I see lots of clients on a daily and weekly basis. They come for various reasons, but all of the reasons have one thing in common: to improve the quality of that person’s life. Everyone I see I ask the question why now? Why have you come to me at this point in your life to create this change? For many people, the situation or behavior they want to change has been with them for a very long time. So I really want to know, why now? What is it that’s pushing them to make the change today, when they could have chosen to change it last month, or last year or six years ago.
For some the answer is that they’ve been trying to change without success for all that time. (“Try” is “a contract with one’s self to expend effort prior to giving up.”) For some there’s been a change, either internal or external, that’s created an urgency to “do it now.” But no one has ever said, “because it’s part of my plan.”
Creating a personal development plan
Do you have a plan? What is your image of what you will be like, what you want to be like, a year from now? Five, ten years from now? What do you want to be doing? More importantly, who do you want to BE? Because in order to DO what you desire, you first have to step into BEING that person. Say you want to own your own business three years from now. What knowledge, skills and personal characteristics will you need to do that successfully? How does the You of that future differ from the You of today? Where are the gaps? How will you fill those gaps? Without a plan, you are much more likely to fail–a plan not only for your business, but for yourself.
And it’s not just about starting a business. Maybe you want to retire in five years. Or get married, or start a family, or move out of your parents’ house or go to college. Every age and every stage of your life will be more fulfilling and successful when you have a plan.
The benefits of having a personal development plan
In case you’re thinking, well, my life’s been moving forward. I mean, I’m older and things have changed in my life–changed jobs, places to live, all without a plan. Why would I want to go to the effort of creating a plan for life? Won’t life just happen?
Yes, it will. If you’re not planning, life may happen TO you, though. Sure, sometimes you get the lucky break and things go your way. Having a plan or not having a plan doesn’t alter the fact that you are talented, intelligent, creative and appreciated. Having a plan allows you to leverage those attributes to achieve a much greater outcome, though. So, here are what I see as the top five benefits of having a personal development plan.
1. Creating awareness.
I often say (and I don’t think it originated with me), “all change begins with awareness.” Creating a plan requires a fair amount of self reflection. As Socrates said, “Know thyself,” in other words, become aware, become conscious. Through this process you will learn much more about yourself; your strengths, your areas of weakness (aka, “growth opportunities”), and your character.
Once you have awareness, you can proactively change yourself, molding yourself into the type of person you want to be. Whether that is to have more patience, or more ambition, or both, as you determine best to consciously create the life you want to live.
Think Socrates was perfect? Far from it. Once, as story has it, he visited a palm reader. Upon looking at his hands she declared that Socrates had “many undivine qualities,” such as anger, lust and pride. Socrates followers were incensed but Socrates put up a hand and said, let’s hear what else she has to say. The palm reader continued, “yes, you have these flaws, but you have them under complete control.” Socrates had used his self-understanding to create self-discipline.
How many of the things that upset you on a regular basis are directly or indirectly because of your own “undivine qualities?” Perhaps you lack follow-through and never complete your projects. How would your life be different and better if you’d completed them? Perhaps in the past you’ve been quick to anger and you’ve alienated yourself from people who could help you in your life and endeavors. How would having your anger “under complete control” make your life different from this moment on?
2. Clarity of goals.
Lewis Carroll was a genius. Consider this dialogue from Alice in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Does life feel like this to you? Maybe at one point you had the beginnings of an idea of where you’d go in life, what you’d do, how it would feel, but then life itself got in the way. Decisions were made “for” you, by circumstance. Because you had never really charted a course, by the time you discovered you were off course you’d been so for quite some time. And because you’d never really charted a course, you didn’t know what to do to get back on course, either.
Life’s waters are more easily negotiated with a plan that gives your goals clarity, vision and detail. As I ask my clients, “how will you know when you’ve achieved this goal?” Sometimes that’s easy, but oftentimes I am met by a blank stare and a dawning realization that they don’t know what “success” looks like for them. Start asking yourself. From a clear picture of where you are going, you can create a clear set of action steps to get yourself there. No clear picture, and you’ll be unsure of what to do now, what to do next, and whether what you have done/are doing is creating the effects that will help you reach your goals.
Or as Winston Churchill said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”
3. Alignment of goals with your values.
Here’s one that can sneak up on you, if you haven’t done the personal development work to be aware. I see lots of people who self sabotage themselves over and over while they “try” to reach for their goals. What they didn’t realize is that the goal of their focus is in conflict with one of their cherished values. For example, the woman who wanted to become a public speaker-slash-event planner. She had dreams of taking it to the top, traveling the world inspiring others. But she kept procrastinating, not getting basic things done that would have lined her up for good gigs. She’d done the work to make herself a good public speaker with the potential to become great with experience. But she wasn’t getting the experience because she’d miss deadlines. Turns out one of her most cherished values was family, and with two young children at home, her subconscious fear of leaving them to travel for up to half the weeks of the year was causing her to sabotage her own dreams.
Having the self knowledge of what your values are and how they line up with your goals gives you the ability to craft a solution that allows you to honor each. Being CONSCIOUS of this conflict, she was able to make decisions (the job of the conscious mind) that solved the problem. She realized it didn’t have to be an either/or proposition. She could focus on speaking locally/regionally and then increasing the amount of travel as her children grew. During the summer she could even take her family with her when it made sense. So rather than missing all her deadlines for proposals to present, she had a conscious filter and she went after the gigs that worked for her on all levels.
4. Better decision making.
It’s not that you aren’t making decisions when you don’t have a plan, but how do you know that the decisions are the right ones? I see a lot of people who have a tough time making decisions. They often delay making a decision until it’s too late. You see, that’s because from a subconscious point of view, that’s “safe.” If they don’t make the decision to begin with, then they won’t make the wrong decision and make a “mistake.” So they let time and life “save” them from “failure” through indecision. They don’t realize this consciously of course; it’s all happening at the subconscious level. The conscious mind then finds reasons and justifications for the lack of action (“I had to wait for such and such to happen.” “It’s Joe’s fault, if he had just done this or that then I would have known…”). This happens because we hate to be wrong. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance going on in this type of situation and the justification is made so that we can stop feeling it.
What’s a better path? Having a plan, based on a proven model of success, so that you have a much better idea of what needs to be done and therefore make better decisions on a more timely basis. In a future post, I’ll explain why NLP (neurolinguistic programming–the study of human excellence) is such a fantastic tool for this type of work.
Do you know you can take college courses on decision making? Decision Making was one of the courses I took for my master’s program and honestly, it was my favorite! There’s a LOT going on in good decision making. You can improve your life dramatically by focusing on developing your abilities in this area alone.
5. Continued growth, increased self confidence, self esteem, motivation and insight.
As you create a plan, you can also revise the plan. As you learn more about yourself and develop your abilities you will develop new areas of interest. As you succeed in achieving your goals by following your plan you become more and more confident in yourself, in your abilities, which in turn increases your self esteem. As they say, “success breeds success.”
OK, more in the future!