‘Personal Development’ is a term that most people have heard of. Thousands of books have been written about it and numerous practices developed and commercialized in the name of ‘personal development.’ But what really is ‘personal development’?
I like to describe personal development as a process of developing oneself, taken on in an intentional, committed way, over time. The words ‘intentional’ and ‘committed’ indicate that personal development requires effort – if you’re tempted to shy away from the effort, thinking you’ve already got enough on your plate, please think again – I promise your return on investment in personal development will be multi-fold.
Yes really. The benefits of developing oneself personally are many and yield enormous improvements in all aspects of one’s life whether it be in one’s relationships, in work and business, or one’s mental, emotional and physical health.
When I discovered personal development twenty-some years ago, my life changed in an enormously positive way and over the years the benefits continue to pile up. Yes, I still have struggles and breakdowns. But because of the personal development work I have done and continue to do, I feel competent to handle whatever comes my way. More importantly, I am the conscious creator and driver of my life instead of unconsciously reacting to whatever presents.
You, too, can be in the driver’s seat of your life, continually improve the best you that you can be, and live your best life. Committing to personal development means you are paving the way for creating the best possible version of yourself.
Self-awareness: The foundation of Personal Development
At the heart of personal development is the conscious desire and decision to seek self-improvement through
knowledge and skills acquisition.
The foundational skill is self-awareness- a comprehensive understanding of your thought patterns, habits, personality, values, emotions and needs. By learning to notice, know and understand yourself, you build the foundation that all other personal development practices are built upon.
One of the biggest obstacles to learning is, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Therefore you don’t know what you need to learn. Self awareness is a launch pad for all types of learning. And learning leads to skillful doing, being and success.
How do you develop self-awareness?
Like learning to walk, talk and tie your shoes, learning self-awareness takes practice over time. It starts with deciding to notice your thoughts whenever you can.
Commit to stopping during your day 5 times and notice your thoughts. Meaning observe them. Identify what you are thinking. Instead of being lost in and driven by your thoughts, just notice them.
You might notice yourself thinking something like, “I messed up in a meeting at work today. My boss will think I’m an idiot”. Now stop and look at that thought. Ask yourself, “is it true my boss will think I’m an idiot”? Chances are your boss will not think you’re an idiot for messing up in one meeting on one day.
But your automatic thought habits conjured up that negative story about yourself. If you hadn’t stopped to notice your thoughts you wouldn’t even have noticed your thought habits playing such a trick on you.
Now you’ve noticed, what then? You get to decide how you want to respond to that thought. You can recognize that the thought is just a story that your unconscious made up, and you can decide to discard it. You can get curious about it? “I wonder how often my subconscious creates negative self thoughts? I wonder what impact that has on me.” You can decide to change your self-talk.
If you hadn’t stopped to notice your thoughts you may never have discovered this negative habit and it’s potentially damaging effects.
Ok, you’re aware… now what?
This is where the real fun begins. You’ve got yourself in the driver’s seat with your developing self-awareness, and you get to decide where you would like to go.
Now that you know yourself better, what aspects of yourself do you like? Dislike? Tolerate? What aspects do you realize you really want to change?
There are endless possibilities of things you can work on, but most fall into three categories: 1) You can change how you use language and communicate. 2) You can develop emotional intelligence and emotional agility. 3) You can change your body and how you show up in your body.
Improvements in your communication, your emotional intelligence, and in how you treat and show up in your body will individually and collectively have profound effects on your ability to navigate and create the life you desire.
Imagine what you could do if you developed mastery!
There’s a saying that says to develop mastery, we move through 4 stages. 1) Unconscious incompetence – we do not know we are incompetent). 2) Conscious incompetence – we do know we are incompetent. 3) Conscious competence – we know we are competent. And after much practice to 4) unconscious competence – when we are so good at something we do it without thinking or efforting. This is mastery.
You can work toward mastery in all aspects of personal development, as well as in all parts of your life – in business, parenting, athletics, playing an instrument… anything and everything. Developing yourself personally will support you in mastering anything else.
And you can work on your personal development while working in any part of your life. As a partner, parent, entrepreneur, employee, leader, artist, writer, etc.
Consciously developing yourself over time will help you fully create and experience your desired life.
The need for self acceptance and compassion
A first step toward conscious development of the self is acceptance—accepting the need for and the inherent benefits of change or improvement. For example, to acquire a new productive habit, you must first accept the existence of a poor habit and the benefits of changing this habit.
To become a more organized person in your business, you must accept the fact that some of your behaviors are keeping you from being organized and this is impacting your business productivity.
However, recognizing and owning that some part of you is less than you would like it to be is not license to beat yourself up. On the contrary, it is an act of bravery to recognize one’s shortcomings and commit to improvement.
Keep noticing your thoughts and if you notice self criticism, offer yourself kindness and compassion instead, just as you would for a dear friend who is being mean to herself.
Practice makes habits (not perfect)
Whatever you practice, you’ll get good at. If that’s lying on the sofa eating bon-bons, you’ll get really good at it. If you have a habit of negative self-talk you’ve probably been practicing, albeit probably unconsciously, a long time. And it will take practice to un-do it.
So take care to get conscious of what you want to be good at and practice those things. Practice often and practice well.
Even minute, mundane activities hold the opportunity to practice self-awareness, new skills and ways of being. Whether you are walking your dog, working out at the gym, serving your customers, working on a large project or lying down idly, there’s an opportunity for to practice self-growth.
Change can be difficult and uncomfortable – but opening up to the possibility and benefits of change is essential to self-growth and to experiencing the best possible life. This is what personal development is all about: If you desire to create a life of your choosing, you must consciously accept and commit to self improvement and change. If you do so, you may look forward to an enormous return on investment of your efforts.