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3 Reasons Why Creating A Good Personal Development Plan Is More Difficult Than You Think

Written by: Ian Gibbs, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Ian Gibbs

Activities such as climbing Mount Everest or rowing the Atlantic are evidently challenging. However, there are other activities that appear easy but upon further investigation turn out to be almost as difficult.

Businessman looking out of the window in office

One such activity is creating a good personal development plan.

Anyone interested in advancing their career knows the importance of having a personal development plan. Not a vague idea of getting up the career ladder, but a clear, well-thought-out series of attainable milestones along with a realistic strategy for achieving them.

However, despite its importance, few people have one, and even fewer have one which I would rate as good. This is because it’s much more challenging than most people realise.

Why is it so hard to create a good personal development plan?

In this month’s article, let’s look at why creating a powerful PDP is such a challenge and how these challenges can be overcome.

1. We’re simply not used to it

From kindergarten to graduation, you are taught that learning is about doing what you’re told. In a class or lecture, this is obvious. But even when you read a book or do an online course, in the background, there is someone who is effectively telling you ‘Do that,’ and ‘Well, done! Now do this!’.

Even as adults, when we feel a need to improve in some way by learning something new, we feel a need to reach out to an expert, a book, a course, or a mentor that will tell us what to do. But this isn’t such a good idea as it might seem.

Books and courses, rarely match your own immediate individual needs.

Experts and mentors live in their universes built on their experiences and skills, not your experiences and skills. This means their advice might not be ideal for your situation. I was once ‘taught’ how to sell by someone who turned out to be on a completely different planet from me. Their values, priorities, and skills did not match mine at all. It was a waste of time for both of us.

Instead of looking for an external answer, a good personal development plan comes from within. It’s tempting to listen to those people who try to sell you their magic formula for success. Listening to them is easier, especially if they are the ones doing the thinking instead of you. But that person is never going to know your needs like you know them.

Taking time to assess your own circumstances, values, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, resources, and desires will always produce a better result, especially if you take the time to do it properly. But as you’re probably not used to it, most likely you'll feel out of your comfort zone and try to wriggle out of it as quickly as possible.


Recognise the benefits of taking ownership of your personal development. Set aside an hour or two and start noting down your long-term goals (5 to 10 years). Then support each one with medium-term goals (5 to 10 months) and then use those to set yourself immediate short-term goals (5 to 10 days).

Use whatever tools you feel useful (such as the Wheel of Life or SWOT analysis) but for the moment, resist the urge to get others to do the thinking for you.

2. We aren’t good at identifying our real personal development needs

Have you ever dealt with a professional such as a salesperson, a receptionist, or a waiter and within seconds noticed how they could improve their professional competence?

Sometimes it’s a wonder how some people manage to keep their job considering how bad their service is. Have you also noticed how they seem blissfully unaware of their incompetence? Have you also noticed how this would never apply to you?

As they say, it’s difficult to read the label from inside the bottle.

I’m sorry, but the bad news is it applies to all of us. So far (with the possible exception of my wife) none of us are perfect. There is always room for improvement if we could only see through unfiltered glasses. But this is also a tough pill to swallow. It’s much easier to put the blame on someone else. We each have a list of excuses to justify why we’re not doing as well as we’d like. It’s due to our boss, our colleagues, our noisy neighbours, the traffic, or the economy.

It’s much easier to put the blame on anyone else rather than on yourself. And for some, rectifying this is truly a monumental task.


This is going to be difficult, but find a few people who can give you an honest opinion of your abilities. Ironically, you’ll find your enemies can be much more truthful and direct than your friends. Ask them what you could do to be a better leader, boss, teammate, partner, parent, or human being in general. Then simply shut up and listen. Don’t argue. Don’t try to defend. Don’t justify. If you do say anything it should begin with ‘So what you’re saying is…’

Do this with as many people as you can stomach. Then take their replies and incorporate them into your personal development plan.

Remember, acknowledging your weaknesses is the first step to turning them into strengths.

3. We don’t like getting out of our comfort zone

There is a huge gap between knowing what to do and being able to do it. It’s the old theory vs practice challenge.

You don’t become a better leader by simply reading a book on leadership in the same way as you don’t become a better tennis player by simply reading a book on it.

But it’s tempting to try to justify reading, watching videos, and even attending an online course, as worthwhile because they are relatively comfortable activities that give you the sensation of learning. They don’t make you feel nervous or cause you to squirm. Compare how you’d feel being asked to spend thirty minutes on a language-learning app compared to spending half an hour trying to talk to a language exchange partner. Which one makes you feel more nervous? From which one would you learn the most? I’m afraid I know people who have spent a year on a language-learning app and are still incapable of having the simplest of conversations.

I find an excellent measure of how much you’re learning is by gauging how uncomfortable it makes you feel. The more, the better, up to a reasonable point. Yet these uncomfortable experiences are precisely the experiences we tend to avoid when we plan our own development.

If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, consider these examples:

  • Trial and error

  • Roleplay

  • Simulations

  • On-the-job training

  • Copying others

  • Collaborative projects

  • Having a go

  • Gamification

  • Peer learning

  • Problem-based learning


Look at your personal development plan and the methods by which you intend to achieve your goals. How many of them are from the above list?

If your PDP includes a healthy amount of this kind of activities, then you are on the road to stardom. You will gain more useful experience, and thus grow and prosper more quickly. But if your list is mostly about acquiring theory, (books, podcasts, online courses) then don’t blame me if your personal development plan turns out to be akin to a hamster wheel lots of activity but no real progress.

Creating an effective Personal Development Plan for professionals can feel as challenging as trying to reach the South Pole blindfolded. But, with a little guidance and support, the journey is possible and definitely worth it. A well-thought-out PDP is your roadmap to a brighter professional future.

So, as you relax in your comfort zone, think about taking that first step out of it. Don't wait for someone else to give you their version of a roadmap – think for yourself. Be the cartographer of your career. Start by taking ownership, embrace your flaws, and take regular steps beyond your comfort zone by doing something you find challenging rather than just reading about it. Your future professional self will thank you, and you'll start reaching those distant horizons of your career much more quickly.

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Ian Gibbs Brainz Magazine

Ian Gibbs, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ian Gibbs is a leading expert in learning techniques and personal development. Through his talks, books and workshops, Ian helps individuals and organisations develop better strategies for learning how to overcome obstacles and achieve goals they thought were beyond them. He is the founder of Learning Clubs which are rapidly gaining notoriety for being a powerful personal development accelerator. Ian's mission is to help people understand and apply everything that science knows about how we develop new behaviour and skills but which is sadly so often overlooked and so keep up in today's rapidly changing world.



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