The Four-Plus-Three Personal Development Framework

In this post I will describe the framework I developed some years ago to help me better understand personal development. I wanted to visualise the stages of personal development and some of the factors impacting the journey. Needing to create a process that I could use on a daily basis, I also wanted something that was easy to remember and conceptualise.

The framework involves four motivational states and three steps between these states, hence ‘The Four-Plus-Three Personal Development Framework.’ I refer to this collection of concepts as a framework because it doesn’t dictate which personal development tools and techniques to use. Nor does it claim to be a definitive description of all personal development journeys. It is a framework onto which we can hang any number of personal development tools and techniques that might be appropriate at any given time.

An example of where gaps in it’s makeup can be found is where it assumes an innate level of positivity towards the prospect of personal change, especially when challenging one’s core beliefs. This type of motivation isn’t always so easy to muster. Despite this ‘incompleteness’, I have found the framework extremely useful over the years and others have fed back similar success stories.

The framework suggests four motivational states that are useful to aim for and activities that might be engaged with in order to build self-awareness, challenge limiting beliefs and change habits. It is primarily based on my personal experience of personal development, influenced, of course, by many years of reading around the subject and working within the field.

As already mentioned, a particular benefit of the framework is that it isn’t always necessary to utilise specific personal development tools and techniques in each of the stages. Simply remembering and conceptualising the framework and asking the questions it poses, is often sufficient to support greater self-awareness and to effect personal change.

The framework (below) has four motivational states and three key steps. The motivational states are Existence, Enlightenment, Enthusiasm and Empowerment. The three steps are represented by the acronym R.U.N.: Review & Recognise, Unravel & Understand and Nurture & Negate.

Personal development is often hard work. At best it requires focused effort so the the three steps are represented as an uphill journey with the ‘gravitational pull’ of our limiting beliefs making the journey harder as they attempt to pull us back down the hill. Thankfully, we have liberating beliefs at our disposal to make the uphill journey achievable. 

R is for Review and Recognise. This is a reminder to stop, review our current situation and recognise where we are and how we feel about it. It is a jolt out of our state of Existence. It is a reminder to come out of auto-pilot once in a while and reflect.

The review may take in differing time scales, from minutes to years. It may cover one particular aspect of your practice, say the relationship with your boss, or it may be a more generic review of your life, work, strengths and weaknesses.

Questions such as “Where am I now?” and “What is happening around me and to me right now?” are critical in this element of the framework. Another important question is “How do I feel about this?” It is important to recognise how you feel about where you are right now. Are you pleased, angry, concerned, sad or hopeful? Whilst I am not recommending specific tools and techniques aligned to this framework, I can’t let the opportunity pass to point you to the role review exercise that is particularly useful in this stage of the process.

In my experience, the Review part is the easier of the two components. Working with a buddy, as advocated in the goal setting research, offers a useful challenge to our tendency to focus on the negatives or delude ourselves about how well developed some of our skills might be. The review is best balanced between what is going well and what is going less well. It should also assess feelings in order to gauge the relative importance of each aspect of the review.

The component that is most often ignored is the need to Recognise. To simply accept things for what they are, good and bad. The tendency to become defensive, deny and self-delude is very strong.

This first stage takes us from a state of Existence to to a state of Enlightenment. I don’t mean enlightenment in the sense of the divine or spiritual. I simply mean the fact that a light has been shone on aspects of our progress, behaviours or feelings that were previously hidden or, at best, out of focus. We see our situation in a new light.

Once we recognise our current position we then need to Unravel and Understand how we got to where we are and why we feel the way we do. Again, there are myriad tools and techniques for peeling back the layers to reveal the belief systems, values and environmental pressures influencing our motivations, behaviours and learning. However, as with the Review and Recognise stage, it is often enough to simply reflect on our current situation and feelings to reveal things that were previously hidden.

Ask yourself questions such as “How did I get here?”, “What goes through my mind when I reflect on this particular issue/success?”, “What belief systems are directing my decision making and behaviours?” This is a particularly good stage to be working with a trusted buddy or coach who can ask challenging questions and keep you true to reviewing the information that came out of the review and recognise stage. If you/they are not happy that you have got to the bottom of a particular journey, then keep digging. Keep asking the “Why is that?” question.

At this stage, an example might help. Many years ago, I reviewed my feelings towards my family. I was feeling increasingly guilty that I wasn’t seeing them more. It had always been the case that we spoke irregularly and months could go by without a call between any of us. For some reason this was beginning to prey on my mind and the guilt and worry had become tangible.

Working with a goal setting buddy, I asked myself some searching questions and challenged myself. Asking the “Why is that?” question several times, I was able to unravel the route through which these emotions had evolved and understand the belief system that had been constructed as a result.

It turned out that someone was sowing seeds of guilt as they questioned why it was I didn’t have more contact with my family. He was using his family as a frame of reference in which he had regular, almost daily, contact. To some extent I believe he was projecting his beliefs onto me and in some small way judging me. To another extent, I was allowing him to influence my belief systems. This influence created a limiting belief that I didn’t contact my family enough and that, because of this, I was somehow failing.

I wanted to change this and challenge this belief system. I intuitively felt it to be wrong and felt enthused enough to devise a strategy for negating the limiting belief and to nurture a new, liberating belief.

This enthusiasm for personal change brings us to the third step of the Four-Plus-Three Personal Development Framework. Having Unravelled and Understood how we got to where we are and why we feel the way we do, ideally we move from Enlightenment to a motivational state of Enthusiasm. I say ideally because there is a risk that we move to a more negative state. If you are familiar with the Kubler-Ross change curve then you will know that the emotional journey for many when faced with change can be fear, anger and anxiety.

I have experienced this in my personal development journey, time and again. Most times, however, I can move through this very quickly and become enthusiastic about the prospect of change because I keep one, critical, liberating belief always to hand. This is the fact that change is always uncomfortable but, you know what, that doesn’t actually matter. The discomfort is eased by the prospect of positive outcomes on the other side of change¹. Simply understanding that personal change is hard work, sometimes painful, but more often than not, positive in outcome, makes it easier to tolerate.

Scott Peck (1990) opened his book, The Road Less Traveled, with a perspective that has helped me develop this positive attitude to personal change.

Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

This paradigm is an ideal that I don’t believe many (including me) actually reach, but the concept has certainly helped me over the years.

Back to our framework. Having Reviewed and Recognised, Unravelled and Understood, we are now is a motivational state of Enthusiasm. We are enthusiastic at the prospect of new experiences, of shedding old, painful beliefs and of grasping new opportunities.

The third and final step of the framework is to Nurture the liberating beliefs that will create more life-affirming attitudes and Negate the limiting beliefs that are holding us back and creating pain.

There are many tools and techniques that can help with this stage. One of my favourites is to use positive affirmations along side other activities such as coaching. You may also want to embark on formal learning to gather new knowledge or gain new skills.

Nurturing liberating beliefs and negating limiting ones moves us one final step up the slope from Enthusiasm to Empowerment. We feel empowered to move forward with new insights, ready to grasp new opportunities.

I said earlier that this framework assumes a level of positive intent and maturity in terms of the acceptance of discomfort during personal change. Given that most people will at some time struggle with personal change, the framework contains reference to the risk of unchallenged limiting beliefs that are always ready to pull us back down the slope of progress. It also highlights the fact that well honed liberating beliefs are there to help push us up the slope.

Gravity makes walking up hill more of an effort than walking on the flat. So it is with personal development. Limiting beliefs are a gravitational pull making personal development more of an effort. Experience tells me that the view from the top is worth that extra effort.


Peck, M.S. (1990) The Road Less Travelled: The New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. Random House, London.

¹ During a major takeover of one organisation, by its long-time rival, I ran workshops to help those affected. I asked the attendees to share their experiences of personal change and, using very rough qualitative analysis, showed that whilst the prospect of personal change is almost always painful, in the majority of cases, the outcomes are positive.


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