Take these four steps to build your own custom-designed plan to reach your personal development goals.

Take a moment and think...

Think about one of your past activities, free days, or vacations you really enjoyed, where you didn't do a lot of planning. You didn't worry about the details because you wanted to enjoy a spontaneous, happy-go-lucky trip where the days just happened.

For most people, that's a kind of dream - and in those dreams, we see our trips being fun and relaxing at the same time, everything working out perfectly, and all the memories we'll have to enjoy after the trip is over.

The challenge comes later - your trip didn't turn out the way you wanted. You wound up frustrated, because there's planning required for you to get the most out of an experience.

Take Time to Work Out the Details

It's difficult to enjoy your trip, your experience, or your LIFE if you're required to do a lot of thinking.  Important things like where you're going to go, what you're going to eat, and where you're going to sleep on a moment's notice. You need time to work out those details - and if you don't do this up front, you WILL have to dedicate more time to it later.

Turn back to your past vacations - didn't you build a "big picture" of your journey? You roughed out a plan for where you wanted to go, what you wanted to do when you got there, where you'd stay, and what you'd eat, right?

Perhaps you planned to use a boutique hotel or even a youth hostel. Maybe you researched locally loved restaurants or markets and planned to "eat like a local" while you were there. You might have even made advance plans for visiting cultural or social hotspots like a dance club, a unique museum, or to catch a live musical or play.

Plans are not the enemy of spontaneity, they can in fact be its friend.

Now think about this: you create a plan for a trip you want to take, but you're not spending the time or effort to make a similar plan for your life. Both are important, both influence your current state of mind and level of happiness. Instead, we're floating along like a leaf in the breeze, wondering how we ended up where we are.

If frustration and unhappiness are emotions you don't want to feel because of a lack of preparation, you're likely to recognize the importance of planning ahead. When you create an intentional personal development plan, you have the power to create an individual, customizable journey to help you make the best progress toward the life you want to live and the places you want to go.

I've got four steps for you to use in planning your personal development journey, and you can incorporate the powerful and positive habit of journaling to help you reach your goals.

Step 1: Goal Definition

This first step is critically important. I recommend you begin with short-term goals. You can add medium-term and long-term goals as you flesh out the process and get more comfortable with it.

Short-term goals can be set for two to three months in the future, medium-term goals for six to nine months, and longer-term goals for the next twelve to eighteen months.

Your short- and medium-term goals can feed into your long-term goal and linking them together isn't a bad idea. Doing this will help you realize that each step you take in the right direction acts as a building block toward your goals.

Each step takes you higher up the hill and as you climb, you're learning, experiencing, and getting stronger and better. Each step you take could (and should) be documented in your personal journal.

Reinforce your commitment to your goal and to the journey by reinforcing your motivation. Write about why you want to accomplish your goals, and how each step ties into the next and the next. Having a big picture to add to your focus is wonderful and taking note of the individual steps you take to reach your goals helps to reinforce your motivation and fires you up to continue making forward progress.

Don't be afraid to dream - but setting goals that cannot be accomplished in your chosen period is a proven recipe for disappointment and frustration.

Saying your goal is to "become a millionaire" in 30 days isn't realistic - it isn't even in the realm of possibility for most people, especially when starting from an authentic place. Fleshing out your plans with details is a fantastic way to take note of the steps you MUST take to succeed, and will help you to set a challenging, but realistic timeline for achieving them.

Step 2: SWOT Analysis

You already know where I'm going here - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats - a common analytical and planning tool used in businesses and corporations. You've heard about or participated in this kind of planning exercise in your workplace, but now we're going to turn the lens on your life and your plans. 

It's time to dig deep - what are your strengths? Those positive traits that you use every day in your career, education, or business. Don't discount them because you're used to seeing and using them - write them down and use them to help motivate you.

What are you good at and what qualifications and experience do you have? How will these positive qualities help you get closer to achieving your goals? What aspects of your expertise will help you make progress on your journey? 

What might you be missing? What traits might stand in your way - i.e. weaknesses - and how can you update your skill set to counteract them? What additional education or experience would help increase the odds in your favor, and where can you obtain them?

What about potential opportunities that you can benefit from and will help you achieve your goals? Have you kept track of new innovations in your areas of interest? What about advancements in technology that relate to your goals - what do you know about them and how might they affect your plans? Remember - Blockbuster video did not respond to the technological advancements that made Netflix possible and look what happened to them.

What threats stand in your way, negative or challenging circumstances that could prevent you from achieving your goals? How are events in your local and regional area impacting your plans? Are you "taking the temperature" of your life as it relates to your personal development plan? Do you have (or can you make the time to pursue your goals? Are they important enough to you to change your daily, weekly, and monthly plans to make room for them, or are you not committed to what you say you want?

If in fact there is a threat you must deal with, how can you plan ahead to navigate that rough water? Once you've completed this step, it's time to move on to creating your actual plan.

One caution: DO NOT WAIT until you've created a solution for every potential problem - you'll never reach that point, and you'll lose precious time in trying to allow for any and every potential drawback or obstacle.

Step 3: Create Your Plan

You created, analyzed, and set your goals - including a workable time limit and what you'll need to achieve each phase. Now it's time to put your plan down on paper, or in an electronic document, or whatever method you choose, and flesh out the details.

Here is where you'll get specific on your goals, creating that step-by-step plan in detail. It’s at this stage of the process that you will set specific goals and determine how you will achieve them. Start detailing the resources you'll require, who in your life can be on your team and help you achieve your goals. You'll set a timeline for your project - realizing that it likely will take longer than you think, but you also want to give yourself enough time to acquire the resources you need (education, experience) and to mediate your stress levels by not trying to accomplish everything yesterday.

Whatever you want to achieve is worth working for and yes, waiting for. What do you want the result of your personal development journey to look like? Create an entry in your journal describing your daily activities and routine after you achieve each step in your goal. What will change? How will you mark your achievement? This doesn't have to cost a lot - think of things you can do or time you can allocate that will function as a reward for your achievement.

Step 4: Track Your Progress Intentionally and Regularly

There’s no point in working hard to complete all the steps above if you don’t implement a way to track your progress, your accomplishments, and the occasional stumble.

Setting milestones, creating time limits, and taking action is part of your journey - but that journey isn't set in stone.  Each step you take toward your goal should also include a review session so you can note your progress. Some steps will move at lightning speed, others may move as slow as molasses in January in Alaska's frigid temperatures.

An important question: Are you happy with your results and your progress so far? If not, why not? Have you set a goal that's incompatible with your timeline? Do you have the personal resources to accomplish your goal? 

What changes can you make to improve your success level, and what will it take to implement those changes? What is working for you, and what is working on your last nerve? 

What requires more of your focus and what should you let go of? Where are you getting bogged down in the details, and is a sense of perfectionism slowing your progress?

These questions can help you spot places where your plan needs to be altered - not destroying it and starting over, but instead, taking a temporary detour, or changing the order of the steps. 

Don't be afraid to update or change your plan. Even if it requires you to extend your timeline, imagine how much farther along you'll be if you keep on moving forward. Ultimately, changing your direction may SAVE you time in the end. Be open and flexible enough to respond to changes that can affect your personal development.

When something arises or attracts your attention multiple times, describe it in your journal.  Repeated inspiration or ideas are trying to get your attention - can they be helpful in your journey? Repeated roadblocks may be pointing to something you neglected to allow for, or a past incident that needs to be resolved so that you can move forward.

Don't be afraid to remove a goal from your personal development plan if it's no longer serving you. The road to your personal development may not run straight, and it will occasionally be bumpy, but if you follow it to its end and adjust it to fit your best outcome, it will provide you with a fulfilling and extraordinary experience that gets you closer to living the life of your dreams. 

About the Author Dianne Daniels

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and currently residing in Norwich, Connecticut, Dianne M. Daniels' mission is to empower women 50+ to Amplify their Self-Confidence, Deepen their Self-Knowledge, Inspire Creativity, and Glide into the next phase of their lives with the Power of Journaling, Affirmations, and Assessments.

You can learn how to use these time-tested proven practices to create and manifest the life you want (and deserve) to live.

Dianne is an ordained Unitarian Universalist Minister and holds a Master of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry. She's an avid reader, a lover of old houses (she renovated an 1850s vintage Greek Revival home with her family) and has been journaling since the age of 9.

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