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Personal development refers to individual self-development and the development of others. By extension, personal development may involve programs, tools and methods. At the level of individuals personal development includes goals, plans or actions oriented towards one or more of the following aims:



The concept covers a wider field than self-development or self-help: personal development also includes developing others (inter-personal development: compare personnel development). Fostering the personal development of others may take place through roles such as those of a teacher or mentor, through a personal competency (such as the ability of certain managers in developing the potential of employees), through a professional service (such as providing training or assessment) or through coaching.

The field of personal development includes interests in:

Beyond improving oneself and developing others, personal development as a field involves both practice and research.[citation needed] As a field of practice it includes[citation needed]:

  • personal development methods
  • learning programs
  • assessment systems
  • tools and techniques

The following sections on education and management discuss areas of practice.

As a field of research, personal development topics increasingly appear in scientific journals[citation needed], higher education reviews[citation needed], management journals and business books.[1]


Developing oneself

At the level of self-improvement, one can potentially elaborate personal development to include such areas as:

  1. becoming the person one aspires to
  2. integrating social identity with self-identification
  3. increasing awareness or defining of one’s priorities
  4. increasing awareness or defining of one’s values
  5. increasing awareness or defining of one’s chosen lifestyle
  6. increasing awareness or defining of one’s ethics
  7. strategizing and realizing dreams, aspirations, career and lifestyle priorities
  8. developing professional potential
  9. developing talents
  10. developing individual competencies
  11. learning on the job
  12. improving the quality of lifestyle (in such areas as health, wealth, culture, family, friends and communities)
  13. learning techniques or methods to expand awareness
  14. learning techniques or methods to gain control of one's life
  15. learning techniques or methods to achieve wisdom


Any sort of development — whether economic, political, biological, organizational or personal — requires[citation needed] a framework if one wishes to know whether change has actually occurred. In the case of personal development, an individual often functions as the primary judge of improvement, but validation of objective improvement requires assessment using standard criteria.[citation needed] Personal development frameworks[2] 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, and a feedback-system to provide information on changes.

The "personal development industry"

Personal development as a growing[citation needed] industry[citation needed] has two distinct markets:

  1. business-to-individual
  2. business-to-institution (higher education,corporate management and government)

The business-to-individual market

The business-to-individual market involves selling books, courses and techniques to individuals. The market is divided into:

Some programs are delivered online and many are combined with tools sold with the program, such as recipe books for weight-loss or manuals for yoga and martial arts.

A partial list of personal development offerings on the business-to-individual market might include:

The business-to-institution market

The business-to-institution market also involves programs - in this case ones sold to companies and to governments to assess potential, to improve effectiveness, to manage work-life balance or to prepare some entity for a new role in an organization. The goals of these programs are defined with the institution or by the institution and the results are assessed. With the acceptance of personal development as a legitimate field in higher education[citation needed], universities and business schools also contract programs to external specialist firms or to individuals.[citation needed]

A partial list of business-to-institution programs might include:

Some consulting firms specialize in personal development[3] 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,[4] 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[citation needed] to "final goals" of personal development such as discovering the meaning of life or living good life (compare philosophy).

Michel Foucault describes in Care of the Self[5] 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. In yoga, a discipline originating in India, possibly over 3000 years ago, personal-development techniques include meditation, rhythmic breathing, stretching and postures. Wu Shu and Tai Qi Quan 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. In Islam, which arose almost 1500 years ago in the Middle East, personal development techniques include ritual prayer, recitation of the Qur'an, pilgrimage, fasting and tazkiyah (purification of the soul)[citation needed].

Two individual ancient philosophers stand out as major sources[citation needed] 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 BC – 322 BC) strongly influenced theories of personal development in the West. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defined personal development as a category of phronesis or practical wisdom, where the practice of virtues (arête) leads to eudaimonia,[6] commonly translated as "happiness" but more accurately understood as “human flourishing” or “living well".[7] Aristotle continues to influence the Western concept of personal development to this day, particularly in the economics of human development[8] and in positive psychology.[9]

Confucius and the East Asian tradition

In Chinese tradition, Confucius (around 551 BC – 479 BC) founded an ongoing philosophy. His ideas continue to influence family values, education and management in China and much of Asia in the 21st century. In his Great Learning Confucius explicitly shows something which some might characterize as "personal development" as the source of managing the family and the state:

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.[10]

In the late 1990s a lively debate over Asian values seemed to oppose Confucius and Aristotle on questions of family values, maintenance of order and individual freedom.[11] Although the debate turned political and soon died down, cultural differences stemming from the philosophies of Aristotle and Confucius remain. According to leadership author Frank Gallo one cannot impose Western concepts in a Confucian management culture without some modifications:

There are cultural differences between China and the West in the way workers view their leaders, what they expect from their leaders, and what leaders can expect from their workforce. Furthermore, there are very fundamental differences in how life works in China compared to the West. The values that Westerners hold dear are sometimes looked at disdainfully in China.[12]

South Asian traditions

Ancient Indians aspired to "beingness, wisdom and happiness".[13]


Personal development in psychology

Psychology became linked to personal development, not with Freud (1856-1939) but starting with his dissident disciples Alfred Adler (1870-1937) and Carl Jung (1875-1961).

Adler refused to limit psychology to therapy, making the important point that aspirations look forward and do not limit themselves to unconscious drives or to childhood experiences.[14] 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[citation needed], a concept that influenced management under the heading of work-life balance[expand].

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) 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.[15]

Daniel Levinson (1920-1994) developed Jung’s early concept of life stages and included a sociological perspective. Levinson propounded that personal development come 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.[16]

Levinson’s model of seven life-stages has been considerably modified due to sociological changes in the lifecycle.[17]

Research on success in reaching goals, as undertaken by Albert Bandura (born 1925),showed that self-efficacy[18] 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[19]:

  1. it makes you expect to succeed
  2. it allows you take risks and set challenging goals
  3. it helps you keep trying if at first you don’t succeed
  4. it helps you control your emotions and fears when the going gets rough

In 1998 personal development moved from the fringes of psychology to a more central position[citation needed] when Martin Seligman won election as President of the American Psychological Association and proposed a new focus, on healthy individuals rather than pathology:

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.[20]

Personal development in higher education

Personal development has been at the heart of education in the West[citation needed] in the form of the Greek philosophers; and in the East[citation needed] with Confucius. Some people emphasize personal development as a part of higher education. Wilhelm von Humboldt, who founded the University of Berlin (since 1949: Humboldt University of Berlin) in 1810, made a statement interpretable as referring to personal development: … if there is one thing more than another which absolutely requires free activity on the part of the individual, it is precisely education, whose object it is to develop the individual.[21]

During the 1960s a large increase in the number of students on American campuses[22] led to research on the personal development needs of undergraduate students. Arthur Chickering defined seven vectors of personal development[23] for young adults during their undergraduate years:

  1. developing competence 
  2. managing emotions
  3. achieving autonomy and interdependence
  4. developing mature interpersonal relationships
  5. establishing identity
  6. developing purpose
  7. developing integrity

In the UK, personal development took a central place in university policy in 1997 when the Dearing Report[24] declared that universities should go beyond academic teaching to provide students with personal development.[citation needed] In 2001 a Quality Assessment Agency for UK universities produced guidelines[25] 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[26] 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.[citation needed]

The first personal development certification required for business school graduation originated in 2002 as a partnership between Metizo,[27] a personal-development consulting firm, and the Euromed Management School[28] 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 has become a specific discipline, usually associated with business schools[29]. As an area of research, personal development draws on links to other academic disciplines:

Personal development in the workplace

The first well-known proponent[citation needed] of personal development in the workplace, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), proposed a hierarchy of needs with self actualization at the top, defined as:[30]

… 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[31] — his hierarchy of needs had the consequence that organizations came to regard personal development self-actualization/personal-development as limited to 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.[32]

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.[33] 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.[citation needed] 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[34] had a major impact on the way companies view careers.[citation needed] 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,[35] indicating that priorities of work and lifestyle continually develop though life.

Personal development programs in companies fall into two categories: the provision of employee benefits and the fostering of development strategies.

Employee benefits have the purpose of improving satisfaction, motivation and loyalty.[citation needed] Employee surveys may help organizations find out personal-development needs, preferences and problems, and they use the results to design benefits programs.[citation needed] Typical programs in this category include:

Many such programs resemble programs that some employees might conceivably pay for themselves outside work: yoga, sports, martial arts, money-management, positive psychology, NLP, etc.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] Organizations may also offer other (non-investment-oriented) programs to many or even all employees. Typical programs focus on career-development, personal effectiveness, teamwork, and competency-development. Personal development also forms an element in management tools such as creating a personal development plan with one’s manager, a personal enterprise plan for one's career, 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.

Personal-development authors

Self-development authors:

See also


  1. ^ For example, the management journal Harvard Business Review has increased[citation needed] the publication of articles on talent development, career issues, mentoring and coaching to about one article in every two issues in 2007-2010. In the sphere of scientific publications, personal development lacks recognition as a stand-alone field and relies on publications in psychology, sociology, economics and organizational behavior.
  2. ^ Compare: Hannon, P (1993). A Personal Development Framework for Managed Workspace and Business Centre Managers. Durham: DTI and Durham University Business School. 
  3. ^ Firms such as PDI, DDI, Metizo, and FranklinCovey exemplify international personal-development firms working with companies for consulting, assessment and training.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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 epimelia from the Greek to the classic Roman period and on into the early stages of the age of Christianity.
  6. ^ Nichomachean Ethics, translated by W.D.Ross, Basic Works of Aristotle, section 1142. Online in "The Internet Classics Archive of MIT":
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ 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. ISBN 0198283954. ; 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 
  9. ^ Daniel Seligman explicitly identifies the goals of positive psychology with Aristotle’s idea of the "Good Life" and eudaimonia in Seligman, Martin E. P. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-2297-0 (Paperback edition, Free Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7432-2298-9).
  10. ^ Confucius, Great Learning, translated by James Legge. Provided online in The Internet Classics Archive of MIT.
  11. ^ Amartya Sen, "Human Rights and Asian Values", The New Republic, July 14-July 21, 1997
  12. ^ Frank Gallo, Business Leadership in China, Wiley 2008
  13. ^ Ventegodt, Søren; Joav Merrick, Niels Jørgen Andersen (Oct 2003). "Quality of Life Theory III. Maslow Revisited". The ScientificWorldJournal (Finland: Corpus Alienum Oy) (3): 1050–1057. doi:10.1100/tsw.2003.84. ISSN 1537-744X. Retrieved 2009-12-15. "In ancient India people talked about reaching the level of existence called 'sat-sit-ananda': beingness, wisdom and happiness as one.". 
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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)
  16. ^ Daniel Levinson, Seasons of a Man’s Life, Ballantine Press, 1978, page 91-92
  17. ^ Gail Sheehy, New Passages, Random House 1995. Sheehy had written an earlier best-selling book, Passages popularizing Levinson’s stages; her second book demonstrated how far society and life stages had changed.
  18. ^ Albert Bandura (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman
  19. ^ Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 1998, page 184.
  20. ^ Martin Seligman, “Building Human Strength: Psychology’s Forgotten Mission” VOLUME 29, NUMBER 1 - January 1998
  21. ^ Wilhelm von Humboldt, Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government. Translated from the German of Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt, by Joseph Coulthard, Jun. (London: John Chapman, 1854). Chapter 6. Accessed from on 2008-12-30
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ Arthur Chickering, Education and Identity (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1969); second edition updated with Linda Reisser, published in 1993 by Jossey-Bass.
  24. ^ The Dearing Report of 1997:see the Leeds University website:
  25. ^ These definitions and guidelines appear on the UK Academy of Higher Education website:
  26. ^ For the personal development requirement for Equis, see the European Foundation for Management Development website
  27. ^ A description and requirements for Metizo’s personal development certifications can be found on the the company’s website:
  28. ^ The components of Euromed Management School’s personal development programs appear on the school’s website
  29. ^ For example, in 2010 Euromed Management School created a department grouping leadership, entrepreneurship and personal development
  30. ^ Abraham Maslow “A Theory of Human Motivation” originally published in the 1943 Psychological Review, number 50, page 838. Maslow, A. H. (1996). Higher
  31. ^ 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
  32. ^ Peter F. Drucker, “Managing Oneself”, Best of HBR 1999.
  33. ^ Ghoshal, Sumantra; Bartlett Christopher A. (1997) The Individualized Corporation: A Fundamentally New Approach to Management, HarperCollins, page 286
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ Ibarra, Herminia (2003) "2" Working identity : unconventional strategies for reinventing your career Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press pp. 199 ISBN 1578517788  Ibarra discusses career-change based on a process moving from possible selves to "anchoring" a new professional identity.
  36. ^ Artz, John M. (September 1995). "Computers and the quality of life". ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society (New York: ACM) 25 (3): 17-19. ISSN 0095-273. Retrieved 2010-03-19. "[Wittgenstein's] criteria support Aristotle's view of happiness through personal development[...]". 
  37. ^ Zajas, Jay J. (1994). "Planning Your Total Career and Life Portfolio: Part II: A Group Process Experience for Developing Personal and Career Focus - A Case Study". Executive Development (MCB UP Ltd) 7 (4): 24-28. doi:10.1108/09533239410061833. ISSN 0953-3230. Retrieved 2010-03-19. "In the personal development area, books such as Building Your Self Image, by Josh McDowell, Living Books & Tyndale House Publishing, Wheaton, IL ... 1948, and How to Make Friends and Influence People, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1964, by Dale Carnegie contain time-tested principles for forming genuine friendships and viable interpersonal relationships.". 
  38. ^ Hu, Guangwei (2002). "Potential Cultural Resistance to Pedagogical Imports: The Case of Communicative Language Teaching in China" (PDF). Language, culture and curriculum 15 (2): 93-105. Retrieved 2010-03-19. "Besides the reward of the soul that comes in the form of inner satisfaction with full personal development (Guo, 2001), Confucius also saw a utilitarian function of education[...]". 
  39. ^ Matthews, Robin. "Intelligent strategy" (PDF). Kingston upon Thames: Kingston Business School. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-03-19. "The Enneagram, an ancient symbol of Chaldean origin, is found in the traditions of Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Sufism. In the early twentieth century, it was expounded by the Russians G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D.Ouspensky (see Bennett, 1966), and currently it is used in some personal development programmes." 
  40. ^ Durántez Corral, Conrado; José A. Pérez-Turpin , Aurora Martínez Vidal, Covadonga Mateos Padorno, José Martínez Patiño, Antonio González Molina. (January 2010). "Principles of the Olympic movement" (PDF). Journal of Human Sport and Exercise 5 (1): 3-14. doi:10.4100/jhse. ISSN 1988-5202. Retrieved 2010-03-19. "Teachers and educators would be those who used gymnastics as a forming element of the individual with the important contributions of Francisco Amoros in Spain, Henrik Ling in Sweden and Frederick Louis Jahn in Germany[...]". 


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