What are Personal Development Goals?

A person sitting on a bench in a park, with a notebook and pen in hand. They are looking deep in thought, as they reflect on their personal development goals. The background shows a beautiful sunset, with the sky painted in shades of orange and pink. The person looks determined, with a sense of purpose, ready to take the steps necessary to improve themselves and reach their full potential. The image captures the idea of taking the time to reflect on oneself and setting goals for personal growth and development.

You want to be a better person, and you’re willing to work for it. You just aren’t sure how to go about it. Maybe someone has given you wise advice to set personal development goals.

That’s great, but what are personal development goals?

Like any goal, a personal development goal is something you want to accomplish. In this case, the goal centers on you — who you want to be and what you want to achieve. It’s a goal designed to help you improve yourself in one or more ways based on a standard that you create for yourself.

You can’t make a plan for the future, though, without understanding who you are and what you value. To help you set personal development goals, take a look at these must-ask questions. The answers will help you develop goals that make sense for you.

Who Do I Want to Be?

When setting personal development goals, your first step is identifying the kind of person you want to be. Then, you can design goals that bring you closer to being that person.

Your personal development starts within, but it extends to the world around you. Your inner development will affect how you interact with the world and how others see you. As you think about who you want to be, ask yourself:

  • What qualities do I want to exhibit in the world?
  • What experiences do I want to have in the world?
  • How do I want to accept the world?

Once you’ve identified the kind of person you want to be, you can start digging into specific topics for your personal development goals.

What’s My Idea of a Life Well Lived?

A goal is your plan of action for experiencing something that you want to have as a part of your life. To have those experiences, you may want to change some things about yourself. That’s where personal development goals come in. They help you work toward being a person who has those experiences.

For me, a well-lived life means that I’m in charge of my time. I have meaningful relationships that bring me joy and lots of love and connection. I feel whole and complete. My ideal life also includes a fair amount of play, plenty of time for thinking about the world, and a whole lot of personal growth.

My personal development goals help me accomplish those things more and more. Maybe that means I want to be more organized so that I can free up time and space for what’s most important to me. If so, I had better develop goals for improving my personal organization.

You can use a similar strategy to help you come up with personal goals. First, make a list of what experiences you want to have in life. Then, identify what’s holding you back from achieving those experiences. Finally, develop goals that will allow you to break through the obstacles.

A person wondering who they want to be.

What are My Roles in Life?

You aren’t a bland, boring, one-note person. You play many different roles in your life.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a husband. I’m a dog daddy. I’m also a friend, a business leader, and a walker. My personal development goals get to address these various areas of my life.

With walking, for instance, I already know that I do it because I enjoy it. But if I want to fully develop this area of my life, I’d do well to check in and really think about this habit of mine. I get to spend time developing my own definition of delightful walking. That way, I can optimize the experience and be intentional about who I am as a walker. Otherwise, I risk purposeless walking or walking that fits someone else’s idea of the effective way to do things.

Now, go through this sort of exercise for yourself. Jot down some notes about what positions you play in your life. Next, brainstorm ways that you could more fully embrace that aspect of who you are. Use your ideas as the foundation for one or more of your personal development goals.

What Dimensions are Most Important to Me?

Human existence is so complex. There are so many facets to each of our lives. I like to think of them as different dimensions.
The various dimensions include:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual
  • Professional
  • Financial
  • Social
  • Romantic
  • Recreational
  • Environmental

You may think of others that you’d add as well. Whichever you include on your list, your task is to identify the ones that are most important to you. Then, you can craft goals that focus on those areas.

Your top priorities may change during different seasons of your life. Not long ago, I decided that I needed to focus more on my physical dimension. I’d returned from my travels to Greece, and I just wasn’t liking the way that my body was looking and feeling. I wanted to feel more spry and capable. So what did I do? I set a personal development goal in that area.

Around that time, I got a staff. In the evenings, I’d spin the staff, and that activity helped me work toward my fitness goals. It became something that I really looked forward to doing each day.

Notice, I didn’t just think, “It sure would be nice to get fit.” Rather, I went out and bought a tool that I could use — one that I’d actually enjoy. I kept it in an accessible spot. By doing so, I created an environment in which I had set myself up for success.

What Actions Can I Take?

Achieving your goals requires action. With my goal for physical fitness, I had to get a staff, I had to learn how to spin it, and I had to devote time to practicing the craft each night.

Keep this in mind as you come up with your personal development goals. If your goals aren’t actionable, how can you work toward them?

The opposite of an action goal is an outcome goal. Outcome goals don’t have a way that you can guarantee them. Action goals, on the other hand, are things that are within your own control.

Picture this: You determine that you want to focus on yourself as a professional — your career dimension — and you’re going to do it by growing your network. The more people you can talk to, the more connections you’ll develop.

Here are two similar goals you could consider:

Outcome goal: I’m going to have conversations with 100 people.

Action goal: I’m going to ask 100 people to talk to me.

The first option is an outcome goal because it depends on circumstances beyond your control. You can’t force anyone to engage in a conversation with you. If they turn you down, it impedes your progress. (Okay, I suppose you could doggedly stick with it until 100 people really do take you up on your offer. Even still, you lose control over the process because the timeline is out of your hands.)

The second is an action goal because it’s totally up to you. Whether you ask 100 people depends on your own actions — the calls you make and the emails you send. If you are determined to do it, you can accomplish this personal goal within a week.

Whenever possible, opt for action goals over outcome goals. You can shoot for big things, but you can’t control how many people say yes to you. You can’t control how much money lands in your bank account. Those outcomes are outside of your physical body so they depend on what other people say and do.

Whenever possible, focus your attention on personal development goals related to your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions. Decide you’re going to call 100 people. Make the choice to buy a staff and carve out time for spinning it. Determine that you’re going to repeat an affirmation or practice a thought each day. Those are things that are entirely within your control.

If you absolutely must set outcome goals, do it the effective way. That means asking yourself what actions you could take to make your desired outcome inevitable. It’s a powerful shift that returns the power to your hands.

And when you’re in control of your goals, one step at a time, you will turn yourself into the person you want to be.

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