Update from the author: we’ve updated the information about writing a rock-solid growth plans to be current for 2023.
How to Write a Rock-Solid Self Growth Plan in 5 Easy Steps
Self growth comes in many forms. There’s always room for improvement in mental health, social abilities, emotional regulation, physical condition, and any number of other life skills. Regardless of the areas in which you want to improve, a key to reaching your goals both personally and professionally is to develop a robust personal growth plan, that incorporates daily, weekly, or even yearly commitments.
While it’s not complicated to design, the real challenge of personal growth comes from sticking to a plan. Here we’re going to talk about how to improve your strategy with a detailed personal growth plan, why you need to, and some best practices to maximize your chances of success. Let’s get started!
A Personal Growth Strategy
Growth is an important part of living your life to the fullest. Whatever your goals are, working hard is only one element to success, and not always even the most important.
Professional growth and career development play a huge role in many people’s lives, but it often neglects the fundamentals that make those lives worth living. Personal growth, on the other hand, provides opportunities for a much deeper sense of well-being, and a skillset that cascades a wealth of positive effects into your professional life too.
A personal growth strategy combines hard work and planning with self-reflection, strategizing, and incremental changes to invest in your future and build upon previous efforts.
With a commitment to self-improvement, you’ll find that everything in your life comes together more neatly, and every day provides you with opportunities to learn and grow as a person.
Writing a Self Growth Plan
A self-growth plan can be broken down into five core stages. Each of these stages can be further sub-divided and addressed in as much detail as you want to. Remember, this is a long-term strategy that will take time and incremental steps to complete.
In many cases, there really is no end to self-growth. Only the specific targets will change; with a tried and tested method, a powerful self growth plan will take you through the rest of your life.
The core steps are as follows:
There can be a lot of overlap in these categories, and it isn’t always possible to tackle them in order, but these are the foundational elements of designing a self growth plan. Let’s look into each one in more detail.
Step 1: Preparation
Self growth requires honesty and self-awareness. In the preparation stage, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time with yourself, deciding what you want to get out of it. If you want to become both a doctor and an athlete, for example, chances are you’re going to have to pick one over the other, so be straight up with who you are and what you’re capable of.
Preparation is essential to the success of your entire self growth plan; it’s going to mean the difference between sticking to it and quitting down the line, so don’t rush through this stage. Read through the following stages and factor those future situations into your plan at the start.
Different goals require different durations to accomplish. Are you looking to plan the next month or the next five years? If you have both short and long-term goals, this is where you identify them and isolate the most important ones. Then, you see if they will fit together with your schedule.
The preparation stage of planning anything is always going to revolve around identifying goals. But with a self growth plan, you also need to identify reasons. Self improvement is a goal in and of itself, but you may feel like there’s more to it than that, and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Identify where you’re looking to improve upon a weakness or a strength. Do you want to do good things more, or do bad things less?
With a financial plan, the reasons are simple, economic, and quantifiable. With a self growth plan, the reasons are often less tangible, and this is something you have to factor into account for the next stage: Design.
Step 2: Design
Once you’ve established your goals and your reasons and you’re starting to think about how to go about it,
A nifty little trick to efficient planning of personal development is to try and identify complementary goals. Let’s say, for example, you want to be more outgoing and social, and you also want to complete a marathon. You could divide those tasks up into daily morning runs and evening networking sessions at events. However, a more efficient alternative might be to join a running club and combine the two practices; freeing up time for work on other goals.
The more you can combine, the more efficient you’ll be using your time, but take into account that the more combined tasks you take on, the more you lose from skipping or missing one. You’ll have to find an intuitive balance based on how well you know yourself and your specific conditions.
At this stage, you’ll be working on timeframes, scheduling, and routines. Design the program with the review stages in mind, because without a solid commitment to giving it a fair try, you’ll be tempted to adjust the rules too much as you go along, and it’s less likely it becomes that you’ll adhere to any of the modules you’ve set for yourself for long enough to give them a fair try.
Remember that each task in your self growth plan needs to be broken up into small, incremental sub-targets to accomplish. While long-term goals are usually qualitative – i.e., you want to be able to play the solo from Stairway by next Christmas – the journey to that goal is better broken up into quantitative steps, such as 30 mins of practice, four days a week.
The smaller the task, the less you’ll be able to recognize your progress, so just setting goals of putting in the hours is a great way to stay motivated. From here, you’ll also want to design the program with rewards for hitting these small targets.
This is where the rules will come into play.
Step 3: The Rules
You’ve got your short and long-term goals, you’ve got time frames, and now you’ve scheduled your days and weeks ahead. You should by now have already set the first rule: That you will stick to your plan for at least the review period. But there are a lot of other rules to consider.
As you progress through your self growth plan, there will be issues that arise. There will be days you don’t want to push through, days when a better option arises, or days when you’re stuck in another job and can’t complete your daily targets. Without at least a rudimentary set of regulations to hold yourself to, you’re liable to break the habits you’re forming and make excuses for yourself.
Identify all the reasons you might not be able to complete a task, and then decide on an appropriate consequence that isn’t either too hard or too lenient and is designed to bring you back to your personal growth path. For example, if you miss a day of reading, do you do twice as much in the next session? Do you skip a reward in some other way as a deterrent?
One really useful way to design your parameters is to pick the perfect score for a perfect week. Let’s say you hit every single target on your weekly or monthly list. Understand that this is unlikely to be sustainable for the entire plan, so from there, give yourself a margin of error. A sweet spot to aim for, and a lower bound that you must never dip below.
Then, set rewards for reaching above the line, just to keep the incentive there to push hard when it’s possible.
Step 4: Review
The review part of the plan is the way you’re going to stay motivated well into the future. The planning stage is easy and fills you with exciting dreams for the future; exactly where you’re going to be in a year from now when you’ve hit 100% of your targets. But soon, reality gets in the way, and the honeymoon period will wear off.
The best way to push through when the excitement is gone is to implement a continual review process. If your goal is to lose weight, take daily and weekly body stats, and log photos that you can compare after 3 months of work.
This will serve two purposes: first, you’ll have inspiration to look back on (“I didn’t come this far only to come this far”), and secondly, you’ll see how progress is not linear. You’ll see those days when you were heavier than previous days, that the scale is only one metric of body composition and that with a more long-term view, there is a trend towards improvement, even if it’s not obvious by checking the daily increments.
Reviewing your programs is also the key to adapting them, which is the final stage of the self growth plan.
Step 5: Adapt and Overcome
As mentioned, life will get in the way. Some of the tasks you’ve set for yourself won’t be as stimulating as you wanted them to be, and this journey will inevitably give you a different idea of whether the work required to achieve the goals is worth it in the long run.
Conversely, some of the work you put in won’t be optimal or adequate and you may find you can do more. This is where it’s important to be able to adapt to the reality and the implementation of your programs.
When forming your plan, this is something you need to anticipate. Without it, when you realize that you want to change paths, there’s a chance you’ll quit the program altogether, or you’ll modify the plan too much and miss out on the benefits of your longer-term experiences.
For example, you hit a hard week. You haven’t slept enough, and you need to work out. Pushing through with the program might even result in injury if you haven’t allocated yourself enough recovery time, and that can be dangerous.
If you’ve got a good set of rules already, you refer to them and decide to do a light cardio session, just to get your time credits. This maintains your habit, doesn’t cause any damage, and still allows you to progress on your trajectory.
When you hit your review period, you decide to factor in a buffer zone to your workouts so that you can be certain you’ve got adequate recovery time, and you’ll maximize each session for even more efficient progression.
And that’s really all there is to it. But designing a personal growth plan is the easy part. Sticking to it is hard, and although there are a few important practices listed above that will help with this, there are other basic principles that are worth knowing that will maximize your chances of changing your lifestyle and sticking to your self growth plan.
Understand the value of rest
The first and most important thing to remember when designing your plan is that rest is essential. It may be worth designing the plan to ramp up gradually, but if you’re reading this now, chances are you’re in a period of hyper-motivation and you want to dig yourself out of a rut as quickly and with as much determination as possible.
This is an unrealistic starting point, and much like fad diets, changing too much too soon will likely result in failure. Don’t overcrowd your schedule, and factor in plenty of downtime and recreation, at least at the beginning.
Both sleep and general rest periods are critical for recovery, processing information, and for recharging your batteries.
Understand how learning works
Related to this, it’s important to understand that learning occurs when you’re asleep at a much faster rate than it does while you’re awake. This doesn’t mean that those language-learning-in-your-sleep tapes from the ‘90s actually work (they almost certainly don’t), but what it does mean is that information you take in during the day is processed and analyzed and worked into your memory while you are unconscious.
Essentially, the brain consolidates learning while you sleep, so keep this in mind when you’re thinking of pulling an all-nighter.
Know that there are short and long-term effects of learning a new skill, so make sure to plan on establishing your patterns into long-term memory too, with enough repetition.
Understand your basic tools
Have a feel for the link between the body and the mind. If your targets are all around making money or advancing in your education, it might not seem obvious that good cardio can help with these. Conversely, if you’re trying to hit a new PR in the bench press, it might be counter-intuitive to practice mindfulness meditation as a foundational skill to reach that goal.
However, as far back as ancient Greece, it was well understood that the mind and body go hand-in-hand toward goals. For example, a bad diet affects concentration, and a lack of focus makes every task less efficient. Remember what you’re working with, and factor in goals to hone your tools, regardless of what your goals are.
Understand how habits work
This is the most important part of sticking to your plan. You may have heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit. This has been shown to be a bit of an understatement, and although everyone is different, the new consensus is that it takes an average of about 66 days. This is more than enough time for you to lose enthusiasm, especially if the work you’re putting in is particularly hard.
To improve your chances, for the first 2 months, focus on putting in the time, rather than putting in the work. If you’re too tired to read, sit with the books anyway. Attend the event, even if you’re not fully present.
Don’t skip it or do something else in its place; simply show up. This will go a long way to establishing the neural patterns required for your habit to form, and once it’s in, it’s going to be a lot easier to keep up.
Understand what progress looks like
We touched on this in a previous section, but progress does not happen in a straight line. You’ll have strong days and weak days. Sometimes it’ll feel like you’ve made no progress at all, or you’re even farther back than you were when you started. This is normal, and it’s the reason why the review stage of your plan is so important.
Keep your eye on the long-haul, and don’t focus too much on the little details. It’s worth repeating that you’ll be better off making quantitative targets in the short-term, with the mind of hitting your qualitative goals in the long term. If this is still confusing, here’s an example:
You’re trying to get better at public speaking. You have a long-term goal of presenting and applying for funding for your startup, so you start networking and attending social events to build up your confidence.
If you try to qualitatively measure these small tasks, you’re going to be focusing on asking better questions to strangers, improving eye contact, balancing a conversation, etc. All of these are important metrics to improve, but with one bad interaction, you may fail at all of those targets and come away disappointed.
Instead, focus on spending a clearly quantifiable 1h, three times a week at these places. Keep in mind the ups and downs that come with progress, and as long as you put in your time, you can roll with the punches on a bad night and stay motivated to persist, knowing that in the long run, you’re making progress.
Finally, self-growth isn’t something that is easy to accomplish alone. Forming habits, just like breaking habits, comes a lot easier when you’re accountable to people. For this, networking is a great tool, and you should be able to find people on similar journeys this way.
Forming and maintaining relationships is a skill worth improving in itself, but it will also help you to stick to your personal growth plan in the long run. Dex brings your LinkedIn, email, and other social tools together in one place, to make your relationships easier to manage efficiently for professional and personal relationships.
A self growth plan makes your personal growth strategy a reality. It’s about identifying your true goals and breaking them down into daily tasks that compound over time and feed off one another. The basics are simple: identify your goals, break them down, and build up habits, bit by bit to adapt to your new trajectory.
Within just a short amount of time, you’ll see how 'working on yourself' supplements the personal or professional targets you want to achieve and brings you a more profound sense of wellbeing.