Building Your Personal Development Plan I

The Personal Development Plan

Up to this point we have just focused on all the steps necessary to Know Thyself.  Here is one of our early mock-ups of a profile page that summarizes all of the self-awareness work done so far:


There is still quite a bit of UX work required before we have something that we would like to get out to the world but this does show all of the critical elements of the personal development plan.  We talked about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which is shown in the portrait and under the profile name.  Under that we have our character strengths that comes directly from Seligman’s Character Strengths and Virtues.  Next to that we have our Love languages and our skills and passions.  Finally, we have the scorecard and big rocks which is what makes up the majority of our personal development plan.  How we develop our personal scorecard will be the topic of the next several blogs.

Gamification, Data Gathering & Happiness

As for some of the other elements on the page that don’t look familiar, we’ll dive into those in much greater detail in future posts.  I’ll summarize quickly here.  The happiness hub is a tool that we use that will promote habits that increase overall happiness over time.  We will use a lot of the learnings gathered from Shawn Achor’s research.  You can read more about those here.  One of the central tenants of his research is that contrary to conventional wisdom, happiness is a precursor to success, not the other way around.  We want to use all of the tools at our disposal to give you the best chance at success for your personal development plan and happiness will be a big part of that.

The experience bar is an archetype of gaming.  We plan on utilizing gamification to make the process as fun as possible.  For those of you not interested in gaming the experience we will have the ability to turn this off.  Finally, we have an example poll to the right.  Data gathering will be a big part of the experience.  This is a way for us to test a lot of the paradigms of Know Thyself.  In here we will ask all sorts of questions about life, from the inane: who is your favorite superhero? – to the far more serious: have you ever gone through a divorce?  We will then aggregate and anonymize that data to share it with our users.

Setting goals and finding purpose

One of the problems with setting personal goals is that they often feel arbitrary.  When we are setting goals at work, we can normally tie those goals to corporate strategy or to a specific client or to some other marker that the business is trying to hit.  There are a ton of businesses that do this poorly but the good ones give you a sense of why you are striving to hit certain targets.

This gets a lot harder on the personal level because how do you set these targets for your life?  What is your why?  That’s going to be the ultimate goal of any personal development plan, figuring out your why.  Figuring out your authentic sense of purpose.  Those folks that you run across in life that have that mystical quality of contentment typically have a really good sense of purpose.  They know, on some intrinsic level, what they are striving for and why.

Finding your purpose is not going to happen overnight.  It certainly isn’t going to happen by taking an online quiz or by going to a couple of seminars.  This is going to take some work.  There aren’t going to be any shortcuts to this but there is a process that makes the question of – what is my purpose? – seem a whole lot less overwhelming.

The Intersection of Skills and Character Strengths

We went into great depth on skills and character strengths in previous posts of the know thyself variety.  Skills are one of the primary building blocks of our development plan.  When we build out our goals, we will be trying to hit targets.  To hit those targets will require a blend of skills and character strengths.  Knowing which goals to set is not always easy.  Often we take approaches where we try to boil the ocean and set a ton of unrealistic goals or we just build a laundry list of to dos that is super uninspiring.  These approaches just set us up for disappointment and failure.

We take a different approach.  We don’t start by randomly assigning goals.  We start with skills.  Over time, you will build out your full skill list but the first question we ask is: what are the skills that you want to work on in the next two years?  We then ask you to add your mastery level of these skills then rank how important they are for you to develop over the next two years.  This will be a combination of hard skills and soft skills.  In answering the question, you will end up with a list that looks something like this:


From there, we then ask you to narrow down that list to the eight (8) skills that you want to work on in the next three months.  We again ask you to break down how important these skills are to you but now over the next three months.  We also ask how easy you think it will be to improve those skills.  Next, we ask you to break those skills down by what category they fit in using the four pillars of: health, work, play and love.  Importance and ease are multiplied to give you an index of those skills where you will have the best chance of improving.  Finally, we ask you to add the character strengths you think are required to successfully improve that skill.  This gives you the opportunity to work on certain character strengths where you may have ranked a little lower.

The final step we’ll talk about here is narrowing this down to just four skills that you are going to work on in the next three months.  We recommend that you try to pick one skill from each of the four pillars of : health, work, play and love, but we don’t require it.  I’ve been working with folks that often pick two work skills or two health skills over picking a play or love skill.  This approach is ok but should be taken with caution.  We are trying to develop our whole person, not just certain aspects of our person.

Here’s an example of my three month skill breakout:


Next up, we’ll continue building our plan by utilizing WOOP to build out the critical few objectives of our scorecard.


Know Thyself IV

Skills and Mastery

Thus far, in the search of know thyself, I have spent all of my time understanding who I am.  This is time well spent but I have taken almost no time in understanding what I can do.  This is the next step, understanding skills and passions.  It is important to look at both the skills and passions we already have as well as those that we wish to acquire.  Understanding our current skills and acquiring new ones are a critical part of the personal improvement plan.

Let’s first take a deep dive into what we mean by skills.  A skill in its most basic form is the ability to carry out a task with pre-determined results within a given amount of time and energy.  That is a very definition-y approach to something that constitutes what we can do.  Let’s go deeper.

Wikipedia categorizes skills into six buckets: Labor Skills, Life Skills, People Skills, Social Skills, Soft Skills and Hard Skills.  There is a fair amount of overlap between each of these buckets based on different perceptions and categorization schemes.  I won’t waste your time discussing any one type more than once.

Let’s look at the Labor skills first.  These are the skill sets that allow us to operate in the marketplace.  They break down into the sub categories of foundation, transferable and technical and vocational skills.  The foundational skills are the very basics that allow us to acquire new skills.  These are things like literacy and math.  It’s pretty damn hard to learn how to code if you can’t read or do addition.  The next is the transferable skills.  These are the skills that transfer from one line of work to the next.  Many of these are the soft and people skills that we’ll talk about in a little more detail later.  The third is the technical and vocational skills.  These are your hard skills, things that require technical know-how and specific training.

Next we have our general life skills.  These skills allow us to navigate the ship and manage the demands and challenges that life throws at us.  The nerdy term for this skill set is psycho-social.  The folks that struggle with these type of skills typically struggle to find their place in society.  They could be troubled youth, substance abusers, on the autism spectrum, or any other number of other reasons.  These are the very basics: decision making, problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking, self-awareness, empathy, relationships, assertiveness, coping, communication and resilience.  At this level we are not talking about our people skills, but something deeper.  Life skills form the foundation for things like people skills and soft skills.

With that segue, let’s cover people skills next.  These are the skills that determine how well you play with others.  Most of these are covered in kindergarten but people skills are the ability to effectively communicate, understand and empathize with others.  Strong people skills build trust through sincerity.  These are a must have to interact respectfully with others to develop strong working relationships.

I’m going to cover social skills as well.  There is a fair amount of overlap between social and people skills.  The reason I’m covering social skills separately is that I like the list of social skills that the Employment and Training Administration has identified: Coordination (adjusting actions in relation to others’ actions), Mentoring, Negotiation, Persuasion, Service Orientation and Social Perceptiveness.  Learning these skills is known as socialization.

Soft skills are another categorization of a lot of the other skills we already looked at.  These are less quantifiable like people and social skills and serve as a good complement to hard skills.  Hard skills are more technical and quantifiable.  The hard skills fit nicely in the technical and vocational bucket under labor skills.

Hopefully, this study on skills was interesting even if it was a little dry.  Stay with me though, there is a point to all of this.  To build an effective personal development plan, we need a way of getting from who we are to a better version of us.  Some of that comes from understanding ourselves but a larger part is going to come down to strapping in and working on those skills that we want to improve.  We all have soft and hard skills that could use a bit of work.


Before I share the skills that I am choosing to work on, I would first like to discuss motivation and mastery for a second.  Daniel Pink has done some amazing studies on what motivates us.  He has done a couple of TED talks and written a book on motivation but my favorite is the RSA Animate version of his talk.  We are going to use these tools heavily in making sure we stay on track on our plan.  What he found is that the three biggest factors in motivation are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.  You will have total autonomy in how you build your plan.  We will also spend some time defining your purpose when we build out the vision that the plan is based on.  Mastery however is going to be an ongoing goal for the rest of your life so it’s worth spending a couple cycles on that now.

The scale of mastery that we use comes from the four stages of competence.  This was a theory built by Noel Burch while working with the Gordon Training International.  In the first stage, we are incompetent and ignorant of the fact.  The way to progress out of this stage is by showing a serious desire to learn.  We classify folks at this level as novice, because at this stage you don’t even know what you don’t know.

Personal Improvement Plan Mastery Arrow

In the next stage we have conscious incompetence.  This is where folks start to understand how much there is to know and how little they know of it.  They can recognize their deficits as well as the value of the new skill.  We classify folks at this level as apprentice, because they are starting on the journey to mastery.  In the third stage, the practitioner knows how to do the skill but it takes intense concentration.  They may have to break it down into its component parts and a ton of focus is required.  We call this level journeyman.

In the final stage, you have reached mastery of the skill.  It’s something that can be done with your eyes closed.  Many times, you can execute the skill while doing something else.  A good example of this is driving.  You don’t think about how you are going to pull out of the driveway in the morning, you just do it while you are thinking about what you have to get done for the day.  This stage is mastery.

The first step in the skill breakdown is listing out all of your skills and assigning your current mastery level to those skills.  This was a fun step for me that allowed me to flesh out my quiver of all the things that I know how to do or that I want to learn how to do at some point in the future.  The list ends up being far too long to manage though, so I will share the next step which is narrowing down the list to just those skills I plan on using in the next two years or the skills that I hope to acquire in that same time period.


This list becomes the launch pad for the next part of the process of building our vision and scorecard.  I will cover my version of those steps in the next several blogs.  There will be a final know thyself blog though that covers all of the other tools that we tried and decided not to incorporate into the process and why.  Stay tuned!