Applied Psychology

What is Personal Development?

Mar 12, 2024 | By Jenna van Schoor

Personal development can look different for everyone. What you want to achieve depends on your unique makeup, as well as your goals and ambitions. For some, it can involve building specific skills to help them thrive in their career. Personal development can also focus on improving relationships or building self-esteem.

In this post, we’ll briefly cover the history of personal development from a psychological perspective. We’ll also discuss the relevance of applied psychology to self-improvement and some of the core self-development skills you can learn to kickstart your journey. 

Brief history of personal development

Various psychologists have contributed to the way that we approach self-improvement. Some of the most prominent psychological fields include positive psychology and social psychology. Both these fields focus on how to help people function optimally and thrive in their personal and professional lives. 

These psychologists include the following:

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler pioneered an individual approach to psychology, which addressed feelings of inferiority through meeting the needs of connection, belonging and striving. He viewed humans as social beings. This approach was influential because it shifted the focus from analysing individuals to using supportive psychotherapy to help people solve their problems (and become more effective). 

Carl Jung

Carl Jung is a well-known analytical psychologist who concentrated on the “self”. He advocated for achieving “wholeness” and a healthy sense of self through working with concepts such as archetypes and understanding different personality types.

Daniel Levinson

Daniel Levinson emphasised the role of aspirations and dreams in adult development. He focused on how adults make decisions through different stages of life and developed a more holistic approach to understanding adult development.

Alfred Bandura

Bandura’s research highlighted the importance of self-efficacy. In this case, self-efficacy refers to a person’s beliefs about their ability to do and achieve.

By knowing and believing that one can direct one’s own motivation, behaviours and influence their social environment, Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy can help us to achieve more, live healthier lives and become more resilient.

Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman is the “father” of positive psychology. His research focused on fostering healthy individual development and how to improve wellbeing. He believed that people can learn to live more fulfilling lives by focusing on developing specific strengths instead of focusing on weaknesses. 

Abraham Maslow

Maslow’s approach to positive psychology was also influential. For example, his “hierarchy of needs” concept shows what fundamental requirements we must address when working towards self-actualisation. 

The relevance of applied psychology to self-improvement

We’ve discussed some of the contributions of psychology above, but how can we use applied psychology to enhance our personal growth?

Applied psychology draws from multiple psychological perspectives and theories, which can provide a solid foundation for personal growth. This psychological approach is comprehensive because it isn’t limited to specific analytical structures. Instead, it focuses on researching and implementing practical solutions to social problems. 

For this reason, applied psychology provides a wealth of scientifically-backed tools to support self-development. We can use these tools individually or when working with professionals to achieve specific goals. 

Core self-development skills

Applied psychology provides evidence-based ways to improve our lives by drawing on decades of research and various theoretical approaches. 

But how do we achieve growth practically? What skills do we need to learn to become more effective and enhance the efficacy of those around us?

These core skills include the following:

  • Building self-awareness: by becoming more aware of our internal and external worlds, we can identify where we are struggling and how we would like to improve our lives and relationships.
  • Communication skills: by building our interpersonal skills, we can improve multiple areas of our lives by relating better to others.
  • Enhancing self-esteem: by building self-confidence, we can be more successful and use our existing knowledge and skills more effectively.
  • Increasing self-motivation: by focusing on our strengths, we can motivate ourselves and others and achieve our goals.

Short online courses for personal development

The most effective way to build your skills in any field is to put them into practice. But where do you start?

To make learning more accessible, SACAP Global offers short online courses grounded in Applied Psychology. Experts develop all our courses specifically to help you learn demonstrable skills. 

To help you learn the core self-development skills we discussed in the previous point, we offer the following short online courses and micro-credentials:

If you’re interested in learning more about our other offerings, browse our selection of courses.

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