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Life is about exploration.

Create space in your life through growth.

This week we’re continuing our Creating Margin series by talking about Personal Growth and Development.

I don’t know when I first started focusing on Personal Growth and Development. It may have been in high school, when I’d take an hour long walk in the evening with my 60-something neighbor and she’d ask questions about what I wanted to do with my life. We’d talk about what I was learning and working on and how to improve myself as a person. I distinctly remember her telling me that I was sure talking about boys an awful lot – and there’s much more to life than boys.

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In college, when I was studying for my BFA in Technical Theatre (Stage Management), I remember my professor telling me how if you wanted to be a good director, you had to know a little bit about everything. That sounded like a good challenge to me!

My first couple years in the work force, I’d take people out to lunch and ask them, how do I improve? How do I succeed? What worked for you? How do I become the best (insert position here)? One of the best suggestions was reading the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I love his idea of having a weekly review session with yourself to ascertain what was successful in the past week and what needs improvement.

What is Personal Growth/Development?

Personal development is an ongoing process of self-improvement either in your career, in your education, in your personal life, or in all of these areas. It is about setting goals for yourself and putting plans in place to reach those goals.

Oxbridge Academy

For me, I think of Personal Growth and Development as a way to broaden your horizons. If you admire someone, say because their work is impeccable, or they are well liked and seem like a genuinely good person, ask them what their secret to success is. We all go through this phase when we are teenagers where we think we know everything, then if we’re lucky by the time we’re in our late teens/early twenties, we’ve had the crap beat out of us by life (just a little) that makes us realize, “Hey, maybe I don’t know everything.” Then asking yourself, what do I want to know more about? What can I improve on, as a person?

It’s about taking where you are at right now, and seeing an ideal version of yourself in the future, then making a plan to get there.

Why focus on Personal Development?

[Personal development] requires us to improve and develop and become better versions of ourselves. The more we grow, the better at work we get… and the greater the challenges become.

Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

I think life is more interesting if you’re constantly striving to learn more, be better. Finding people who are of the same mindset is imperative to growth. If I’m the smartest person in the room, then who do I have to learn from? Give me a room full of smart, successful people and I’m sure we’ll find tons of things to talk about!

You never know what one connection is going to move your life in a brand new direction you never thought of.

How to create a Personal Development plan?

First off, assess where you are at now. Where do you want to be in 3 months? 6 months? A year? Write down time-specific goals. Do some research into your specific area of focus. Break down those time-specific goals further into action steps.

For instance, in 2015, I’d just moved into my first house and we were celebrating our first year of marriage. At this point in time, the newness of the marriage had worn off, the house excitement was dying down, my honeymoon (which we waited almost a full year to take) had past. It was high-time to take a look at where I was in life and where I wanted to be, personally, professionally, mentally. I had just scored a new position at my work that was interesting, but not challenging me to my full potential. I’d shifted from pursuing a career in Project Management to a more resource focused role for our data group, but as I learned more about what the data group did, my mind churned with wonderful possibilities for the future.

Some great things happened all at once. I was noticing that while I had certain goals for myself, my follow-through was lacking. How do you get around that? I added “overcoming procrastination/following through” to my research list. Also on my list were things like “learn SQL”, “figure out how to grow my career”, “how to set up systems for success”, “how to develop good habits”.

Making good on my plans was the number one obstacle to all of this, so I had to figure out how to make changes stick. I found a couple of really great resources: Zen to Done and The Finisher’s Formula. Both of these take the question of “why can’t I follow through” and helps you to examine your mindset AND develop a plan that can actually be completed.

From there, I had “how to set up systems for success” and “how to develop good habits” covered. All I had to do was identify my goals and finalize my plan.

Visualization is key

One of the best tools I’ve found for big life changes, is deep visualization. I will take my journal, a hot cup of coffee or cocoa, and sit for a while. Here’s how it works for me:

  • Vent about what’s not working. Be specific.
  • Analyze why it’s not working.
    • Is this a physical issue (need more mobility, more exercise, eat better in order to lose weight)?
    • Is it a mental issue (I have X bad habit that I want to stop doing. I want to stop complaining so much. My goal is to stop watching 20 hours of TV a week and instead watch only 2. I want to read more.).
    • Is it a career issue? (I want to move up and I don’t know how. I want to start my own business but where do I begin?)

If you can’t identify the specific issue that’s causing problems, stress, in your life, it’s going to be hard to fix it. Still struggling? Enlist the help of a trusted friend or counselor for an outside perspective.

  • Once you’ve analyzed WHY it’s not working, you can start correcting the issue.

Perfect Day Visualization

For correcting the issue, I like to do what I call a Perfect Day visualization (this can be 1 day, a week, a month, whatever time frame you want to focus on).

Start in the morning. What time do you wake up? What is your morning routine like? Do you exercise first thing in the morning? What do you eat for breakfast?

Commuting. Is there a commute? Do you work in an office, work from home? What do you do on your commute? Listen to music, a podcast, an audiobook? What kind?

Work. What kind of work is it? How are you regarded at work? Do people leave you in peace or come to you for advice?

Commuting home. Same as above.

Evening life. How do you spend your evenings? Do you cook dinner with your family? Do you eat at the table? When? Do you clean up the kitchen after dinner? Do you set your things out for tomorrow before you go to bed? What time do you go to bed? Do you read a good book, watch a show, or just turn out the lights?

Now, you’ve got your ideal day. Take where you are right now vs. what your ideal day says. Work backwards and make small changes for the next few months. Be specific on exactly what changes you’re going to make in X amount of time.

Wrapping up

Personal Development is not set in stone. I don’t have the same goals now that I did in 2015. Now I’m focusing on the physical care side of things – eating well, exercising daily, getting 8k steps every day – since I prioritized my career growth over my physical needs for a while there. The brain only has capacity for so many things. Choose what is most important to you to focus on, then once you are successful, move on from there.


50 Self-Development Books that are Integral to Life

Becoming Minimalist

Ramit Sethi’s Products and Blog

Cal Newport’s books – So Good They Can’t Ignore You (career development) and Deep Work (about how to focus in a distracting world)

Zen Habits

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