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Paul Jerome acmc
Licensed Life Coach in Reading, Berkshire

Personal development planning

Most of us have dreams and ambitions, or at least used to! Successful people translate those dreams into reality. It is accepted that writing down well-formed goals helps you cross over from dreams to reality. So what do you do if you maybe lack a skill or are a little under-confident about achieving something?
That's where personal development planning comes in.

Phase 1 - What's Your Focus?
Where are you going?
Now is the time to consider where you are heading. What is it that you want to achieve?
Goals are what you have to do, and its 'how' you go about achieving them that were focussing on here.

Where are you now?
Before you start any kind of project, you must know where you are starting from. This will become the starting point from where you measure your progress. A clear awareness of where you are now will facilitate your development.

What kind of external feedback do you get? Your friends, family, work colleagues and other people you meet regularly are all affected by your behaviour and will have views about your skills. Some forms of external feedback will be more objective and useful than others, and not all will be glowing! Now is the time to take stock of any feedback you have had and put it to good use.

Note: Good feedback is always specific, clear and non-critical. "You always say stupid things" is not good feedback, it is criticism and does not deserve any listening time.

Asking for feedback
If you are struggling to think of any feedback, consider asking for some. This maybe a scary thing to do, but you can make it easier by asking for feedback using the following questions:

What am I good at?
What else am I good at?
What could I be better at?
Ask the person to tell you two things that you are good at and one thing that you could improve. With the one thing that you could improve, get them to be very specific about it and how they would prefer you to go about it.

For example, instead of "You don't listen", get them to give you a specific example when your not listening caused a problem, what that problem was and how you could have handled it differently.

Keeping it in proportion
Taking feedback doesn't have to be painful, although it can appear challenging to some. Everyone can improve themselves in one way or another, and having faults does not mean you are a 'bad person'. This is why feedback has to be specific - about one behaviour or action - and not about the individual as a person.

Checking accuracy, finding a theme
The number of examples you get will give you a clue as to the extent of the problem (and perhaps more accurately how important it is to that person). It is also worth checking feedback with others, as one person's opinion can be inaccurate and based on personal biases. External collaboration is essential before you take it seriously. You are looking for a theme.

Using feedback
So how do you put this information to good use?
1. Make a list of what you think your strengths and weaknesses.
2. Below that, list the feedback you have from other people about your strengths and weaknesses. The more honest and thorough you are, the more likely you are to succeed with your personal development plan.
3. Check if there are any patterns or themes in the feedback. These will provide you with some clues about your focus areas.
Focus areas
The speed at which you progress towards your goals will depend on where you are starting from and the effort you make. To make sure you do make progress, select a maximum of three areas to focus on for your personal development activities. If goal achievement is a long way off, you may even choose to focus on one area at a time before moving on to the next.

When deciding what your personal development focus will be, consider:

1. Will this help me achieve my short-term goals (3 - 6 months)?
2. Will this help me achieve my long-term goals (6 - 18 months)?

Phase 2 - Creating your Personal Development Goals
Setting your goals
Develop a well-formed goal for each focus area using the template shown in the Setting Empowering Goals article.

Phase 3 - Review your Personal Development Goals
When you have finished creating your personal development goals, leave them alone for about one week and then review.

During this week you will have been thinking it over, and testing to see if it is right for you. After the 'rest' period, take some time to look at the plan and make any changes. Was the draft plan too ambitious, not hard enough, too focused on one thing, too vague?

You can keep the plan private and do the review yourself, but you may find you benefit from sharing it with someone else.

People who find it hard to be objective about themselves or need external motivation may find it a benefit to enlist a person to support them. Maybe you lack some skills and know someone who wouldn't mind giving you the benefit of their experience.

How to choose a mentor
Here are some guidelines on how to choose an appropriate helper:

1. They are already good at what you are trying to develop - a potential 'role model'
2. You trust them
3. They are a good coach and can give you constructive feedback
4. They have the time!

You may want to consider using a professional to fill this role for you. There are life coaches, career guidance coaches, therapists and counsellors to name a few, and you can see them in person, over the telephone or even online. Before you hand over any money contact them and interview them to establish whether they will be right for you - you want someone who can focus on outcomes and actions, not reasons and explanations! Or you might consider signing up for one of my Coaching Programmes.

Phase 4 - Implement the Development Plan
OK! You have planned the work, now work the plan!
Do a mini-review each time you do something that takes you out of your comfort zone. Think about two things you did well, and one thing you could do better next time. The 'thing you could do better' will be your primary focus for improvement the next time you do it.

Phase 5 - Review Progress
Its important to take a look at the bigger picture in order to see your progress more clearly, so it is not obscured by daily ups and downs. Take a look back every three to six months and see how far you have come.
Set up some kind of reward associated with each review. Have fun and celebrate your successes, however small. In the long run, it is perseverance that counts not speed.

Reviewing your progress is much like phase 1 where you checked out your starting point. You may want to consider getting feedback from the same people to check how effective they think your efforts have been.

Checking your progress allows you to reflect on what is working and what is not, so you can adjust your actions or change course if you are not achieving what you want. You may find that you need to work on more things than you thought or that it is taking longer than expected to reach your goals - that's fine, you can use this information to make adjustments to your plan.

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"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams...
he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
- Henry David Thoureau

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