A personal growth plan is a guideline for life: your goals, how you intend to achieve them, skills you need to master, and habits you want to develop. It should cover areas such as career, education, relationships, and self-improvement.
By actively tracking your future, you gain a better sense of control of your life and influence the decisions you make in your day-to-day life. Whenever you feel lost, you can refer back to your personal growth plan and remind yourself where you need to go and how you can get there.
A personal growth plan also helps you structure your thinking: listing down the steps you need to take connects your goals with a system.
Having a personal development plan is key to a meaningful life.
What is Personal Growth?
To understand where personal development comes from, we need to go back a couple thousand years, to Aristotle. In Nicomachean Ethics, he argues that personal growth is a category of wisdom and intelligence and the practice of those virtues lead to happiness.
“The desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”
In other words, having the need to become the best version of ourselves is the path to self-fulfillment and reaching our full potential.
Personal growth is a never-ending ongoing process, mostly shaped in our early age by parents, teachers, and coaches. As we grow into adulthood, we expand our self-awareness and can actively start to take the right steps to improve ourselves.
It’s the ultimate productivity system: a personal growth plan tracks and measures how effective you are in different areas of your life.
You can focus on one specific area or all of them at the same time. These can be your intellectual, professional, social or physical life.
Let’s start by going over what goes into each area and some examples.
Areas of Personal Growth
If we take a step back and a person – any person – we find four major areas that form the core traits of a human being. These are the categories for self-improvement and the ones we will include in our personal growth plan.
You deconstruct these main pillars into many others and end up with 12 areas of personal growth. Personally, I think it only adds complexity to our personal growth plan without any additional benefits. Sometimes less is more.
What I do is group them all into one category. For example:
- Spiritual life goes under Intellectual
- Money and Finance are a part of Professional
- Your love life is included in social
- Health is part of Physical
To understand what exactly should go into each category on your personal growth plan, let’s go one by one.
The focus of intellectual growth is knowledge.
The brain develops throughout life. Just like muscles, that develop with physical activity, intelligence can be shaped up through exercising it. In your personal growth plan, you will find out what goals you want to achieve to develop your intellect and the systems you will use to achieve them.
In a nutshell, you want to increase the ability to acquire and retain information, develop understanding and cultivate your brain with knowledge that can serve you in life.
Our ability to learn, memory, reasoning, and all cognitive processes (e.g. analyzing) belong to the Intellectual life area.
An improved ability to recall memories without confusing them has a direct impact on other crucial cognitive tasks and could lead to potential new ways of slowing down the deterioration of mental ability in old age.
Some examples of skills you can develop:
- accelerated learning
- critical thinking
- improved memory
- analytical thinking
I don’t mean only through your job as that is about providing value, which you can through volunteer work (and not getting paid). But most of the time, money is the easiest way to assess the value of your professional life.
Money provides food on the table and a roof over your head. If you have some more, you can use it for all other areas of your life – better education, nice vacations, and private doctors and hospitals. It enhances your quality of life and of those you love.
How you handle your money – spending, saving, investing – is part of the Professional area since it determines how much money you end up having.
What are your career and money goals and benchmarks for this year and for the next 5 and 10 years? How do you intend to reach those goals? These are the goals you will pursue in this area on your personal growth plan.
Some examples of the skills that you can develop in this life area are:
The focus of your social life is having fun.
It covers activities that you do for relaxation, boosting your energy, and pleasure.
We all have different hobbies. I like to play music and writing for fun, as well as play tennis and going out with friends. Knowing what gives you pleasure lets you focus on doing more of those activities on your personal growth plan.
It also includes your community: family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.
The people we choose to spend time with and how we treat strangers paint a clear picture of who we are. People strengthen their relationships by spending focused quality time with those they care about, by building deep bonds through shared experiences, and by just plain listening and being there for them without looking for things in return.
Relationships often require work and effort. When a person is able to grow and develop, it helps to foster healthy relationships. Additionally, having a significant other to offer support can be helpful when you are looking to develop potential and grow into a complete person.
Some examples of things that fall in this life area are:
- reading novels
- watching movies
- playing video games
- a night out with friends
- going on holiday
The focus of your physical life is health.
Anything related to your body and its well-being falls under this life area.
The physical aspect is simply our body. Our body plays a large role in defining us. It is the vessel in which we do everything else. How well one takes care of their body says a lot about their character. There are three facets to it: what we eat, if or how often we exercise, and then how often we abuse it with drugs and alcohol.
Are you in your ideal weight? Do you exercise regularly and/or have an exercise routine? How well do you treat your skin? Do you have a morning and night cleansing routine? Is there a sport you’ve always wanted to learn? Are you ready to give up potato chips or alcohol?
You will need to come up with short, medium, and long-term goals in your personal growth plan.
Examples of things that fall under this life area:
- strength training
Personal Growth Goals
We now know what is personal growth and the areas that you need to include in your personal growth plan. It’s time to move on to the next step: defining your personal growth goals.
If people were smartphones, we would have hardware – our body – and software. To operate, we need an operating system: software that supports basic functions, such as scheduling breathing and sleeping.
Every once in a while a new OS update comes out, and your phone becomes faster or supports new integrations or adds new features. Personal growth goals follow the same logic:
Personal growth goals are updates on our operating system.
We can make ourselves smarter by reading books or learning through games.
Or reduce the need for a lot of processing capacity (we call it energy or attention) to complete certain tasks by automating them or ingrain them in our brain.
When Apple wants to release a new iOS update, they brainstorm and decide all the new features they want to include in the update – these are our personal growth goals.
Then the spec out everything that needs to be done, which teams are going to be involved, deadlines and possible bottlenecks – this is our personal growth plan.
That’s why we will start our personal growth plan by defining our goals.
Ultimately, you are the only one that can define your growth goals. But although I can’t decide for you, I can help you find them by using a simple process.
Step 1: Find Your “Why”
I’m sure by now you have lots of goals in your mind. Maybe you want to lose weight, save money for a vacation or be promoted. But first, we need to figure out your why.
A book that discusses this premise at length is “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. It focuses on companies, but we can apply the same reasoning to our personal growth plan.
Have you – or somebody you know – ever joined a gym on a yearly membership only to go a couple of times?
The biggest mistake you can make when setting up goals is having a weak why.
On your personal growth plan, knowing your why is key. In other words:
It doesn’t matter what you do, but it really matters why you do it.
Why do you want to go on a diet? Not weight loss, that’s the result.
I have the goal of losing 8 kilos in three months. My why? It’s not becoming leaner or feeling better about myself (although those are nice side-effects) but to have more energy for work and the things I love. My why is so strong that it’s never hard for me to eat soup note: I used to hate soup), because I know it is aligned with my why.
Figure out your strongest why and you are golden.
The rest is easy.
Step 2: Find Your “What”
If you figured out your strongest why for your goal, it’s time to move on to figuring out your what.
This is the traditional sense of goal we normally use. We want to define SMART goals:
- Specific: the specific area you are looking to improve
- Measurable: define a metric so you can track your progress and completion
- Assignable: on your personal growth plan it’s normally you
- Realistic: you need to be able to realistically achieve your goal (more in step 5)
- Time-related: specify a deadline for the goal
SMART goals are easier to understand, track and measure.
Some examples of SMART personal growth goals:
- Lose 5kg in the next three months
- Save $3000 dollars in the next year
- Read 100 books in the next 6 months
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and start writing your own SMART goals for the personal growth plan.
Step 3: Find Your “How”
It’s time to understand how exactly you intend to reach your goal. As the saying goes, “there are more ways than one to skin a cat”.
For example, to lose weight you can exercise more, switch to a healthier diet or try intermittent fasting.
To save more money, you can either adjust your spending habits and consume less or make more money, either by being promoted at your job or taking a second job.
Ideally, you want to find an activity that you can turn into a habit and do it every single day, no excuses.
Using our previous examples:
- Lose 5kg in the next three months by doing high-intensity exercise for 20 minutes per day
- Save $3000 dollars in the next year by reducing spending on entertainment, such as drinks, eating out, and movies
- Read 100 books in the next 6 months by reading every day from 9 to 10 AM
Ultimately, the formula I use to write down my goals is this:
Action + Metric + Time + by + How
Your how needs to be the highest leveraging activity you can do to reach your goal. Use the 80/20 rule: what’s the number one activity I can do that will bring the biggest results?
Step 4: The Power of One
You have written all your goals, awesome!
It’s time to cut out all distractions and focus only on ONE goal in each area. Find the most important goal for you right now and work on it.
Don’t choose five, don’t choose three. Just ONE! One habit that you want to develop that helps you make progress toward your goal. Picking too many will cause you to end up doing none of them and get discouraged in the process.
An easy way to acquire goals is to start super small and then ramp it up with time. You don’t expect to go to the gym for the first time and life 150kg, right? (I hope not 😉 )
Want to read more books? Read 5 pages per day. You can continue reading if you want, or stop after those 5 pages. Do it every day.
Run a marathon? Run 10 minutes per day. Again, you can continue running after 10 minutes, or you can call it a day. 10 minutes every single day.
The reason most people fail is they don’t start small: they prefer to run all at once rather than to phase it out.
One goal and one habit per area.
Start small and ramp it up.
Step 5: Make It Challenging
This is an extra step for your personal growth plan.
In step 2 I told you to set realistic goals. In this step, I want you to push your metric of success by roughly 20% more (not a rule here, go with what feels right). Why?
“One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.” – Albert Einstein
Humans are pushed by boundaries and new frontiers. Adjusting your metric to be higher than expected, you will feel uncomfortable, making you run the extra mile to achieve your goals. This is where personal breakthroughs come from.
- If you initially set out to lose 5 kg, go with 6
- Push your $3000 dollars savings goal to $3200
- Try to read 110 books instead of a 100
Don’t make them unrealistic.
Just make them a little harder.
How to Write a Personal Growth Plan
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
By now, you have written your personal growth goals on a piece of paper. If not, grab a piece of paper and a pen and write them down following the step-by-step instructions in the previous section.
For your personal growth plan, you can use any medium you want: pen and paper, and online document, or print something so you can have it on you. My preferred format is a simple Google Sheet (I use Google Sheets for almost anything really) that I add to the bookmarks bar.
Here’s how it works:
- on column A, I write the area of personal growth
- on B, I write my goals using the formula: Action + Metric + Time + by + How. I then break this down into the next columns
- on C, the S.M.A.R.T. goal, which is a little harder to achieve than what I first thought of
- on D, I list my “how”, the number one activity I can do that will bring the biggest results for my goal
- finally, on E, I list my strongest why
Once I write down everything in the spreadsheet, there are two other things I need for my personal growth plan:
- Schedule specific time blocks on the calendar to do my “how”
- Write down milestones to track progress
Scheduling for Your Personal Growth Plan
Find time during your week to work on your personal growth goals. Add your “how” to your calendar and set up notifications to help remind you to do it.
If your goal is to lose weight by exercising every day for 20 minutes, you could schedule 20-minutes blocks just before lunchtime, or immediately after waking up.
If your “how” is to not do something, such as “stop drinking coffee”, set up reminders when you are most likely to do that activity. For coffee, it could be when arriving at the office or after lunch.
Tracking Your Progress
You need to have some sort of measurement to know how well you are doing in your goal.
I like to visualize both daily and weekly progress. For weight loss, I hit the scale every day and add it to my spreadsheet. I then highlight a specific day – for example, Sunday – and calculate the percentage of the goal completed to see my progress week to week.
A simple hack I use to keep motivated is Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain”, which I previously covered in the productivity calculator post.
Here’s how to start using it:
- Know Your Goal: this is the goal of your personal growth plan
- Put Up the Calendar: print a calendar and hang it at your workspace, office or home
- Mark the Days: put a big X on each day you work on your goal. This will create a chain of X’s showing your progress. Focus on growing your chain longer and longer
- Keep the Chain Going: your only job is NOT to break the chain.
After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day.
This productivity hack works because it helps you become more consistent with your most important skill or talent.
Personal Growth Plan Template
To simplify your work, I’ve created a Personal Growth Plan Template that you can use and tweak as you see fit.
You’ll need to make a copy of my Personal Growth Plan and add your own data. Open up the Personal Growth Plan Template here, and then select “File -> Make a Copy” in the upper left.
A personal growth plan is a strategy to become the best version of yourself. It includes goals, how to achieve them, skills to master, and habits to develop.
The 4 categories of your personal growth plan are: intellectual, professional, social, and physical.
Define your personal growth goals by:
- Finding your strongest “why”
- Writing down S.M.A.R.T. goals to know your “what”
- Choosing the highest leveraging activity you can do to reach your goal as your “how”
- Focusing on ONE goal for each area at a time
- Making it challenging by pushing your metric by roughly 20%
You can write your personal growth plan in your preferred medium. The order is:
- the area of personal growth goes in the first column
- write your goals using the formula: Action + Metric + Time + by + How in the second column
- write the S.M.A.R.T. goal on the third
- list your “how” on the fourth
- list your “why” in the fifth column
Find time during your week to work on your personal growth goals. Add your “how” to your calendar and set up notifications to help remind you to do it.
Keep track of your progress on goals by measuring daily and weekly. Use a productivity hack called “Don’t Break the Chain” to keep yourself motivated.
Copy my Personal Growth Plan Template here and tweak it as you see fit.