5 Examples of Personal Development Goals

personal development goals

We all have at least one thing we want to be better at. But we often set our sights too high without a clear idea of where to start or what to do to realise our ambition. So, we stick to what we know and put off our attempts at self-improvement until some other time, which never seems to come around.

There’s a way around this familiar routine. Set a personal development goal and plan how to achieve it.

This guide explains how to set realistic targets, get started and stick with them long enough to see results. It also offers five examples of what you can do if you’re looking to grow your skills.

What is the Meaning of Personal Development?

Personal development is self-improvement. It’s looking at something you want to get better at and working towards that end.

People use the term when discussing their career or other professional ambitions, which isn’t wrong. Personal development doesn’t have to be related to your work. There is a lot of crossover between personal and professional development goals, however. Making progress in any area of your life can positively impact your career.

What are Personal Development Goals?

Personal development goals are the specific aims you want to achieve. And they work best when you have a pre-defined outcome that you set.

Some examples of personal development goals include getting healthier or learning a new language.

While there are some generally agreed-upon principles when setting your goals, timeframes and objectives are entirely up to you.

How to Set Your Goals

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Start with Self-Assessment

You won’t be able to achieve your personal development goals if they’re not meaningful to you, so start by looking at yourself and figuring out what you want to improve.

Maybe you’ll settle on something quite big, like getting healthier, which is admirable but a bad example of an achievable goal. It lacks a defined outcome since ‘healthier’ is a relative term. And without a clear endpoint, planning how you will get there is impossible.

Starting smaller and more specific (remember that word) with your goals is always better.

Say you do want to focus on your health. Start by determining what ‘healthier’ means to you. Is it running a marathon or doing a five-minute stretching routine every day? They’re both valid goals, but only one will likely be realistic to you and your current activity levels.

Set SMART Goals

Any goal should be SMART, which stands for:

  • Specific – it has a clearly defined aim
  • Measurable – you can tell when you reach that aim
  • Achievable/Attainable – it’s actually realistic
  • Relevant – it means something to you
  • Time-bound – there’s a deadline which you set

Using the SMART framework makes it more realistic that you’ll actually achieve your goals. Let’s look back at one of the other examples of personal development goals – learning a language, which is another aim you shouldn’t emulate. Because learning a new language is about as far from a SMART goal as possible. Instead, you should try to:

  • Learn the 100 most common words in your chosen language (Specific)
  • Score at least 90/100 when tested (Measurable)
  • Start with 100 words, as that’s more realistic than learning a new language (Achievable)
  • Use everyday vocabulary to start developing fluency (Relevant)
  • Revise 25 words a week for the next month (Time-bound)

Doing all of the above will help you towards your overall aim – to speak another language – but it’s much more attainable and means you’re more likely to stick with it and make meaningful progress.

set SMART goals

Celebrate Progress

Getting out of your comfort zone and putting in the work is always necessary for your development. So, sticking with a goal makes you more likely to achieve it.

However, the relationship between progress and effort is a feedback loop. Putting in the effort and making incremental improvements motivates you to put in more effort in the future.

It’s not easy to do this, however, as our brains are prone to negativity bias, i.e., they focus on what goes wrong before recognising what goes right. This tendency towards pessimism is demotivating and can often make it feel like goals are unattainable and not worth pursuing.

Going smaller (and more achievable) with your goals helps overcome this bias, but you can also work against it yourself. Recognise progress, no matter how small, and celebrate it. Psychologists have noted that these positive feelings build self-esteem and make you more likely to keep working towards your goals.

Use the Power of Habits

According to psychologists, people often misunderstand what actually drives their behaviour. A recent study looked at why people commonly drink coffee in the morning. Initially, the answer seems obvious – people are still sleepy when they wake up, so they seek a dose of caffeine to help them get going. However, this didn’t exactly match what the researchers discovered.

use the power of habits

It was found that study participants drank coffee regardless of feelings of fatigue. Making a morning coffee was driven more by habit than actual need. You can apply the same thinking to personal development. Make progress a habit and you’ll keep up your efforts without thinking about it or having to find motivation.

How to Make It a Habit

Start with the most minor thing you can do while progressing towards your goal. Let’s return to our ‘learn a new language’ example since it’s already been turned into a SMART target.

The most minor thing you could do is learn one new word at a time. This might initially throw off your planned timeline, but starting as small as possible will make it easier to maintain consistency and build momentum.

It’s even easier to do this if you attach an action to another trigger. For example, you could look up your new word on your commute or while waiting for the kettle to boil. Connecting an act to another prompt like this makes it more likely to become a habit.

5 Effective Personal Development Goals

1. Develop Your Communication Skills

Why – Communication skills let you express yourself and influence others to be a better team member. Good communication is also essential for building personal and professional relationships

How – One of the best ways to become a better communicator is to become a better listener. Practice active listening in your conversations and focus on what the other person is saying, not how you’re going to respond

2. Manage Your Time Better

WhyEffective time management helps boost productivity while improving work-life balance and preventing burnout

How – Use gathering points to collect similar tasks together in one place (real or digital). You can then prioritise your attention and keep on top of things

3. Take on a New Responsibility

Why – Taking on a new work responsibility is one of the best ways to grow. It’ll force you to develop new skills and leave your comfort zone. It might also lead to a promotion

How – There’s no universal starting point here. Choose a new responsibility and then go after it. Just remember to start small and ensure you can fit it into the SMART framework

4. Keep Things Tidy

Why – A tidy workspace helps improve focus and productivity

How – Set aside three to five minutes daily to clean and organise your workstation. A consistent cleaning schedule also prevents clutter and saves time in the long run

5. Take a Training Course

Why – A training course is an excellent development goal since learning a new skill helps you grow personally and professionally. Good training courses are already mapped out using the SMART framework, so pick the right one and keep at it

How –To help you develop, we offer a range of HR compliance courses, from conflict resolution to time management. (There’s even a course on objective setting if you’ve already forgotten the rest of the advice in this guide.) You’ll be able to find a course that will help you on your development journey, and since they’re all online, it’s easy to fit them into your schedule and make learning a habit.

About the author(s)

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Jonathan Goby
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