Personal Development- A 101 Overview

Personal development includes activities that sustain the improvement of identity and awareness, create human capital, increase your chances for employability, develop your potential and talents and increase the quality of your life, helping to accomplish your dreams and aspirations.

One thing that’s great about personal development is that it never stops and it’s a continuous process. It doesn’t resume to self-help and it includes both formal and informal activities when you’re teacher, counselor, mentor, life coach or a guide.

Personal development may happen in institutions as well in which case it’s related to programs, tools, methods and techniques, but also assessment systems that sustain human development at the individual level.

Where is it coming from?

Even though they haven’t been using the name of “personal development”, most important religions (Indian, Abrahamic religions and New Age philosophies) have been using various methods (poetry, writing, sport, prayer, dance, music, singing, martial arts and chanting) that not only bring aesthetic satisfaction, but also relate to “final goals” as personal development (living a nice life, discovering the purpose in life).

The book “Care of the Self” (by Michel Foucault) describes the methods of “epimelia” used in ancient Greece and Rome that included sexual abstinence, dieting, contemplation, exercise, confession and prayer. Some of these ways even became essential practice of Christianity later on.

Born in India 3000 years ago, Yoga does include personal-development techniques that count a lot for the mind and body health: stretching, rhythmic breathing, meditation and postures.

Let’s not forget about the traditional Chinese techniques (Yi Wushu and T’ai chi ch’uan) that include martial arts, energy exercises, breathing exercises, and meditation. These methods are really connected to the traditional Chinese medicine: acupuncture, massage and dieting.

It was 1500 years ago in Islam, in the Middle East, when personal-development techniques (such as ritual) made their first appearance: recitation of the Qur’an, fasting, pilgrimage and tazkiyah (purification of the soul).

In South Asia, some ancient Indians talked about accomplishing “beingness, wisdom and happiness”, whereas in China it was Confucius that build up the ongoing philosophy. His ideas still lead so many families, but also education and management.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle influenced theories of personal development and really defined personal development as a part of phronesis or practical wisdom. The practice of various virtues would give eventually “eudemonia”, which is mostly known as “happiness”, but the more accurate translation would be “human flourishing” or “living well”. To this day, the ideas of Aristotle still count for the personal development, especially in the economics of both positive psychology and human development.

The Psychology’s take

Many psychologist developed their opinions on personal development and it was Carl Gustav Jung that brought the concepts of “individuation” that refers to the drive of anyone to accomplish the balance of “self” and the wholeness.

Daniel Levison continued the work of Jung and developed the “life stages” concept (Jung talked the first time about it), but gave it a sociological view. Levinson sustained the idea that personal development should happen because of aspirations, throughout the entire life and it’s “the Dream” that is the main force. No matter what the Dream may be all about, any young man should give it a greater definition, while discovering the ways to accomplish it. It’s not mandatory for the Dream to exist from the early years, as it’s far more important that one should put all of his efforts into getting it. When the Dream isn’t connected to one’s life, chances are for the Dream to die, which also may cause the disappear of aliveness and purpose as well.

Levinson didn’t stop here and created the seven life-stages model that suffered various changes from the sociological changes in a lifecycle.

Alfred Adler didn’t want to limit psychology to analysis though and pointed out that aspirations always look forwards which is why we shouldn’t limit them to unconscious drives or childhood experiences. He’s the one who talked about “lifestyle (the individual’s specific way of approaching life and dealing with various problems), but also about “self-image”. This last concept is important and related to the “work-life balance”.

Albert Bandura introduced the term of “self-efficacy” that explains why people with similar level of knowledge and abilities get different results. Self-confidence is a very efficient predictor for success and here are the explanations behind:

  • It helps you take the chances and set challenging goals
  • It sustains you to try again if you failed the first time
  • It helps you expect your success
  • It supports you into controlling your emotions and fears if the situation gets a bit more difficult

Only 2 years before stepping in the new millennial (1998), Martin Seligman insisted that all efforts to be into healthy individuals and not pathology, thus creating the fundamentals for “positive psychology”. There are some human strengths that fight against mental illness: optimism, hope, honesty, courage, optimism, interpersonal skill, work ethic, and perseverance. Prevention means, in fact, developing these particular virtues into the young individuals.

What does personal development is about?

Here are some activities that relate to personal development:

  • Improving self-knowledge
  • Developing self-awareness
  • Developing strengths or talents
  • Building or re-creating a new self-esteem/identity
  • Recognizing and developing potential
  • Developing a career
  • Improving lifestyle or the quality of life
  • Accomplishing aspirations
  • Developing social relations or emotional intelligence
  • Improving health
  • Developing employability/human capital
  • Improving the social status or wealth
  • Creating and developing personal development plans (PDSs)

Personal development is also related to developing other people. The roles for doing it are various: teacher, mentor or due to personal competency (some managers are trained to develop the potential of their employees) or thanks to some professional service (assessment, coaching or training).

Apart from improving yourself or others, “personal development” also defines as a field of practice and research:

  • As a field of practice, personal development is about personal-development methods, tools, techniques, learning programs and assessment systems
  • As a field of research, personal development is a common topic for education research, psychology journals, human-development economics and books.

No matter the type of development we talk about, we need “frameworks” to actually see if any changes were made.

For the personal development, the frameworks may be:

  • Strategies or plans for accomplishing goals
  • Goals or benchmarks for defining the end-points
  • An efficient feedback system that gives info on the changes
  • Measurement and assessment of progress, stages or levels that give an idea about the milestones and the development path as well

The business behind

There are various businesses related to the personal development and most of them are “business-to-consumer” and “business-to-business”. Nowadays, we’re also talking about the “consumer-to-business” and “consumer-to-consumer”.

  • Business-to-consumer market

This kind of market includes selling books, techniques and courses to individuals, as follows:

  1. The new areas
  • Fitness
  • Weight loss
  • Beauty enhancement
  1. The traditional practices:
  • Meditation
  • Martial arts
  • Yoga

There are many programs online that talk about specific tools: motivational books for self-help, recipes for weight-loss, technical manuals for martial-arts programs and yoga.

Here are some of the offerings on the business-to-individual market:

  • Life coaching
  • Books
  • Workshops
  • Motivational speaking
  • Time management
  • Individual counseling
  • Business-to-business market

This type of business involves programs that are meant to improve efficiency, to better manage work-life balance or to prepare someone for a new role in an organization.

The institution defines the goals of the program and the results to be expected. Business schools and universities also develop programs to external specialist firms or persons.

Here are some of the programs included in the business-to-business:

  • Time management
  • Marketing and market development
  • Courses and assessment system for education organizations
  • Management services to employees through:
    • Self-assessment
    • Feedback
    • Training
    • Training and development programs
    • Mentoring
    • Business coaching

We may also find “consulting firms” that only work on personal development and we assisted from some years now to a new growing market: the firms in human resources, recruitment and organizational strategy. This doesn’t exclude the small firms and self-employed professionals that offer training, coaching and consulting.

All the professionals from the self-help industry get support from the International Association for Personal Development Professionals (IADDP). The International trade group was launched few years ago, in 2013 and has his part in sustaining the efforts of professionals.

The critics

Personal development does have its critics and in 2005, Steve Salerno depicted the American self-help movement (SHAM: the Self-Help and Actualization Movement) not only inefficient, but also socially harmful.

Salerno sustains that an impressive percentage from the self-help and motivational customers are always coming back, even if the program didn’t work for them.

This isn’t a singular opinion, though, and many out there think that the more people read the self-help books, the more they think they need them. They even say it’s more of an addiction, rather than an “alliance”.

Critics didn’t stop there and described the self-help writers as only working in an ideological and imagined scientism.

Whether you think you should always improve yourself or what you get from school and job is enough for you, only by learning (which is already personal development) or even trying you may decide if personal development is real or not.