The 7 Simple Steps for Creating Your Personal Growth Plan

Eat healthy, be fit, get that promotion – most of us have areas where we want to improve. But why are we so bad at reaching our goals?

It’s not only a matter of lacking willpower. What most people are missing is a clear plan for developing themselves further. The “how’s” and “why’s” that will guide them along the way – even when the first excitement is gone.

 

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.

  Peter Drucker

To use a definition, a personal growth plan is “the process of creating an action plan based on awareness, values, reflection, goal-setting and planning for personal development within the context of a career, education, relationship or for self-improvement.”

So, personal growth relates to several dimensions of our life and can be helpful in our private as well as professional matters. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization constructs the highest form of personal fulfillment, the last step of reaching your full potential.

visualization of maslow's hierarchy of needs

A personal growth plan will help you achieve the vision you have of yourself. What’s more, it’s something that your (future) employer will likely be interested in as well. You’re building up your employability by creating a detailed plan for your own development. It can equip you with a solid answer to the stereotypical ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ question.

So how do you set up a personal growth plan? Here is our 7-step process.

1
Develop your vision

Start your journey with the end in mind. Who is it that you want to grow into? You might have a vague idea, but it helps to define this and work it out on paper. This will make you think about what it actually takes to get there.

We know mission statements from companies. They help them guide their way and visualize with only a few words what the brand stands for at the core, what its purpose is.

But they’re just as valuable for personal development. According to Roy Baumeister, psychologist at Florida State University, establishing your motivation for your growth project is crucial for its success.

You’ll see your actions as part of a bigger picture. This will help you later in the execution as the necessary steps will appear like conscious choices, not chores. Your mission statement sums up the reason why it is you’re doing it.

The process of creating it asks an introspective analysis from yourself. The following questions can guide you toward finding your mission statement:

  • What is your purpose?
  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What inspires you?
  • What are your values?
  • What makes you great?

Mission statement: I use my creativity and writing skills to help startups grow through Digital Marketing.

Try to make your vision dynamic, instead of static. This will prevent you from dropping into a black hole after the euphoria of reaching your goal has passed. The above mission statement is never finished. There are always ways to grow.

This post by Fast Company is a good resource for exploring personal mission statements and finding your own.

2
Get your reality check

After you've chosen your destination, take a look at where you are now. As the definition indicates, a personal growth plan requires reflection and self-awareness. Lots of it. To decide how to get from A to B and on what areas to focus, you need to know your current location. What are your skills? What does the gap between you and your vision consist of?

Again, it can help to apply a framework that businesses use to guide their strategy: the SWOT analysis. It’s a great framework for understanding both your internal capabilities (Strengths & Weaknesses) and your external environment (Threats & Opportunities). In this post, Jodie Shaw describes the process of creating a personal SWOT analysis.

image of four cards to fill out your SWOT analysis

Assessing these sorts of information and becoming aware of your own set of skills is crucial for mastering the next steps in your personal growth plan.

3
Set up milestones

Now that you know where you are and where you want to go, it's time to define the milestones on your way. By definition, a milestone is a “scheduled event that indicates the completion of a major deliverable event of a project.”

To set up your milestones, follow the SMART technique so they’re...

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • realistic
  • time-bound

A milestone from chubby to a vision of athleticism could be “running the NYC marathon”; one from feeling under-qualified to a vision of education could be “getting an MBA”. To ensure growth, it should not be mere challenging, but highly ambitious. Stretch yourself to your limits.

In accordance with the example mission statement above, mine could look like this:

Milestone: Land a guest contribution at a prestigious business blog (e.g. Entrepreneur.com).

But that milestone is probably too far away. To get there, I'll first need to improve my writing skills. This goes through practice and learning, so an earlier milestone could be:

Milestone: Write 10 posts for the Userlike Blog.

Another plus of milestones is that they allow you to reach and celebrate the small wins along the way, which will be motivating.

4
Find supporting habits

Up until this point, many people manage to construct a simplified plan in their head – mostly when New Year’s is coming up. But that's where the majority stops, dooming their good intentions to an existence in limbo. With only milestones, you still don’t know where to start, how to get there, or how long it will take you.

 

Shoot for greatness. But greatness doesn’t always come from dramatic leaps. Sometimes it comes from small, persistent steps.

  Sim B. Sitkin

You need a system of supporting habits that will bring you closer to your goal. One habit toward the milestone of writing 10 posts for the Userlike Blog, for example, would be to write 500 words daily. Another one would be to read 15 pages of a relevant book every day (e.g. 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing). Don’t add too many at once; focus on one habit at a time.

You’ll see the benefits of habit goals in several ways. First, they force you to break your milestones down into specific actions. Second, as these repeating tasks turn into habits, they will start to become effortless. Once a habit has formed, you can move on to the next one.

5
Define your don'ts

Modern workplaces are full of distractions. For some things, you’re well aware that they’re hijacking your productivity, like scrolling through your Facebook timeline or heading to the cafeteria whenever you feel like chatting. Still, we often underestimate how much time we actually spend on doing them.

And then there’s other activities you’re not even aware they’d be disturbing your flow, which might even seem productive at first glance (e.g. checking your emails) or happens more unconsciously (e.g. jumping back and forth between open tabs).

 

The reason is simple: What you don’t do determines what you can do.

  Tim Ferris

When setting up your personal growth plan, instead of focusing only on what you want to do, look at the process in reverse. Keep track of what you don’t want to do by setting up a ‘not-to-do list’. For example:

  • Have too many tabs open
  • Disrupt morning hours with meetings
  • Check social media several times per day
  • Have Slack notifications on
  • Leave cell phone on my desk
  • Check and answer emails right when they come in
  • ...

6
Set up cues, rewards, & punishments

As we’ve seen before, a mission statement can serve as a valid motivator. This is an intrinsic form of motivation, the bigger picture you’re doing it for. You might also need something more practical to stick to your process: a system of cues and rewards.

visualization of the habit loop where a cue leads to a routine which leads to a reward which then again reinforces the cue

Think of cues as a GPS guiding you the way, telling you where to go next. The benefit is two-folded:

  1. Frees up mental resources. You don’t have to remember all tasks but can focus on their execution instead.
  2. Encourages the building of new habits by turning the behavior into a routine. This makes the execution come more naturally.

For example, if your goal was to become fit, you could bring your gym bag to work (cue) to remind you of your planned action. It can also be as simple as using calendar notifications as a reminder. Everything that gets the thought out of your head so you don’t have to remember it yourself.

The classic ‘carrot and stick’ is the other side of the same coin. In order for your cues to hit target, you need to have a set of rewards/ punishments in place as well. When it comes to sticking to our plans, we’re really not too different from guinea pigs. Rewards are important to keep up motivation and build new behaviors.

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If you’ve reached your goal, reward yourself. Possible rewards could be playing foosball with your colleagues after you’ve completed your tasks for the day, 10 minutes of scrolling through Instagram, spoiling yourself with a piece of Swiss chocolate, 5 minutes of gossiping at the watercooler, etc.

And if you didn’t manage to pull it off? Well, there comes the stick. If you didn’t write 500 words today, you’ll have to make up for it and write 1,000 words tomorrow. If you didn’t work out, no chocolate for you. You get the point.

People are all different and so are cues and rewards. Find out what motivates you to go the extra mile for your growth project.

7
Plan for reviews

You can only follow your estimation of what processes will be necessary when setting up your goals. For example, if your milestone was to lose 20 pounds within the next six months and your weight still hasn’t changed an ounce after half the time has passed, you need to consider changing your approach, e.g. exercising four times per week instead of just twice, or cutting carbs out of your diet.

To use another one of Peter Drucker’s wisdoms: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” In other words, to know if your plan is working, you need to measure your progress. Measuring helps holding yourself accountable and can reveal weaknesses in your plan.

If you see that some things aren’t working or are that you’re missing steps completely in your plan, you need to go back and adjust the setup. Consider your personal growth plan as a living and breathing thing that you can adjust whenever it proves necessary. Digital project management tools like Asana, Trello, or Evernote come in handy as they allow you to easily edit.

At Userlike, we have quarterly feedback reviews with our team lead to ensure our projects are going in the right direction and to change course in time, if necessary. Treat your personal growth project like you would treat a project at work. Who said you can’t have a meeting with yourself? Set aside a fixed date for your reviews, say, 30 minutes every month, where you only focus on evaluating your progress and anticipating your next steps.

In these reviews, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What has been working well?
  • What did I finish that I’m proud of?
  • Where did I struggle?
  • Where do I stand with my long-term goals?
  • What do I want to focus on next month?

Depending on your answers, you’ll get the chance to adjust your plan. Also, taking your time to look at the process will make your growth progress more visible, boosting your motivation.


All planning aside, you’ll only rock your personal growth project by taking action. A musician perfects her technique through constant practice – not through simply thinking about compositions. Young parents fill their role in nurturing their kids by taking care of them every day – not by solely reading parenting magazines.

At a certain point, you just need to stop planning and start doing. What’s your next project?