Do you find yourself going through life reacting to one crisis after another, rather than purposefully setting a course of action? Do you feel busy, stressed and overwhelmed, yet don’t feel like you’re actually accomplishing anything? You’re not alone: when I was first starting out in my career, I certainly felt this way; that’s when I began focusing on personal development.
Over the years, I’ve completely changed my approach to life in a way that has helped me to get more satisfaction out of every day and make progress towards the goals that are truly important to me. Personal development is a topic that I’m passionate about, and one I’m continuously learning about, so I’ve tested out plenty of different frameworks and techniques. Here are four practices that I’ve found to be most effective in helping me to make personal development a daily practice:
Be intentional with goal setting
When you decide to make personal development a priority in your life, the first step is to set aside time for goal setting, no matter how busy you are. Just as a corporation goes through a planning and budgeting process each year, you should carve out time to think about what you want to accomplish over the next day, week, month, or year. Clearly defined goals will serve as a roadmap for your life: you can decide what projects to take on based on whether they help or hinder your goals.
If you need help setting goals, you might want to read leadership books, scholarly articles on a topic that interests you, or a religious text that you find inspiring – anything that takes you out of your day-to-day and inspires thought and reflection on the bigger picture. Personally, I like to read a few pages from the Bible each day to help me to reflect on the values that are important to me.
Set aside time for daily reflection
Small changes can add up to a big success. But when you’re in the middle of this process, it can be difficult to see any progress, especially if the goal feels very distant. Daily reflection is an opportunity to step back, identify what’s currently working or not working for you, and make any necessary changes to course correct.
If something isn’t working, consider why it’s not working, and think about what you could do differently to get to a different outcome. This step is very important – if you don’t reflect on your actions and make changes accordingly, you’ll keep repeating the same patterns and you’ll never see improvement.
It’s tempting to feel overwhelmed if you’re facing significant obstacles to achieving your goals. Rather than trying to make sweeping changes in your life all at once, stay focused on take incremental steps in the right direction. If you’re not sure what to do, don’t be afraid to experiment and try new approaches. Another benefit of daily reflection is that you can note the successes of these small, incremental improvements as you progress towards your goals.
Put your ego aside
Empathy is one of the most critical skills for self-improvement. In addition to reflecting on yourself, reflect on how you appear to others. The goal is not to become a people pleaser, but rather to cultivate the ability to see yourself from others’ perspectives. How does your behavior appear to a colleague or a client? Taking on another’s perspective will help you identify areas for improvement that you might otherwise have missed. It will help you communicate more effectively, de-escalate conflicts, and create new possibilities for cooperation and joint success.
Cultivating empathy will also help you avoid playing what I call “the blame game”– blaming everyone but ourselves for a problem. When we bring an empathetic perspective, we can candidly assess how our actions may have contributed to a problem. This subtle shift in thinking will help you form a more complete assessment of any situation and enable you to achieve your goals more effectively.
Finally, one of the most important keys to personal development is to stay curious. Get into the habit of asking questions all the time. Imagine that you’re a reporter and life is a story you’re assigned to cover. Every day you have the opportunity to gain new knowledge and insight from the people, ideas, and situations you encounter. Don’t let a fear of looking foolish stop you from asking questions. If you have a question, chances are someone else is wondering the same thing.
This curiosity should extend to yourself as well. Continuous personal development requires that you ask questions about yourself. I’ve found it helpful to ask for feedback from those around me – friends, family, colleagues and trusted mentors. Don’t be afraid of hearing critical feedback; understanding your weaknesses is the first step towards eliminating them. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power, and self-knowledge is no exception.
These are four practices that I always try to keep in mind, and that have improved my life the most. Hopefully they will serve you as well as they’ve served me.