If you want to make positive changes in any area of your life, you really do need to consider making a personal development plan.
Being a human means that you’re on a journey. And, just like any traveler would tell you, making progress on your journey requires careful planning and considerable effort.
But how often do you actually sit down to plan out your life journey?
If you were taking a vacation, would you expect to reach your destination without carefully planning out your route, transportation, and accommodation?
Of course not.
So then why do so many of us not set a plan for the most important journey of all?
In this article, I outline the simple and proven steps to make a personal development plan that will work—even if you’ve never made one before.
What is a Personal Development Plan?
First, let’s talk about what a personal development plan is not.
- It is not a comprehensive plan for your entire life journey.
- It is not some magic tool that will bring about the realization of your life goals without any effort.
A personal development plan is a carefully thought out strategy for reaching a specific personal goal.
It is a tool that will help you:
- Reflect on your personal journey and the immediate steps you can take to make progress in that journey.
- Stay inspired while you are on your journey.
- Make progress every day by holding you accountable.
It is a tool to help you stay on track with your personal development goals.
A personal development plan, in its most basic form, is simply a written out record of four steps.
And each of these steps can be completed with just a pen, your journal, and a little bit of thought.
Step One: Set the Right Kind of Goal
This might seem like a simple step, but it can actually be quite difficult.
In order for it to be a good goal for your personal development plan, it needs to have four key elements:
1. Your goal needs to be singular
It can be tempting to sit down and start listing out multiple goals you have for your life.
But you need to resist the temptation. In order for this process to work, you need to focus on one goal at a time. You can always go back and go through the process again for a few other goals, if you want.
But, keep in mind that the more goals you set for yourself, the more difficult it will be for you to achieve any of them.
If you’ve never made a personal development plan before, I recommend that you identify one, single goal and focus on that.
2. Your goal needs to be specific
Coming up with a specific goal can be tough.
We’re all aware of things about ourselves that we want to improve. We all want to be
- less stressed
- more productive
- more disciplined
- a better parent
- a kinder sister or friend
But these goals are too vague. What do you mean by disciplined? What aspects of parenting do you think are most important?
The important thing to remember at this point is that you are not planning out your entire life journey. You are simply planning one very small segment of that journey, which will usually only cover six months to a year.
So, be specific.
3. Your goal needs to be concrete
Let’s say that you want to be more productive. But, you know from what I’ve just said that you need to be more specific than that.
So, you might think about a particular area of productivity, and so let’s say you decide you want to read more.
Now, that is certainly specific enough. But the problem is that it’s not very concrete. Simply “reading more” can mean anything.
Do you mean read more blogs? Articles? Books?
And how much is “more”? If you didn’t read anything last year, reading one article this year would technically be “more.”
Do you see why being concrete is important?
If your goal isn’t clearly defined, you’ll never reach it.
4. Your goal needs to be actionable
There is an old philosophical problem called Zeno’s Paradox.
The problem is this: Imagine you were standing at one end of an empty room and your goal was to walk across the room to the other side. Now, before you can reach the other side, you must first walk half-way across the room, right? Well, Zeno said, in order to get to the half-way point, you must first walk a quarter of the way across the room. And, in order to get to that point, you must first walk an eighth of the way across the room.
And so on and so on.
The paradox is this: We clearly know from experience that it is possible to walk across a room. But, mathematically speaking, you can continue reducing the intervals you must cover infinitely. This means that, according to the math, it is impossible to actually walk across the room.
Now, why did I tell you this?
Because this simple paradox illustrates an important point: We all operate with the assumption that we need to pass certain check-points in order to accomplish our goals.
We all know that you can’t walk across a room without first walking across half the room.
But it’s easy to get caught up thinking about whether we can walk halfway, a quarter of the way, an eighth of the way first. And what happens? We end up convincing ourselves it’s impossible.
So that’s why you need to make sure your goal is actionable. It needs to be something that you can make progress toward.
Here are a some examples of the kinds of goals you need in order to make a personal development plan that will actually work:
- Lose 10 pounds
- Identify two new spiritual disciplines and incorporate them into my daily life
- Make an extra $10,000.00
- Read 50 books in the next year
These are good goals for a personal development plan because they are:
- singular (there’s no confusion about that)
- specific (they aren’t vague)
- concrete (they are things that can be understood and done)
- and actionable (they can easily be broken down into smaller action steps)
It can take some work to come up with these kinds of goals for your personal development plan. But if you don’t put in the time now, you will have a tough time measuring whether or not you are making progress. And that means you probably won’t accomplish your goals.
Goal vs. Action Step
Sometimes it can be easy to confuse goals with action steps. You might think that your goal is to learn about budgeting, so one of your action steps is to read read 50 books about budgeting in a year.
But, this is not correct. Remember: In this exercise, you are not setting goals for your entire life journey; you are not even setting goals for three or five years down the road. Rather, you are setting goals for a very small and specific segment of that journey.
This means that your goal for each segment of your life will be just one step in your larger journey.
This means that you will need to do a lot of hard work at this stage. You will need to think very clearly about your larger journey, where you presently are, and which goals you should focus on at this particular time.
Step Two: Strike a Balance between Achievable and Challenging
A lot of people have trouble balancing two of the most important components of setting a personal development goal—achievability and challenge.
After thinking through where you presently are in your overall journey and where you would like to focus on making progress this year, you need to be sure to come up with a goal that is achievable.
You might want to increase your household income, for example. And you know that you need to put a number on it in order to be specific enough. But to set the goal of making and extra $50,000.00 in six months is simply unrealistic for most people.
An extra $5,000.00 or $10,000.00 in that time period is much more achievable.
You need to need to focus on being realistic.
On the other hand, you don’t want to choose a goal that won’t push and challenge you. Sticking with the example of increasing your household income, you probably don’t want to set a goal of making $500.00. That might not quite be challenging enough.
It can be tough to find the right balance between achievability and challenge when making your personal development goals.
But it’s important that you take the time to sort through it.
If your goals aren’t achievable, you will give up on them and you won’t feel great (which will lead to you giving up again).
If your goals aren’t challenging enough, you will not make the progress in your own personal development that you could be making.
Step Three: Make a plan
Now that you have a manageable goal in mind, you should devise a plan by outlining the actions that you need to take in order to accomplish your goal.
A lot of people fail to reach their goals simply because don’t want to put in the work it takes to devise an action plan.
But, it’s really not very hard.
All you need to do is work backwards from where you want to be to where you currently are.
Let me show you how this would work for a simple goal like dropping my kids off at school on time.
If I have to drop my kids off at school for 8:15 a.m. I know that to get there we need to drive from our house, which takes 10 minutes. Where I live it gets cold in the winter, so I will need to give myself 5 minutes to get the kids ready with their jackets and boots. This means everyone will have to be dressed and all bags packed by 8 a.m. It takes my kids about 30 minutes to eat their breakfast, get dressed, brush their teeth and comb their hair. So I will need to have them sitting at the table, ready to eat at 7:30. If I’m making them breakfast, I will need to start around 7:10, and if I want them to have time to wake-up, make their beds, gather any supplies or books they need for the day, I should be sure to get them up at 7. My wife and I like to have a cup of coffee together and talk for about 20 minutes to start our day, so I want to have the coffee made by 6:40. To do this, I will set my alarm for 6:30.
When I turn this around, my morning schedule looks like this:
6:30 – Wake-up, get dressed, make coffee;
6:40 – Pour 2 cups of coffee and sit down with my wife for a chat;
7:00 – Wake up the kids;
7:10 – Make breakfast;
7:30 – Sit down at the table for breakfast;
8:00 – Get the kids ready to go and in the car;
8:05 – Pull out of the driveway
8:15 – Arrive at school.
Do you see how the simple goal of dropping my kids off at school can be broken down into these action steps?
Those action steps become my plan. Each step becomes a check-point, helping me to stay on track.
It’s important to me that my kids get to school on time, and that they’re prepared for the day. In order to make sure this happens every morning, I know I need to follow these steps fairly closely.
And you know what? My kids have never been late for school, and they have always been prepared.
This is only because I know clearly what my goal is and I have thought carefully about how to ensure that I reach it.
Of course, there will always be external factors that threaten to derail even the best plans. But, if your plan is strong, you will be able to make the necessary adjustments.
If, for some reason, we sleep in or it takes us longer to get ready for the day than I have anticipated, we can save time by eating cereal for breakfast instead of eggs, for example.
Now, if I didn’t have a plan to drop my kids off at school on time and well-prepared, it wouldn’t happen. I wouldn’t be able to adjust to unforeseen things that come up.
It doesn’t matter how much I would want it to happen, without a clear plan, our mornings would be chaotic. Inevitably, beds wouldn’t get made, teeth wouldn’t get brushed, breakfast would be a mess, and someone would forget an important binder. And we would probably be late, at least sometimes.
The goal is relatively useless without the plan because the plan is what enables you to take action and reach your goal.
The exact same process can be followed for virtually any personal development goal you might have.
Step Four: Develop Habits for Success
The last crucial thing you will need to do is put mechanisms in place to help you develop the habits you need to achieve your goal.
Developing good habits is an extremely difficult thing. And the reason is pretty basic: We are wired for routine.
If you’ve ever tried to change your eating habits, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Your brain requires habits in order to function.
But in order to reach your goals, you will have to change something about your routine. If you don’t, six months or a year will pass and you will see no change in your life.
The key in this step is not to change too much. If you do, your brain will go into revolt as it tries to cope with a bunch of new things at the same time.
The best thing to do is to begin with one of the smallest changes to your routine that will help you accomplish your goals.
There are two important things about what I’ve just said. First, I said the change should be small. I have met dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people over the years who have decided that they want to read more regularly, and so they commit to reading for 30 minutes every day for the next year.
You know what? Almost every one of those people fail, feel bad about it, and quit before the year is over.
30 minutes is a long time to read a book, if your brain is not used to doing it.
Instead, you should pick something much, much smaller to start with. Decide that, before you open Facebook or Twitter in the morning, you have to open your book and read single page. That might seem insignificant, but that single page each day is better for you in the long run than giving up reading altogether.
The second important thing about what I’ve said above is that the change you make to your routine needs to help you accomplish your goals. Switching up your dinner routine from Taco Tuesdays to Tuna Tuesdays probably won’t have much of a direct impact on your personal progress.
Instead, you might want to set your alarm for five minutes earlier than you normally do and spend those first five minutes meditating.
It might seem small, but if you think about it, five extra minutes every day for a full year is more than 30 hours. That’s significant.
And here’s the really good news. Once your body has adjusted to the new routine of reading a single page every day, it becomes much easier to expand on it. So, after a full month of reading one page a day, you can increase it to five pages, and then ten, twenty, and so on.
The key is to start small and keep in mind that any progress is better than no progress.
Success Breeds Success
If you follow these steps, you can create a personal development plan that will propel you to further success in the future. This is because, when it comes to your personal development, your progress compounds.
Let me explain.
Newton’s first law of motion, or law of inertia, states that an object that’s not moving will stay at rest unless an outside force acts upon it, and an object in motion will also continue in motion unless an outside force acts upon in.
In other words, a ball laying on the ground won’t start rolling unless someone kicks it. And, once someone kicks it, it won’t stop, unless the friction of the ground and the air resistance works to slow it down.
Something similar happens in our personal lives. Once we have gone through the tough work of setting goals, devising a plan and cultivating habits once, it’s like we’ve kicked the ball. And it doesn’t take as much effort to keep it moving as it did to get it moving in the first place.
What happens psychologically is that, when we successfully accomplish our goals from our first personal development plan, we feel good because our brains release dopamine into our system. It’s an in-built reward system.
So, if you manage to make a small change in your routine, such as meditating for five minutes every day for a year, your brain will reward you, which will make it easier to strive for future goals in next year’s edition of your personal development plan.
In this way, success breads success. So, why not set yourself up for success?
Now you know the basic elements you need to begin crafting your personal development plan for the next six months or year.
There is, of course, much, much more that could be said on this topic. I have tried to give you a very broad introduction so you will know how important a personal plan can be, and, even more importantly, some of the subtle differences between a plan that will propel you to years of consistent personal development and a plan that will actually work against you.
I hope you are encouraged to put these three steps into action in your own life and begin to see consistent personal development.
Feel free to shoot me an email and let me know how it goes. I read every single one.