Dr. Angela Hanford
The path to personal growth is a life long process, as opposed to a momentary push that we may take at the start of a new year.To grow and to continue flourishing requires cultivation because it can be easy to settle into a comfortable routine that quickly turns into a rut we struggle to get out of.
The power of habit can be so powerful that developing and implementing a plan for self-growth and improvement becomes a necessity, otherwise, we’d never get around to it.Where do you want to be in life? Is there a big idea that keeps you excitedly up at night? Are you content where you are at in life or do you see so much more? We will discuss several points for how to develop your own plan to keep growing and to meet your goals.
One of the first steps when developing a plan for personal growth is to get to know yourself.What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your passions? What drives you in life? To truly now oneself takes time, but is vital in order to know what areas of life need growth or which passions you wish to pursue in life. Gaining an understanding of yourself could take several avenues, such as:
Psychotherapy: A therapist can help you take inventory of your life and determine which areas you could focus on for growth.Sometimes outside feedback can be vital since it is easy to be blinded to both strengths and weaknesses.
Personality Inventories:There are a variety of personality inventories out there that can show you strengths and weaknesses, along with personality types. It should be noted that many popular personality measures do not have the highest reliability and validity measures.
This does not necessarily mean that the inventories do not provide information, but that they do not have strong supporting psychometric research.The Big 5 Personality Test (or Five-Factor Model) is often used in personal growth assessment and has a bit more psychometric research.In contrast, a psychologist may recommend a specific personality, psychoeducational, or career test that has a bit more psychometric support (e.g., MMPI-2 or the PAI).
Talking to Others: The people that interact with us are invaluable for insight into our proclivities and strengths. Approach the people in your life and ask them for honest opinions about what they see as your areas of gifting, and things you could improve on. The growth areas that are identified in this process may be a good starting point for setting your self-development goals.
Review Your Life Story: This does not just have to happen in therapy! Take a look at the influences that have made an impact on you and the important decisions you’ve made. Part of setting clear goals for your personal growth is to understand where you’ve come from, how you got to where you are today, and to get a sense of where you would like to go from here.
Journaling: Journaling can take many forms, such as written, audio or video, art, or a variety of other mediums.At the core of journaling is developing self-awareness through expressing yourself and getting in touch with your thoughts and feelings.
This self-awareness, accompanied by the feedback from others and your personal inventory will aid you in developing a comprehensive picture of who you are, and give you greater clarity when setting your goals for self-growth.
Goals: Set specific, measurable and achievable goals
Once you know which areas in your life need your attention, the next step is setting personal development goals. Without a set goal, it’s hard to measure progress. Apart from that, it is also hard to be accountable and stay on task if you have no target.
1. Your goals must be specific. For example, “I want to be better educated” sounds nice, but it lacks specificity. “I want to have earned a bachelor’s degree in four years” is far more specific. An even more specific goal would name the area of study and the school you want to attend.Make sure it’s achievable! For example, if you are working full time it may not be reasonable to finish a degree in four years.You want to push yourself but also set yourself up for success!
2. Set a clear target with a timeline to work towards. This will allow you to direct your energy in a very specific way.In our previous example, this could look like investigating the requirements for entrance, the associated cost and so on. For many of us, having a deadline is a huge motivator to get going.
3. The goal should be measurable. “I want to be fit” is a great goal, but it’s not very specific and it’s not clear what measure will be used to say you’ve arrived at your goal. It’s much more helpful to say, “I want to be race fit to run a marathon in under 4 hours.” A marathon is a specific distance that you can practice conquering.
4. When will you know you’ve reached your goal? When you can run that distance within a certain amount of time without undue stress to your body. You can then train to achieve that goal.
5. The goal must be achievable. One needs to be careful here to acknowledge that people often exceed expectations and achieve what they never thought possible. Sometimes we limit ourselves because we don’t know our strength. This is where a good knowledge of your capacities is helpful, and why the first step was to get a broad and deep understanding of yourself.
In many circumstances, if you set a goal beyond your capacity, you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. If you have bad knees, jogging long distances is probably a bad idea for your health. If you have a bad temper and you set yourself the goal to never have that temper starting tomorrow, that may not be an achievable goal.
Some things like remedying a character flaw may be out of our reach now because they take time to achieve. Give yourself the time to do so.
Keep Calm and Carry On!
It’s one thing to create a plan, and another thing entirely to set that plan in motion and stick to it. When the rubber hits the road, implementing your plan may seem hard or impossible but don’t give up or give in! Readjust, recalibrate and carry on. Self-development is a journey with its own detours, ups, and downs.Focus on one step at a time and one moment at a time.
There will be moments of clarity and conversely, of perplexity. At times you may feel like giving up on your stated goals. Remember that anything worth having comes at a price and change for the better is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things we can do for ourselves and our loved ones.
Since any change can be difficult with ups and downs, as you embark on this journey it is important to enlist support from others.Not only do you need someone to hold you accountable, but you need people cheering you on through the highs and the lows.
We were built to be in relationship and we do not grow in isolation.Remember Ecclesiastes 4:12 “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (New King James Version, NKJV).
The last point is possibly the most important one. Pray through it all. This is the first, middle and last step. Our self-understanding is limited, but God knows us in exhaustive detail. He also knows the plans and purposes he has for your life, as well as the areas where He wants you to grow. As Psalm 139: 1-2 says, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me…You comprehend my path and my lying down, you are acquainted with all my ways” (NKJV).
Consequently, we pray for God to grant us wisdom and to show us our true selves so that we don’t deceive ourselves. We pray for the strength to put our plan for self-development into action and to stick to the commitments we make. We also pray for healing where we need to confront hard truths about ourselves.
Setting up a personal growth plan for self-development, whether it be to grow in a particular character trait, to achieve a physical accomplishment, or event to start a business, can be exciting and also daunting.It is important to take a whole-person approach that includes self-reflection, spiritual development, support, and specific action steps.
If any of the above has gotten you thinking and you want to take the next steps with someone’s guidance, it may be worthwhile to seek out a professional. Reach out today and begin your journey toward growth and a fulfilling life.
“Hiking the Stairs”, Courtesy of Kalen Emsley, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yellow Poppies”, Courtesy of Sergey Shmidt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tree Branch”, Courtesy of Taha Mazandarani, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Journaling,” courtesy of Hannah Olinger, unsplash.com, CC0 License