Personal development is a pivotal theme for most people in their 20s, and focusing on this goal can maximize your potential now and later in life. These are the years of forming your adult identity, finding your style of relating to others, and ultimately discovering what gives you meaning in your life, among other important goals. That’s a pretty tall order and one that can take you beyond your 20s, though this is an important time to start. The following research-backed goals can help you to develop as a person (whatever your age), find what can lead you to happiness, and become your best self from this point on.
Find Your Core Values
Finding what your core values are and following them in your career and relationships is something that is most easily done in your 20s. This is the foundation upon which you build your life, and following your core values now can help you to be off and running toward other goals that will make you truly happy.
Following your core values can also help you to avoid investing a lot of time and energy into a path that you’ll ultimately regret because it’s not aligned with who you truly are.
Core values aren’t a simple thing to examine, but with personal reflection, the answers are there for you to find. Keeping a journal and asking yourself what you value most in life can help. Is family the most important thing to you? Or love? What about artistic expression or contributing your time and energy to a cause you care about? These are all values you can put your time and energy into, and values that can inform the work you do in life, as well as how you spend your free time.
Other values can influence who you are as a person and how you interact with others. For example, is honesty one of your more valued traits? Or integrity? How far are you willing to go in a relationship and how much are you willing to sacrifice to maintain these traits in yourself? These are also not only questions to ask yourself, but themes to be aware of.
Putting It Into Action
There are several ways that you can take this concept and work it into your personal goals. Here are a few ideas that can help:
- Create a personal mission statement. Form a statement that notes what your values are and what you hold most dear, as well as how you would like to put those values into action.
- Create a simple list of important personal values.
- Maintain a journal where you examine your past experiences and cultivate the lessons you’ve learned in your life, and the values you hold from those lessons.
Find What Brings You Joy
There are several goals that can bring you happiness in life, but one of the most fun—and still important—goals you can have is to discover what brings you true joy. The experience of joy can help you to stay energized and motivated, but can also help you to build resilience. Consider positive psychology research that shows how lifts in mood that come from joy and positive feelings can actually build resilience to stress and have other positive benefits. It shows how important joy is—more than just a fleeting, fun experience, but something you can build off of.
Because of this, learning what brings you joy is an important goal for your 20s. Or, if you haven’t developed an understanding of what brings you joy by the time you’ve left your 20s, this is an important goal for any time in your life. If you find that what brings you joy changes, it’s important to stay up-to-date on what currently brings you these positive feelings. If your circumstances change, be sure you’re aware of what in your current life brings you joy as well.
Putting It Into Action
The following strategies are recommended for helping you find what brings you joy:
- Remember your childhood and the things that made you happy then. What stood out as exciting? What were some of your best memories? Many of those things can still bring you joy, so if you haven’t incorporated them into your life now, perhaps you should.
- Expressing creativity often sparks joy. Your creative pursuits can be unique to you, whether it involves creating visual or musical art, writing, or even comedic improv. Play around, try new things, and see what you enjoy.
- Talk to your friends and see what brings them joy. Try some of their favorites with them and on your own.
- Try something new every day, or at least every week. Sometimes the most joy can come from the newness of an experience, and if you’re trying new things on a regular basis, you’re bound to stumble upon several things that truly make you happy.
Learn Your Strengths and Weaknesses
It’s important to know what you do well and where you struggle. Your 20s can be a great time of personal discovery, and this can mean discovering your personal challenges as well as your gifts. You can use your strengths in everything you do—pursue a career that utilizes them, for example, or remind yourself of your strengths when you need to ask for what you deserve in a relationship or at a job.
You can also navigate life more realistically if you have an idea of what your personal limitations are, whether or not these are common challenges for others. For example, you may find the constancy of paperwork to be comforting and right up your alley, while some others may find it to be boring and stifling; likewise, you may find change to be exhilarating and have a desire to change jobs every few years, while some may find that to be nerve-wracking. Knowing what your strengths are can help you put them to use more easily.
Putting It Into Action
There are several ways you can examine and explore your strengths and weaknesses:
- Try new things on a regular basis. See what comes easily to you and find out how far you can go with your skills.
- Focus on areas that are a challenge for you. Without giving up, accept that these areas may always be a little more difficult for you. Then work to be proficient in these areas to the extent that is necessary, while still focusing on your strengths.
- Look for new opportunities to put your strengths into action. This may involve trying paths you hadn’t thought of before, like taking on a job or internship in a field you didn’t necessarily go to school. Or it could take the form of dating someone who isn’t your “type,” but who may be good for you and challenge you in a positive way. Be open to new experiences and observe yourself in them.
Learn to Prioritize Self-Care
Focusing on self-care in your 20s can be as challenging as it is important. Getting enough sleep, adequate nutrition, regular exercise, and the other sometimes-mundane aspects of physical self-care can be challenging when you have a busy social, academic, or work schedule, but these things matter greatly.
Take sleep as an example: when you don’t get adequate sleep at night, you can be more susceptible to health issues and stress the next day and even face negative consequences long-term. There are many obstacles to sleep in your 20s, including social events that come up, work obligations as you start out at a job, or a rigorous academic schedule. It may seem that your 20s are not the time for sleep, and that can come in your 30s, but your 30s (and 40s and beyond) present their own challenges in terms of sleep. It’s best to learn healthy sleep habits now. The same can be said for maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and more.
Emotional self-care is similarly important. Learning healthy ways to cope, effective habits for relating to others, and perhaps even getting therapy if you feel it’s needed—these are all important goals that can help you to become your best self in your 20s. Likewise, putting these important things off can lead to greater challenges that can seem to multiply as you go.
For example, if you need to learn healthy communication for relationship care and your own emotional self-care in your 20s, putting off learning those skills can lead to greater conflict in relationships and more emotional baggage to deal with as you move into your 30s. While it’s never too late, it’s best to take care of these things early
Putting It Into Action
There are several ways you can work toward the goal of maintaining physical and emotional self-care:
- Start tracking your schedule now using a tool such as Google Calendar, for example. Be sure to schedule sleep, exercise, and meals the way you would schedule any other important appointment, and adjust your other commitments if you can’t make time for basic physical self-care.
- Make time for important relationships. Be sure you spend time with those who elevate you and bring you joy. Also, know when it’s time to let go of a toxic relationship. Learning to protect yourself from those who continually put you down is part of emotional self-care.
- Find a form of exercise you truly enjoy and want to continue with. Because of the physical and emotional benefits of exercise, this is important to prioritize, and starting early will only bring greater benefits as you go. Try classes and workouts with friends, as well as solitary physical activities so you really know what you respond to, and then make time for this on a regular basis.
- When have conflict in your relationships, focus on your own part of the conflict and change what you can. Learn communication skills that can help, and try to see things from the other person’s perspective. You don’t have to make everyone your best friend, but try to use your relationships for personal growth as much as possible.
Find What Brings You Meaning
Discovering what brings meaning to your life is a vitally important goal for anyone at any age. That is because this one goal is connected with happiness and personal well-being in so many ways. For example, positive psychology research has shown that a meaningful life can bring the highest levels of lasting happiness and contentment. Furthermore, those who bring meaning to the jobs they have—who connect what they do to concepts that are important to them and feel that what they do makes a difference—tend to be the happiest and enjoy their jobs the most. This can be true for any profession.
Discovering what brings you meaning and how you can use your personal strengths to follow this path can lead to a meaningful life. This can be an important buffer for stress and is considered an optimal goal by positive psychology researchers and many therapists. There are several ways to bring meaning to anything you do, and the first step is to really examine your life and the meaning you can bring to it.
Putting It Into Action
You can bring meaning to things you are already doing, as well as pursuing activities that inherently bring meaning to your life. Consider the following:
- Volunteer for a cause you truly believe in.
- Think about what you believe can make the world a better place. Consider what you might be able to do to contribute to this solution.
- Examine how your job may help others, even if it just makes their lives a little easier or puts a smile on their faces. Keep this in mind when you go to work—always remember that your job makes a difference. This can be true of the way you interact with others throughout your day as well. Even a smile shared with a stranger might be the needed thing that brightens their day, and you never know who’s had an especially difficult day.
By Elizabeth Scott, MS Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD