Among other things, personal development may include the following activities:
- Improving self-awareness
- Improving self-knowledge
- Improving skills and/or learning new ones
- Building or renewing identity/self-esteem
- Developing strengths or talents
- Improving a career
- Identifying or improving potential
- Building employability or (alternatively) human capital
- Enhancing lifestyle and/or the quality of life and time-management
- Improving health
- improving wealth or social status
- Fulfilling aspirations
- Initiating a life enterprise
- Defining and executing personal development plans (PDPs)
- Improving social relations or emotional intelligence
- spiritual identity development and recognition
Personal development can also include developing other people’s skills and personality. This may take place through roles such as those of a teacher or mentor, either through a personal competency (such as the alleged skill of certain managers in developing the potential of employees) or through a professional service (such as providing training, assessment or coaching).
Beyond improving oneself and developing others, “personal development” labels a field of practice and research:
- As a field of practice, personal development includes personal-development methods, learning programs, assessment systems, tools, and techniques.
- As a field of research, personal-development topics appear in psychology journals, education research, management journals and books, and human-development economics.
Any sort of development — whether economic, political, biological, organisational or personal—requires a framework if one wishes to know whether a change has actually occurred. In the case of personal development, an individual often functions as the primary judge of improvement or of regression, but validation of objective improvement requires assessment using standard criteria.
Personal-development frameworks may include:
- Goals or benchmarks that define the end-points
- Strategies or plans for reaching goals
- Measurement and assessment of progress, levels or stages that define milestones along a development path
- A feedback system to provide information on changes
As an industry
Personal development as an industry has several business-relationship formats of operating. The main ways are business-to-consumer and business-to-business.[ However, two newer ways have emerged: consumer-to-business and consumer-to-consumer.[
The business-to-consumer market involves selling books, courses and techniques to individuals, such as:
- Newly-invented offerings in fields such as:
- memory training
- beauty enhancement
- large-group awareness training
- weight loss
- Traditional practices such as:
- martial arts
- initiation ceremonies
Some programs deliver their content online. Many include tools sold with a program, such as motivational books for self-help, recipes for weight-loss or technical manuals for yoga and martial-arts programs.
A partial list of personal development offerings on the business-to-individual market might include:
- motivational speaking
- e-Learning programs
- individual counseling
- life coaching
- Time-management techniques
Some consulting firms specialize in personal development but as of 2009 generalist firms operating in the fields of human resources, recruitment and organizational strategy have entered what they perceive as a growing market, not to mention smaller firms and self-employed professionals who provide consulting, training and coaching.
Major religions – such as the Abrahamic and Indian religions – as well as New Age philosophies have used practices such as prayer, music, dance, singing, chanting, poetry, writing, sports and martial arts. These practices have various functions, such as health or aesthetic satisfaction, but they may also link[ to “final goals” of personal development such as discovering the meaning of life or living the good life (compare philosophy).
Michel Foucault describes in Care of the Self the techniques of epimelia used in ancient Greece and Rome, which included dieting, exercise, sexual abstinence, contemplation, prayer and confession—some of which also became important practices within different branches of Christianity.
“Yi”Wushu and T’ai chi ch’uan utilise traditional Chinese techniques, including breathing and energy exercises, meditation, martial arts, as well as practices linked to traditional Chinese medicine, such as dieting, massage and acupuncture.
Two individual ancient philosophers: Aristotle and the Western Tradition and Confucius and the Eastern Tradition stand out as major sources  of what has become personal development in the 21st century, representing a Western tradition and an East Asian tradition. Elsewhere anonymous founders of schools of self-development appear endemic – note the traditions of the Indian sub-continent in this regard.
Aristotle and the Western tradition
The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BCE – 322 BCE) wrote Nicomachean Ethics, in which he defined personal development as a category of phronesis or practical wisdom, where the practice of virtues (arête) leads to eudaimonia, commonly translated as “happiness” but more accurately understood as “human flourishing” or “living well”. Aristotle continues to influence the Western concept of personal development to this day, particularly in the economics of human development and in positive psychology.
Confucius and the East Asian tradition
In Chinese tradition, Confucius (around 551 BCE – 479 BCE) founded an ongoing philosophy. His ideas continue to influence family values, education and management in China and East Asia. In his Great Learning Confucius wrote:
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
Psychology became linked to personal development in the early 20th century starting with Alfred Adler (1870–1937) and Carl Jung (1875–1961).
Adler refused to limit psychology to analysis, making the important point that aspirations look forward and do not limit themselves to unconscious drives or to childhood experiences. He also originated the concepts of lifestyle (1929—he defined “lifestyle” as an individual’s characteristic approach to life, in facing problems) and of self image,[ a concept that influenced management under the heading of work-life balance.
Carl Gustav Jung made contributions to personal development with his concept of individuation, which he saw as the drive of the individual to achieve the wholeness and balance of the Self.
Daniel Levinson (1920–1994) developed Jung’s early concept of “life stages” and included a sociological perspective. Levinson proposed that personal development comes under the influence—throughout life—of aspirations, which he called “the Dream”:
Whatever the nature of his Dream, a young man has the developmental task of giving it greater definition and finding ways to live it out. It makes a great difference in his growth whether his initial life structure is consonant with and infused by the Dream, or opposed to it. If the Dream remains unconnected to his life it may simply die, and with it his sense of aliveness and purpose.
Research on success in reaching goals, as undertaken by Albert Bandura (born 1925), suggested that self-efficacy best explains why people with the same level of knowledge and skills get very different results. According to Bandura self-confidence functions as a powerful predictor of success because:
- it makes you expect to succeed
- it allows you take risks and set challenging goals
- it helps you keep trying if at first you don’t succeed
- it helps you control emotions and fears when the going gets rough
In 1998 Martin Seligman won election to a one-year term as President of the American Psychological Association and proposed a new focus: on healthy individuals[ rather than on pathology (he created the “positive psychology” current)
We have discovered that there is a set of human strengths that are the most likely buffers against mental illness: courage, optimism, interpersonal skill, work ethic, hope, honesty and perseverance. Much of the task of prevention will be to create a science of human strength whose mission will be to foster these virtues in young people.
During the 1960s a large increase in the number of students on American campuses led to research on the personal development needs of undergraduate students. Arthur Chickering defined seven vectors of personal development for young adults during their undergraduate years:
- developing competence
- managing emotions
- achieving autonomy and interdependence
- developing mature interpersonal relationships
- establishing identity
- developing purpose
- developing integrity
In the UK, personal development took a central place in university policy[ in 1997 when the Dearing Report declared that universities should go beyond academic teaching to provide students with personal development.[ In 2001 a Quality Assessment Agency for UK universities produced guidelines for universities to enhance personal development as:
* a structured and supported process undertaken by an individual to reflect upon their own learning, performance and/or achievement and to plan for their personal, educational and career development;
* objectives related explicitly to student development; to improve the capacity of students to understand what and how they are learning, and to review, plan and take responsibility for their own learning
In the 1990s, business schools began to set up specific personal-development programs for leadership and career orientation and in 1998 the European Foundation for Management Development set up the EQUIS accreditation system which specified that personal development must form part of the learning process through internships, working on team projects and going abroad for work or exchange programs.[
The first personal development certification required for business school graduation originated in 2002 as a partnership between Metizo, a personal-development consulting firm, and the Euromed Management School in Marseilles: students must not only complete assignments but also demonstrate self-awareness and achievement of personal-development competencies.
As an academic department, personal development as a specific discipline is usually associated with business schools.[ As an area of research, personal development draws on links to other academic disciplines:
- education for questions of learning and assessment
- psychology for motivation and personality
- sociology for identity and social networks
- economics for human capital and economic value
- philosophy for ethics and self-reflection
Abraham Maslow (1908–1970), proposed a hierarchy of needs with self actualization at the top, defined as:
… the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.
Since Maslow himself believed that only a small minority of people self-actualize—he estimated one percent—his hierarchy of needs had the consequence that organizations came to regard self-actualization or personal development as occurring at the top of the organizational pyramid, while job security and good working conditions would fulfill the needs of the mass of employees.[
As organizations and labor markets became more global, responsibility for development shifted from the company to the individual. In 1999 management thinker Peter Drucker wrote in the Harvard Business Review:
We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: if you’ve got ambition and smarts, you can rise to the top of your chosen profession, regardless of where you started out. But with opportunity comes responsibility. Companies today aren’t managing their employees’ careers; knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers. It’s up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years.
Management professors Sumantra Ghoshal of the London Business School and Christopher Bartlett of the Harvard Business School wrote in 1997 that companies must manage people individually and establish a new work contract. On the one hand the company must allegedly recognize that personal development creates economic value: “market performance flows not from the omnipotent wisdom of top managers but from the initiative, creativity and skills of all employees”.
On the other hand, employees should recognize that their work includes personal development and “… embrace the invigorating force of continuous learning and personal development”.
The 1997 publication of Ghoshal’s and Bartlett’s Individualized Corporation corresponded to a change in career development from a system of predefined paths defined by companies, to a strategy defined by the individual and matched to the needs of organizations in an open landscape of possibilities.[ Another contribution to the study of career development came with the recognition that women’s careers show specific personal needs and different development paths from men. The 2007 study of women’s careers by Sylvia Ann Hewlett Off-Ramps and On-Ramps had a major impact on the way companies view careers.[ Further work on the career as a personal development process came from study by Herminia Ibarra in her Working Identity on the relationship with career change and identity change, indicating that priorities of work and lifestyle continually develop through life.
Personal development programs in companies fall into two categories: the provision of employee benefits and the fostering of development strategies.
Employee surveys may help organizations find out personal-development needs, preferences and problems, and they use the results to design benefits programs.[ Typical programs in this category include:
- work-life balance
- time management
- stress management
- health programs
As an investment, personal development programs have the goal of increasing human capital or improving productivity, innovation or quality. Proponents actually see such programs not as a cost but as an investment with results linked to an organization’s strategic development goals. Employees gain access to these investment-oriented programs by selection according to the value and future potential of the employee, usually defined in a talent management architecture including populations such as new hires, perceived high-potential employees, perceived key employees, sales staff, research staff and perceived future leaders.[ Organizations may also offer other (non-investment-oriented) programs to many or even all employees. Personal development also forms an element in management tools such as personal development planning, assessing one’s level of ability using a competency grid, or getting feedback from a 360 questionnaire filled in by colleagues at different levels in the organization.
A common criticism surrounding personal development programs is that they are often treated as an arbitrary performance management tool to pay lip service to, but ultimately ignored. As such, many companies have decided to replace personal development programs with SMART Personal Development Objectives, which are regularly reviewed and updated. Personal Development Objectives help employees achieve career goals and improve overall performance.
Scholars have targeted self-help claims as misleading and incorrect. In 2005, Steve Salerno portrayed the American self-help movement—he uses the acronym SHAM: The Self-Help and Actualization Movement—not only as ineffective in achieving its goals but also as socially harmful. ‘Salerno says that 80 percent of self-help and motivational customers are repeat customers and they keep coming back whether the program worked for them or not’.[ Others similarly point out that with self-help books ‘supply increases the demand…The more people read them, the more they think they need them…more like an addiction than an alliance’.[ Self-help writers have been described as working ‘in the area of the ideological, the imagined, the narrativized….although a veneer of scientism permeates the[ir] work, there is also an underlying armature of moralizing’.
- “What is Personal Development”. Skills You Need.
- Bob Aubrey, Managing Your Aspirations: Developing Personal Enterprise in the Global Workplace McGraw-Hill 2010 ISBN978-0-07-131178-6, page 9
- Bob Aubrey, Measure of Man: leading human development McGraw-Hill 2016 ISBN978-9-814-66064-8, page 15
- Some sources recognize personal development as an “industry”: see for example Cullen, John G. (2009). “How to sell your soul and still get into Heaven: Steven Covey’s epiphany-inducing technology of effective selfhood”. Human Relations. SAGE Publications. 62(8): 1231–1254. doi:10.1177/0018726709334493. ISSN0018-7267. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
The growth of the personal development industry and its gurus continues to be resisted across a number of genres.and Grant, Anthony M.; Blythe O’Hara (November 2006). “The self-presentation of commercial Australian life coaching schools: Cause for concern?”(PDF). International Coaching Psychology Review. Leicester: The British Psychological Society. 1 (2): 21–33 . ISSN1750-2764. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
[…] much of the commercial life coaching and personal development industry is grounded more on hyperbole and rhetoric than solid behavioural science (Grant, 2001) […]and Grant, Anthony M.; Michael J. Cavanagh (December 2007). “Evidence-based coaching: Flourishing or languishing?”. Australian Psychologist. Australian Psychological Society. 42 (4): 239–254. doi:10.1080/00050060701648175. ISSN1742-9544. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
To flourish, coaching psychology needs to remain clearly differentiated from the frequently sensationalistic and pseudoscientific facets of the personal development industry while at the same time engaging in the development of the wider coaching industry.
- Companies such as PDI, DDI, Metizo, and FranklinCoveyexemplify international personal-development firms working with companies for consulting, assessment and training.
- Human-resources firms such as Hewitt, Mercer, Watson Wyatt Worldwide, the Hay Group; McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group offer consulting in talent-development, and Korn/Ferry offers executive coaching.
- Foucault, Michel, ed. (1986). Care of the Self. 2. Random House.Translated from the French Le Souci de Soi editions Gallimard 1984. Part Two of Foucault’s book describes the technique of caring for the soul falling in the category of epimeleia from the Greek to the classic Roman period and on into the early stages of the age of Christianity.
- Jamoukha, Kholoud. “Kholoud Jamoukha Personal Growth”.
- Ventegodt, Søren; Joav Merrick; Niels Jørgen Andersen (Oct 2003). “Quality of Life Theory III. Maslow Revisited”. TheScientificWorldJournal. Finland: Corpus Alienum Oy. 3 (3): 1050–1057. doi:10.1100/tsw.2003.84. ISSN1537-744X. PMC5974881. PMID14570995.
In ancient India people talked about reaching the level of existence called ‘sat-sit-ananda’: beingness, wisdom and happiness as one.
- Nichomachean Ethics, translated by W.D.Ross, Basic Works of Aristotle, section 1142. Online in “The Internet Classics Archive of MIT”: http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/nicomachaen.html
- Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, Cambridge University Press, discusses why the English word happiness does not describe Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia, pages 1–6
- Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen identifies economic development with Aristotle’s concepts of individual development in his co-authored book written with Aristotle scholar Nussbaum: Nussbaum, Martha; Sen, Amartya, eds. (1993). The Quality of Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN978-0-19-828395-9.; as well as in his general book published a year after receiving the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998: Sen, Amartya (1999). Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Daniel Seligman explicitly identifies the goals of positive psychology with Aristotle’s idea of the “Good Life” and eudaimoniain Seligman, Martin E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.New York: Free Press. ISBN0-7432-2297-0 (Paperback edition, Free Press, 2004, ISBN0-7432-2298-9).
- Marshall, Chris. Hack your brain: Rapid way to change.
- Confucius, Great Learning, translated by James Legge. Provided online in The Internet Classics Archive of MIT.
- Heinz Ansbacher and Rowena R Ansbacher (1964) Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, Basic Books 1956. See especially chapter 3 on Finalism and Fiction and chapter 7 on the Style of Life.
- Jung saw individuation as a process of psychological differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality. C.G. Jung. Psychological Types. Collected Works, Vol.6., par. 757)
- Daniel Levinson, Seasons of a Man’s Life, Ballantine Press, 1978, page 91-92
- Albert Bandura (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman
- Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 1998, page 184.
- Martin Seligman, “Building Human Strength: Psychology’s Forgotten Mission” VOLUME 29, NUMBER 1 – January 1998
- See for example the figures for Cuba: “Educación Superior”. Cuban Statistics and Related Publications. Centro de Estudios de Población y Desarrollo de la Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- Arthur Chickering, Education and Identity (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1969); second edition updated with Linda Reisser, published in 1993 by Jossey-Bass.
- The Dearing Report of 1997:see the Leeds University website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/ncihe/
- These definitions and guidelines appear on the UK Academy of Higher Education website: “Archived copy”.
- A description and requirements for Metizo’s personal development certifications can be found on the company’s website: www.metizo.com
- The components of Euromed Management School’s personal development programs appear on the school’s website “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2009-02-18. Retrieved 2009-02-18..
- Abraham Maslow “A Theory of Human Motivation” originally published in the 1943 Psychological Review, number 50, page 838. Maslow, A. H. (1996). Higher
- Maslow, A. H. (1996). Higher motivation and the new psychology. In E. Hoffman (Ed.), Future visions: The unpublished papers of Abraham Maslow. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage, page 89
- Peter F. Drucker, “Managing Oneself”, Best of HBR 1999.
- Ghoshal, Sumantra; Bartlett, Christopher A. (1997) The Individualized Corporation: A Fundamentally New Approach to Management, HarperCollins, page 286
- Hewlett, Sylvia Ann (2007), Off-Ramps and On-Ramps, Harvard Business School Press. This book shows how women have started to change the traditional career path and how companies adapt to career/lifestyle issues for men as well as for women.
- Ibarra, Herminia (2003). “2”. Working identity : unconventional strategies for reinventing your career. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. p. 199. ISBN978-1-57851-778-7. Ibarra discusses career-change based on a process moving from possible selves to “anchoring” a new professional identity.
- “What Are Personal Development Objectives? | Clear Review”. Clear Review. 2016-12-12. Retrieved 2017-11-10.
- Lennart J. Davis. “Essence of sex: addiction as disability”. In Robert McRuer, Anna Mollow (ed.). Sex and Disability. p. 324.
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