Spoiler alert – We all do! That is to say, everyone can benefit from a personal development plan to manage their personal growth; it’s too important to leave it to chance.

Yet most of us do, held back partly through misunderstanding or ignorance, but mostly because no one ever told us it would be a good idea. Life is about change, so be prepared.

The first good reason to engage in personal development is to be better prepared for the challenges we will inevitably face.

Getting ready

It has been said that the one certainty in a person’s life is that change will happen. Some of it is predictable, but much of it isn’t. Personal development is about building self-understanding and the life skills which will best prepare you for whatever lies ahead.

What is personal development?

Personal Development is the “deliberate pursuit of personal growth through increased self-awareness, self-understanding, and the development of personal skills.”

It is a progressive process of self-improvement in career, education, and/or your personal life. 

This process can be structured, as a planned developmental process over a year or more, or less formal where you don’t plan anything but engage in opportunities as they arise. 

In both cases, your mindest is one of deliberately choosing to improve yourself through self-awareness, continued growth, and openness to improvement. This openness, and a commitment to self-discovery, are the most important aspects of personal development.

How does it change you?

Life changes us anyway, whether or not we deliberately embark on a programme of self-improvement. Personal development gives us the ability to choose the direction of change, rather than leaving it to random events. 

That said, many people only become aware of the need for this kind of learning because of some unpleasant life event, like redundancy, bereavement, or a personal crisis. 

To answer the question above, while the detail of the changes will be different for each of us, some more general outcomes should include:

  • Greater self-awareness
  • Increased personal resilience
  • Improved relationship skills
  • Feeling more in control of life
  • Greater self-confidence
  • Thinking in a goal-oriented way
  • Healthier life-choices
  • Better chances in work and career.

These are just some of the differences you could expect from intentionally choosing to spend some time and effort on self-improvement. 

Like any growth, the rate of change will depend on many factors, the key one being an acceptance of the possibilities for your personal development. 

Regardless of how you decide to go about it, or the eventual outcomes you envisage, the change begins when you make a conscious choice to become an improved version of yourself.

When should you do it?

Personal development is about being better prepared for your journey through life. The understandings and skills that it brings are generally related to the self, and usually, the things which formal education and upbringing don’t prepare us for. 

For example, understanding and managing your emotions, taking control of your thinking, developing what psychologists call ‘self-agency’, (broadly, how in control you feel in life).

There is no right time to focus on personal development. The process starts with an awareness of the need to improve yourself. 

If you had a lucky start in life, you were raised to be aware of the importance of reflecting on your actions and learning from them. 

Others are not so fortunate, and only find they have to tackle the gritty inner stuff because of a particular setback or challenge. The vital factor is a commitment to the idea that self-improvement is always beneficial. 

Why personal growth?

The only way we can ever hope to solve life’s problems is by tackling them. We may not always find the solutions we seek, but at least we should be better able to face up to and live with life’s trials.

So, the first good reason to engage in your personal growth is to be better prepared for the challenges we will inevitably face. However smoothly and successfully you expect your life’s journey to be, nobody avoids its ups-and-downs. 

For example, pretty well everyone will suffer the pain of loss or relationship breakup. Equally, we’ll all know setbacks and disappointments, find ourselves in conflict, or encounter financial hardship.

How to equip yourself

Taking the decision to equip yourself as best you can by choosing to focus on your own development as a person is a wise and, some would say, brave move. To pause, reflect and decide that you want to become better doesn’t imply that you are in any way faulty, just that you are choosing a path to uncover your potential as a human being.

Typically, when thinking about personal development we are talking about any activity which increases your self-awareness and encourages insight. You can do this through:

Trying new things

New experiences which open your mind, increase your observation skills and take you outside your comfort zone will stretch you. Also, there’s nothing like mastering new skills for building confidence.

Identify your strengths

You may think you know what your strengths are; it’s a standard question in job interviews, after all. But, do you really? Most people seriously under-estimate their good points. There can be literally dozens of hidden talents or skills you take for granted and have overlooked. If you are unsure of how to identify your strengths, try the VIA Character Strengths Survey.

Investigate your ambitions

When you know what you are good at, how can you take it further? Take some time to explore your true ambitions. Daydream a little, consider how your strengths match up with what you want to become and what will give you a sense of fulfilment.

Initially, these questions are difficult to answer. That’s why people say that self-discovery is a journey, not a fixed point to be arrived at. Be patient, and you’ll gradually get better at imagining what you want to become.

Develop your self-awareness

Being self-aware is a tricky balance between seeing yourself as honestly and objectively as you can, and fooling yourself into believing that you are already self-aware enough and don’t need improvement.

There are structured ways to increase self-awareness. One popular route is to take a course on Emotional Intelligence. Other people choose to work with a coach or therapist or study meditation. Anything which encourages self-reflection and objectivity can help you develop your self-awareness.

In the workplace, career mentoring and appraisals can provide insight into the self, often with the extra bonus of feedback which lets you know how others see you. This can form the basis of a personal development plan to guide your growth, in your private life, and professionally.

What do you need to begin?

If you are asking the question, the chances are, you have already begun a loose personal development plan, but there’s something you want to improve on, or you want the change to be quicker.

There are many routes to personal development. From self-help books to training programmes, meditation, and writing, even the creative arts, like music, poetry, or painting.

The list can include any activity which enhances your self-understanding, talents, social- and other skills. You believe in achieving or maintaining a better quality of life, whether it is through work and career or the fulfilment of personal ambitions.

There are no particular skills you need to begin your personal development plan, and you don’t need money to do it. There are plenty of expensive courses out there, but all of what you need can is free. The internet is a great resource, but you don’t even need that.

What you do need is curiosity, a willingness to learn, openness to reviewing your opinions and values, willingness to risk moving outside your comfort zone because this is how we learn.

Whether you choose to spend money on various courses depends on your learning style. Some people prefer to be tutored by a guide or mentor, others like to pick and choose from the huge range of books and other resources that are available. 

Cheaper still, and if you are not yet ready to invest money in your personal development plan, a great starting point is a commitment to the belief that there is always something useful to be learned from any situation, good or bad. All you need for that is the ability to observe, and reflect on, your thoughts and feelings.

Understanding and commitment

Any decision to improve yourself should come with the understanding that personal development is a journey which should never end. You may stop off at various points to assimilate and practice what you have learned, but there is no ultimate ‘destination’. This is a lifelong process to help you realise your potential and become the person you are proud to be.

In the words of George Bernard Shaw “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

Want to get started?

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