Chances are you’ve heard the phrase ‘personal development’ before. Maybe your boss mentioned the words in a bid to get your team to attend a new seminar, or perhaps you’ve had to complete a personal development plan at some point. But what does it mean for you in your everyday life?
One way to conceptualise it is in terms of a shift in your state of mind, from passive to active. When you’re in a passive state of mind, life just seems to happen. You don’t push yourself outside of what your immediate environment seems to offer you. There’s little sense of personal motivation; instead, your actions are dictated by circumstances, or by others around you.
An active state of mind, on the other hand, is driven by an intentional engagement with the world, with a desire to understand, explore and improve. When we approach life with an active, growth-centred mindset, personal development doesn’t just reside in one-off courses or experiences, although these can certainly help. Instead, it filters into how we live our lives day-to-day.
Research suggests, for example, that individuals who are driven by a genuine desire for self-development tend to be both happier and more successful. So how can we gear our daily lives towards personal development?
Everyone’s personal development will look different depending on who they are and where they want to go in life. In this respect, self-awareness is foundational to personal development, as it allows you to pursue the areas of growth that are uniquely important to you.
However, self-awareness doesn’t necessarily mean putting yourself in a box of absolute strengths and weaknesses. In fact, seeing certain traits as unchangeable and fixed is the antithesis to personal development, as it prevents you from stepping outside the comfort zone of what you perceive yourself to be good (or not so good) at.
This said, it is important to reflect on your actions and be aware of what positive or negative consequences they may have. This only comes with digging deep and trying to understand your values, thought patterns and behaviour honestly.
Sit quietly in meditation or deep focused breathing for 5 minutes, clearing your mind of the day's chatter. Upon opening your eyes, journal in an unconscious stream for another 5 minutes, never letting the pen leave the page or your mind question or judge your words. Let them flow, even if they are rambling, until there's nothing left to write. Repeat daily for 30 days and see what you learn about yourself!
“No matter your position, circumstances, or opportunities in life, you always have the freedom of mind to choose how you experience, interpret, and, ultimately, shape your world.”
- Brendon Burchard
Don’t stop learning
There’s a great TED talk by Eduardo Briceño called ‘How to get better at the things you care about’ that I recommend everyone watch (consider it part of your personal development plan!). In it, Eduardo argues that we have two zones, the ‘learning zone’ and the ‘performance zone’. The learning zone, as Briceño puts it, is when our goal is to improve. In this zone, we’re usually doing activities we haven’t mastered yet, so we’re relatively accepting of mistakes.
By contrast, when we’re in the ‘performance zone’ we’re working on something we’re already good at and are aiming to do things the best we can. Because of this desire for perfection, we’re highly intolerant of mistakes.
He argues that many people today are stuck in the ‘performance zone’ and are neglecting the ‘learning zone’ as a consequence. This makes them less well rounded and even less productive in the long run. According to Eduardo, by sticking to the performance zone and not actively seeking to broaden their skills, many employees simply plateau after a few years on the job.
So, if you feel bored or unmotivated at work, this may be because you’ve stopped actively learning. Try to boost your learning zone by offering to take on work that’s more challenging, or by finding ways to set achievable goals and improve your skills.
Pick up a self help or leadership book you've been meaning to read, or download Audible and listen to as you drive to work or go for a walk each day. Stop, pull over, take notes in your phone, set alerts or action something as soon as the inspired idea hits you. And revel in the feeling of immense joy from that active force of momentum you just created! At the end of the book, if your're asking yourself "what else is possible?," pick up another.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
The biggest moments for personal development are often when we do something outside of our comfort zone. Starting my own Arbonne business was a huge step out my comfort zone but it couldn’t have been more worth it. While it still challenges me, it has set me on an incredible path of self-growth and I have ended up far happier and more fulfilled not just as a business woman but as a whole human.
According to Dr Elizabeth Lombardo, author of Better than Perfect, if we want to truly grow as a person, we need to start being comfortable with being uncomfortable – and that means challenging ourselves regularly. Even on a day-to-day level, it’s important to keep expanding that comfort zone – it doesn’t need to be anything huge.
It could be making the effort to talk to people you don’t know, getting involved with a start-up weekend, or taking up a new hobby. Doing what’s easy and comfortable for us feels good, but it also makes us stagnant and prevents innovation if we stay there too long. Your most creative ideas probably didn’t come from you sitting around doing nothing – they were inspired by something. The more things you do that are daring and different, the more sources of inspiration and self-growth you create.
At work or at home, in your business or relationships, ask yourself today, "what is the one thing I can do to get me closer to my goal/my happiness?" Even if you first have to brainstorm all your ideas for 'next steps' or 'to-do's' because they are taking up space in your head. Do that, get them all out. Then circle the ONE that will make the biggest difference. And as scary as it might be, do it. You can ask for help, you can break it down into smaller steps if that's what it takes, but start on the path to completing that single one thing you know needs to be done. And enjoy the stretch!
I hope you have the courage today to do something you've always wanted to do to be someone you've always known you are!
What's your personal development plan? How's it playing out for you?
Let us know in the comments below.