Why You Need A Personal Development Plan (And 7 Elements It Must Have)

Do you want to grow as an individual and improve your life?

Ok, I see a lot of hands up.

Do you know how to do it?

No? That’s ok, nor do most people. In fact, you’re one step ahead of most people because you’ve somehow landed on this page. It just so happens that we are about to explore a powerful tool that will enable you to make positive and progressive change in your life.

It’s called a Personal Development Plan (PDP) and it can help propel you toward your goals far quicker than if you were to approach them without one.

Before we go into more detail about what you need to include in a PDP for it to be effective, let’s first look at the reasons why you should write one.

It Provides Clarity

Right now you probably know what you want to achieve… roughlysort of. And this is the problem that a PDP can solve: it eliminates the rough edges and lays things out in a crystal clear format so that you can focus precisely on what it is you want.

It Provides A Roadmap

Knowing where you want to get to is one thing, knowing how to get there is an entirely different story. It’s like driving hundreds of miles from A to B without a map and having never made the journey before; getting lost is a near certainty. A PDP gives you that map and guides you mile by mile to reach your destination.

It Highlights Obstacles/Challenges

No road is without its bumps, and no journey comes without obstacles. Knowing what these might be in advance of setting out gives you the chance to prepare for them and find ways to overcome them. This way you don’t get a shock when one crosses your path.

It Can Be A Great Motivator

Not knowing exactly how you can turn your dreams into a reality can be hugely disheartening. You can visualize your ideal outcome, but if you can’t see a way of making it come true, the chances of you ever trying diminish greatly. Putting a plan together and referring to it regularly can give you the energy and enthusiasm you need make real progress.

What An Effective Personal Development Plan Needs

Simply grabbing a piece of paper and writing down any old thing that comes into your head is not how a PDP works. It needs to contain certain essential elements if it is to prove effective at driving you forward.

They are…

1. Clearly Defined Goals

With all the potential paths you might walk in life, if you don’t have a clear idea of where your destination lies, you won’t know which one to take. That’s why the most important aspect of any personal development plan is a clearly defined goal.

Even better than a definition is an objective that is measurable in very specific terms. This way you don’t have to rely on an interpretation of mere words alone. For example, a goal of “starting my own successful business” is open to debate around the meaning of the word successful, whereas “starting my own business that will provide an income of $50,000 a year” provides absolute clarity about what you wish to achieve.

If you are getting stuck on this very first step, read our article that helps you to discover what you want from life.

2. A Why

Stating a goal is one thing, but knowing why it means so much to you is something else entirely.

“I want to complete a marathon” is a clear enough goal (although a timeframe would be helpful as we’ll discuss later), but it says nothing about why you want to do so.

“I want to complete a marathon in memory of my late grandmother to raise money for the hospice that took such good care of her in her old age” is a much more powerful statement.

As soon as you attach a ‘why’ to your goals, you endow them with a meaning that was otherwise lacking. No longer are you just aiming for an arbitrary end point, you are reminding yourself of the purpose of your endeavors.

3. A Starting Point

Once you know where you are going and why, you have to figure out where you are now. After all, you can’t get from A to B if you don’t know where A is on the map.

Let’s take your personal health as an example. You have clearly stated goals of wanting to reach a new, healthier weight of 170 pounds and reduce your fasting blood sugar level to below 100 mg/dL. Your why is to avoid being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and the associated risks that come with it. Perhaps you have a diabetic family member and are fully aware of the complications it leads to.

So far so good, but what are those two measurements now? What is your weight? What is your fasting blood sugar level? How far have you got to come from your current position to reach your desired outcome?

Knowing where you are and where you’re heading to is the only way to create the next vital element of a personal development plan…

4. Intermediate Goals

Think about why we use maps or GPS systems when driving places we’re unfamiliar with. Without them, we wouldn’t know when and where to turn off one road and on to another. These turns are important because each one is a waypoint on our journey; a change of direction that is necessary to reach our final destination.

Hopefully by now we have our end point clear in our minds and we know where we are at the present moment in time. Now we need to formulate a rough plan of how we move from one to the other. This is where intermediate goals come into play. These break down what might be a very long journey into more manageable segments.

Perhaps you have a goal of buying a house with 3 bedrooms in a particular neighborhood (your goal) that’s in the catchment area of some good schools (your why). What are the steps you need to take to make this a reality? Do you need to save up for a deposit? How much? Do you need to sell your current home? If so, does it need some renovation work to maximize its value before it goes on the market?

You can afford to be a little less specific when it comes to some intermediate goals, especially where less concrete factors come into play. You might, for example, set targets to learn a new skill, make/break a particular habit, or alter certain beliefs/attitudes. These might sometimes be hard to define with precise clarity, but they remain important nonetheless.

For a PDP, the size of these intermediate goals is also important; too big and they remain daunting; too small and you run the risk of losing touch with the overall picture. Remember, you can – and should – break each of these goals down further to help you achieve them, but do this outside of your main plan as needed.

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5. Timeframes

Your clearly defined primary goal (or goals) and list of intermediate goals are all laid out clearly on a piece of paper – nice work. But then that piece of paper sits in a drawer or stays pinned to your notice board ad infinitum (forever).

Miss this vital step and that’s what will happen. Trust me.

All of the plans you’ve made don’t mean a thing unless you act on them, and the best way to start working your way through them is to set concrete – but realistic –  timeframes. As soon as you set deadlines for each part of your overall PDP, you focus your attention on the things you need to do now in order for those deadlines to be met.

Perhaps one of your primary goals is to learn to speak Japanese and your ‘why’ is because you’ve always been fascinated with the Japanese culture and would love to visit Japan. Great. When?

Are you going to visit Japan at some unknown time in the future? Not if you’re personal development plan is done properly! You should set a specific time when you want to visit – perhaps 18 months from now – and then plan how you can learn the language between now and then. Maybe you give yourself a month or two to master some basic phrases; 6 months from now, you might want to be able to have simple conversations; and after a year you’d like to be semi-fluent. The final 6 months can be to practice and hone your skills before your trip.

By forcing yourself to think about when you’d like to achieve certain goals, you can then begin to prioritize tasks to ensure that you meet each of your desired deadlines. If you have multiple primary goals regarding your health, wealth, relationships, and career, you’d struggle to know where to begin if your PDP lacked ideal timeframes. These take what would otherwise be an overwhelming to-do list and break it down into more manageable chunks. So don’t skip this essential step.

6. A Record Of Achievements

When you manage to tick a goal off your personal development plan, it is worth celebrating. The simple act of recording your progress is a sure-fire way of motivating yourself to keep pushing toward the next step on your journey.

You can either have a blank space in which to write down all of your achievements, or you can format your PDP to have tick boxes next to each of your goals. However you choose to do it, celebrating your wins is a must if you want to maintain focus, determination, and energy levels.

7. A Cycle Of Refinement

No goals or dreams are ever static and neither should your personal development plan be. It should be ever evolving to accommodate changes in your circumstances and to reflect the steps you have already taken.

Once a year, sit down with your PDP in your hand and go through it line by line. Make notes, highlight certain points, cross out others; make the necessary updates so that it better reflects where you are now and where you now want to get to in the future.

Some of your goals will remain the same – and that’s a good thing because chopping and changing too often is a guaranteed way of getting absolutely nowhere – but you may wish to tweak some, completely alter/delete others, and add new items to the list, too.

This process also gives you the opportunity to re-order your priorities and adjust the timeframes to take into consideration everything that has happened in the past 12 months. Perhaps you’ve achieved a lot and can bring some of your intermediate goals forward, or maybe unforeseen events have thrown a spanner into the works and mean you have to push the deadlines further out into the future. Either way, your new timeframes should reflect your new reality.

Wrapping It Up

A personal development plan is an essential tool for taking your dreams and forming a clear roadmap to make them come true. This is why you will often find businesses using a version of them with employees to develop their skills and talent: they work, plain and simple.

Just remember that each of these elements is needed for the overall plan to be effective: clearly defined goals, a why, your starting point, a set of intermediate goals, realistic timeframes, a record of your achievements, and a regular process of refinement.

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