How to Effectively Engage in Personal Development: The No-Filler Edition

“Personal development.”

What a granola, trendy topic, right?

There are thousands of articles out there about self-improvement, personal development and growth, and learning available online. If you’re subscribed to receive email alerts from a platform such as Medium (cough cough), you likely see several of these each week.

However, personal development and learning can play a critical role in career development. Individuals that can adapt and act as experts across domains make real contributions to their organizations, providing real value and (hopefully!) receiving the kind of compensation they have earned for said expertise and effort.

The team here at Rhabit believes that everyone can benefit from a little self-development and reflection (so much so that we baked it right in to our product!). So, without referencing a single pop mogul or quoting a (in)famous source, here are 11 ways we believe you can develop new skills, confidence, and advance both personally and professionally:

1. Small Steps
If you think about it, everything you want to learn in a given domain can be broken down into smaller components, and those components can be broken down again, and again… you get the idea.

When learning a new skill, first break down the concept into components, and then tease out the necessary skills and behaviors. Focusing on each of these in small bites can help you build up to the bigger picture with greater ease, especially as you incorporate exercises that tie them together. Expertise in a field or at a skill doesn’t come overnight; trying to tackle everything at once can lead to burnout and a loss of motivation beyond what you’re trying to accomplish. Take small steps and you’ll stay ahead.

2. Exploration
Don’t pigeonhole yourself based on one skill or interest you’re trying to develop.

As you learn new skills and process information, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll come across something that isn’t necessarily aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish but catches your interest anyway.

Why not pull that thread and see where it leads? Often, adjacent skills and ideas can take you places you never dreamed of. Plus, you can surprise others with your range of knowledge and talent — good to have in your back pocket for your next interaction with a senior leader at work!

3. Objective Feedback 
Seeking objective feedback from a third party can be intimidating. It can also open your eyes to strengths and gaps you never knew existed.

Try to find parties that can offer an unbiased opinion of your efforts. If you continue asking the same pool of people to review your progress or your work (or worse, never asking anyone!), how will you get the diversity of opinion that can really help you grow and advance?

4. Check Yourself (Before you Wreck Yourself!)
Are you putting too much pressure on yourself?

If you’re “type A” (or maybe, you know, just a typical human), you probably apply a lot of pressure internally. Imposing deadlines? Tossing and turning at night because you didn’t finish that project or realized an extra detail you could’ve added?

Cut yourself some slack. That’s the great thing about personal expectations — they’re personal. You can change them. It’s great to be driven, but how can you perform and learn effectively if you’re beating yourself up? Maybe this is even an opportunity to learn yet another skill — giving yourself the time, resources, and encouragement to advance at a reasonable pace. Something that really helps with this — See step 1!

5. Practice
Courses, books, and training are great traditional methods you can and should pursue to expand your skills. To supplement these efforts, incorporate practicing these skills as realistically as possible. Build a portfolio of work and keep track of your achievements. Periodically go back and review your old work, comparing it to your new work. Are there areas you’ve improved in? Where do you still seem stuck? Asking yourself and others these questions can be a valuable source of direction and motivation for what to try next.

6. Nonprofits, Committees, and Volunteering
If you’re ready to put your newly learned skills and ideas to the test, why not put them into action in a new environment? Partnering or offering your skills voluntarily to a non-profit organization is rewarding not only because you get to help others and give back, but it can also provide some valuable perspective and help you appreciate issues outside your immediate sphere of influence.

Joining a committee can help you with your leadership and communication skills, which is useful across the board, especially as you leverage your talents in a new domain. Additionally, working with NPOs, volunteering, or joining a committee can exponentially grow your network, provide excellent experience, and add pieces of work to your portfolio to showcase later.

7. Finding Mentorship or Peer Groups, Meetups, etc.
Whether it’s one individual you respect and work with directly as a mentor, or a group of people who have similar passions or skills, these connections can be invaluable.

Mentors and networking groups provide opportunities to receive support and direction on your journey of development, draw inspiration, collect meaningful feedback on your processes, ask questions, and learn from the mistakes of others in your field. These relationships can also expand your personal and business networks to make friends and get referrals through building trust with other experts.

8. Take Time for Self-Care
Sometimes, even a small break can feel like a luxury… or worse, like you’re slacking. Self-care doesn’t have to be a deadly sin, however, and is actually an important part of the learning and development process.

Self-care doesn’t have to mean anything extreme, either. It simply allows you to set boundaries between yourself and other tasks that are consuming your energy rapidly.

What does self-care look like? It can be taking breaks to engage with other people and activities, getting exercise, a change of environment, grabbing some food, or even shelving the task temporarily and going to bed until you’re ready to come back to it. Self-care tasks are often framed in our minds as “giving up on” or “avoiding” work, but the opposite is true.

Self-care can prevent the burnout you experience when you push yourself to the point where you’re overloaded and you just give up. It also reduces the negative effects of stress for both the short and long term. Best of all, self-care helps you to refocus your energy — if you’re stuck, you can walk away to refresh your mind and take some of the excess pressure off. When you come back to what you were attempting earlier, you’ll have a fresh perspective and likely some novel solutions.

9. Recognize the Power in Comparisons
When comparing your current work to previous work, this can be satisfying or motivating (see #5). When comparing your work to that of others, use caution — this can either spark creativity and provide new ideas and directions, or become frustrating when you haven’t achieved a similar level of competency or quality to your point of comparison.

10. Do What You Can, When You Can
For some people, this means scheduling time daily to dedicate to their self-improvement efforts. For others who may not have the ability to structure their schedules as effectively, try taking ten minutes during the day as time is available to read something of interest, practice writing, using new tools, etc.

We’ve found this approach to be more helpful since most of our schedules are packed except for very short periods. We love taking notes on what we find during these moments, and review them when we have time later to begin a deeper exploration.

11. Don’t be Afraid to Talk About It
No one likes the idea of being that guy (or girl). You know who I mean: the one who can’t stop talking about their latest project and humblebragging or martyring themselves while everyone around them rolls their eyes.

Obviously, it’s important to choose your audience and rate of repetition carefully, but it’s equally important to share your experiences as you grow and advance personally and professionally. This allows others to connect to you in a real and meaningful way, and a means for both parties to receive support and insight. Don’t be afraid to share your experience, even if it is just to vent about the difficulties. Building authentic conversations helps to build authentic relationships — and isn’t that the point?

What are your experiences with growth and development like? Any other tips? Let us know!

Until then, with data-driven love,
The Team at Rhabit