An honest personal development definition (And 3 essentials for your survival toolkit)
Michelle Soo, Bestselling Author | Fun & Productivity Coach

This is an honest personal development definition. From someone who’s been at it for 20+ years – personally and professionally.

It isn’t always pretty. 

But you’ll be glad to know this: There are 3 skills that will get you through – with flying colours.

What’s it really like?

When it feels like it’s really hard. And you want to run for the hills.

But you don’t.

That moment, right there. That’s the essence of personal development.

And it’s my favourite personal development definition. Not because I enjoy the pain. But because I’ve learnt that every time there’s pain, there’s also profound and life-changing growth… provided I go through with it.

Knowing the path

Personal development can be easy. As easy as reading a book, watching a TED talk or even reading this article.

And what that gives you is a nice idea of what to be aiming for.

But there’s knowing the path. And then there is walking the path. And what you get from the latter is the star of the show.

My favourite kind of personal development happens when I’m in my darkest moment.

And in that moment, the ideas from books or TED talks aren’t going to save me.

Or make a real difference in my life.

Unless I face the challenge and apply those ideas. Even when I want to run away because it’s confronting, overwhelming and intense.

That’s when some of the best personal development happens.

I’ve seen this time and time again – in my personal experience. And in the growth of my clients over the past 17+ years.

In my darkest moments, that’s when some of the best personal development happens.
My favourite kind of personal development happens when I’m in my darkest moment.

It’s often unglamorous. But it’s also brilliant.

Of course, personal development happens in many ways.

Right now, it’s trendy to define personal development as the improvement of your self-awareness.

Or mindfulness: paying more attention to the present moment. 

Companies are rolling out resilience training, for example, that teach their staff how to be more mindful and aware. But the training stops there.

I’m concerned about that.

Mindfulness and self-awareness are only part of personal development skill set.

And if it’s the only part that you have, then you’re in for a rough ride.

Just like what I went through 20 years ago, sitting in my first meditation retreat…

Meditation taught me this

“Just focus on your breath,” the meditation teacher said.

But try as I did, I was doing everything else but that.

It was Day 3 of a ten day meditation retreat. They were teaching us a mindfulness practice. And I still wasn’t getting it right.

In that meditation hall, it looked like I was sitting, meditating quietly.

But inside me, there was a wrestling match. And I was losing.

Here’s why: Anytime I experienced something uncomfortable, I wanted to change it. My body was sore from all that sitting. My thoughts were all over the place. I would start to feel stuff that made no sense.

And I thought all that should be different. “What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I getting this right?”

I wasn’t getting any of the peace or zen. And isn’t that the whole point of meditation, I thought. This thought upset me even more.

My inner critic and inner perfectionist  got out of control. They teamed up, wrestled me down, and sat their butts on my face… because I wasn’t “getting it right.” 

I had a pretty rough time in that retreat – until the very last day.

On the last day, the teachers introduced us to the practice of loving kindness and compassion. Mostly the practice was directed at others. But I had an “A-ha!” moment. And a “facepalm” moment all at the same time.

Whilst doing the self-awareness practice, I hadn’t been kind to myself. I’d been doing the opposite.

The truth is, my self-awareness in the retreat was fantastic.

I just didn’t like what my new self-awareness was showing me. Including the part where my inner critic and inner perfectionist were being mean to me.

And I didn’t know what to do about it.

I had missed the whole point about mindfulness because:

I was too busy thinking that my experience should have been something else other than what it actually was. Something better

Have you had this experience too?

I realised that self-awareness is only part of personal development. And mindfulness.

And if this is the only part you have in your personal development definition, or skill set, then you’re going to be in for a rough ride. Like I was.

We need additional skills that help us cope – when we are confronted, challenged and wanting to run away.

Myth busted!

The myth is that when you go through self-awareness or mindfulness training, then you know what to do. 

You get this idea of how you’re supposed to think, feel or behave.

But what do you do when your new awareness shows you something deeply unpleasant?

When it shows you that there’s a massive gap between where you are, and where you think you ought to be.

Do you go into a tailspin of frustration and anxiety – like I did sitting in my first meditation retreat?

Do you get stuck thinking about it? Or does a knot of tension tighten somewhere in your body?

Like most people, you might run for the nearest distraction – in the hope that the unpleasantness will just go away.

Like the chocolate that’s calling out to you from the kitchen. Or the latest series on Netflix that you want to inhale all at once.

(Oh, how I missed those during the meditation retreat!)

We need more than just self-awareness in our personal development definition.

We can’t learn mindfulness if self-awareness is the only focus.

Our toolkit needs to be bigger than that.

Especially when things get challenging.

Your survival toolkit

These are the 3 practices for your survival toolkit in personal development. 

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Acceptance
  3. Kindness towards yourself

They work together to make your life easier and more graceful. And your personal development or mindfulness practice too. 

This is the personal development definition that I prefer. And it goes beyond the self-awareness practice.

Since adding 2. and 3. to my practice, my growth has been easier, and more enjoyable. 

This survival toolkit also forms the basis of how my clients get outcomes – in the fastest, easiest, kindest and most effective way.

And it will help you do this too.

But don’t take my word for it. Please try it out for yourself. And let me know how you go.

What makes it easier?

Acceptance made it to the list – for a reason.

The leap from “OMG, I’m not perfect” to “Ah, I can be kind to myself” – is not an easy one.

Especially if your inner critic is bossing you around. 

I’m a practical woman. What’s the point in telling you to take big leaps? If I don’t also provide you the resources to make that leap do-able and successful.

The practice of acceptance helps you make that leap.

What is acceptance?

In essence, the practice of acceptance invites you to accept that it is what it is. For now. Because everything changes in time.

It doesn’t mean you have to like it. Or approve of it. It just means that it is what it is. 

If you’re feeling challenged, then with acceptance, it becomes okay that it’s challenging. Even overwhelming.

This practice helps you to weather any storm. You no longer need to run away from the challenge. Push it down. Or suck it up.

And that’s when you can really roll your sleeves up and get right into the most rewarding personal development work you’ll do.

With kindness. And less judgement. 

This is an essential part of your personal development plan.

I see the most amazing transformation in my clients’ faces when they practice acceptance. The tension melts away. They look years younger, more relaxed and happier.

This is then followed by even more transformation in their lives.

The practice of acceptance doesn’t excuse your mistakes. Or absolve any criminal failures. Or someone else’s.

But it does put you in a better place to learn from them. 

Without acceptance, self-awareness becomes just another stick to beat yourself up with.

If your company is investing in mindfulness training, or awareness training, then I hope that training also includes the practice of acceptance.

Without it, your staff are being set up for a rough ride. And your company isn’t going to get its money’s worth.

When things get hard, the practice of acceptance gives you the courage to face your challenge. To stop running. And do what needs to be done. 

If we can’t do this, then our personal development is only going to go so far. 

I’m not content with that, personally. That’s not going to help me reach my full potential.

I want the kind of personal development that has no limits. Or at least no self-imposed limits. 

This is what it takes

I mentioned at the start that my favourite personal development definition is the kind that happens in my darkest moments.

When it feels so hard that I want to run away from it all – but I don’t. When I stay and do what I need to do in order to grow.

That’s the most rewarding kind of personal development. 

If all I had was the practice of self-awareness, then I don’t think I would have made it through.

It would take a miracle. And I don’t think it needs to be that way.

I don’t want personal development to be a miracle. For myself, or for you. I want personal development to be a practical, do-able experience. 

That’s why these 3 skills are essential for your personal development toolkit. 

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Acceptance
  3. Kindness towards yourself

What did you get out of this article? Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below.