Personal development takes place over the course of a person’s entire life. Most importantly, the personal development process can help you to:
- Improve your self-awareness and identity.
- Uncover and develop talents and potential.
- Facilitate your employability.
- Enhance the quality of your life, and finally.
- To contribute to the realization of your dreams and aspirations.
Explore these six questions to start or enhance your personal development journey.
Question 1: How do I set personal development goals?
You start your personal development journey by asking yourself questions and thoughtfully developing your answers. Click To Tweet In other words, this can be some deep work. Take some time with it and don’t plan to complete it in one sitting. It needs some time to percolate in your brain. Use an iterative process to think about goal setting by continuing to ask yourself questions and tweak and improve your answers to get to the responses that seem most true to you.
To start identifying your goals ask yourself questions, such as:
- What is important to me?
- What do I want from my life?
- What are my priorities?
- What am I happy with now and want to improve?
- What needs improvement?
- What am I unhappy with? Do I want to eliminate this or do I want to improve it?
- Where do I want to be in 6 months? A year? Three years? Five years?
If you’re feeling stuck, try brainstorming with yourself―challenge yourself to come up with ideas, big, small, wacky, serious―to generate a lot of ideas and answers to these questions. Don’t judge your ideas while brainstorming. As a result, you can determine which ideas and answers resonate most strongly with you.
Keep your questions, answers, and ideas in a folder, or a document, so that you have it all in one place to iterate and review.
Prioritize Three to Five Goals
When you have developed answers for these questions you need to prioritize and distill down to a small number of highly important ideas to turn into goals. Between three and five goals is manageable for most people. You’ll learn about how to design your goals in the next section.
If you’ve generated a lot of ideas this may seem like a small number, but you cannot successfully work on too many goals at the same time. This is because you can’t provide the attention needed to accomplish all of them. Additionally, remember that personal development takes place over your entire life―when you are ready to change or add goals you’ll have the notes and work you created originally to start your next round.
We all like to see examples of what other people are doing. Examples of ideas created by others include:
- Learn to: cook, bake, paint, draw, dance, play golf, etc.
- Health and fitness: lose weight, get toned, run a marathon, eat a healthy diet, etc.
- Professional: get a degree or certificate, get a promotion, find a new job, etc.
- Spend more time: with my partner/children, reading, on my hobby, etc.
Resources on how to set personal development goals:
- 6 Questions to Ask Yourself To Get the Most Out of Life
- How to Set and Measure Personal Development Goals
- Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life and The Designing Your Life Workbook
- Find Ted Talks on setting goals here.
Question 2: How do I design my goals to make them actionable?
How you write and define your goals makes a very real difference on if you are able to achieve them or not. For example, note the contrast between these two goals:
“I want to learn to cook” versus “I plan to learn to cook five main dishes in the next six months by taking a cooking course and practicing at least once a week”
The difference is powerful.
Set yourself up for success by designing your goals to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound (SMART).
Understand and incorporate specifically what you want to do. Make sure your goals are attainable and realistic! These two aspects are critical―it is best to set goals that make you stretch outside of your comfort zone. But it is demoralizing to set a goal that cannot realistically be achieved, no matter what. Also, you need to include a measurement (increase, decrease, how will I know when it is accomplished), and a time frame or deadline.
Resources on designing goals to make them actionable:
- The Amazing Results of Writing Down Your Goals
- How to write SMART goals
- The Art Of Setting Smart Goals: Set Winning Goals and Live a Life of Abundance, Success and Achievement
Question 3: How do I get started once I’ve established my goals?
Now that you have established your goals and designed them to be actionable you need to determine how you can build working toward them in your day to day life.
Start by breaking each goal down into steps. What is the first thing that needs to happen to achieve your first goal? The second thing? The third thing?
If one of your goals is to “learn to cook five main dishes in the next six months by taking a cooking course and practicing at least once a week” then your first step is to research cooking classes, your second step is to sign up for a cooking class, and your third step is to attend the cooking class.
In the same way, now outline the steps required to accomplish each one of your goals.
Many people find that writing things down, or typing them into a document or on their phone helps with keeping focus on the steps needed to achieve their goals. In addition, keeping daily To Do lists can be a powerful tool to stay on track.
It’s equally important to set reminders for your overall goals―post them where you can see them and review them frequently.
Resources on how to get started to achieve your goals:
- Start Right Now
- How Long Does It REALLY Take to Improve Your Life?
- The 100-Day Goal Journal: Accomplish What Matters to You
Question 4: How do I stay motivated on my personal development journey?
To stay motivated you’ll want to incorporate a few things into your life:
Reminders: Review your goals each morning and each night. Also post them in a place where you will see them every day. Keep focus on the overall goal.
Periodic Reviews: You’ll want to periodically review your goals and the status of your work toward them. The timing of your reviews can depend on a number of things, but a once a month review is a good place to start. You don’t want to do it so often that you are not giving yourself enough time to make progress. On the other hand, you don’t want do them so infrequently that you don’t notice if you have gotten off track.
Flexibility: Adjustments will likely be necessary. You need to accept that fact and determine how to best make changes to help achieve your overall goal.
Share: Some people find that sharing their goals with others helps to keep them accountable. On the other hand, this is not necessarily something that everyone is comfortable with. But if you are, it may be a tool to help keep you motivated.
Celebrate successes! Don’t wait until you fully achieve a long term goal to celebrate. Make sure to acknowledge your work along the way as you finish steps or milestones toward the final goal.
Resources on staying motivated:
- 8 Shortcuts to Desire and Motivation
- Master Your Motivation: A Practical Guide to Unstick Yourself, Build Momentum and Sustain Long-Term Motivation
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Question 5: How do I get back on track after a set back?
Events outside of your control will happen to temporarily derail your progress. Or you’ll just fall off the wagon. Of course everyone experiences set backs on their personal development journey.
Recovering from a set back requires ACTION.
The key when you fall off the wagon, for whatever reason, is to not stay off too long. One bad day followed by being back on track the next day is best approach. However, day after day of no longer prioritizing your goals makes it very difficult to get back to where you want to be.
In order to take action follow these five steps:
- Recommit to reading your goals each morning and each night.
- Re-write your goal reminders for a re-set.
- Conduct a review of where you are and where you want to be.
- Review the steps you have outlined for each goal.
- Specifically determine what you need to do next.
If you get off track repeatedly you may need to reevaluate that specific goal―is it really a priority? If yes, then maybe you need to relook at the specifics of how you are trying to achieve this goal. Are smaller steps needed? Are different steps needed? Yet, if you determine it is not really a priority then drop it from your list. You may find that something else has been perking up that you feel would be a better goal, or you may determine that the other three to four goals you have are your priority and you are not ready to add another goal.
Resources for getting back on track:
- Perseverance: Keep Going
- How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong book, and the How to Fail podcast.
- Get Back on Track: 7 Strategies to Help You Bounce Back After Slipping Up
Question 6: How do I add new goals?
Ok, now you’ve set your goals, you’ve determined the steps needed to achieve your goals, and you’ve determined how to incorporate these steps into your day and track them. DONE! Not so fast. As mentioned above, personal development is a life-long pursuit. You are not going to set three to five goals once, finish them over some period of time and then be done.
However, you may decide that one of your goals is no longer a priority. Or you may have completed one of your goals (you got that degree, you ran the marathon, you climbed the mountain, you lost the weight, you got the promotion).
You’ll see new opportunities and goals you’ll want to pursue as you live your life. Indeed, new things will always come up, old things will go away.
To incorporate new goals, go back to step 1. You can do this by reviewing the questions and answers you prepared in the first place. Do you have new questions? Do you have new answers to old questions? Above all, what resonates most with you? After that, follow the steps outlined above with the new goal.
Through your life-long personal development journey you will likely have three to five goals in different stages of development at any given time. For instance, you may be close to achieving one goal while just starting on a new one, and have several others in different stages.
Resources on adding new goals:
- You Can Change Today
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
- The Tim Ferriss Show (podcast)
The process of personal development is ongoing and lifelong. There is always something new and fun to learn or achieve. You own this process―you don’t report to anyone on it, you are not being judged or graded by anyone else. This is your process. You can share as much or as little of it, or none of it at all, with others. You are managing the details, the day to day, and the goals you are striving for.
Above all, your overarching goal for participating in the process of personal development should be for you to have a fuller, more interesting, and more enjoyable life!