There’s a saying, “What gets watched gets done, and what gets rewarded gets done again.” We may find it surprisingly easy to wander through life more or less on automatic, reacting to whatever obstacles come our way, trying to keep hitting our marks, or keep all our balls in the air, or stay afloat – whatever metaphor floats your boat.

The problem with running on auto-pilot is that whatever good things come our way come by happenstance. I kept going to work, and they paid me, I kept taking my kid to school and they graduated, I kept eating and didn’t die. Not a very rewarding life, largely because we forget to set goals and make a plan.

What Do You Want?

There’s a story in Scripture of two fishermen coming up to Jesus because they had heard good things about him. He turns to them and says, “What do you want?” This question can be heard two ways, “Whaddayawant?” as in “Why are you bothering me?” but the clear meaning here is, “What do you desire?”

Why would he ask them that? Desire is the primary motivator for behavior, and behavior is what brings change to our world, both individually and in groups. If you want to experience change in your world, you have to get an answer to this question before you can begin forming a useful plan.

We Are Holistic Beings

Because we are each possessed of a body, mind, soul, and spirit, any personal development plan should include tasks that target each of those areas.

Body: You are what you eat, as the saying goes, so any personal development plan should include considerations around what and how you eat. Be wary of fad diets. They may take pounds off, but some of them are not a good balance for what your body needs. Take the time to read up about possible negative effects of the diet, and be sure it is a good fit for your particular situation, including medical conditions.

Mind: The idea that you are what you eat applies to your mind as well. It is completely understandable if you want to collapse in a chair after a stressful day at work and watch shows. It is helpful, however, to be aware of the impact when you’re doing it.

Some people reflexively flip on the news and then wonder why their anxiety is ramping up. Or they binge-watch some post-apocalyptic nightmare where the main characters are always on the run and then wonder why they feel like everything is pretty hopeless.

Watching television changes your brainwaves, shifting your thinking from the left side to the right side of your brain, which means you are less inclined to think critically about what you are seeing. Entertainment is fine to a point, but it is good to know how it is affecting us and our productivity in our personal life. Shifting some T.V. time to time working on planned goals is one way to move your mind in a more productive direction.

Be on the lookout for negative thought patterns – negative self-assessments playing on a loop. Thoughts like “I’ll never make any progress,” or “I’m useless as an employee,” or “No one could possibly love me” are examples of negative thoughts that might be playing on a loop in the theater of the mind.

They do not have to be allowed to stand and you can fight them by stuffing truth in the mouth of the lie. For example, a thought like “I’m a loser” can be countered with “I am an amazing, unique reflection of the image of God on the Earth.” Every time the tape plays, you get to change it. This is how we can begin to take each thought captive.

Soul: The seat of your emotions may get a lot of stimulation during a normal day. If we don’t manage and process our emotions, especially the negative ones, they can pile up and eventually make it hard for us to function. This is where checking in and managing our stress comes in.

We have to check in to know how we are doing. Pause and sit quietly, then notice where you feel stress. Wonder what it’s about. Engage deep breathing using your diaphragm, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Deep breathing using your diaphragm tells your parasympathetic nervous system it is okay to calm down.

Try it for 2, 5, or 10 minutes and see if there is a noticeable reduction in your stress/anger/anxiety. When our emotions become unmanageable, it is time to see a mental health professional to get some help.

Spirit: It is a helpful thought that we are not alone in the universe. There are problems in the world, and even in my life that I like to think are above my pay grade. The thought that there is a loving God who loves and cares for me, despite any evidence to the contrary, is comforting when I take the time to engage with it.

Imagine an altar of the Creator, where you can bring your burdens and unshoulder them, saying, “This is too big for me to carry. I’m leaving it in your care.” While there is value in time spent in quiet contemplation, our spirits are also fed by being in relationship with people.

We have been designed to grow most often in the presence of others. Perhaps the Creator knew we would tend to isolate ourselves for all kinds of reasons, so we were given families, friends, and extended family should we chose a place to worship. Relationships can be messy, but that doesn’t mean it is healthy for us to avoid them.

Making A Personal Development Plan

There’s a quote attributed to Zig Ziglar, “Aim at nothing, and you’ll hit it every time.” Once you answer the question, “What do I want?” the next step is to begin to lay out the steps to get there by creating a personal development plan. The more complex the path, the more you will need to break it down into Goals, Steps, and Tasks. Take the example of a teenager who wants to buy a car. Her plan might look like this:


Step 1: Get Money

Step 2: Shop for car

Step 3: Buy the car

Those are your essential steps to buy a car. To accomplish those steps you need to break each up into smaller pieces (tasks):

Get Money

  • Beg mom and dad
  • Ask grandma
  • Get a job
  • Ask mom and dad for ideas

Shop for Car

  • Look through ads
  • Narrow the field (Make/model?)
  • Check Kelly Blue Book
  • Bring a mechanic friend to look

Make a decision

Buy the Car

  • Purchase the car
  • Registration
  • Any immediate care and maintenance

Show everybody!

This is a pretty simple plan. A plan to get you through an undergraduate degree and then medical school would have a much more complex series of steps and tasks.


Note: Spiritual goals are personal, should be prayerfully considered and approached with kindness. They are not included here. You will have to decide what they are and where they belong in your plan.

Your personal development plan may include a variety of things, such as “learn the guitar,” “get a better job,” “lose twenty pounds,” “find entertainment options that get me out of the house,” or “spend more time with the kids”.

When you are first making your list, just write things down as they come to mind. Once you feel like you have the list, it’s time to prioritize. When you prioritize, you want to “get your big rocks in first.” Using the list above, I would be inclined to prioritize this way:

  1. Spend more time with the kids (Family)
  2. Get a better job (Work)
  3. Lose twenty pounds (Physical health)
  4. Find entertainment options that get me out of the house (Mental health)
  5. Learn the guitar (General well-being)

All of those goals would need steps and tasks so you can work toward them. You have to decide how you want to prioritize your own goals. If we take the time and effort to create a personal development plan by making choices about our goals, writing them down, breaking them down into steps and tasks, and beginning to accomplish those tasks, we can become an active, vibrant agent of change in our own lives.

“Informal Meeting”, Courtesy of Austin Distel,, CC0 License; “Reinvent Yourself”, Courtesy of Allie Smith,, CC0 License; “Studying”, Courtesy of Joel Muniz,, CC0 License; “Lunch Meeting”, Courtesy of LinkedIn Sales Navigator,, CC0 License


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