About Steve Pavlina's Book
Personal Development for Smart People
You can download the first chapter of the book for free at Steve's site: Free Sample Chapter of Personal Development for Smart People.
Also, if you've ever bought anything from Amazon in the past, you can browse a generous number of pages within the book for free at Amazon.
(Thanks to someone on the Personal Development for Smart People Forums for pointing that out).
Other places to buy the book online without a credit or debit card include eBay, Abebooks, or elsewhere. Just make sure the specific seller you're buying from on those sites will accept PayPal, check, money order, etc.
The book Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina was released in September of 2008. I own the hardcover first edition.
For a tantalizing overview of what the book contains, you can browse this expanded table of contents which I formatted myself and released with permission.
The short version of my review is: it's brilliant and you should definitely get it. The long version of my review follows.
Rather than writing my own long description to summarize the contents of the book and the underlying rationale for how and why Steve's beautifully simple and elegant model of personal growth was developed, I will simply direct you to Steve's own web page which already does a fine job of explaining all that.
Truth . . . Oneness . . Authority . . . Intelligence . . . . . Love . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Power Courage
The book outlines a model consisting of three main principles, Truth, Love and Power, and four secondary principles derived from combinations of the three main principles - Oneness (Truth + Love), Authority (Truth + Power), Courage (Love + Power), and Intelligence (Truth + Love + Power).
When I first read of this model (before I even had the book), I originally felt almost let down by how basic and obvious the three main principles seemed. I also wasn't sure I agreed with the names for two of the four secondary principles.
For example, authority figures such as politicians are renowned for frequently being liars, so clearly authority in the real world doesn't necessarily have much to do with Truth. Not that I didn't wish Truth + Power would equal Authority - the implication that the authority wielded by liars isn't true Authority at least appealed to me from a moral perspective. I just wish the rest of the world would agree... :-)
I also was unsure of how Oneness was supposed to result from a mixture of Truth and Love. I think, if not for all the weird possibly paranormal experiences I've had, I probably would have considered the notion that Truth + Love = Oneness to probably just be fluffy wishful thinking - or in other words, that Oneness was probably just a mixture of Truthiness and Love.
But, the more I pondered and learned about this model, the more I decided I liked it, to the point where I even ended up spontaneously using this model in a forum post I wrote before I had even read the book. It really is useful to be able to diagnose any given problem as some kind of imbalance/deficiency of Truth, Love and/or Power, or all of them - it makes it easier to simplify matters and cut to the core of many issues.
It also encourages you to look at problems in new and/or different ways. For example, until recently, I usually assumed the most realistic, feasible solution to my chronic lack of motivation was to just force myself to work on things whether I liked it or not. And, sure, that brute force method works to an extent - maybe because I have a lot more self-discipline than I usually give myself credit for, enabling me to work for hours on end, day after day, to the point of burnout and exhaustion, on projects I work on simply because I desire the final product of my labor, not because the work itself is frequently great fun for me at any point before it's complete.
But, thanks to the stuff in this book about Love, the part of the Power chapter about rest, etc., I was reminded of the idea that probably I would be more effective if I didn't have to constantly fight against my feeling of wanting to stop and do something fun, and instead, went a bit easier on myself, and periodically permitted myself to enjoy sufficient amounts of guiltless leisure.
An idea that came to mind just now (as I write this) is the idea that maybe I should treat myself the way I'd treat an employee working for me, since I tend to be a lot nicer to other people than to myself. Working myself too hard is such an ingrained, almost unconscious habit I probably ought to use a timer or something to stop myself from working for such great lengths of time without permitting myself enough guiltless leisure.
The "Where is the path with a heart?" question (page 109) was particularly helpful. I even asked it while I was attempting to write this review and having a problem with writer's block, whereupon I realized that what I really felt like doing was to just totally let go of the need to complete this review on time (or at all), and just play a text adventure game. So, I did, and I felt tremendously relieved to be rid of the pressure I was putting on myself. Then, when I woke up the next day, I found I was refreshed enough to actually feel like working on this again. Not what I expected!
But a very welcome result - which proves to me that getting better-aligned with the principles in this model really is (or can be) a beneficial, intelligent approach.
Even as recently as earlier this month, I was really overdoing the self-discipline aspect of Power to the point of burnout and exhaustion, was insufficiently aligned with Truth because I often felt a bit guilty for being being "lazy" (which is not true - at least not until I work myself to the point of burnout and despair), and I was also insufficiently aligned with Love because of how merciless I was to myself and how I kept forcing myself to do things I didn't really feel like doing.
This book wasn't the only thing that made me more decisively resolve to not be so hard on myself - other factors include a cold I got this month (Oct. 2008) which might not have happened if I hadn't been putting myself under so much stress and pressure; and even a glance at my ongoing astrological transits (the T-square involving transiting Saturn and Uranus square my natal Mars suggests this might be an especially good time for me to make a conscious effort to take it easy). But, the book played a significant part.
Thoughts Regarding the Principles
Here, I'm not going to describe each principle in depth - for that, you'll have to read the book. I'm just going to share some thoughts that came to mind as I pondered each one.
One way I might expand upon the principle of Truth is to make a distinction between objective truth and subjective truth. It's perfectly possible for someone to have 100% sincere belief that something completely irrational and quite likely objectively false is true. Such a person could be said to be aligned with subjective truth, and hence at least sincere, but inadequately aligned with objective truth.
One thing that complicates the whole idea of Truth is the possibility that we live in a subjective rather than objective reality, or some odd mixture of the two, where one's inner thoughts and feelings somehow directly influence the "outside" world.
If that's true, then I guess some good questions to ask might be: if we live in a subjective reality, to what extent can our subjective truths shape objective reality? Is it a good idea to align with subjective truth alone, or objective truth alone, or is the best choice to align with both at once?
My personal answer to that last question would be, "both at once" - since focusing exclusively on objectively proveable truth while rejecting my inner feelings on some matters (such as my intuitive feeling that astrology maybe isn't the empty nonsense I had always assumed) made me very unhappy in the past, and, had I continued to reject anything intuitive or subjective, it would have deprived me of some of the most life-enriching experiences I've had.
But if someone truly preferred the answer "objective truth alone" or "subjective truth alone", would their subjective belief that that is the best answer somehow make it objectively as well as subjectively true for them?
Plenty of possible answers are suggested in those two links I included above, but, I still remain confused and undecided.
Perhaps a further distinction might have to be be made between conscious and unconscious subjective truths. Conscious subjective truths being the things which one consciously believes to be true, and unconscious subjective truths being underlying beliefs which one isn't fully aware of, but which are thought, at least by many in the Law of Attraction crowd, to influence one's reality as much as one's conscious thoughts and beliefs, and which might actually conflict with one's conscious subjective truths.
I can definitely vouch for the journaling idea in the Truth chapter. I've kept a journal since August 2002, and it definitely changed my life in very positive ways - it fact, it helped change my entire outlook on the universe. Here's a forum post where I explained some of the strange and unexpected benefits I experienced a result of keeping a journal.
Authority (Truth + Power)It was nice to find out that I already am somewhat, or at least potentially, aligned with Authority in some respects. Sure, I've often ended up investing a lot of time and energy in things that seem like they're far from the most significant, worthwhile thing I could be doing with my time - but at least I'm usually aware of and bothered by that fact.
I actually do have some sense of significance, and instinct for triage - I just haven't always been using them as much as I ought. Or, at other times, I've used the tactic of triage to such an extreme extent, it's actually counterproductive (all work, no guilt-free leisure).
I think it might be possible to make a distinction between two different kinds of Authority:
- Inner authority, where, even if you have little external power, you definitely feel that you're the master of your own life, and other people's criticisms and attempts to rule your life aren't easily able to throw you into paralyzing self-doubt or otherwise derail you (at least inwardly).
- And outer authority, where you actually have the external resources necessary for you to do what you want, when you want, without having to rely on others. As well as the wherewithal to not be easily affected by others attempting to impose their will on you. For example, someone who has enough money to move into their own home doesn't have to live in fear of a relative they live with terrorizing them with the threat of throwing them out on the streets unless they do what that relative wants.
Though, having a lot of external authority/power doesn't necessarily mean you have the inner authority/power to avoid being overly influenced by what other people tell you or try to pressure you to do. Someone very wealthy and powerful can probably still be a wishy-washy, easily influenced or manipulated pushover. (Though if so, they might end up not staying very wealthy and powerful for long).
This reminds me of a thread I replied to on the Personal Development for Smart People Forums - I guess instead of continuing to repeat myself, I'll just link to it: How can I start being more independent?
I've always highly valued Truth, but sometimes I've had a hard time justifying it, in some realms of my life - because in some ways, it might make my life easier if I lied about being interested in such things as astrology, reincarnation, psychic phenomena, and so forth.
In some oppressive societies or other social milieus, Truth can be a downright dangerous principle to adhere to, at least openly. Reminds me of a George Orwell quote: "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." I'm glad America is still a free-enough society that a lot of people can get away with admitting some very "crazy" things without getting locked up in a mental hospital. Not to mention, people can more or less safely criticize the government, politicians, bad laws, etc.
I guess even in oppressive milieus, one can at least maintain an inner dedication to Truth. But any society where Truth is repressed is probably likely to decline into (or already be in) some kind of Dark Age or a police state or something, where people are too afraid to speak their minds, because if they do, they might face imprisonment or worse.
So, Power is definitely an important part of making it possible to openly adhere to Truth without being martyred for doing so.
Even in relatively non-oppressive milieus, it seems like the more external power you have, the more truthful you can safely be. For instance, if you're rich, or a proven genius/brilliant inventor (like Arthur Young), I think it's easier to get away with being openly interested in weird things like astrology, paranormal phenomena, etc. without being branded a lunatic as often as someone broke and unsuccessful with the same interests.
I think I still have a lot to learn about this. Not that I'm an unloving person - I'm just not a social butterfly. Maybe a social caterpillar... :-) This chapter isn't entirely devoted to the interpersonal aspects of Love, but, there is enough about that to make me feel squeamish. When I think about having to go out and connect with random people face to face, the thought fills me with dread.
As the book says on the first page of the Love chapter, "One of the fundamental choices you face in every encounter is the choice to approach or avoid." With most people, I definitely choose the latter more often than not - partly because I often find connecting with most people to be such an anxiety-producing ordeal (I guess from fear of rejection, etc.) that if I want to get anything done, I'm far more effective if I avoid too much social interaction, since I find it very draining.
This is true even with social interactions over the internet. Except if I'm truly anonymous - but I don't like anonymity either, because then I have to hide things about myself so as not to give away my true identity. Connecting with others feels pretty pointless unless I feel free to share my true thoughts, feelings, etc.
On page 32, the book says: "Over the years, I've seen abundant evidence that our relationships with other people always reflect our internal relationships with various parts of ourselves." This would be a perfect addition to the Quotes that could have been astrological thread I participated in at alt.astrology.moderated.
Oneness (Truth + Love)
This is a really beautiful concept, but it seems to me that not much is provided in the book that might help convince a skeptic of its validity.
For me, I think the best evidence I've encountered that some kind of weird universal connection might actually really exist between everyone and everything has been various weird coincidences that are hard to explain other than through theories such as some sort of telepathy, or even the idea that everything we experience is nothing but a dream (albeit a very stable, rational, mundane dream where extremely weird and logically inexplicable things, such as miraculous healings, etc., rarely happen).
Here's a post I wrote in reply to a thread on alt.astrology.moderated that contains just the very tip of the iceberg of weird stuff I've encountered: Questions From an Envious Skeptic
And here (again; I already linked to this somewhere above) is a forum post where I explained some of the strange and unexpected benefits I experienced a result of keeping a journal.
Perhaps there is more truth in the literal idea of Oneness than many think. It's good to keep an open mind, I think - just in case there really is more to Oneness than only moral/ethical/religious/spiritual ideas.
I was quite relieved when I finally got to the section about self-discipline. I have long had so much trouble with motivation and making myself enthusiastic about doing various things, that if the main keys to power were supposed to be things like desire, enthusiasm, and motivation, I would be in big trouble. :-)
The part about rest was especially helpful for me. "If you've been feeling burned out and unmotivated for several days in a row, you're pushing yourself too hard." I also totally agree with the part about not denying your true desires.
I don't have too much else to say about this chapter besides the fact that it's excellent. However, I guess I could add that the quote at the beginning of the chapter seems a bit ironic.
"Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power." -Seneca
Sure, inner power (such as Seneca might have had) counts for a lot, but external power (such as Nero had) can unfortunately profoundly impact the lives of anyone with insufficient amounts of external power of their own to counteract it.
Courage (Love + Power)
I especially loved the "path with a heart" question. I definitely haven't totally mastered Courage yet, but, having done some courageous things has definitely been rewarding for me.
I rather wish I had been more courageous many years ago, and overcame my abject terror of the dentist before my teeth got so bad that pain forced me to get three root canals and an extraction in 2006. Oh, well. Better late than never, I guess.
What I learned from that was, going through several hours of some well-performed root canals (and an extraction, which was astonishingly quick and easy) is definitely much less bad than years of fear and toothaches.
I love this quote on pages 104-105, it's very true:
"In the long run, taking action is less painful than wallowing in fear. Fear may be imaginary, but it can produce needless suffering in the form of discomfort, worry and stress. Such problems can last for months, years, or even a lifetime if they aren't remedied with action. The discomfort of courage, on the other hand, is temporary, and in some cases recovery takes only minutes. The path of courage ultimately reduces pain."
Intelligence (Truth + Love + Power)
Overall, a nice concept. Can't think of much else to say about it, though. I think this system of principles is a wonderful, highly useful addition to my (or anyone else's) repertoire of ways of looking at or approaching any given problem or undertaking.
Thoughts Regarding Part 2 of the Book
I have little to say about most of the rest of this section, except that it's good stuff.
However, I do have some things to say in response to the parts about money. As it is, I think we actually do have a quite unfair system. In my opinion, money doesn't even come close to accurately representing social value - I think it vastly under-represents it. For example, I don't have enough money to even give Steve to adequately represent how much I value his work. He'd have infinite amounts of money if I did... :-)
Also, people who do such valuable services as teaching, and taking care of children, the elderly, the sick, and animals, really deserve a ton of money - but do most of them get tons of money? No. Yet, the loss to society would be huge if there were no such people. I think these services, despite being low-paid, should be regarded as having tremendous social value. Simply because something only helps a small group of people, or maybe even just one individual, shouldn't mean it has hardly any social value.
Besides that, throughout history, there have been tons of starving artists and other geniuses who never received the remuneration they deserved, such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe, Nikola Tesla, etc.
Even in our modern era, with slavery supposedly abolished in the USA, prisoners are put to work for wages as low as 28 cents per hour. And, just in case anyone out there reading this can't bring themselves to sympathise with prisoners - good, law-abiding people summoned for jury duty (summoned under threat of fines and possible jail time if they don't respond to the summons, which is absurd in a supposedly free country), get paid ridiculously little money as well. When I was called for jury duty, the wage I was offered was $25 a day.
The fact that people aren't paid a fair amount of money for their slave labor shouldn't mean that their work is of less social value - especially in the case of jury duty, which is meant to uphold things as fundamentally important as fairness and justice.
In fact, I'd go as far as to say I think the economic system we have now (as well as the system of using prisoners and jurors as underpaid slave labor) is thoroughly out of alignment with Love and Oneness.
I believe an economic system in alignment with those two principles would provide such basics as food, clothing, and shelter to everyone unconditionally, and would never cruelly deprive anyone of those basics for any reason - not even criminals or moochers. No one, anywhere, would be abandoned to homelessness, starvation, or any other deprivation of their basic needs and human rights, for any reason - period.
I believe that Steve would agree. You can even tell (or guess) that he would from his book - on page 178, he says "I didn't like that it [money] was used as a gatekeeper for certain privileges such as proper medical care, healthy food, or decent educational resources."
Of course, reforming the entire economic system we have now wasn't the point of Steve's book, so I believe no one should be too hard on him for not going into depth about issues such as the above.
Regarding "mooching" vs. contributing - I wonder if this whole debate might someday become totally obsolete. In fact, maybe it is already. I recently read some things which essentially said that as a result of the advance of technology, the production of goods and services is now so tremendous, and accomplished with so much less work than was necessary in the past, that the frenetic work ethic of the industrial era, with its endless, unrelenting demand for constant contribution and productivity, is no longer really necessary, because quite enough goods and services are already being produced (even without everyone in the world having to slave away to accomplish this feat) for everyone to be quite well taken care of.
I wonder - if someone ever invents something like the replicator from Star Trek, what will society do then? Will we all experience a huge collective guilt trip about what horrible "moochers" we are because we no longer have to work to make many basic material objects such as food? Or will we finally begin to understand that we don't all have to be constantly producing something in order for humanity to survive and thrive?
In my opinion, "mooching", as long as it is a voluntary relationship, is harmless, and can even be beneficial, since it can give the "moocher" an opportunity to develop their skills and become a financially successful contributor - or even an financially unsuccessful contributor, who might still be providing very important services to the world even if they don't get as much appreciation in the form of money.
If a person "mooches", they can progress faster to becoming a skilled contributor than they otherwise could if they were stuck "contributing" by flipping burgers 8 hours a day, 5 days a week just to keep a roof over their head.
I think a lot of young people who live with their parents and who are therefore accused by some of having a "moocher mindset" might instead have a praiseworthily rational mindset of not wanting to leave the nest before they're quite capable of avoiding plummeting to their deaths. Quite an oddity in a culture like America's - where going into massive amounts of debt to get a house, car, or college education is considered a normal and acceptable thing to do, and far more respectable than living with your parents. It's too bad America in general doesn't have the same attitude towards debt as Italy, as exemplified in this article: Brother, Can You Spare One-Point-Seven Million, at 6.25%?
I also think it's a pity that people in our society are in general encouraged far too much to believe that it's wrong to rely on anyone else but themselves for anything at all, and are criticized as being "dependent" or "moochers" if they're willing to accept people's voluntarily-bestowed financial assistance. I think a lot of people would be much better off if there was a greater tendency for people to cooperate and support each other, instead of everyone attempting all on their own (or with help only from their immediate family) to bear hugely expensive burdens such as getting a place to live, transportation, education, health care, etc., that are totally beyond many people's capabilities to bear alone without becoming an overworked wage slave and/or getting themselves shackled with massive amounts of debt to despicable loan sharks.
Even as recently as earlier in my 90-year-old grandmother's life, people had a much larger yet more closely-knit support network of extended family, neighbors, and friends. People could actually count on each other for significant amounts of help and support without it being a shameful, frowned-upon thing. My grandmother has said (in different words) that compared to the past, people nowadays are much too isolated from each other, and I agree. I also agree with Steve that a world more in alignment with the principle of Oneness would be a much better world. (Though, sadly, I'm not sure how realistically possible such a world ultimately is).
Speaking of Oneness, here's a very interesting, well-written blog post I found quite a while back, by Amadon: Individualism equals planetary destruction Actually, I'm not sure I totally agree with that article, since I think it's a pity that many people's options are so limited that moving into a commune is probably one of the few realistic and comfortable ways to cope with the excessively high cost of living. But, I think this article makes some interesting points about mistrust, lack of cooperation, and so forth.
Another thing - I think people in general should not make the hasty, superficial judgment that certain cooperative or symbiotic, mutually beneficial arrangements are a form of "mooching". An arrangement where one person provides all the financial value, and another provides "only" non-financial benefits and services should not be considered "mooching" - because having a built-in babysitter, dishwasher, cook, typist, housekeeper, computer programmer, webmaster, writer, confidant, advisor, and other things, all in one, at far less cost than my relatives would have to pay for someone of my talents from outside the family, is a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me... :-)
But even if someone truly is a good-for-nothing type of "moocher", providing for the "moocher" clearly has value to whoever is doing so, or else the provider wouldn't be doing it. So one can't even say that that kind of "moocher" is providing no value whatsoever to anyone - even if the "moocher" just lies around the house all day doing nothing, clearly whoever is providing for the "moocher" gets something out of that. Maybe just the satisfaction of proving that they're a good, generous person whose altruism is definitely genuine, since it is most definitely not motivated by the attitude of "what's in it for me if I help you?" :-)
In my opinion, it is the form of "mooching" which involves lying, cheating, stealing, usury, enslaving people, or employing other means of forcibly making unwilling people support you, which is truly contemptible. I believe that that form of "moocher mindset" would be better-termed the criminal mindset.
In my opinion, "moochers" who have the morals not to lie, cheat, or steal for a living, amd who willingly, without turning to a life of crime, put up with the lack of respect "moochers" get, are far more well-aligned with Love and Oneness than criminals, or legalized usurious, vampiric crooks such as credit card companies and banks that rob people with unfair and gigantic fees.
I think the average non-criminal "moocher", who tenaciously holds onto their moral resolve to never sink to criminal actions (or even legal actions that are immoral) no matter what hardship they'll face as a result, and regardless of what disrespect is hurled in their general direction, deserves far more respect than they usually get, and they should not be lumped in with the criminal variety of moocher. In my opinion, "mooching" from a voluntary provider is not essentially the same thing as theft, any more than accepting a gift from someone is theft.
Of course, none of this is personal criticism of Steve. (In fact, Steve is one of my heroes, even though I don't agree with him on absolutely everything). The above is just criticism of the idea that our current system of money is not unfair, and the implication that all forms of "mooching" are inherently bad, shameful, and akin to theft (which I think might be an unfair overgeneralization).
I agree with the majority of everything else he states in this book.
Interestingly, there is at least one other reviewer of Steve's book who had the idea of relating the 7-principle model in this book to astrology - Jeff Lilly of DruidJournal.net, an intriguing blog I've read from time to time since 2007. Here are his very interesting posts: Steve Pavlina’s Seven Principles for Smart People: Astrology and Personal Development and Steve Pavlina Book Review II: Seven Planets for Smart People
The correspondences I came up with up are a bit different from Jeff's, though with some overlap. One reason they're different is because I use the modern planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, and even sometimes Eris, just for the heck of it) in addition to the 7 classical planets which Jeff uses. A second reason is, when I tried to attribute each of the book's 7 principles to something in astrology, it seemed to me that each principle could justifiably be associated with multiple things in astrology, instead of a simple one-to-one correspondence.
I'm just not in the mood to write out basic explanations of astrological factors, so, instead, I'll just list the astrological correspondences that came to my mind without explaining them. Perhaps I'll explain my rationale at some point in the future. Or, you can simply read about the basic interpretations of the astrological factors on other websites and try to figure it out yourself.
Truth . . . Oneness . . Authority . . . Intelligence . . . . . Love . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Power Courage
Truth - Mercury, Virgo, Gemini, Jupiter, Sun, Neptune, Pluto, Sagittarius, Leo, Scorpio, 3rd house, 9th house, Uranus (for the part in this chapter about avoiding routine)|
Authority - Saturn, Jupiter, Sun, Leo, Capricorn, Aquarius, Uranus, 10th house, Eris
Power - Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Pluto, Sun, Scorpio, Capricorn, 10th house, Aries, Leo
Courage - Mars, Sun, Jupiter, Pluto, Leo, Aries, Scorpio
Love - Venus, Moon, Libra, Taurus, Cancer, Pisces, Neptune, Jupiter, Sagittarius, 7th house, 5th house
Oneness - Neptune, Pisces, Venus, Libra, Taurus, Moon, Cancer, Jupiter, Sagittarius
Intelligence - Everything? :-) I don't know. Intelligence in the usual sense of the word would be associated with Mercury, Gemini, Virgo, the 3rd house, and maybe even Uranus, Aquarius, etc., but, the book's principle of Intelligence is different from plain old intellect, more holistic.
So... the 7-principle model doesn't seem to me to completely encompass absolutely everything in astrology (unless I can just cram everything left over under the heading of Intelligence). But that's OK, because the 7-principle model wasn't intended to be an astrology clone. To my own surprise, I managed to fit in every sign and astrological planet - just not every house.
By the way, I was a little loose with the above associations. Given a bit of time and effort I could justify all of them with some hopefully plausible-sounding explanations of my rationale, but, I just don't feel like it.
A list of associations that is less likely to make some astrologers wonder what in the world I'm thinking might look like this list (in which I used only the astrological planets, simply because it makes it faster for me to figure this out):
|Truth - Mercury, Jupiter, Sun|
Authority - Saturn, Sun, Uranus, Eris
Power - Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Pluto, Sun
Courage - Mars, Sun, Pluto
Love - Venus, Moon
Oneness - Neptune, Venus
Intelligence - Everything?
The hardcover first edition of the book is dated October 2008, even though, due to a mix-up, the book was actually released almost a month early in September 2008.
Mix-ups like this are commonly thought by astrologers to be related to Mercury retrograde, or else to the few weeks (or less) before or after Mercury retrograde which is sometimes referred to as the "shadow period" of Mercury retrograde.
Mercury retrograde began on Sept. 23, 2008 at 22:40 GMT, and ended on Oct. 15th, 2008 at 4:46 AM GMT.
Coincidentally, the book's official release date was supposed to be Oct. 15th, 2008 (according to this blog post), which just happens to be the same day that Mercury retrograde ended.
The date the books started shipping doesn't so closely coincide with anything related to Mercury retrograde, though.
Apparently at least one person received the book from Amazon as early as Sept. 18th, 2008, according to this thread on the Personal Development for Smart People Forums (which use the time zone GMT). Sept. 18th, 2008 was about 5 days before Mercury retrograde started.
I guess the closest thing I can think of is the saying that "a wise man rules his stars, a fool is ruled by them", but that doesn't give you much idea of how, in general, you should act to achieve good results in your life, beyond basically telling you not to let astrology rule your life. Good advice, but most people (or at least skeptics) don't even really need it. :-)
Astrology is thought (by some) to give a symbolic depiction of the way things supposedly are in your personality or life, but, the optimal way for you to grow as a person and to deal with what's going on seems to me to be left a lot more to your imagination, or (in case you're not the one interpreting your own charts) the imagination of your astrologer.
By the way, here's one of my favorite articles on the topic of how astrology might work: An Astrophysicist's Sympathetic and Critical View of Astrology
I hope this review has been worth reading. To conclude, I highly recommend that you buy Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina. I also highly recommend reading his website, StevePavlina.com.