Why the British are Scared of Personal Development

(and why a British approach would be really rather jolly bloody good)

When trying to describe my work in the UK I sometimes hear things like, “It sounds a bit American” and ”Are you one of those American motivational gurus?” Such comments are normally oozing both fear and contempt. I’m getting a bit sick of this as I’m as British as it comes and while some of my teachers have been from the USA, what I do, I do in a very British manner. It seems that people in the UK associate soft skills training and personal development courses with the USA, and sometimes more widely – passion, leadership and any kind of sincerity or depth. This article is about why we British are terrified of working on ourselves as well as what a very British personal development may look like, and what we can teach our colonial cousins and the rest of the world in this regard.

Warning, this article is fairly insulting to people on both sides of the Atlantic, contains wild generalisations and some possibly unfair stereotypes and projections.


What Britain Needs to Sort the Bloody Hell Out

Here’s why people in the UK are often very scared of personal development work. Note that this list and the more positive one after could be used as a check-list of things to take into account when designing courses for the British, whether they be corporate leadership, communication and team building, or explicitly spiritual and alternative courses.

Emotional Idiocy

We are emotionally illiterate feeling-denying morons and the sooner we acknowledge that this is not our strength as a nation the better. The “stiff upper lip” is not dead by a long-shot.


We are a nation of slave serfs and useless aristocrats hiding behind our fear of leadership and only too willing to knock-down anyone who gets “above their station” and tries to make themselves of the world a better place. We would rather moan than change our inner or outer world. One thing the Americans are great at is getting out there, taking action and doing something, and we Brits could learn a lot from this “can do” attitude.


We are lonely, scared, island-dwelling introvert isolates who both fear and crave connection. In Britain we are closed and cynical first, which makes any kind of personal development hard work. In my experience of living in several parts of the USA (and they are very different, it’s a big place) people are more open, especially to new ideas. The British are a more closed and historically orientated people.

What the British Have to Offer Personal Development

Now to be fair, all the things I’ve mentioned so far are the shadows of some positive things the rest of the world could learn from:

We Are Real

A lot of personal development doesn’t really work and is lead by unhinged overly-sensitive floaty Californians. The British are a down-to-earth bunch concerned with what’s real and what gets the job done. The grandiose pretentious and pseudo-spirituality of much personal development simply doesn’t cut it here, and many American teachers have found themselves knocked off their pedestals by dry jokes and a sensible questions in the UK. I’m also curious what a really British no-nonsense personal development would look like, as I’m not sure it’s happened yet. So far we have tended to just impersonate Americans/Indians/Japanese badly, but I hope this is changing.

Humour and Subtlety

We have been voted the funniest nation in Europe and Yanks often comment on how funny we “Brits” are. US personal development often takes itself WAAAAAY too seriously and British Zen-like irreverence adds depth and character. Related to this is that the British – like for example the Japanese – are a more subtle implicit people than Americans – as we don’t need to spell everything out and make it things obvious this is also worth bearing in mind.


We British are renowned for our resilience – Blitz spirit and all that. While the dark-side of this can be emotional repression as mentioned, there is growing evidence to suggest that gushy American “touchy-feely” way of life is quite unhealthy and sometimes it’s best to just deal with it, put the kettle on, keep calm and carry on.


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  1. Bridgette Marrie