By Chizobam Obi, RN, BSN, CCRP

Personal development is a lifelong process. It’s a way to assess our skills and qualities, consider our aims in life, and set goals to realize and maximize our potential. Part of personal development involves challenging ourselves to learn and master new skills. The more we put ourselves out there—away from our comfort zone to try new things—the more we learn about ourselves.

What the Research Tells Us

Self-improvement involves changing behavior, and that means following a clear progression and set of steps to alter daily living processes to ensure lasting change. Sometimes, change will force us out of our comfort zones and may be a deterrent to people when it comes to self-improvement, but the research suggests that we’re wired to seek change.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that all individuals have an innate need for personal development and growth. The top of Maslow’s pyramid focuses on self-actualization and the need to achieve our fullest potential. It’s that subtle voice in our heads telling us we can do more. The question is, how do we develop ourselves to reach our maximum potential? 

How to Practice

Start by setting a goal for yourself. Goals can give you long-term vision and short-term motivation. Remember, your goal should be SMART, meaning that it’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. The SMART formula will help keep you from creating a goal that’s too lofty or too modest. Write down your goal and keep it as a daily reminder of what you want to achieve. Then, continue following the steps outlined in the sidebar.

As we seek to improve ourselves, we need to remember the importance of positivity and gratitude along the way. Research shows that a simple, intentional change to one’s thoughts and behaviors can precipitate a meaningful increase in happiness and self-improvement. Positive affirmation and intentionally surrounding yourself with positive people can improve quality of life and create a support system as you seek to accomplish your goals. New evidence also suggests that positive emotions—particularly gratitude—may play a role in motivating individuals to engage in positive behaviors that lead to self-improvement.

Self-compassion is another essential steppingstone on the path to personal development, but the journey is not always straightforward or simple. Roadblocks and setbacks will happen, and we must keep that in perspective. When a baby is learning to walk, she is bound to fall. But she almost always picks herself up and tries again. As you grow, be kind to yourself. Studies show that self-compassion may actually increase self-improvement motivation. It encourages people to confront their mistakes and weaknesses without self-deprecation or defensive self-enhancement.

As you develop and improve yourself, seek out mentors who have walked a similar path. Connect with them in person or online. You’ll be amazed at how much people are willing to share if you ask them. When you surround yourself with people who look like what you want to be, they are bound to rub off on you. In fact, studies show that a good mentoring relationship can lead to greater career success, including promotions, raises, and increased access to opportunities. 

As you go through the journey of personal development, measure your progress along the way. This enables you to tweak your strategies, adopt new plans, learn from your mistakes, and increase your self-improvement. Oncology nurses must never lose sight of the importance of growth and self-improvement. The better we support ourselves, the better we’re able to provide the best possible care for our patients with cancer.