Self Development: Why It’s Important and How to Start
To attain success and happiness, we must have a vision for what we want our future to look like as well as a flexible personal development plan to help us feel and experience the growth we desire. Most of us acknowledge that there are aspects of who we are and how we live that need to change for us to achieve our goals, but, unfortunately, many of us don’t take the necessary steps to achieve the life we dream of.
One of the biggest reasons why people never reach their full potential is that they underestimate the importance of personal development and lack the courage and confidence to engage in the self development process. The truth is that every person can work towards self improvement by building skills and habits that move them closer to success and happiness every day. But before you can embark on a personal development journey, you must first go on a journey of self discovery that teaches you how to ask yourself questions that reveal the steps you need to take to move towards self-improvement. Questions are one of the most crucial components of any personal development journey.
One of the first questions you can ask yourself is: Am I reaching my full potential? And if you’re sitting there thinking, what the f— does that even mean? don’t feel alone; I asked myself the same question as I sat writing this post. What does full potential even mean? My definition is: doing the best you can with the resources you have. So, an easier way to ask yourself about reaching your full potential may be to say, am I doing the best I can with the resources I have?
If you use this definition and rephrase your question, you will discover that your full potential changes daily, moment to moment. But it doesn’t change because you’re not doing your best, it changes because your resources change.
For example, suppose I am in a business meeting. In that case, I might use sharp critical thinking and communication skills in one moment but then get an upsetting phone call from a loved one. So, the next moment, my level of critical thinking and communication skills diminish because my emotional and energy resources have decreased. Regardless, I will do my best to contribute greatly to the meeting in both moments. And also, in both moments, I am reaching my full potential because I am doing the best I can with the resources I have. When we use my definition of full potential, we allow ourselves space for self compassion, a crucial skill needed to sustain any self development plan.
What Is Self Development?
When I started my self development journey, I was like many people: lost. I was searching for a path that I was already on. I thought there would come a moment when I felt certain about who I was, where I was going, and the exact steps I needed to take to get there. One thing I did was to keep searching for the best self development books, listening to podcasts, and asking anyone who would give me advice about ensuring my success without making any mistakes or failing before reaching my goal. And because I continued to believe that there was a perfect and quick way to reach my goals, I tortured myself in unnecessary ways, ways I want to spare you.
So, before I define what self development is, allow me to define what it is not. It is not striving to be perfect and then reaching perfection. It is not chasing a feeling of being “good enough” and achieving it. And lastly, it is not a linear process that takes you from point A to point B, where every step feels like you are heading in the right direction. The truth is, self development can be frustrating, disappointing, and confusing. So, don’t waste your efforts trying to be perfect or making all the right moves. Instead, focus on being self compassionate. Self compassion will carry you when motivation is low, and strength falters.
The True Meaning of Self Development
When you embark on a self development journey, you’re taking the journey of a lifetime. A journey where it becomes clear that there is no such thing as perfect, feeling good enough is an illusion, and the path is often unclear and unending.
Self development is the lifelong process of becoming a version of yourself that you feel proud of. It’s the step that follows the self discovery phase and involves taking action on the things you learned on your self discovery journey. I like to think of the self discovery and self development processes as a puzzle.
The self discovery phase is when you turn the puzzle pieces over so you can see the pieces you have to work with. The self development process starts when you begin putting the puzzle pieces together to create a beautiful picture reflecting your life’s goals and values.
Self development is important because it gives your life meaning and purpose by requiring you to become your best self. It is a version of you that exists deep inside but that you must dig to reach, a version of you that fights for the important things, overcomes obstacles you didn’t believe possible, and loves you fiercely.
It is crucial because you cannot live the life of your dreams until you develop a version of yourself who can achieve and sustain those dreams as you move forward.
Now that you’ve read about the importance of self development, it’s time to start your journey by implementing a few key steps.
First, you want to get clear on why you are setting your goal. Most people will tell you that your why is what helps you overcome the discomfort and obstacles that may arise when trying to reach your self development goals. I disagree; your reason for knowing why is important because it lets you know if the actions you take to reach your goals will yield the desired results.
For example, if you want to lose weight, and I ask you why, you might say so I can feel good about myself. I would tell you that you don’t have to lose weight to do that. You might disagree, but if I pressed and asked if you had any other insecurities that don’t have anything to do with weight, you might say your nose, finances, or whatever. Your time would be better spent practicing self-compassion, encouraging self-talk, and releasing the idea of perfectionism because those things will yield the desired results. This is why it’s important to know the reason behind your goals to ensure you’re building the proper habits to help you achieve what you want.
Make Your First Goal to Create Sustainable Habits
The most important goal you can set is a sustainability goal. It doesn’t matter if you’re working towards being a better parent, building a body you love, or committing to a self-care routine. Your first goal should always be to create sustainable habits. When you focus on building a sustainable habit, you are much more likely to achieve your goals beyond your short-term motivation.
I use my fitness journey as an example. Still, it doesn’t matter what area of your life you want to change or how deeply you desire to make a change. If you don’t sustainably build your life, you won’t see lasting results in your personal growth and development journey. Thus, it’s vital to ensure that the actions you take and the habits you form are sustainable.
Self development example for enhanced sustainability
For example, I have tried many forms of diet and exercise on my fitness journey. And almost all of them helped me achieve the body I wanted, but only one of them helped me sustain the body over time.
At the beginning of my journey, I significantly cut my calories and worked out five days a week. But year-after-year, my self esteem fluctuated alongside my self discipline and weight. I had tried and failed so many times I began to believe I was incapable of making fitness a lifestyle. But I was so miserable with myself that I couldn’t allow myself to give up. I began working with a nutritionist and shared my fears of failing again. She asked me a question that changed my life forever. She asked what methods I had tried in the past, and it became crystal clear that all my previous methods had one common theme: deprivation.
I couldn’t sustain working out five days a week or eating 1,200 calories daily. So, I asked what habits I could sustain and still see results. The answer was that I could sustain three days a week in the gym and practice portion control vs. calorie counting.
Once I approached my goals from this sustainability perspective, I could take action that helped me reach them, and keep them.
To grow and develop, you must be willing to try new things and keep trying new things until you find what works for you. Part of the reason I focus my efforts on teaching people how to become subject matter experts of their own experience is that I know life doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all process that works for everyone. Sure, there are core tools and strategies that can help all of us on our personal growth journeys, but, for the most part, people are just telling you what they know through the lens of their emotions, past experiences, and general knowledge. So, what someone else tells you worked for them may not work for you, INCLUDING ME. Instead, I’d encourage you to keep trying new things until you find what resonates with your experience and works for you.
- Identify your goals through self discovery.
- Make sure your goals lead to what YOU want.
- Forget about what everyone else thinks.
How can you hold yourself accountable?
Don’t be 100% committed, be 80% committed.
I know this seems backward, but the truth is you’re not going to be perfect. And the sooner you accept that, the faster you will move forward in your personal development journey.
On my personal growth journey and by working with others, I have found that perfect is the enemy of consistency. In every area where I’ve made changes, aiming to be perfect made the journey torture and made me want to quit because anytime I skipped a workout or a meditation session, I felt like a failure. Instead of looking at an off day as an off day, I allowed it to fuel my negative self talk. I would say things like I am just not disciplined enough or I don’t have what it takes, none of which was ever true.
Aiming for perfection is like throwing gasoline on a negative self talk fire. It doesn’t take long before you’re consumed by self loathing. And time spent self loathing is time taken away from focusing your energy on your goals and growth. So, instead of aiming to be 100% perfect in your consistency, aim for 80%. 80% of consistency in your efforts is better than 100% of inconsistent efforts.
If you can hold yourself accountable 80% of the time, you will find that you achieve the results you want while practicing self compassion.
Stay flexible, and allow your goals to change as you learn more about what you don’t want and do want.
As you begin taking steps in your self development journey, you may find that you need to change direction. This can feel uncomfortable because it can feel like you’ve been wasting your time moving in the wrong direction.
It’s important to keep in mind that self development is not linear. You will change directions as you learn more about yourself and what you want. You will also pick up skills that may feel unnecessary in the moment but may serve you later.
For example, when I started my own business, I initially thought I wanted to own a media business because of my love for communications. I learned about video editing, audio production, and graphic design. Imagine then what a waste of time that felt like when I eventually decided that my true purpose and passion was to work in the self discovery and self development field. But the skills I picked up on that seemingly unnecessary part of my journey have been crucial to building my business today. So, don’t feel discouraged if your goals or your direction changes. It is a normal part of the personal development process and a sign that you’re on the right track by staying flexible and adjusting as necessary.
Self development is a process of growing as a human being and has many benefits. First, it helps you to be happier. Many things get in the way of happiness. Self development can help you overcome some of those obstacles so you can feel better about yourself.
When people develop themselves in positive ways, such as learning new self development skills or improving their abilities, they improve their lives and relationships in impactful ways.
I hope this article has given you some insight into how to start your self development journey. It’s never too late to be the best version of yourself, and I am here to gently guide you as much as I can.