What is Personal Development?

See also: Personal Empowerment

Personal development is a lifelong process. It’s a way for people to assess their skills and qualities, consider their aims in life and set goals in order to realise and maximise their potential.

This page helps you to identify the skills you need to set life goals which can enhance your employability prospects, raise your confidence and lead to a more fulfilling, higher quality life.  Plan to make relevant, positive and effective life choices and decisions for your future to enable personal empowerment.

Although early life development and early formative experiences within the family, at school, etc. can help to shape us as adults, personal development should not stop later in life. 

This page contains information and advice that is designed to help you to think about your personal development and ways in which you can work towards goals and your full potential.

‘Personal Development’ and ‘Personal Empowerment’ are two areas that overlap and interweave, it is recommended that you read this page in conjunction with our page: Personal Empowerment.

A Theory of Personal Development

There are many ideas surrounding personal development, one of which is detailed below - Abraham Maslow's process of Self Actualisation.

Self Actualisation

Maslow (1970) suggests that all individuals have an in-built need for personal development which occurs through the process called self-actualisation.

The extent to which people are able to develop depends on certain needs being met and these needs form a hierarchy.  Only when one level of need is satisfied can a higher one be developed.  As change occurs throughout life, however, the level of need motivating someone’s behaviour at any one time will also change.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  Physiological Needs, Safety Needs, Love and Belongingness, Esteem Needs, Cognitive Needs, Aesthetic Needs and Self-Actualisation.
  • At the bottom of the hierarchy are the basic physiological needs for food, drink, sex and sleep, i.e., the basics for survival. 
  • Second are the needs for safety and security in both the physical and economic sense. 
  • Thirdly, progression can be made to satisfying the need for love and belonging
  • The fourth level refers to meeting the need for self-esteem and self-worth.  This is the level most closely related to ‘self-empowerment’. 
  • The fifth level relates to the need to understand. This level includes more abstract ideas such as curiosity and the search for meaning or purpose and a deeper understanding. 
  • The sixth relates to aesthetic needs of beauty, symmetry and order.  At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, is the need for self-actualisation. 

Maslow (1970, p.383) says that all individuals have the need to see themselves as competent and autonomous, also that every person has limitless room for growth. 

Self-actualisation refers to the desire that everybody has ‘to become everything that they are capable of becoming’.  In other words, it refers to self-fulfilment and the need to reach full potential as a unique human being.

For Maslow, the path to self-actualisation involves being in touch with your feelings, experiencing life fully and with total concentration.

Maslow, A. H. (1970), Motivation and Personality, (2nd Edition), Harper & Row, New York.

For more on motivation, see our pages: Self-Motivation and Motivating Others.

Practical Steps to Personal Development

Practical steps can be taken to enhance personal development, including:

  • Organising your time.
  • Producing a personal CV or résumé.
  • Undertaking a skills appraisal.
  • Looking at your transferable skills.
  • Overcoming barriers to learning a new skill.

Organising Your Time

If you are considering making changes in your life, finding additional time often poses a problem.  It could be that the changes you are thinking of making are to ensure you have extra time to:

  • Spend with your family.
  • Spend on things you enjoy doing.
  • Devote to your work.
  • Devote to your education.

Whatever the reason, looking at how you spend your time will encourage you to think of ways your time could be managed more effectively.

Our pages: Time Management and Minimising Distractions give further information about how you may manage your time more effectively, these include:

  • Learning to say 'no' to jobs or requests that you feel are not your responsibility.
  • Learning to delegate – sharing jobs can be fun and will leave you with more time. See our page, Delegation Skills.
  • Making a ’to do’ list of tasks you need to do each day/week, ticking off tasks that you complete.
  • Giving up things you do not really want or need to do.
  • Identifying your high and low times of the day.  Everyone has a time when he/she feels more or less energetic.  Try to do the most demanding tasks when you have the greatest energy as you will do them more quickly, thereby releasing more time to spend on other things.

For many people their personal development will involve setting goals; these might be to change behaviour - as in looking at their time management - learning new skills or advancing their career.

Many employers are looking for the same sorts of skills. These include good communication skills, the ability to work as part of a team and the ability to learn – these are often termed ‘Soft Skills’ and are the sorts of skills that SkillsYouNeed writes about.  Beyond that the skills required will depend on the particular job.

See our pages: Employability Skills and Study Skills for more.

Personal Curriculum Vitae (CV) or Résumé

Drawing up a CV or résumé is not only necessary when applying for jobs, it can also be very useful for your own benefit and will help you appraise the skills you have gained through education, training, employment, voluntary work, leisure and other activities.  In turn it will help to highlight skills that you should work on developing.

There are numerous different ways of setting out and presenting a CV or résumé for the purpose of applying for a job – you should be very careful to include all relevant information and make sure your document is well written and well presented.

However, for the purpose of a personal CV or résumé, for your own reference and as a way to access your skills a simple format is all that is needed.

Quick guide to preparing your personal CV or résumé:

  • Split your document with headings and include Education, Training, Past Experience, Skills etc.
  • Use dates to establish when each item on your personal résumé was achieved, i.e. when did you graduate, when did you learn a particular skill.
  • Keep your personal CV or résumé concise, the aim is to list your skills and abilities, not write an essay about them.

For more information see our page: Writing a CV or Résumé

Transferable Skills

See our page: Transferable Skills for more information

Many skills that you have learnt and developed either through work, education or your personal life can be successfully applied to other areas of your life.  For example, good listening skills are important in many aspects of life.  Such skills are known as ‘Transferable Skills’ a term which is usually associated with a skill set that can be easily transferred from one job to another. 

Analysing your existing skills will help you to identify both skills and personal qualities that could be used in another field.  Further examples of transferable skills are IT skills, interpersonal skills, communication (verbal and written), organisational skills, literacy and numeracy, problem-solving and understanding the needs of others or emotional intelligence.

Overcoming Barriers to Learning a New Skill

Learning a new skill will broaden the opportunities open to you, at the same time as empowering you as an individual. There are many things that prevent people from learning new skills, these barriers may be overcome with some thought.  These might include:

  • Lack of Confidence or Self-Esteem:  This is one of the greatest obstacles facing many individuals.  However, if this is a problem then ask yourself if there is anyone who would support and help you to take the first steps towards learning a new skill.  Often, once the first move is made then the greatest hurdle is overcome.  Confidence increases as you develop new skills.  See our pages: Building Confidence and Improving Self-Esteem for more.
  • Economic Situation:  You may see your financial situation as a barrier to developing new skills, this need not be the case.  The internet has lots of pages and tools that can help you develop specify skills.  There may be courses offered in local schools, colleges or universities which are free or offered at a reduced rate for people on a lower incomes.  Distance-learning courses allow you to study at home which can help to reduce the cost of learning.  There may exist trust funds or charities that offer grants for people developing new skills in your area.  It is also possible to learn a new skill with the aid of books from a library.  Also, voluntary work can provide an excellent opportunity for learning and developing new skills as can being a member of a local group or society.
  • Family Commitments:  If you have family commitments that prevent you from having the time to learn a new skill, perhaps it is possible for you to enlist the help of a friend or family member to give you a few free hours weekly.  Colleges and universities offering vocational training courses may have free or subsidised crèche places.
  • Lack of Time:  See our pages: Time Management and Minimising Distractions and consider how you could reorganise your time to fit in the development of a new skill.

Recording your Personal Development

It is often a good idea to keep a record of your personal development. By writing down key developments in your learning and development as and when they occur, you will be able to reflect on your successes at a later date. 

This reflection may well help to motivate you to learn more skills in the future.  Try keeping a learning log or journal as you develop your skills and knowledge. See our page Reflective Practice for some ideas of how to do this.

The Skills You Need Guide to Life

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Life

Based on some of our most popular content, this book will help you to live a happier, healthier and more productive life

Learn how to look after your body and mind: the fundamental first steps to personal development.