Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to receive a wealth of personal development tips, which have aided my personal growth and professional development.  Some of the lessons were intentional and some were not.  Some came from people I knew and worked with, as well as from books, movies and the nightly news. The first 8 are my favourites and are personal experiences, the following 10 are some further ways to develop yourself in thought-provoking ways. You might also want to consider personal development training.

Not everyone is looking

Here’s the scene: I’m standing awkwardly on the sidelines of a buzzing cocktail reception, before a big fundraising event for my nonprofit employer. I shift back and forth, clutching my drink, trying to look nonchalant like I belong. Everyone seems to know everyone else, except for me, that is. I wonder if I should break into one of the conversation groups scattered around the room, but don’t know how. I can’t disappear, my usual strategy at these things, because I’m working the event. Just then, my boss comes up and whispers in my ear, “Not everyone is looking at you, Bonnie.” Thus, at 28 years old, I learned that the world didn’t revolve around me. Even now, I still have to remind myself of this, and it’s always a relief.

Let me think about that

When you’re in a business meeting, you don’t have to have all the answers, all the time. You can say, “Let me think about that,” then get back to people later on. A boss explained this to me after she watched me dig a hole for myself during an intense negotiating session. It is one of my simplest but most impactful personal development tips.

We do not learn from our successes

I once made an expensive mistake while supervising a video production and it became one of my memorable personal development tips I went up to the CEO’s office, full of anxiety, and apologized. She smiled and said, “We do not learn from our successes.” In that moment I saw that great leaders avoid placing blame, instead of focusing on how to fix things and move forward. They encourage the professional development of their followers, as well as of themselves.

Don’t fear controversy

Shortly after I became the head of communications for a well-known women’s health organization, a controversy arose that attracted attention from the national news media. I charged into the CEO’s office all fired up with ideas on how to contain the crisis. She gave me a quizzical look and said, “Don’t fear controversy. This is a teachable moment, an opportunity for us to stand on our values and explain them to the public.”

Maybe she knows something you don’t

I read this somewhere. When someone makes a decision that you think is the strangest thing ever, consider whether she has access to more information than you do. Just because her actions don’t make sense to you doesn’t mean she’s wrong. Maybe she knows something you don’t. This is a good personal development tip to remember before you criticize a colleague, your boss, a policymaker or a family member.

Reward Performance, not potential

I once hired a great person for my team. He didn’t have much experience, but he was smart and had tons of potential. At the six-month point, he hadn’t performed as well as I’d expected. Thinking he needed more time, I took him off probation and gave him a small raise as motivation. When his year-end review came due, his work was no better, and I had a problem. I couldn’t let him go or put him back on probation because the paper trail showed that he was doing so well at six months that I gave him a raise. The moral of this story is—Reward performance, not potential.

Operate in a multicultural workforce

My friend Milly jokes, “You’re the last white person I’m educating.” While this is funny, consider the serious issues that underlie her statement. Many people like me, who grow up white and privileged, make assumptions based on our own experience, or the lack thereof. By “privileged” I don’t mean wealthy. I mean being able to walk into an expensive shop without worrying that the clerk will think you’re shoplifting. Or being able to assume your teenage son can come and go without being shot by police.

People of colour, on the other hand, don’t have this kind of privilege. Many grow up navigating two different worlds, the world of white privilege and the world of their less privileged, direct experience. They understand our world better than we understand theirs. This is a major barrier if we are unconscious of our privilege. We sometimes make assumptions, attribute motivations, or come to conclusions that are inaccurate and possibly detrimental to our teams, projects, and organizations. Make it a point to educate yourself about how best to operate in today’s multicultural workforce. Whatever your racial, ethnic or cultural background, cultivate colleagues who can help you become a more effective teammate and manager by creating a work environment that values diversity.

Don’t mistake activity for achievement

My most recent tip came from Fareed Zakaria, a journalist who has an excellent public affairs program on CNN called GPS: The Global Public Square. (No, I’m not on his payroll.) On one recent show, he pointed out that US President Dwight Eisenhower resisted pressure from pundits and politicians to intervene militarily in several world conflicts that took place during his administration. Zakaria contrasted Eisenhower’s position with that of other, more recent presidents, who involved the US in bringing down several foreign governments, the results of which are decidedly negative. The lesson here is—Don’t mistake activity for achievement. It struck a chord with me, as I can think of more than one time in my career when pressure for action resulted in a lot of wheel spinning without productive results.

Embrace “Neurobics” for Cognitive Flexibility

Neurobics is a term that refers to brain exercises that enhance brain performance. It involves doing everyday activities in new, surprising ways to stimulate new neural pathways. For instance, try using your non-dominant hand for daily tasks like brushing your teeth or writing. This not only challenges your brain but also can lead to increased neural activity in parts of the brain responsible for processing tactile information, which can improve cognitive flexibility. Moreover, neurobics can be a fun way to test and expand your mental agility, breaking the monotony of routine and encouraging creativity and adaptability.

Practice “Emotional Bartering” to Enhance Emotional Intelligence

“Emotional Bartering” involves consciously trading negative emotions for positive ones. For instance, when feeling anxious, you might decide to ‘trade’ your anxiety for curiosity. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this situation?” This practice is based on the principle that emotions are a form of energy and can be transformed. By actively choosing to swap one emotion for another, you engage in emotional regulation, a key component of emotional intelligence. This not only helps in managing emotions more effectively but also in understanding and empathizing with others.

Cultivate “Intellectual Humility” for Personal Growth

Intellectual humility involves recognizing and embracing the limits of one’s knowledge. It is the understanding that you don’t know everything and that what you do know could be wrong. This mindset encourages constant learning and openness to new ideas. Engaging in debates where you argue the opposite of your own beliefs can be a practical way to practice intellectual humility. This not only strengthens your arguments but also opens your mind to different perspectives, enhancing cognitive empathy and promoting a growth mindset.

Implement “Spiritual Anchoring” in Daily Life

“Spiritual Anchoring” is one of the personal development tips which refers to the practice of connecting daily actions to your deeper spiritual beliefs or values. For example, if kindness is a value you cherish, consciously integrate acts of kindness into your daily routine. This can be as simple as offering a genuine compliment. The key is to ensure that every action, no matter how small, is tied back to your spiritual or ethical beliefs. This practice not only provides a sense of purpose but also strengthens your spiritual intelligence, which is the ability to use spiritual and ethical values to guide actions and decisions.

Explore “Cognitive Dissonance” as a Growth Tool

Cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort experienced when holding two conflicting beliefs, can be leveraged for personal growth. Actively seeking out situations or information that contradict your current beliefs can be enlightening. For example, reading books or listening to podcasts that challenge your views can stimulate cognitive growth and flexibility. This practice encourages open-mindedness and adaptability, essential components of cognitive intelligence.

Develop “Personality Fluidity” for Social Adaptation

“Personality Fluidity” involves adapting your behaviour and reactions based on the social context, without losing the essence of who you are. It’s about being like water – taking the shape of the container it’s in. This could mean being more assertive in a business meeting while being empathetic and nurturing in a family setting. This practice is grounded in the understanding of social intelligence – the ability to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments.

Embrace “Mindful Distraction” for Stress Relief

“Mindful Distraction” is a technique where you consciously choose a distraction to give your mind a break from stress. This could be something like solving a puzzle, gardening, or drawing. Unlike aimless scrolling on social media, mindful distraction is intentional and purposeful. It leverages the concept of ‘flow’, a state where you’re fully immersed in an activity, providing a break for your cognitive resources. This practice not only helps in managing stress but also in rejuvenating your mind for higher productivity.

Practice “Sensory Mindfulness” for Emotional Grounding

“Sensory Mindfulness” involves focusing intensely on one or more of your senses. For example, when eating, try to concentrate on the texture, taste, and smell of the food. This practice is rooted in the idea that paying close attention to sensory experiences can bring you back to the present moment, reducing anxiety and stress. It’s a form of grounding technique that can help manage overwhelming emotions and enhance your emotional intelligence by fostering a deeper connection with the present moment.

Engage in “Contrast Thinking” for Perspective Enhancement

“Contrast Thinking” involves deliberately thinking about the opposite of your current situation. For example, if you’re feeling stuck in your career, spend time imagining a scenario where your career is thriving. This practice, grounded in cognitive psychology, can help in developing a more balanced perspective and aid in problem-solving. It encourages the brain to consider alternatives and possibilities, which can lead to more innovative solutions and a more resilient mindset.

Adopt “Temporal Diversification” for Decision Making

“Temporal Diversification” is the practice of making decisions from the perspective of your past, present, and future self. When faced with a decision, consider how your past self would have seen it, how your present self perceives it, and how your future self would reflect on it. This method, drawing on principles from behavioural economics and psychology, encourages holistic thinking and can lead to more thoughtful, balanced decision-making. It helps in integrating lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the possibilities of the future into the decision-making process.

These personal development tips can be used over and over to integrate new ways of thinking and being.

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I am a freelance writer and a consultant to social change organizations. I also teach graduate courses in media, management and leadership at The New School, a progressive university in New York City.