What is Personal Development?

See also: Practical Steps to Personal Development

Personal development is a lifelong process. It is 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, so it is recommended that you read this page in conjunction with our page on Personal Empowerment.


Why is Personal Development Important?

There are many ideas surrounding personal development, one of which is 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 a 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.
  • Finally, 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.


Managing Your Personal Development

There are a number of steps to take in managing your personal development.

1. Developing a Personal Vision

Personal development can simply be for fun. Most of us, however, find it easier to motivate ourselves to learn and improve if we have a purpose in doing so. Developing your personal vision - a clear idea of where you want to be in a few months or years, and why - is a crucial part of developing this purpose.

There is more about this in our pages on Developing a Personal Vision, Refining and Narrowing Your Vision, and Setting Personal Goals.

2. Planning Your Personal Development

Once you are clear about where you want to be, you can start planning how to get there. Drawing up a personal development plan is not essential, but it does make the planning process more realistic.

For more about this part of the process, take a look at our page on Planning Your Personal Development.

If you are struggling to identify which areas to target for development and improvement, you may find it helpful to read our pages on Personal SWOT Analysis and Identifying Areas for Improvement.

3. Starting the Improvement Process

There are a number of different ways in which you can learn and develop.

Our page on Improving Performance – Some Specific Techniques explains some ways of learning, including a technique called expertise transfer.

Our page on Learning Preferences suggests how different types of learning process may be more effective for certain people. You may also find our page on Learning Styles helpful in understanding how you like to learn.

4. 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.

There is more about this on our page, Recording Your Personal Development.

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 on Reflective Practice for some ideas of how to do this.

5. Reviewing and Revising Personal Development Plans

Our page on Learning Styles uses Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle to show that learning is a cycle. For more effective learning, it is important to reflect on your experience, and consider what you have learnt from it. Regularreview of your personal development plans, and your development activities, will ensure that you learn from what you have done. It will also ensure that your activities continue to move you towards your goals, and that your goals or vision remain relevant to you.

There is more about this in our page on Reviewing and Revising your Personal Development Plan.



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.


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