Does Anyone Actually ‘Do’ Personal Development?

As an organisational psychologist, I hope the answer to this is ‘Of course, we all want to grow and develop, tell me how?’ But is my viewpoint biased? The answer is yes. 

Personal development falls under the heading of lifelong learning which “should take place at all stages of the life cycle (from the cradle to the grave)…embedded in all life contexts ….learning for every person wherever they are and however old they should be.” The reality is however that only 10% of the EU population aged 25-64 participate in life-long learning

My bias comes from the people I work with and the work that I do. Leaders of organisations, entrepreneurs, surgeons, academics, athletes. People who are hungry to know how they can be better, always wanting to improve, always curious about what that could look like. But as the figure suggests there are a lot of people who are not ‘into’ personal development. In fact, they couldn’t care less about it. This always comes as a shock when I move from my working environment to everyday life. In conversations at parties, in the pub or at my daughters’ school for example people often just ‘don’t get’ what I do. Even those who are successful, driven or passionate about learning for their kids. They puzzle over why someone would pay lots of money to get someone to help them fine tune their thinking and behaviour? Why would they need someone to help make their decision making more adept? Why do they even need to grow? 

However, learning is not just ‘a nice to have’ – learning, growing and evolving is fundamental to who we are and has been throughout our existence.  

You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings Learn to use them, and fly. 

—Mevlana Jelalu’ddin Rumi, thirteenth century 

Curiosity lies at the heart of learning. Todd Kashdan Professor of Psychology at George Mason University defines curiosity as “the recognition, pursuit and desire to explore novel, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous events,” not only initiating but also facilitating learning. When asking the question ‘Why should I bother?’ the outcomes are pretty convincing. Curiosity for example has been linked to:

  • Living longer – in one study, adults aged 60–86 were observed for 5 years. Those who were more curious at the start of the study were more likely to be alive at the end.
  • Improved life-satisfaction, positive effect and meaning in life. 
  • Better memory performance
  • Improved emotional intelligence, capability to monitor self and others’ emotions, emotional expression and sense of humor, along with a greater tolerance to anxiety. All factors which contribute to better relationship quality.

So, we know that life-long learning and personal development are good for us. The question then becomes – what happens to that remaining 90% of people? Do they simply leave school and stop learning? Well no, not really – we are all learning, assimilating the behaviours, attitudes and influences of the people around us continuously. The difference is the extent to which we’re taking that learning in the right direction for what we want in life. Think of it this way – it’s a bit like getting into a taxi drunk and saying ‘take me anywhere for £50’ – yes, you’ll go on a journey, but the likelihood is that it won’t end up at home. If you put your head up every so often and make a suggestion you may end up closer to your destination. We need to be more deliberate if we want to get the most out of that taxi ride.  

So, why not choose the journey you’re on and how you experience it? Why not decide on your destination? Of that 90% I’m pretty confident that a good proportion do in fact go about trying to learn deliberately now and then but give up. Deliberate action is hard work – it’s not what our brain favours. Personal development is one of those ‘niggly things’ that we’ll think about, maybe start doing but then drift away from. Even when I’m working with those who are ‘super successful’, I have to keep drawing them back to the development plan we’ve put in place. We forget, it becomes deprioritized, it doesn’t evolve with us as we learn and grow and it typically doesn’t take account of the tough reality of day to day life. 

So what should you do? In short: 

  • Try to remain curious and open-minded to all of your day to day experience.
  • Find something that motivates you – it sounds obvious but it’s all too easy to go headlong into trying to fix what doesn’t work without thinking about why. For example – I hate admin, I can look at improving my ability to stay organised but ultimately, I’m better off finding systems that simply minimize my need to do it (a poor example but you get the gist)
  • Find something that challenges you, but in the right way – something should feel like it’s stretching you, but not like you’re pushing up against a brick wall (it can be tough to tell the difference and this is often a good place to ask for the opinion of someone you trust)  
  • Work with someone – to hold you accountable, to support you, to believe in you, to act as a sounding board and to remind you of what you may know but have forgotten (e.g. actually you’re really good at this, remember when…..)

If you’d like to know more about the Oka app (which will make all of this a whole lot easier) then please message us!

N.B. People who are not mentally well or who are struggling financially can find it exceptionally hard to learn. If you fall into this category, please be easy on yourself.


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Kashdan TB, Steger MF (2007) Curiosity and pathways to well- being and meaning in life: traits, states, and everyday behaviors. Motiv Emot 31(3):159–173 

Kashdan TB, McKnight PE, Fincham FD, Rose P (2011) When curi- osity breeds intimacy: taking advantage of intimacy opportuni- ties and transforming boring conversations. J Pers 79(6):1067– 1099 

Kashdan TB, Stiksma MC, Disabato DD, McKnight PE, Bekier J, Kaji J, Lazarus R (2018) The five-dimensional curiosity scale: capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people. J Res Pers 73:130–149 

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Murden, F. (2021). Defining You: How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential. Hachette UK.

Murden, F. (2020). Mirror Thinking: How role models make us human. Bloomsbury Publishing.

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