What Is Personal Development?

Personal development is a bit like self-care or self-help; it means something different to every individual. It’s a process that enhances your awareness, builds your identity and helps you hone your skills and talents. Essentially, personal development helps people reach their full potential. Some say that the ultimate goal of personal development is to live your purpose or even become enlightened.

The Origins of Personal Development

Historians, theologians and philosophers have studied personal development for centuries. Many religions highlight the importance of becoming virtuous or improving yourself. Buddhism stresses the idea of waking up to what is really important. Religious theories often require individuals to let go of the ego and embrace a deeper connection with the universe.

One of the goals of the Hindu tradition is to experience sat-chit-ananda, which translates as “truth-consciousness-bliss.” If you achieve this, you’ve connected with the source of all consciousness and perfection.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle discussed personal development as a habit of excellence. He described it as a striving for personal wisdom that helps people thrive.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the field of psychology was flickering into existence, many authors and theorists contemplated the concept of personal development. American author Wallace D. Wattles wrote “The Science of Getting Rich.” In this book, Wattles described techniques for overcoming psychological barriers to wealth.

Many of his theories later influenced Rhonda Byrne’s book and film “The Secret.” Wattles discusses the importance of establishing a sense of positivity and affirmation of the self. The emphasis is on developing your mindset in such a way that it permeates everything that you do.

Napoleon Hill wrote about a similar concept in his book “Think and Grow Rich.” The book was initially published during the Great Depression and is based on Hill’s studies of wealthy individuals. He also encouraged readers to develop a positive mental state and focus on goals if they wanted to succeed.

Even Carl Jung’s concepts of individuation and self-actualization emphasize the importance of personal development. According to Jung, some external factors had to be in place before an individual could move up the ladder of growth. People had to meet their safety and survival needs before they could work on their social development. Once they had created a solid foundation, they could strive for self-actualization.

Today, everyone from career coaches to metaphysical practitioners draws on the idea of personal development in some form. Asian religious traditions emphasize the relinquishing of the ego. But not all modern personal development experts agree on that aspect. For many, the idea of building up your skill set and improving your faculties has everything to do with the ego.

However, most personal development experts agree that your attitude plays a significant role in your success. When you’re trying to master something, proficiently going through the motions isn’t the ultimate goal. Combining desire, intuition, faith, creativity, positivity, and persistence with dedicated planning and action can help you overcome almost any hurdle and create a fulfilling life.

What most contemporary personal development theorists also have in common is the belief that improving yourself can lead to transcendence. Whether you find enlightenment or happiness, you can live a more meaningful life when you work on your personal growth.

Personal development isn’t about padding your bank account or driving a fancy car. It’s about discovering what makes you tick and help you groom that drive to live your purpose.

What Are the Benefits of Personal Development?

Whether you’re trying to climb a career ladder or just get more out of life in general, personal development can help. Without it, you may stay in your comfort zone, which can trick you into feeling safe and satisfied. But most people’s comfort zones are bound with fear, insecurity, and self-doubt.

One of the reasons that people don’t push past the status quo is because they’re afraid of the unknown. You may be content staying where you are, but you’ll miss out on new, enriching experiences if you do so.

There is an almost unlimited number of benefits to personal development. Here are a few.

Personal Development Improves Self-Awareness

If you want to change, you need to have a keen awareness of your baseline. You have to be self-aware to initiate transformation and monitor it along the way. Striving for personal development helps you practice self-awareness. When you do that, you have a much better sense of your values, beliefs, and desires.

Self-awareness also lets you embrace what you have instead of focusing on what you’re missing. You learn to be content with the journey instead of waiting until you achieve perfection to be happy.

Personal Development Gives You a Sense of Direction

Even if you know what you want, you don’t always understand where you’re going. Personal development guides you.

It allows you to set goals that are inherent to the growth process. It also gives you clarity when you’re establishing other objectives. When you’re immersed in a journey of personal growth, everything is connected. Your evolution is linked to your career, financial and relationship goals.

Instead of feeling as though you’re flying through life on a whim or constantly fending off distractions, you streamline your life. The sense of direction that you get through personal growth makes it easier to make decisions and prioritize.

Working on your personal development also eliminates the fear of the unknown. You can’t control exactly what happens in life, but you can better predict outcomes. The more you track your personal development, the more confident you’ll be at forecasting results. This translates to increased confidence in everything that you do.

Personal Development Boosts Motivation

Do you ever wake up and feel like you just want to crawl back into bed? You’re not excited about going to work or getting to your to-do list. All of your responsibilities and obligations seem like burdens. You lack motivation.

When you concentrate on personal development, you always have something to work on. Because it’s so personal, it inspires you from within. Experts say that intrinsic motivation leads to success.

Intrinsic motivation is driven by passion and meaning. You take action because you want to fulfill a desire. It doesn’t matter whether you’ll be rewarded with a raise or promotion. The source of intrinsic motivation is plentiful, whereas the impetus for extrinsic motivation can run out when your bank account dwindles or you get bored with your new duties at work.

Personal development implies a constant journey. You’re always improving. When you focus on growth, it’s hard to stay stuck.

Personal Development Makes You Resilient

Personal development involves the recognition of your strengths and weaknesses. It encourages you to transform failures into stepping stones for success. It makes you ask how you’re growing from every experience.

Therefore, when you concentrate on your personal growth, you’re not apt to get bogged down by disappointment. You look for the wisdom in every experience. Instead of viewing disappointment as the end of the road, you consider how you can use it to help you flourish.

Most people say that personal development makes them happier. It gives them a reason to do what they do that goes beyond the mundane or seemingly trivial routine of their everyday lives. Remember that you don’t have to report your personal development to anyone. It holds the highest meaning for you alone. When you keep that in mind, you can continue to develop it no matter what is going on around you.

Personal development also gives you a sense of control in an ever-changing world. You can’t always dictate what happens to you. You can’t regulate every circumstance. But you can manage the way that you respond to life’s chaos.

Practicing personal development helps you do that because it involves paying attention to your mindset and attitude. Growth isn’t always easy. Learning how to get comfortable with discomfort is essential. You face your fears and recognize that distress is temporary. This understanding can help you move forward even when you’re discouraged.

Personal Development Helps You Find Your Purpose

It’s easy to get stressed out about your purpose in life. Society places so much importance on external successes and productivity that you may fall prey to the need to cultivate visible achievements in order to feel fulfilled. However, what happens inside of you is the most critical part of your journey.

Everybody has a different idea of what defines their purpose in life. However, most would probably agree that the purpose of life is to live in a way that makes them feel meaningful. Personal development creates that meaning.

You don’t have to bring about world peace or do something equally as groundbreaking to live a purposeful life. When you live with your fullest expression, you encourage others to do the same. That’s the real benefit of finding your purpose. If every individual on this planet feels free to be their authentic selves, they will all use their gifts to leave their mark on the world.

What’s the Difference Between Personal Development and Self-Help?

Self-help, or self-improvement, has become something of a buzzword these days. If you search the internet for “What is personal development,” you’ll probably come to a list of self-help books at some point. The terms aren’t entirely interchangeable.

Personal development is about wholeness. The more you embrace who you are, the more you can enhance the parts of you that will help you go far. Whenever you look at the positive aspects of your personality, the negative elements will rear their ugly heads. But personal development isn’t about judgment. It emphasizes transforming the negative elements into lessons and learning opportunities.

Self-help usually concentrates on fixing flaws. You draw attention to your weaknesses and work to repair them.

Self-help stems from a belief that there’s something wrong with you, and it’s blocking you from achieving your greatest desires. Personal development involves the awareness of your humanity in all of its imperfectness. It highlights the fact that you are capable of reaching your full potential as you are now. You’re a work in progress, and expansion is always possible. Everything becomes a growth opportunity, and the transformation becomes ingrained in you so that your life changes for the long term.

Examples of Personal Development vs. Self-Help Perspectives

You can approach just about everything in life from either personal development or self-help standpoint. Here’s the difference.

Losing Weight

Let’s say that you’ve gained a few pounds. From a self-help perspective, you think that you’ll be happier if you lose 20 pounds and fit into your jeans again. You wonder what’s wrong with you, and you look into different diets to fix the problem.

From a personal development perspective, you realize that you just want to feel healthy. You aim to nurture your body because it’s the only one that you have. You make better food choices, and you exercise regularly to stay strong.

Organizing Your Space

Many people recognize that clutter can negatively impact their mental health. But the person who approaches organization from a self-help perspective might tell themselves that they can’t get it together. They don’t ever accomplish anything because their environment is such a mess. They seek out systems or hire people to help them get organized.

People who want to make a change from a personal development perspective ask themselves how they can reset their priorities and mentality. Once they’ve created a mindset shift, they seek support for managing their lives. They recognize that their external space reflects a lack of internal focus.


Get out of debt plans are ideal for people who seek self-help. They involve guidelines and rules. If you just follow them, you’ll never have to worry about money again.

If you want to approach financial difficulties from a personal development perspective, you realize that getting out of debt can be a slow process. You can follow all of the rules, but if you don’t shift your attitude, you will slide right back into your old patterns.

In all of these scenarios, there are a few key differences between personal development and self-help:

  • People looking for self-help seek out external influences to instigate change.
  • People seeking personal development recognize that the transformation starts from within, with mindset and attitude.
  • People looking for self-help may not take responsibility for their actions; they may also take on the role of a victim.
  • People seeking personal development take ownership of their behavior.
  • People looking for self-help want someone or something to help them create a quick fix.
  • People seeking personal development look for long-term support and build habits surrounding their transformation.
  • Self-help approaches come from a place of lack.
  • Personal development approaches stem from a place of abundance.

What Factors Are Important for Personal Development?

Are you thinking of refining your personal development plan? Do you need a starting point? The factors below are essential for anyone who is trying to grow and evolve.

Foundational Stability

As we mentioned earlier, Maslow said that you need to have some physical stability in order to work on your personal development. For example, if you don’t have a place to live or food to eat, you have to establish those necessities before you can turn inward or seek self-actualization.

However, people often wait until they have something tangible before initiating the growth process. How often have you told yourself that when you have a more flexible job, you’ll be able to start exercising? Perhaps you say that once you lose weight, you’ll start dating.

If you wait for those things to happen, you may never grow. On the other hand, you can’t put all of your efforts into your personal development if your basic human needs aren’t met. In addition to the survival requirements of food, shelter, and water, people have emotional and psychological needs, including:

  • Feeling worthy of love
  • Feeling secure
  • Feeling capable
  • A sense of control
  • Feeling happy or positive

Some people develop unhealthy ways of meeting these needs. They look for instant gratification. They rely on others instead of recognizing that they have the power to change their situation.

Personal development turns the tables. It helps you prioritize your essential requirements for survival. You generate a game plan that fulfills these needs and sets a foundation for growth.

If your pursuit of basic needs is detracting from your quality of life, you are probably fulfilling them with quick fixes. Ask yourself how you can change your situation from within.

Knowing What You Want

Have you ever been running errands when you realize that you’ve missed lunch? You’re starving, and you have almost unlimited opportunities to nourish yourself.

You could stop at a number of restaurants or head to the grocery store and pick up ingredients to cook a meal. But you’re completely paralyzed. You have no idea what you’re in the mood for. You settle for something easy, and you end up feeling disappointed because it’s not exactly what you wanted.

But you have no idea what you wanted in the first place. If you live your life like this, you’ll keep yourself in a position of discouragement and disappointment.

One of the most vital elements of personal development is knowing what you desire.

Recognizing Your Limiting Beliefs

Whereas people who approach life from a self-help perspective usually recognize their flaws, they might not be aware of the false narratives that limit their potential. In most cases, your weaknesses are not truths. They’re not concrete problems that need to be fixed. They’re stories that you tell yourself to prevent personal development from happening.

Recognizing your negative self-talk and the excuses that you make for avoiding achievement or personal growth is crucial for launching a personal development plan.

Tracking Your Progress

Measuring and monitoring your growth is critical. Doing this helps you reflect on your evolution.

Have you ever felt like you go through the same lessons over and over? You feel stuck, and you have no idea why you’re not getting out of your rut. You come up against the same struggles and obstacles. This cycle can be frustrating.

If you’re not recording what’s going on, it seems like you’re dealing with the same issues. You will feel as though you’re stuck in a loop. If you are tracking your progress in writing, however, you can look back and see what’s changed. Your lessons are never identical; you are always making progress.

Even failures can be seen as advancement when you view them from a personal development perspective. Tracking your progress allows you to:

  • See how far you’ve come
  • Notice how this instance is different from other similar situations
  • Recognize the strengths that helped you get past an obstacle
  • Be aware of what you can improve the next time
  • Celebrate your accomplishments

In What Areas Can You Practice Personal Development?

You can practice personal development in any category. We’ve included some of the most common areas in which you can nurture your growth below. When you foster your growth in any of these categories, you usually create a ripple effect that helps you thrive in all of the others.


Many people want to improve their health, but they go about it in the wrong way. Instead of practicing preventative care, they wait until they have detrimental symptoms before addressing their problems. We live in a culture that focuses on providing fast remedies to improve the symptoms of the disease. We don’t always place importance on eliminating the source of the problem.

If you want to practice personal development in the health arena, you might:

  • Focus on eating nourishing foods instead of consuming empty calories or restricting your diet
  • Recognize the benefits of exercise for your mind, body, and spirit instead of just trying to change your appearance
  • Establish consistency surrounding your exercise habits
  • Look for the pleasure in the types of exercise that you do to build a sustainable lifestyle that nurtures positive energy
  • Consider how food and exercise fuel you and become aware of habits that detract from your health


Many people have an unhealthy relationship with money. If you believe that you’ll never be lucky enough to be wealthy or money is the root of all evil, you could stand to work on your growth in the financial department. Personal development is necessary for building financial balance.

Some ways to foster your evolution surrounding money include:

  • Explore your limiting beliefs about wealth
  • Look at your finances instead of ignoring them until they become a problem
  • Become keenly aware of your income and expenses
  • Link your financial goals to your personal goals


Developing or enhancing a spiritual practice can do wonders for your personal growth. Personal development isn’t all about you. Much of the meaning that you derive from life comes from your connection with other people and the energy of the universe. You may not be able to put words to all of your fulfilling experiences. A solid spirituality practice can help you evolve.

Some ways to foster your spiritual growth include:

  • Reading about the belief systems that interest you
  • Surrounding yourself with people who can support you spiritually
  • Learning about spirituality from others
  • Making time and space for stillness
  • Exploring your beliefs and virtues
  • Recognizing how everything in the universe is connected


Many people equate personal development with job growth and achievement. It’s vital that you work in a position that fulfills you. Otherwise, you may get resentful, unmotivated and even depressed over time. Even if you don’t feel as though your job is perfect, you can use personal development strategies to get the most out of your current career. Encouraging growth in this department may ultimately lead you to a job that’s perfect for you.

Some ways to nurture personal development in your career include:

  • Attending training on interpersonal relationships and leadership
  • Regularly assessing your accomplishments and setbacks
  • Learning organizational methods to streamline your workday
  • Cultivating your interests inside and outside of work
  • Set goals
  • Learn motivational strategies
  • Build positive habits

Interpersonal Relationships

One of the benefits of personal development that we haven’t mentioned yet is that it improves your relationships. When you enhance the connection that you have with yourself, you live from a genuine place. You may become more compassionate and empathetic because you’re compassionate with yourself.

Moreover, when you live from an authentic place, you magnetize people. Others are drawn to you, and building partnerships and friendships become easier.

Some practices for encouraging personal development in your relationships include:

  • Using nonviolent communication
  • Seeing the good in people instead of focusing on their shortcomings
  • Learning to regulate and process your emotions
  • Acknowledging others’ strengths
  • Actively listening

If you want to improve in any of these areas, you have to look within yourself. Personal development involves getting deeply honest with the way that you interact with everything in life. You’re not a bully, and you’re not a victim. You’re a piece in the puzzle of humanity. Making your mark involves being the best version of yourself.

Personal development involves establishing positive habits. Practice with consistency, and you’ll continue to evolve.

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