Personal Development and Growth



1. What is personal development?

  • According to Cambridge (2020), personal development is referred to as “the process of improving your skills and increasing the amount of experience
  • “The conscious pursuit of personal growth by expanding self-awareness and knowledge and improving personal skills” (von Myrko Thum, 2012)
  • The process of improving oneself through such activities as enhancing skills, increasing consciousness and building wealth and health (BusinessDirectory, 2020)


2. Why is personal development important?

Maslow (1970) points out that we continually strive to be better, that we have certain physiological and psychological needs, and we have an in-built focus towards personal development/growth. This process is called self-actualisation.

Goldstein characterised self-actualisation as an “individuation, or process of becoming a ‘self’ that is holistic (i.e., the individual realises that one’s self and one’s environment are two pieces of a greater whole) and acts as a primary driving force of behaviour in humans” (Selva, 2020; Whitehead, 2017).

Maslow (1970, p. 383) says that all individuals have the need to see themselves as competent and autonomous, also that every person has limitless room for growth. Personal development is crucial as it assists with the self-actualisation process. The concept of self-actualisation connects very well with the concept well-being; those who are considered self-actualised are also generally high in emotional and psychological well-being (Selva, 2020).

Personal development is important because:

It helps you to get you out of your comfort zone
It enables one to identify and reflect on your strengths and weaknesses
It improves your self-awareness
It challenges your current psychological and emotional state and encourages change
It promotes teaching and learning of new skills
It promotes a sense of direction
It produces greater resilience
It inspires others into actions

~ Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power ~ Lao Tzu


3. Stages of Personal Development

On our way of becoming who we are, we go through a lot of challenges, and we have many obstacles to overcome. Each obstacle is actually a step forward to our personal growth. Below are the various stages we must go through in order to fully develop (adapted from Soleil, 2017; Rhodes, 2019):

3.1 Self-awareness

The first step in personal development is being self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Think about the Johari Window, specifically the “hidden self” (see below). What are the things you know about yourself vs the things other people know about you? Complete the Values-in-Action (VIA) assessment as to assists you in determining your strengths and areas of development. This is the stage when you analyse yourself, thinking about what you can do best and where you need improvement – Write it down! Self-knowledge helps you understand yourself better, learn more about your needs, and make the decision whether you want to achieve more or not.

VIA Survey:

Johari Window:


3.2 Environmental Feedback

The second stage is to ask feedback from those who are close to you and know you well. This stage looks at the “Blind self” part of the Johari Window. What do others know about you that you do not? By asking them how they view you and what they believe your strengths and weaknesses are will give you constructive inputs into your personal development process. It is crucial to only ask people who truly have a valuable opinion of you. Take a day and ask your accountability partners how they view you. Make a note of it as you will use it in your personal development process.  

Consider asking them the following:

  • What are my strengths and areas of development?
  • What are those habits/behaviours that you have observed that are potentially limiting my growth?  
  • What is something you admire about me?


3.3 Preparation & Planning

The next phase is preparing yourself psychologically and emotionally for personal development and to outline a solid plan for what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. Remember, the feeling of “I want to change” is going to go away at some stage, then you are left with a choice of SELF-DISCIPLINE; in other words, I do not feel like challenging and changing myself, but this is important if I want to truly achieve my goals. You should decide what will be your short and long-term goals. Moreover, you should also write them down and visualize them. More on this in the personal development plan section.  

3.4 Action and Implementation

This stage is very simple. After you have decided what you want to change and work on based on the information obtained from your own self-awareness process and the environmental feedback, you actually complete the PDP and you force, if you have to, yourself into action and implementation of strategies to achieve your goals (see here). Get your accountability partners on par with this process.  

Keep in mind, a person with a purpose does not need a lot of external motivation in pursuing their goals and dreams as they already know what they want to do. All they need is support and encouragement in the process. Either get the support and encouragement OR be the support and encouragement.
3.5 Reflection and Adaptation

The last stage is one of the most important stages in personal development. One can have this amazing plan and purpose, and have the most supportive accountability partners on the planet, but if you lack the drive to actually develop, you will get nowhere. Reflect on where you are in your current psychological and motivation state. If you feel you are stagnating, utter this to your coach/mentor. Adapt your attitude towards the process. Take a day, be mellow, next day get and up and change your mind-set into action.     


4. Answering the “How do I develop and where do I start” question?

Personal development is not seen as an activity to tick off and go on with the rest of your day/life. It is a continuous process throughout a person’s life. One work on it every day for the rest of your life!

It is important to take personal development serious as you are the most important person in your own life. Nobody is going to change for you. All that people will do is give you constant verbal and non-verbal feedback on you as a person. It is your decision what you will do with this feedback.

~ You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great ~ Les Brown

Obtain all the information you need to start with your personal development and follow the above stages to force yourself into action. The next step is to complete your personal development plan (PDP). As you have all the information you need, it is important to have a personal development plan as to keep you accountable and ensuring you are challenging yourself and rewarding yourself for goal achievement. Take a day to complete your PDP and review it monthly. Click here for the PDP template.


5. Take Home Message 

  • You have to take this journey serious or leave it for a time when you feel it is needed.
  • Ensure to get a role-model; someone who inspires you and who you look up to. Observe and mimic their behaviour.
  • Personal development does not only refer to a piece of paper you have to complete every day, it also includes reading books, listening to podcasts/seminars, going to conferences/workshops, watching YouTube videos, etc.
  • We as individuals are not designed to walk this journey alone, get a mentor/coach/psychologist to assist you with this process.
  • A good friend or accountability partner is crucial. Research indicates that a PDP alone does not suffice, support and encouragement from others really draws us to change and develop (Eisele, Grohnert, Beausaert & Segers, 2013).


6. Additional Resources to Consult

Videos to watch

1. Jim Rohn - 10 Life Skills Everyone Should Learn (personal development):

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary:

3. The skill of self-confidence | Dr. Ivan Joseph:

4. Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset:

5. You 2.0 – What it REALLY Takes to Be the Best Version of Yourself! | Anthony Cheam:

Books to read

1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

4. Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins

5. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

Free e-books




Business Directory. (2020). Personal Development. Retrieved from

Cambridge Dictionary. (2020). Personal Development. Retrieved from

Coaching positive performance. (2018). 6 Core benefits of personal development. Retrieved from…

Eisele, L., Grohnert, T., Beausaert, S., & Segers, M. (2013). Employee motivation for personal development plan effectiveness. European Journal of Training and Development.

Maslow, A.H. (1970). Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Row.

Rhodes, J. (2019). The 7 Stages of Personal Development and Growth. Retrieved from

Selva, J. (2020). What is Self-Actualization? A Psychologist’s Definition [+Examples]. Retrieved from

Soleil, V. (2017). 7 Stages of Personal Development and Self-Growth: Which One Are You in?. Retrieved from

von Myrko Thum. (2012). What is Personal Development?. Retrieved from

Whitehead, P. M. (2017). Goldstein’s self-actualization: A biosemiotic view. The Humanistic Psychologist, 45(1), 71–83.


Compiled by Juan-Ri Potgieter (Industrial Psychologist@Thuso1777, Potchefstroom Campus)

June 2020