- Entrepreneurship, Life skills, Problem-solving

What Is Personal Development?

Dear Tristan,

I’m a bit confused as to what personal development means and what is involved with it. How is personal development different than self-help, self-improvement, human potential or personal growth? Can you help clarify this for me?

Thank you,

Jeanette Merlow


Hi Jeanette,

I agree with you. There’s quite a bit of confusion in the field as to what personal development is exactly–and what it is not. I shall do my best at clarifying what personal development is for you.

What is Personal Development?

Personal development is the enhancement of specific life skills which are necessary to facilitate happiness and success in one’s personal life. These life skills are the basic building blocks that form all the success or failures that you have in life. Personal development skills become the foundation from which all your achievements in life flow from and it has a direct relationship with winning and life success.

One key distinction between personal development skills and other skills that you might possess is that personal development skills are used 24 hours each day, whereas you may only be using your programming skills eight hours a day in the capacity of your employment. When you talk to someone, you are using personal development skills. What you decide to eat is personal development. When you investigate your feelings–that’s personal development. Even managing your sleeping habits belongs in personal development.

Personal development skills are life skills that must be honed in order to reap the benefits of a life worth living. The investment of time in developing yourself personally leads to a peak performing individual who lives a more fulfilling life than those who do not choose to develop themselves.

What Personal Development is Not

Personal development does not involve diagnosing or treating an illness or injury. There seems to be a general confusion in the personal development field concerning what it is and what it is not and since there are so many books at bookstores and libraries that miscatagorize mental illness books into the self-improvement section of the store, let me clarify that point. A key characteristic of someone who wants to practice personal development is that they are generally healthy and normal individuals who are able and willing to move forward in their lives. In other words, they want to become peak-performing individuals.

On the other hand, a person who is not able or willing to move forward in their life and pursue happiness and life success due to past illness, traumas or injuries that prevent them from doing so are in need of treatment or therapy to aid in their recovery. These are individuals who are not performing normally and their goal is to be performing at a normal capacity. In other words, they want to recover.

Personal Development’s Many Other Faces

In the scope of my own coaching practice, I view personal development, self-improvement, and personal growth as all the same thing. I view self-help as slightly different than personal development in that self-help topics tend to be less focused on personal growth and more on remedying a certain condition, hence, that is why there are many books in the self-help sections of bookstores and libraries that focus on treatment of problems, rather than on creating peak performance.

The Ten Components of Personal Development

The definition of personal development will vary from person to person, but through my experience as a personal development coach and former police officer, I’ve discovered that there are in fact ten key areas that comprise an individual’s peak performance. These areas of focus are:

  1. Life Purpose: Having a life purpose gives meaning to all the activities and goals that you set for your entire life. We all know how to use up the time that we have in life, but unless we give meaning to those activities that occupy our time, then our lives will utterly be without meaning.

Subsections of Life Purpose Include:

    • Legacy
    • Values
    • Passions
    • Talents
    • Spirituality
    1. Goal-Setting: Goals are the stepping stones that allow you to reach your legacy in life. Any successful person out there knows that In order to achieve personal success in life, you must challenge and stretch yourself to accomplish more than your status-quo. Goal-setting is a powerful success skill that enables you to win in the game of life.

    Subsections of Goal-Setting Include:

      • Visualization
      • Strategic planning
      1. Productivity: The problem that many people make when they set goals is that they start cutting corners to get what they want and they end up bitter and discouraged in the end because goal-attainment doesn’t work that way. It’s like someone who wants to stand on the podium and receive a gold medal in the Olympics without putting in the time to train. While we can’t take shortcuts to reach our goal, we can shorten the time it takes to reach those goals by being more productive. Successful people are masters of productivity and it’s no mistake that they are able to achieve more in less time than most people out there. Learning how to be productive and making the best use of the time that you have is an important part of personal development.

      Subsections of Productivity Include:

        • Time Management
        • Organization
        • Prioritizing
        • Delegating
        • Getting things done
        1. Motivation: If goals are the path towards personal success, then motivation is the fuel to get you there. Motivation is a necessary aspect of personal development because nearly all of us know that a lack of motivation considerably hinders our goal attainment process. Learning how to master your motivation can help you reach your success faster than you ever thought possible.

        Subsections of Motivation Include:

          • Inspiration
          • Role-models
          • Accountability partners
          • Pain-pleasure principles
          1. Self-Awareness: Emotions can either empower or hinder our performance. Emotions act as a thermometer that tells us the quality of experience that we are living. Therefore it is necessary to not only understand our emotions, but also to learn how to use them effectively. Self-awareness involves intrapersonal communication, which is the ability for you to really communicate with yourself and identify your inner wants and your needs.

          Subsections of Self-Awareness Include:

            • Emotional intelligence
            • Responsibility
            • Anger management
            • Unconditional Love
            • Intuition
            1. Marketing: No matter how good you are at a given skill or how much you want to contribute to others, none it will matter if people don’t know about it. All the enormously successful people throughout history knew how to market themselves and it’s crucial for everyday life. If you are married or want to be someday, that involves marketing YOU. If you have ever gone through a job interview, then you were using marketing skills. Those who know how to market themselves or their products simply are afforded more luxuries than those who do not know how to market themselves, regardless of actual competency or skill levels by the mere fact that people are aware of them.

            Subsections of Marketing Include:

              • Marketing YOU
              • Marketing services or products
              • Networking
              1. Physical Health: Your body is the vehicle that carries your thoughts and intentions into the real world. Therefore, you want to have a vehicle that is well-maintained and performing without problems. Keeping your body working optimally includes eating right, exercising and watching your stress levels.

              Subsections of Optimal Health Include:

                • Fitness
                • Diet
                • Sleep
                • Stress
                1. Relationships: The definition of synergy is the coming together of two or more entities with the purpose of creating more together than any one of them could have created on their own. All superior relationships in your life should involve synergy and creating synergy with other people involves the skills of empathy and communication. Life success is never a one-person project. It involves many people and it involves synergy.

                Subsections of Relationships Include:

                  • Empathy
                  • Communication skills
                  • Negotiation
                  • Conflict resolution
                  • Interpreting body language
                  1. Leadership: Every successful person who has ever lived has been a leader in their respective fields. A leader is one who paves the way for others to follow and has the courage to stand out among the pack. A leader is a change agent and is flexible enough to roll with the unexpected events that come their way. They show others the path when that path is unclear.

                  Subsections of Leadership Include:

                    • Courage
                    • Decision-making
                    • Problem-solving
                    • Responsibility
                    1. Money Management: In order for personal success to happen, you have to reach financial freedom, which is the point at which you make enough money that you don’t have to worry about money. Money is energy and you need to learn how to manage that energy for optimal personal development

                    Subsections of Money Management Include:

                      • Entrepreneurship
                      • Delivering value
                      • Investing
                      • Money management

                      I hope that clarifies personal development for you.

                      For Passion and Purpose,


                      Copyright © 2007 Tristan Loo. All rights reserved.