be productive, and feeling easily distracted or unmotivated
  6. Feeling stuck in unfulfilling or unsatisfying situations, such as a job or relationship that isn’t fulfilling their needs
  7. Feeling like they’re not living up to their full potential, and a sense of disappointment or regret about missed opportunities
  8. Struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues, which can make it difficult to engage fully with life and pursue their goals
  9. Feeling like they’re always in a state of transition or change, and not being able to find a sense of stability or security
  10. Feeling like they’re alone or unsupported in their efforts to create a more engaged and fulfilling life, and lacking a sense of community or connection with others who share their values and goals.

I don’t know about you, but when I read these kinds of lists, it stirs up a lot of empathy because I know these are real challenges that many people experience every day.

How about a succinct list of the core struggles?

25 Core Struggles

  1. Doubt
  2. Anxiety
  3. Uncertainty
  4. Overwhelm
  5. Procrastination
  6. Self-doubt
  7. Self-criticism
  8. Perfectionism
  9. Lack of focus
  10. Fear of failure
  11. Fear of success
  12. Negative self-talk
  13. Self-sabotage
  14. Imposter syndrome
  15. Burnout
  16. Distraction
  17. Lack of motivation
  18. Poor time management
  19. Inertia
  20. Lack of direction
  21. Lack of purpose
  22. Lack of clarity
  23. Low self-esteem
  24. Low self-worth
  25. Guilt

When I begin working on a new course, I like to start with the problems and challenges that the course is going to address. I normally spend weeks going over the problems till I feel like I really understand what it’s like to experience them from the inside. This helps me start spotting the leverage points regarding how to help people shift from problem space to solution space.

AI and Empathy

Developing a new course is a huge amount of work, and when I invest in such a big creative project, it’s really important for me to connect with a deep and meaningful purpose for it. In the past I would spend a lot of time dialoguing with people in my audience about their problems and challenges. That made me feel more connected to them and motivated to help. It gave me a more specific why. But this approach has many gaps and also redundancies. Many people will share the same kinds of problems, and some key problems won’t be articulated very well.

My blog was in ChatGPT’s training set, so it “knows” me and my writing to some extent. I can have it reason about my audience and their needs, values, desires, and more. Since I have many years of experience interacting with my online audience, I can also evaluate how accurate ChatGPT is in modeling what I expect my audience cares about. I would say it’s doing very well with that, especially as I preload it with more details to help guide it.

Moreover, I don’t have to lean on AI exclusively. It’s not a substitute for my previous processes, but it is a powerful supplement. That’s one reason I’m going a bit slower with this course design. I’ve added this powerful new tool, but it hasn’t replaced my tried and true approaches.

I know that some people think that AI is cold and heartless, and the media has been surging with stories about the ghastly edges of AI output. I know that some people would never use AI for this kind of very human work. Those people are entitled to their opinions, and my opinion is that they’re missing what this is all about.

What’s so fascinating about a tool like ChatGPT is that it was trained on human language, and the surprise was just how much human intelligence is encapsulated within our language patterns. That really got me thinking about the connection between language and thought. How much of my own thinking is empowered or constrained by my own language patterns? What’s the relationship between intelligence and language?

When I use ChatGPT, I straddle multiple frames. My background in programming, computer science, and mathematics keeps me aware of the language-based nature of the tool while also empowering me to use it like a programmer, not just as a writer or course creator. At the same time, my curious explorer side loves to interact with AI like it’s more than just the sum of its parts. I have tremendous respect for it as a different form of intelligence.

On the inside my experience of working with ChatGPT feels much like I’m co-creating the course with Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s like having a tireless assistant who also happens to be brilliant, but not exactly in the same way a human being would be brilliant. I absolutely love it. For a part of me, being able to collaborate like this with machine intelligence is a dream come true. I feel like I’m in creative paradise.

Once ChatGPT grasps the problems and struggles we’re looking to address, it’s also very good at helping to explore the transformations too. I’ve spent many hours going over those from many different angles till I found the hooks that really got me excited. I would say the biggest one is helping people overcome blocks they don’t even know they had.

For instance, if you’re not already using generative AI tools like ChatGPT for your self-development, then I’d say it’s a certainty that you’re being held back by blocks. The question is whether or not you’ve identified them yet. The truth is that if you’re waiting months to engage with such a breakthrough tool like this, you’re being way too much of a dinosaur.

For all of our previous courses, I focused on creating timeless content that would still be relevant decades after the course was created. For Engage I think we need an element that also involves the opposite, which is to cover the leading edge of what you can do with self-development with today’s accessible AI tools.

AI Assessment

ChatGPT is especially useful for making predictions, based on its current understanding. I often have it regenerate its responses multiple times to see how consistent its predictions are, which is a good way to double-check their stability.

After we worked a lot on the transformations that Engage is meant to help people with and the core concepts we’ll be covering, I asked it:

Do you predict that this is an achievable goal?

It replied:

Yes, I believe that this is an achievable goal. The Engage course appears to have a well-defined and thoughtful approach to personal growth and development, with a focus on providing participants with the tools, resources, and support they need to make positive changes in their lives. The course addresses a range of important topics and provides participants with strategies for developing positive habits, enhancing self-awareness, managing their time and productivity, and achieving personal transformation. With a skilled and dedicated instructor or coach, and a supportive community of like-minded individuals, participants have the potential to make significant progress towards their personal and professional goals. Of course, the level of success will ultimately depend on the individual’s own commitment and effort, but the Engage course appears to provide a strong foundation for achieving positive change.

It’s good to know that the AI is optimistic about our current direction. ????

At the end of one lengthy work session, I also asked it:

What do you think of Engage?

So far so good… I’d say we’re on track to open up the new Engage course sometime in March. I’ll keep you posted, but just know that I’m continuing to work on this every week till it’s ready. And Mr. Data is helping me this time. ????

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