Improving yourself is a lifelong quest. But if you’re just at the beginning of your journey, it can be tough to know how to get started. 

We’re here to help you create your own personal development plan, including recommendations for the best self-improvement books and tips to get you started on your path to reaching your full potential.

What Is Personal Development?

Personal development is, in short, the process of improving yourself. This could mean developing new skills, adopting new habits, or setting goals for certain areas of your personal or professional life. Maybe you’d like to gain more self-confidence by overcoming limiting beliefs and imposter syndrome. Or perhaps you want to learn how to communicate better to strengthen your work relationships.

No matter what, the root of these personal development goals is typically to reach your full potential, achieve your goals, and create a better life. 

But, personal development is, well, personal. Your reasons for improving yourself don’t need to fit a certain mold. 

What Are the Typical Personal Development Skills?

There really are no “typical” personal development skills, since everyone’s personal development goals are different. 

But generally speaking, self-development skills range anywhere from technical competencies (for example, personal finance and budgeting) to softer, less tangible skills (like becoming more mindful or resilient).

Self-development might include skills you’ve learned before but could use a refresher on—like getting ready for a job search for the first time in a while—or it could mean diving in to an entirely new area, such as beginning a yoga practice. 

Again, the skills that are most relevant to you will depend on your unique objectives. Even so, here are a few common personal development skills for some inspiration: 

  • Creativity
  • Productivity and time management
  • Empathy
  • Mindfulness
  • Learning from failure

10 Well-Known Personal Development Books

A reading list of the best self-help books might change the way you think about personal development and set you on the path to improvement. 

(Oh, and if the thought of sitting down with a stack of personal development books doesn’t excite you, know that most of these books have audio versions—and some of the authors have podcasts, too!) 

  1. You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero
  2. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  3. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
  4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
  5. Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear
  6. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  7. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  8. Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar
  9. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
  10. The Science of Getting Started by Patrick King

7 Keys to Personal Development

Reading sparks inspiration and motivation. But, when you’re ready to actually get started on your own personal development, use these strategies to pursue your self-improvement goals. 

1. Remember That Your Journey Is Your Own

It’s easy to get sucked into comparing ourselves to others, but keep in mind that all successful people started somewhere—and that personal growth is a personal journey. Practicing gratitude by jotting down notes in a gratitude journal or starting an achievement log to track your successes can be a helpful way to counter comparison insecurities.

2. Create a Vision of Where You Want to Be 

Personal development can feel overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to have a specific idea of what you’re working toward. To narrow your focus, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you need for your career to be more fulfilling?
  • What types of relationships do you want (or not want)?
  • What hobbies or skills do you want to develop?
  • What aspects of your life would you like to be different? 

Then, break down what you want so you can understand the why behind the act of pursuing new skills. “For each thing you really really want to do. Write down three reasons why you want to do it. For each reason, ask why and write down the answers,” says Skillshare instructor Rich Armstrong.

3. Determine One Skill to Work on Right Now

Once you have a list of what you want to accomplish, you may have a long list of skills to acquire. To create a personal development plan that you can stick to without feeling overwhelmed, try prioritizing just one skill at a time.

Consider this question from Skillshare instructor and author Greg McKeown:

What is something essential in your life that you’re under-investing in?

Write your answer down, and whatever it is—personal, professional, or just fun—prioritize it. This will keep you focused on your ultimate goal and reinforce why you’re doing this work.

4. Set “SMART” Goals

Setting goals that are aligned with the SMART principles—specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound—is a well-known framework to help you get specific on what you want to achieve, monitor your progress, and see results faster. See if you can translate your goals into a SMART format, and reflect on them weekly or monthly to ensure you’re making progress.

Looking for some personal goals examples? Here’s one that uses the SMART framework: 

Nurture my personal relationships this month by checking in with at least three friends each week through a text message, phone call, or written card. 

Yasmine Cheyenne journals for personal development
Yasmine Cheyenne journals in her Skillshare Original class

5. Reflect on Your Personal Development Journey

Writing in a journal daily or weekly can help you honestly reflect on your past actions, habits, and progress. Research has shown that journaling helps us focus better, contemplate our thoughts and feelings, and keep our memory sharp—all useful skills when you’re working toward creating a better life. 

6. Get a Mentor or Accountability Partner

We could all use some accountability to meet our goals! Working with a mentor or accountability partner gives you a safe space to receive feedback and encouraging nudges.

McKeown advises taking it one step further with a social contract complete with goals and consequences. “You write out what it is you want to focus on, what it is you want to eliminate, how you intend to do that, what your time period is, and you actually write this up,” he says.

Then, sign the contract and assign a consequence that you can measure—like paying your friend $20 if you don’t hit your goal.

Another idea to make personal development more collaborative? Form a book club with friends to read self-improvement books and share your takeaways with each other. 

7. Start With Small Steps

Personal development takes time. Embrace that this process may take longer than you initially think and start with small steps that you can achieve. 

As Armstrong puts it: “If you miss a day, don’t worry. Every single day is an opportunity to start. [If] you feel you need to double up today or you feel guilty about missing a day, remember to start small from where you are right now.” 

Get Started on Your Personal Development Journey

Drawing for Personal Growth: 5 Exercises for Self-Discovery

Written by:

Kaitlyn Arford