If you’ve been around this site for more than a hot minute you’ll know that I’m very into personal development. In fact it’s what spurred me to become a coach. But before I was introduced to personal development I had no idea what it was. So this article is dedicated to those that would like to start a personal development journey, but have no clue where to begin.
Personal development, or self improvement, is the act of growing and improving yourself in an intentional way. Many of us grow and change as we go through life, but the point of personal development is to make the growth happen, on purpose.
Oftentimes if we are not working on ourselves we are unlikely to change unless something happens to us that forces us to grow. A new job, having a child, and death of a loved one are all big events that might happen to us and initiate growth. But there’s no reason to just sit around and wait for things to happen to you, just so you will grow as a person.
However, once you get interested in personal development there may still be a few mindset hurdles. These seem to stop people before they even get started.
First, personal development just seems like something only executives and stodgy business people do. It sounds boring and a lot like work. And really, who wants to work more after they come home from work? Especially on themselves. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that.
Second, the personal development books are usually in the self help section. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never used to think very highly of that section of the book store. To me it seemed like where you went when nobody else could help you. A last resort of sorts. And all the brightly colored promises on the label gave me the same ick factor I get when online pharmacy emails escape my spam filter.
And to some extent these two ideas are a little bit true. Yes, many executives and stodgy business people do, do personal development – but they aren’t the only ones. And there are PLENTY of self help books that make outrageous promises that might not work for you – but there are plenty of great ones with helpful messages too.
The personal development industry has grown immensely in the last decade and with that growth comes people that can make it relatable and relevant. You don’t have to go to Harvard Business Review and read articles to get your fix, you can easily get it from watching Marie TV.
But where to even begin? Now that it’s growing there are tons of gurus out there that can help with whatever you need. But getting clear on what direction you want to grow is as important as the tools you plan to use. So check out below for a simple plan to figure out where is best for you to get started — and some dos and don’ts to help keep you going and prevent you from getting stuck.
PLANS NOT GOALS
Making a plan for personal development will sound a lot like everything I talked about in my goal setting article. In essence, they are the same concept. The difference is that personal development can be a little trickier to notice results or to set clear finish lines.
While a business goal could be as clear and easy to measure as make $5,000 selling my online courses, personal development might be something like improve public speaking. A common, and worthy goal, but a little harder to see progress and even harder to decide when you’ve arrived.
With normal goals I would say that you’ve really got to get it clear in your mind and set some milestones to help you keep going. But in personal development that clear goal is probably more like a fuzzy, moving target. Your initial public speaking goal might have been just get good enough to not be too nervous giving a presentation at work. But then the presentation goes well and now the company wants you to present it at a conference. You may not have even felt like you had accomplished your presentation goal and now you need to grow even more.
It’s one of those things that’s never really officially done. You’re never done growing as a person. But don’t let that scare you. The point is to follow the exercise below and come up with an area to focus on to get started. Just be ok with it being a little nebulous and understand that over the course of the year/decade/life the goal posts will probably move.
Moving the goal posts means that you’re growing.
HOW TO MAKE THE PLAN
Choose something deeply important to you
This sounds a lot like the goal setting concept. Because if something isn’t important to you, you’re not going to stick with it. One way to get at this is to consider your 5 or 10 year plan. What would you like life to be like in 2024 or 2029? Once you get clear on that, think about what skills are you missing now that you will need to help that plan succeed.
This exercise might seem overwhelming because often we see a huge disconnect between where we are now and where we want to be. But don’t get sucked down this hole and start thinking there’s so much to do it’s impossible. The point of this exercise is just to notice where you could improve and start where you are.
Once you have a list of skills you need to get where you want to go, choose the one that seems like it will have the biggest impact on your future. If there’s a skill on there that will not only help you get where you want to go, but will also improve your life now, consider starting with that.
Consider how this skill effects others
If you were to improve your public speaking skills, how would that effect those around you? How many more people could you get to hear your message through a speech as opposed to just writing a report.
What about your interpersonal skills? What if you were more comfortable striking up conversations with others? Would that improve your business and, in turn, improve the life of your family?
Often we are motivated to do things for ourselves, but when things get hard we might falter if our only reason is that we’re doing it for us. If you can see the greater impact that your personal development will have on the THE world or YOUR world, it will help keep you motivated.
Think about what you’re already good at
What are you already bringing to the table? What skills or capabilities will help you as you grow in this new area?
In the speaking example, perhaps you’re comfortable and funny over a drinks with friends, but you lock up in front of a crowd. While they might seem disparate, chatting with friends and public speaking aren’t that different.
Or perhaps you want to become a better project manager and you’ve already planned a wedding or a big party. During that planning you probably developed some skills that will transition over into project management.
Seeing connections between what you can already do and what you’re trying to do will help you feel more comfortable in learning this new thing. It gives you a frame of reference and a reservoir of experience to draw upon as you go through the process.
Find your people
Personal development may be you working on you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enlist help. In fact, most of us won’t grow that quickly if we try to do it in a vacuum. Having people that you can check in with for accountability or to help you notice your progress will help you move forward.
There are several types of accountability you can get:
A coach – of course I’m going to recommend this one. Talking with a coach is a great way for you to get a deeper understanding of who you are now and how you get where you want to go. A coaching conversation goes through the steps of the plan frequently and helps you see patterns that you want to either continue or stop. For more info about how coaching works click here.
Having said that not every coach is for you. In fact most of them won’t be. Make sure to have a consultation with them to ask questions and see if you have good chemistry with him/her. If you’d like to see if I’m right for you, you can send me a message to book a free consultation.
A peer – While a coaching relationship would be specifically designed to help you work on you, a peer would be you helping them and them helping you. A peer to peer relationship helps you create accountability to someone else that’s going through a similar situation.
Be sure that the person that you choose is trying to grow in a similar area as you are. While you could provide accountability for someone who is trying to lose weight while you’re trying to make your life more productive, that’s probably not going to get either of you the level of understanding you’re each hoping for.
You want to enlist someone that “gets” it. This will help you stop yourself from isolating when things don’t seem to be going the way that you had hoped. Having someone that understands and will hold you accountable gives you both someone to force you to own up to what’s going on, but also a sounding board for your struggle.
The people that are impacted – this one can be hit or miss, but if the people are there, use them. If the people that your self improvement is impacting are invested in your growth then you can go to them for help.
Find a couple of loving critics that will help you notice where you are growing and give you some feedback on what needs work. I recommend that you make sure that you’re comfortable receiving feedback from these people before you ask them.
Often a partner or close family member might be hard pressed to either give you negative feedback or for you to hear it, but that’s what you need to grow. Just be honest with yourself about how you’ll both handle this new facet of the relationship before you ask them whether they are up to the challenge.
SOME DOS AND DON’TS
Don’t let set backs derail you. Personal development isn’t a straight line. Some of our habits and mindsets are deeply ingrained and we won’t have persistent and constant progress changing them. But if the overall trend in your growth is up then you’re headed in the right direction. If you are stuck, however, you might need to examine your plan.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. Though it can also contribute to false joy if you’re comparing yourself to people that haven’t gotten as far as you have. Either way, comparing to others is not useful information. Your only goal is to be better than you were yesterday/last week/last year.
Don’t get so focused you get stuck. Just as I wrote in my growth mindset post, people who look to other disciplines tend to solve problems more creatively and come up with more unique ideas. You can apply this concept here. If your goal is to become a better runner, only running isn’t likely to be the best way. Most athletes benefit from cross training to improve their main focus.
The same concept applies here. Be ok with looking to tangential or related concepts while you’re working on your main goal. This helps keep things fresh and will likely keep you moving forward.
Do focus on what you enjoy. If the only reason you’re doing your personal development is to be a better manager – but you’re not enjoying any of it, it’s probably not going to happen. You might not do the work, or you might not get the result you were hoping for. Certainly make a plan that will get you to your goal, but then let it go and just enjoy the ride.
Do practice in a safe environment. Most of the skills that you want to develop probably involve interacting with other people. If you want to be a better speaker, you need an audience. If you want to be a better networker you need new people to meet.
Before you dive into giving a presentation at work where you feel like the pressure to perform is really on, why not find a safe place to give speeches? Give a speech to a local organization or join a Toastmasters group.
If you want to be a better networker, go to really small events and then work your way up to big events like conferences.
Whatever you choose to do, start small and work your way up.
Do experiment with different methods. You’re going to get plenty of advice from all over about who you should follow, or what books to read, or what techniques to try. There will be raving fans of each and that’s awesome. Be glad they found what works for them, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work for you.
Just like all productivity techniques aren’t for everyone, not all personal development methods are good for everyone. Maybe you don’t like to read. That doesn’t need to stop you. There are audio books, podcasts, YouTube videos, speeches. All valid methods to work on yourself. Do what works for you.
Personal development is the path to improving your life and growing on purpose. By following a the simple steps above you can create a plan and enjoy the ride instead of making it feel like work.
Ready to put your personal development plan into place, but still not sure where to begin? Message me here and we can talk about whether coaching is the right way for you to start the journey to a better you.