The personal development continuum begins at birth as we become acclimated to our bodies and our environment and continues until the day we die.

We can embrace the personal development journey consciously and voluntarily, or we can resist it, insisting that reality bend to our comfort and convenience. Either way, life seems to call us constantly to develop into better and more capable versions of ourselves.

Carol Dweck identified the growth or fixed mindset in her book, Mindset. Those who embrace personal development tend to have a growth mindset. They meet life’s challenges with confidence and determination. Those who resist when faced with what is unfamiliar tend to have a fixed or survival mindset and struggle.

As we grow from childhood and adolescence into adulthood, most of us become increasingly independent. We develop the capacity for dealing with whatever shows up in life through the lens of resistance or acceptance.

Learning to get along with others and to thrive in the world requires that we be open and teachable. Those who are unable to meet these challenges find themselves in a fight with life that can become all consuming.

My experience with the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model has provided a lens that helps me understand my own journey of personal development. For more information about IFS, go to IFS-Institute.com.

For example, when I joined a 12-step group in 1982 and got sober, I certainly didn’t understand that my alcohol use was protecting me from feeling the discomfort of unhealed emotional wounds. I got sober because my wife believed my alcohol use was a problem. I was afraid she would leave if I didn’t quit drinking.

I hated the idea of never drinking again. I didn’t want to label myself as alcoholic and resisted doing so for about 30 days before finally introducing myself in that way in a meeting.

Calling myself an alcoholic triggered a cascade of internal reactions that IFS has helped me understand all these years later.

  • There was a part of me that felt shame to identify as an alcoholic. As I introduced myself in the meeting that night and said, “I’m Bill and I’m an alcoholic,” I choked on the words, barely able to enunciate them. My throat tightened and my eyes teared up.
  • There was a part that had resisted identifying as alcoholic during the first 50 or 60 meetings, despite tremendous internal and external pressure to comply with what everyone else was doing.
  • A part wanted to be included in the group and eventually succeeded in getting me to call myself an alcoholic. This part sought the approval and acceptance of my new friends.
  • A part craved the meetings for their raw and vulnerable human exposure. This part recognized something that had been needed and missing from my life.
  • There was a part of me that, with each day of continuous sobriety, influenced me to feel the pride of success and progress.

Over the next 20 years, I continued to participate in the 12-step program. I stayed sober and embraced as much of what was suggested and inferred as my parts would allow me to.

But skeptical, critical, and suspicious parts of me consistently questioned and challenged the culture of the program. I had an angry part that resented the efforts of long-time members to bully me into their ideas of how I should “work my program” and live my life.

My abstinence from alcohol has been important to my personal development because sobriety made it possible to find ways to heal and grow. If not sober, the ongoing toxic patterns that alcohol use made tolerable would have continued. The dysfunctional life created by progressive alcohol addiction would have made personal progress impossible.

I became a sponsor in the 12-step program and found that I loved to work with others who were trying to get sober. After about 20 years, I discovered The Work of Byron Katie (thework.com) which taught me a form of self-inquiry that helped me overcome my survival mindset. While working with others and going to meetings always provided temporary relief to my depression and anxiety, The Work yielded long term results.

Almost thirty years after I got sober, I became a life coach. I began by using the lessons I learned in recovery to help my clients reclaim power and choice in their lives despite circumstances and conditions.

I worked part time as a coach for about five years and was having great success with my clients. But I believed that formal training could make me a better coach. Once I was making enough money from coaching, I enrolled in a one-year coach training program which was held one weekend a month in Seattle. Halfway through the training, I quit my full-time job as a mortgage loan officer and focused entirely on building my coaching practice.

However, rather than becoming a more powerful and effective coach, I lost my confidence. As the one-year training progressed, four of the original sixteen coach trainees dropped out. I persisted for the entire year but was emotionally triggered most of the time and was, consequently unable to learn and grow.

Throughout the year, an internal war raged. There were [arts of me that insisted if I could just hang in there for one more weekend, I would have a breakthrough and get the expected value from the training. Other parts insisted that I should quit, blaming the trainers and of the program for my struggles.

At the end of the training, I looked around the room. Twelve of us had completed the course. At least ten of the graduates seemed to have embraced the training. I was aware of at least one other who, like me, had survived it.

Returning home that weekend, I concluded that I was somehow different from those who had successfully navigated the experience. They had all become better coaches while I felt demoralized, incapable, angry, hurt, and humiliated.

As I made the 5-hour drive home that final training weekend, I wondered what I would now do with my life. I questioned whether I was even capable of coaching others. I remembered one of the trainers saying that sometimes a season of therapy could make a difference for those who are otherwise too damaged for coaching to help. I feared this might be true about me.

I called Brenda, a therapist I’d met and scheduled some appointments. Fortunately, Brenda used the IFS model to help me. After just four IFS sessions, I felt clear and confident. I resumed my work as a life coach and built a successful coaching practice.

Eventually, I completed two levels of IFS training, became a Certified IFS Practitioner, and began using IFS with most of my clients.

Since becoming a life coach, I’ve learned that coaching isn’t for everyone. In fact, nobody needs coaching. But coaching can make a big difference for those who are ready for it and want the help, especially if the coach is trained in the IFS model.

Using the personal development continuum helps determine who coaching can help and who would be better served by counseling or therapy.

The difference between coaching and therapy is a matter of the client’s capacity for personal development. The client’s capacity is determined by the degree of completion with the past.

If a client has unhealed emotional wounds that require a high level of daily management, they may have very little capacity for personal development. Life consists of an exhausting expenditure of energy to manage those wounds. Day to day life is inspired by the need for safety and survival. Because of the energy spent on the effort, there is a reduced capacity for growth and personal development until their emotional wounds have been healed.

The more emotional wounds are healed, the greater the capacity for personal development.

For example, I drank to manage my unhealed emotional wounds. Although I was able to stop drinking, it took years before I discovered pathways to healing. Until I healed enough of the unresolved past, my daily focus was on safety and survival. Eventually, with the help of IFS, I shifted out of a survival mindset and now have the capacity to grow and expand.

Someone who has significantly reduced capacity for personal growth and who is living with a high level of emotional burden would benefit from the help of a qualified therapist who uses the IFS model.

However, if a client is relatively high functioning in the world, this might indicate a lower degree of emotional burdens. Their unresolved emotional wounds require less daily management. If this is the case, the client may be a good candidate for coaching because they have a greater capacity for growth and expansion. Life for someone with capacity for growth and expansion could be described as inspired, connected, and creative.

Nobody needs coaching but many people who fall into this second category can benefit from having a skilled life coach.

People can seek help in life from either a mental health professional or a professional life coach. To determine who can most appropriately serve them, an assessment of the capacity for personal development is called for.

Therapy can reduce unrealistic concern for safety and survival and increase capacity for personal development. Personal development (life) coaching can increase and leverage someone’s capacity for growth and expansion to help them create the life they want. The Internal Family Systems model can help with both.

Personal development can be thought of as a continuum. At one extreme, because of diminished capacity, we struggle to survive and endure life. At the other extreme, because we have ample capacity, we thrive.

At one end of the continuum, we feel powerless and hopeless. At the other, we are aware of, and have access to personal power and choice.

We can all find ourselves at some point on the personal development continuum.

With awareness and intention, I believe we are all capable of making progress. I began my personal development journey at survival. Over the years, I have progressed intentionally toward the other end of the continuum and find myself empowered and at choice.

Over the past five years, my journey has been accelerated by the IFS model. I now use IFS to help my coaching clients. No matter where I meet them on the personal development continuum, I help my clients acknowledge their capacity and increase it by using the IFS model.


I work with individual clients using the IFS model and have created a group coaching program that is based on the IFS model.

If you would like to have a conversation about where you are on the Personal Development Continuum and to decide if IFS Life Coaching is appropriate for you, let’s talk. Just go to my online calendar at www.BillsCalendar.com and find 30 minutes that work for you.

Send me a message or ask a question

10 + 12 =

Sign up for my newsletter to receive my personal development articles

* indicates required