15 Critical Personal Development Activities and Exercises 

 September 15, 2020

By  Marie

Personal development is a continual process of improving yourself and addressing needs to live a fulfilling, joyful life. Personal development activities are endless but there are key exercises that will put you on the fast-track to achieving the self-improvement you are looking for. What are these critical personal development activities? 

Let’s cover some basics first…(or you can skip over those and get to the meat of it!)

What is Personal Development?

Personal growth and development is a lifelong process of improving your qualities and perfecting your skills in order to obtain a happy, secure, and fulfilled state of being. 

This is intentionally a very broad definition, as personal development is a broad topic in itself.

I like to think of personal growth as fulfilling a hierarchy of needs, as defined by Abraham Maslow.

Abraham Maslow arranged human requirements, or needs, according to their importance for survival and their power to motivate the individual. 

The most basic physical requirements, such as food and water, constitute the lowest level of the needs. Once these are satisfied, higher needs become important to individuals. 

Needs at the higher levels of the hierarchy are less oriented towards physical survival and more toward psychological well-being and growth. 

These needs have less power to motivate people than basic physical needs. They are more influenced by formal education and life experiences.

What Are Personal Development Activities and Exercises?

In the simplest terms, a personal development activity or exercise is anything that addresses a need in the hierarchy.

If you are reading this, you are most likely fortunate to have your basic physical needs fulfilled: food, water, shelter, and sleep. 

You may wish you get more sleep, but you probably get enough to sustain yourself physically.

For this reason, when people refer to personal development activities they focus on ones that achieve higher-level needs.

Most often, these relate to love, esteem, and cognitive qualities. Things like managing relationships, building confidence, and developing skill sets.

But it is important not to overlook your safety needs: taking care of your health (diet, exercise, self-care), making and managing your money, as well creating predictability through routines. These fall under personal development activities as well.

So now that you know what personal development and personal development activities are, consider this question:

What self-development activities are you currently engaged in?

Which levels of needs do you feel are currently most fulfilled? Which level of needs do you need to devote attention to?

This will help you determine which personal development activities will be most beneficial for you.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at what I consider to be critical personal development activities and exercises.

Personal Development Activities and Exercises for Growth

There are activities I believe are critical for personal development growth.

These personal development activities are focused on addressing your basic needs (as defined by Maslow) and organizing your approach to the more complex challenges of personal development. 

Complex challenges such as self-esteem, communication, mastering skills, etc.

So what do I believe to be critical personal development activities?

1. Self-Reflection

There is a reason this is first on the list.

Without self-reflection, you will only be addressing instinctive or dire needs. 

Self-reflection allows you to truly spend time thinking about the state of your life and where you need improvement. Where you need to address your needs better.

It is the first step in putting together a plan, a wish list of sorts, of where you want to do better. How you want to be better and where you want to be in your life.

But self-reflection is something that everyone should do consistently and often, not just once. It is a method to reflect on your actions and decisions and determine how to pivot yourself to stay on track.

If you are unsure how to self reflect, check out my post of self-reflection questions to get started.

Self-reflection builds self-awareness which is the foundation of personal development.

2. Goal Setting

Did you check out the self-reflection questions? If you did, you noticed one of them is all about your goals.

That is because goal setting is critical to personal growth. 

Self-reflection allows you to determine WHAT you need to address. 

Goal setting is you documenting HOW you will address it.

What are some good personal development goals?

That is obviously incredibly personal and depending on which needs you are trying to address.

But some common personal development goals include:

  • Improving relationships
  • Obtaining a promotion, new job, or making a career transition
  • Mastering a skill (e.g. soft skills such as communication or tangible ones like playing piano)
  • Reading a certain amount of books, listening to podcasts, or other forms of educational goals
  • Health and wellness goals (e.g. exercising, losing weight, eating healthy)
  • Building self-confidence or overcoming insecurities
  • Making a certain amount of money

Your goals should be mixed both in type and time frame. 

Long term goals (1+ years), mid-term goals (3-6), and short-term goals (4-6 weeks). Mid-term goals should be built on long-term goals, and so on.

Your goals should impact all aspects of your life: your career, personal life, and general well-being.

3. Journal

Journaling is a method of documenting your self-reflection and goal setting activities. 

I am not referring to a “dear diary” long-form essay type of journaling, which is perfectly acceptable as one form of journaling. 

But it is important to organize your thoughts, goals, and reflections in a form that is easy for you to return to.

It’s hard to open up a long-form journal and read through every day in order to find the important parts. 

That is why I recommend either bullet journaling or using a personal development plan.

For bullet journaling, check out this great introductory video.

4. Always Learn

Personal development is about growth and growth requires a better understanding of the world around you. 

That is why it’s incredibly important to always keep educating yourself. And I don’t mean formal education (although there are benefits to that as well).

My favorite way to do this, as many of you probably already know, is reading. 

Become an avid, voracious reader. Devour books on every topic.

I highly recommend trying to read mostly non-fiction books. These tend to be more educational and applicable to specific skill sets or knowledge you need for your growth.

Looking to be a better communicator? Check out my recommendations for the best communication books.

Remember, you don’t have to read physical books either. You can absorb the information just as easily through audiobooks. 

I love audiobooks because you can listen to them anywhere- in the car, while cooking dinner, sitting in your kids’ room waiting for them to fall asleep...and so on.

Other great methods to keep learning that I suggest:

  • Blogs that inspire you (hopefully this one!)
  • Podcasts
  • TED Talks
  • Educational TV programs and documentaries

As you seek out these resources, never take anything at face value. Question everything.

Research your sources and make sure they are credible. Double-check facts that seem questionable. 

The key to learning is to stay curious.

5. Take Action

take action on personal development activities

If you implement the activities above, you have a solid foundation for how to learn and what you want to achieve.

Now you have to take ACTION.

Planning, documenting, learning, etc. are all great and critical. But they mean nothing if you don’t actively take action to get closer to your goals.

Implement your education and what you learn by making sure that you use every day to better yourself.

Taking action means cutting out activities that do not get you closer to your goals.

Use your time wisely, and DO what you plan to do.

6. Challenge Yourself

Perhaps once of the key traits to achieve personal growth is courage.

You have to start being comfortable with the uncomfortable. 

Set high expectations. Write down goals that make you squirm in your seat a bit because you know that you will need to develop skill sets that challenge you.

Are you a big introvert?

Set a goal around communicating and socializing with people. Read books on communication. 

And then implement those lessons. Everyday. Put yourself in those awkward situations.

The more often you challenge yourself, the less challenging those situations become. Because you grow and learn, which is what this is all about.

7. Develop a Routine that Works

personal developement exercise to create routine

I am a firm believer that people thrive in routines, despite what many may say.

Just like a budget works to manage your money, a routine works to manage your time.

Different people certainly need different levels of routine. 

Some individuals, especially ones more experienced in time management, may just need a rough outline of their day to work with.

Others thrive with more rigorous routines, such as calendar blocking.

If you are new to routines, I would go more strict than lax.

Start by creating a routine for your mornings and evenings. 

Have a consistent wake-up time and bedtime. Account for how you spend the first 2 and last 2 hours of your day.

Then, I highly recommend implementing calendar blocking. It will help teach you how to truly manage your time and be productive.

 I don’t see calendar blocking as a permanent solution for everyone, but I think it is necessary to implement at least a few months to learn how to truly manage your time.

8. But Be Open to Spontaneity

Routines are necessary, but sometimes opportunities for personal growth come at spontaneous times. 

Don’t let your routine stand in the way of saying “YES” to these opportunities.

If a mentor invites you to a networking event that evening, but you have your 2x week yoga class that evening...go to the event.

If you are too rigid, you will miss out on some fantastic opportunities.

9. Focus on Yourself

Remember that personal development activities are about you and your growth.

There are two specific things you need to do to ensure you stay focused on your own personal growth: don’t compare yourself to others and don’t judge others.

Both of these are easier said than done.

It is natural to want to compare ourselves to others, and judgment comes as second nature to many.

That is why it is a personal development activity in itself to stay focused on you. Make a conscious effort to avoid focusing on others.

10. Work on Your Self Confidence

Building self-confidence, and tackling your insecurities, is something that will help you with your personal development journey long-term.

Insecurities hold us back and diminish our ability for true personal growth.

Check out my actionable tips on how to develop your self-confidence.

Remember, self-confidence is not a personal development activity you do for a week. It’s a long-term commitment (and would probably make a pretty good long-term goal!).

But building self-confidence does take daily, actionable steps.

11. Sleep More

taking care of basic physical needs is a critical personal development activity

Remember the hierarchy of needs?

Physical needs are the most important, above all else.

So making sure you are getting enough sleep (7-8 hours/night, consistently) will allow you to focus on your higher-level needs.

All those things you want to improve about yourself - confidence, relationships, career progression- requires for your sleep needs to be met.

This should be a very consistent, basic habit. And the easiest way is to have the same bedtime and wake up time every day.

Speaking of waking up...

12. Wake Up Early

Waking up early has a TON of benefits.

But how to do it? Check out some tips from one of my favorite Youtubers, Amy Landino.

No, you don’t have to wake up at 4:30-5am.

You should just wake up EARLY enough to provide you with quiet time in the morning that will allow you to start your day right.

As someone that used to sleep in till noon in college..this is NOT easy. 

But with time, it becomes a habit just like everything else.

13. Eat Healthier

eating healthy is a critical personal development activity

Going back to the hierarchy of needs...health is in the second bucket.

Far ahead of knowledge, self-esteem, etc.

Health, as I interpret it, is not just about being free of illness. It is about how you feel throughout the day.

Having a clear mind. Having energy. A general FEELING of wellness.

I am not here to provide specific nutrition advice, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that what you eat has a direct effect on how you feel.

So ditch the fast food and pre-packaged junk.

Start eating whole foods. Cook at home.

Take care of your physical body, so you can focus on everything else.

14. Exercise

Staying in the same vein, exercise is another key component of health.

I speak about exercise a bit in my post about self confidence.

In short, I am a big proponent of strength training as I believe that feeling strong physically will make you feel strong in every other aspect of your life. 

But you don’t have to strength train (I am not a fitness guru to tell you to do so...although it is a big component of my life).

Find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and do it. 

It IS important. Just like eating healthy, it will make you feel better throughout the day.

15. Ask for Help

asking for help on personal development activities

At the end of the day, if you attempt to take on these personal development activities but need help...ask for it!

Whether you need accountability from a loved one or a life coach, having a support system is critical for personal development.

And of course, if you feel that you need to address mental health issues then definitely look into therapy.

There is NOTHING shameful in needing help, whether from a loved one or from a professional. In fact, help is usually the fastest path to achieve the personal growth you desire.

So those are personal development activities and exercises that I believe are critical to achieve success!

What do you think of the hierarchy of needs? Which bucket do you need to focus on?

Let me know down below!

Check out some of these other helpful posts on personal development:

Build Self Confidence, 7 Tips How to Do It

8 Self-Reflection Questions to Ask Yourself Regularly

60 Productive Things to Do When You’re Bored

Download a FREE ATS-Friendly Resume Template which is  formatted to fit everything on ONE page

15 Critical Personal Development Activities and Exercises

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