Personal development involves individual growth and transformation and is often facilitated by a positive relationship with a counselor or coach (Rose, 2018).
For successful change, it is vital that the client remains engaged, recognizing and identifying with the goals captured inside and outside sessions. A personal development plan (PDP) creates a focus for development while offering a guide for life and future success (Starr, 2021).
This article introduces and explores the value of personal development plans, offering tools, worksheets, and approaches to boost self-reflection and self-improvement.
Personal development is a fundamental concept in psychology and encompasses the lifelong process of self-improvement, self-awareness, and personal growth. Crucial to coaching and counseling, it aims to enhance various aspects of clients’ lives, including their emotional wellbeing, relationships, careers, and overall happiness (Cox, 2018; Starr, 2021).
Several psychological models underpin and support transformation. Together, they help us understand personal development in our clients and the mechanisms and approaches available to make positive life changes (Cox, 2018; Passmore, 2021).
The following psychological theories and frameworks underpin and influence the approach a mental health professional adopts.
1. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
As a proponent of the humanistic or person-centered approach to helping people, Abraham Maslow (1970) suggested that individuals have a hierarchy of needs. Simply put, they begin with basic physiological and safety needs and progress through psychological and self-fulfillment needs.
Personal development is often found in or recognized by the pursuit of higher-level needs, such as self-esteem and self-actualization (Cox, 2018).
2. Erikson’s psychosocial development
Erik Erikson (1963) mapped out a series of eight psychosocial development stages that individuals go through across their lifespan.
Each one involves challenges and crises that once successfully navigated, contribute to personal growth and identity development.
3. Piaget’s cognitive development
The biologist and epistemologist Jean Piaget (1959) focused on cognitive development in children and how they construct their understanding of the world.
We can draw on insights from Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, including intellectual growth and adaptability, to inform our own and others’ personal development (Illeris, 2018).
4. Bandura’s social cognitive theory
Albert Bandura’s (1977) theory highlights the role of social learning and self-efficacy in personal development. It emphasizes that individuals can learn and grow through observation, imitation, and belief in their ability to effect change.
5. Self-determination theory
Ryan and Deci’s (2018) motivational self-determination theory recognizes the importance of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in personal development.
Their approach suggests that individuals are more likely to experience growth and wellbeing when such basic psychological needs are met.
6. Positive psychology
Positive psychology, developed by Martin Seligman (2011) and others, focuses on strengths, wellbeing, and the pursuit of happiness.
Seligman’s PERMA model offers a framework for personal development that emphasizes identifying and using our strengths while cultivating positive emotions and experiences (Lomas et al., 2014).
7. Cognitive-Behavioral Theory (CBT)
Developed by Aaron Beck (Beck & Haigh, 2014) and Albert Ellis (2000), CBT explores the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
As such, the theory provides practical techniques for personal development, helping individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors (Beck, 2011).
Theories like the seven mentioned above offer valuable insights into many of the psychological processes underlying personal development. They provide a sound foundation for coaches and counselors to support their clients and help them better understand themselves, their motivations, and the paths they can take to foster positive change in their lives (Cox, 2018).
Coaching in Personal Development and Growth
Person-centered coaching is a powerful vehicle for personal development.
The client–coach relationship is significant to successful growth and goal achievement.
Typically, the coach will focus on the following (Cox, 2018):
This supports a “universal human motivation resulting in growth, development and autonomy of the individual” (Cox, 2018, p. 53).
Building a relationship facilitating change
Trust clients to find their own way while displaying empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard. The coach’s “outward responses consistently match their inner feelings towards a client,” and they display a warm acceptance that they are being how they need to be (Passmore, 2021, p. 162).
Adopting a positive psychological stance
Recognize that the client has the potential and wish to become fully functioning (Cox, 2018).
Effective coaching for personal growth involves adopting and committing to a series of beliefs that remind the coach that the “coachee is responsible for the results they create” (Starr, 2021, p. 18) and help them recognize when they may be avoiding this idea.
The following principles are, therefore, helpful for coaching personal development and growth (Starr, 2021).
Stay committed to supporting the client.
While initially strong, you may experience factors that reduce your sense of support for the individual’s challenges.
Our job is not to adopt a stance based on personal beliefs or judgment of others, but to help our clients form connections between behavior and results.
Responsibility does not equal blame.
Clients who take on blame rather than responsibility will likely feel worse about something without acknowledging their influence on the situation.
The client can achieve better results.
The client is always capable of doing and achieving more, especially in relation to their goals.
Focus on clients’ thoughts and experiences.
Collaborative coaching is about supporting the growth and development of the client, getting them to where they want to go.
Clients can arrive at perfect solutions.
“As a coach, you win when someone else does” (Starr, 2021, p. 34). The solution needs to be the client’s, not yours.
Coach as an equal partnership.
Explore the way forward together collaboratively rather than from a parental or advisory perspective.
Creating a supportive and nonjudgmental environment helps clients explore their thoughts, feelings, and goals, creating an environment for personal development and flourishing (Passmore, 2021).
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How to Create a Personal Development Plan
A personal development plan is a powerful document “to create mutual clarity of the aims and focus of a coaching assignment” (Starr, 2021, p. 291). While it is valuable during coaching, it can also capture a client’s way forward once sessions have ended.
Crucially, it should have the following characteristics (Starr, 2021):
Short and succinct
Providing a quick reference or point of discussion
Current and fresh, regularly revised and updated
Key elements of a personal development plan include the following (Starr, 2021):
Area of development
This is the general skill or competence to be worked on.
Development objectives or goals
What does the client want to do? Examples might include reducing stress levels, improving diet, or managing work–life balance.
Behaviors to develop
These comprise what the client will probably do more of when meeting their objectives, for example, practicing better coping mechanisms, eating more healthily, and better managing their day.
Actions to create progress
What must the client do to action their objectives? For example, arrange a date to meet with their manager, sign up for a fitness class, or meet with a nutritionist.
Date to complete or review the objective
Capture the dates for completing actions, meeting objectives, and checking progress.
Personal development plan - Lindsey Cooper
Check out Lindsey Cooper’s excellent video for helpful guidance on action planning within personal development.
3 Examples of Personal Development Plans
We can write and complete personal development plans in many ways. Ultimately, they should meet the needs of the client and leave them with a sense of connection to and ownership of their journey ahead (Starr, 2021).
Personal Development Plan – Areas of Development
In this PDP, we draw on guidance from Starr (2021) to capture development opportunities and the behaviors and actions needed to achieve them.
Personal Development Plan – Opportunities for Development This template combines short- and long-term goal setting with a self-assessment of strengths, weaknesses, and development opportunities.
Personal Development Plan – Ideal Self
In this PDP template, we focus on our vision of how our ideal self looks and setting goals to get there.
Defining Goals and Objectives: 10 Tips and Tools
“The setting of a goal becomes the catalyst that drives the remainder of the coaching conversation.”
Passmore, 2021, p. 80
Defining goals and objectives is crucial to many coaching conversations and is usually seen as essential for personal development.
Check out this video on how you can design your life with your personal goals in mind.
How to design your life (my process for achieving goals)
Many skills contribute to and boost our personal development, including the following (Cottrell, 2015, p. 21).
1. People skills
Improving how we work with others benefits confidence, and with other’s support, we are more likely to achieve our objectives and goals. The following people skills can all be improved upon:
Assertiveness and negotiation
Giving and receiving constructive criticism
2. Managing tasks and problem-solving
Inevitably, we encounter challenges on our path to development and growth. Managing our activities and time and solving issues as they surface are paramount.
Here are a few guidelines to help you manage:
Organize time and tasks effectively.
Learn fundamental problem-solving strategies.
Select and apply problem-solving strategies to tackle more complex tasks and challenges.
Develop planning skills, including identifying priorities, setting achievable targets, and finding practical solutions.
Acquire skills relevant to project management.
Familiarize yourself with concepts such as performance indicators and benchmarking.
Conduct self-audits to assess and enhance your personal competitiveness.
3. Cultivate confidence in your creative abilities
Confidence energizes our performance. Knowing we can perform creatively encourages us to develop novel solutions and be motivated to transform.
Consider the following:
Understand the fundamentals of how the mind works to enhance your thinking skills.
Explore a variety of activities to sharpen your creative thinking.
Embrace the belief that creativity is not limited to artists and performers but is crucial for problem-solving and task completion.
Learn to ignite the spark of creativity that helps generate innovative ideas when needed.
Apply creative thinking techniques to enhance your problem-solving and task completion abilities.
Recognize the role of creative thinking in finding the right ideas at the right time.
To aid you in building your confidence, we have a whole category of articles focused on Optimism and Mindset. Be sure to browse it for confidence-building inspiration.
3 Inspiring Books to Read on the Topic
With new techniques and technology, our understanding of the human brain continues to evolve. Identifying the vital elements involved in learning and connecting with others offers deep insights into how we function and develop as social beings. We handpicked a small but unique selection of books we believe you will enjoy.
1. The Coaching Manual: The Definitive Guide to the Process, Principles and Skills of Personal Coaching – Julie Starr
This insightful book explores and explains the coaching journey from start to finish.
Starr’s book offers a range of free resources and gives clear guidance to support new and existing coaches in providing practical help to their clients.
Personal development has a rich and long history. It is underpinned by various psychological theories and remains a vital aspect of creating fulfilling lives inside and outside coaching and counseling.
For many of us, self-improvement, self-awareness, and personal growth are vital aspects of who we are. Coaching can provide a vehicle to help clients along their journey, supporting their sense of autonomy and confidence and highlighting their potential (Cox, 2018).
Working with clients, therefore, requires an open, honest, and supportive relationship. The coach or counselor must believe the client can achieve better results and view them nonjudgmentally as equal partners.
Personal development plans become essential to that relationship and the overall coaching process. They capture areas for development, skills and behaviors required, and goals and objectives to work toward.
Use this article to recognize theoretical elements from psychology that underpin the process and use the skills, guidance, and worksheets to support personal development in clients, helping them remove obstacles along the way.
Ultimately, personal development is a lifelong process that boosts wellbeing and flourishing and creates a richer, more engaging environment for the individual and those around them.
Personal development is vital, as it enables individuals to enhance various aspects of their lives, including emotional wellbeing, relationships, careers, and overall happiness.
It promotes self-awareness, self-improvement, and personal growth, helping individuals reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives (Passmore, 2021; Starr, 2021).
What is personal development?
Personal development is the journey we take to improve ourselves through conscious habits and activities and focusing on the goals that are important to us.
What are personal development goals?
Personal development goals are specific objectives individuals set to improve themselves and their lives. Goals can encompass various areas, such as emotional intelligence, skill development, health, and career advancement, providing direction and motivation for personal growth (Cox, 2018; Starr, 2021).
What are the 5 stages of a personal development plan?
A personal development plan typically comprises defining the area of development, setting development objectives, identifying behaviors to develop, planning actions for progress, and establishing completion dates. These five stages help individuals clarify their goals and track their progress (Starr, 2021).
Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Prentice-Hall.
Beck, A. T., & Haigh, E. P. (2014). Advances in cognitive therapy and therapy: The generic cognitive model. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 10, 1–24.
Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond. Guilford Press.
Cottrell, S. (2015). Skills for success: Personal development and employability. Bloomsbury Academic.
Cox, E. (2018). The complete handbook of coaching. SAGE.
Ellis, A. (2000). Can rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) be effectively used with people who have devout beliefs in God and religion? Professional Psychology-Research and Practice, 31(1), 29–33.
Erikson, E. H. (1963). Youth: Change and challenge. Basic Books.
Illeris, K. (2018). An overview of the history of learning theory. European Journal of Education, 53(1), 86–101.
Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Ivtzan, I. (2014). Applied positive psychology: Integrated positive practice. SAGE.
Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). Harper & Row.
Passmore, J. (Ed.). (2021). The coaches’ handbook: The complete practitioner guide for professional coaches. Routledge.
Piaget, J. (1959): The Psychology of intelligence. Routledge.
Rose, C. (2018). The personal development group: The students’ guide. Routledge.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2018). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. Guilford Press.
Seligman, M. E. (2011). Authentic happiness using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. Nicholas Brealey.
Starr, J. (2021). The coaching manual: The definitive guide to the process, principles and skills of personal coaching. Harlow: Pearson Education.
Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for performance. Nicholas Brealey.
About the author
Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.