What is Personal Development

Personal Development

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This is the first of a series of articles designed to help you explore and access your true potential as an individual and guide your personal development through a richer, more meaningful life. The purpose of this introductory article is to define the goal posts of this series and understand better what personal development is all about and why it’s so important.

Personal development is not exactly one topic but more of a group or class of subjects that intersect through a common set of goals that focus on developing and empowering the individual. The individual, as a beautiful, divine, free and limitless being, is at the heart of every personal development topic whether explicitly implied or otherwise.

There has been a rich volume of literature written during the last few decades in the personal development area. Sometimes personal development is also interchangeably used with personal growth, self-growth or self development all of which mean the same thing albeit a few nuances.

Moreover, the theory and practice of personal development topics span across different spheres of human life – from the mundane business and career focused aspect to the spiritual and evolutionary consciousness end of the spectrum.

In its totality, the idea of personal development is about harnessing and enriching the innate potential of the individual to ultimately become a realized, happier and balanced person in a chaotic and ever-changing world. In short, the ultimate goal of all personal development topics is self-realization or self-actualization.

It is about growing the seed of our inner abilities and potentials to grow and manifest in our lives. It is about creating a balanced and complete self in harmony with our life purpose through the optimal use of our talents, time and other resources. It is about finding and actualizing the real you – which is perfect and whole in itself.

There are different paths to this self-actualization. Some personal development trainers and life coaches focus more on practical matters such as becoming more productive, more confident or more focused on your real life goals and aspirations.

Some other topics are more centered on over-arching goals such as overcoming fear or psychological blocks and limitations, boosting motivation or forming habits that are conducive to real world success. In recent years there has also been a growing interest in actualizing the human potential from a more spiritually oriented approach.

There has been a sort of a mass consciousness shift where more and more people are feeling that their self-actualization is not tied to real world success but to realize their earth-bound spiritual selves.

The spiritual approach to personal development in fact stands on the basic premise that we are all spiritual and multi-dimensional entities embodied in physical form on a short experiential trip to the third dimensional plane we live in. The physical incarnation is a sort of incubation period and an opportunity to evolve and develop ourselves personally and spiritually.

Here are some of the key topics and ideas in the personal development world. I will be touching upon some of these concepts throughout the series. There are of course many other more specific topics but these would fall under one of the below broader topics.


Motivation is a hot topic in the personal development arena which attracts a lot of attention. The reason is not hard to see. We all need to have motivation or be motivated at different moments of our life especially when we run out of steam or the challenges grow harder.

Motivation is a fundamental criteria to change and success – whatever the goal. The right amount of motivation can make you go beyond your physical and mental limits even when all odds are against you. It is the biggest mover and shaker in all of us, hence its importance.

Even a simple task such as walking up a steep hill or cleaning up your room can turn from an enormous task to an effortless move with the right motivation. Motivation supports and promotes all of our endeavors especially major life transformations or pursuing the path to spiritual awakening.  You need it to thrive. No wonder then that so many people need to know how to find their motivation.


We all seek happiness no matter what goals we have and in which way we approach them. It is by far the commonest goal shared by all humanity.

Happiness is not something ready made but comes from your own actions. ~ Dalai Lama (Tweet this)

This implies that happiness is not something that happens by chance or comes and goes on its own. As I have mentioned in this article, I think that happiness is how we relate and give meaning to our life.

So in terms of personal development, happiness comes from adopting a set of attitudes towards life such as

  • acceptance,
  • a positive mindset,
  • trust and openness,

while breaking free from limiting ones such as negative self-talk, mistrusting the future, the need for others’ approval.

Life Purpose

Finding your life purpose is the holy grail of personal development. Why? I mentioned how all personal development efforts are geared towards the ultimate goal of self-actualization. This implies unfolding your life in line with your life purpose and your natural talents and abilities.

Most of the complexities of life arise out of not being aligned with your life purpose. It is like trying to use a brilliant machine outside its real purpose. Things become sub-optimal at best and impossible at worst. When we are aligned to our life purpose, everything fits in so perfectly and smoothly. Life seems to come our way in whatever we do and we are driven and passionate with a sense of being in the right place at the right time.


Success is a very broad term and can be applied to different contexts. Many personal development books and workshops have been geared towards career or business success. This is the success related to financial wealth and making moving forward in your career and business goals.

Success in the personal development literature can be also seen in relation to personal success which is not just about wealth or career progression, but more about experiential success or the success in achieving whatever you want to experience.

As Tim Ferriss, author of the four hour series, notes, success is not about money or access only but the time and mobility to maximize our experiences.

The logic behind it is clear. It is useless amassing wealth when you do not have the time to experience more life. So having the freedom of time and mobility are major factors in experiential success. From a personal development angle, success means reaching a level of self mastery where there are very few limits to becoming and experiencing anything you want.

Life Balance

Without balance there is either nothing or too much of anything. Our malaise or dis-ease in post-modern life is the result of losing balance because of hectic, unhealthy lifestyles and too many wants and desires constantly distracting us from our more authentic selves.

Restoring balance in life is hence an important self development goal which is sometimes overlooked.

Maintaining balance in life requires exploring and paying more attention to those aspects of ourselves that we often neglect – such as

  • emotional health,
  • creativity,
  • intuition,
  • inner peace and
  •  wisdom amongst others

It is also about countering the excesses and stress in our fast-paced lifestyle through simplifying and embracing ancient practices aimed at promoting healing and wellbeing.

 Such practices include

  1. Meditation,
  2. Yoga,
  3. Tai Qi and
  4. Many forms of natural healing and therapy.


A lot of personal development literature tackle the topic of relationship. This is quite understandable since relationships are a fundamental aspect of our life which can make us or break us. Relationships have an incredible amount of influence on us.

When our relationship with others is harmonious and strong, it gives us a healthy foundation to keep balance and achieve success in other areas of our life. The opposite is also true, difficult relationships can create a lot disruption in our overall living.

Relationships are relevant to personal development in another way. Since we reflect ourselves in relationships and ourselves are reflected in relationships, making long-lasting positive changes will have direct influence in the health of our relationships.

Suggested Reading

Here is a list of recommended titles in personal development that cover some of the aspects mentioned throughout this introductory article. Forthcoming articles in this series will also delve deeper into these topics and sub-topics.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People 
Personal Development All in One for Dummies 
Reaching your Potential: Personal & Professional Development
The Motivation Manifesto: 9 Declarations to claim your Personal Power 
The Success Principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be 


About the Author

Gilbert Ross is a researcher, blogger, philosopher and online media expert. He teaches personal development topics through workshops and the online media, particularly about positive life transformations and unfolding the human potential.

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