6 Hard Skills That Will Pay Off Forever
How to change your mindset and improve your life
Let me see if I understand you. You are working your fingers to the bone without making any progress — like a hamster on a wheel. When you look around you, everyone else seems to have life figured out. They seem to glide along effortlessly as if they have some secret success formula.
Nothing good in life comes easy, but you have to learn to work smart as well as hard. While there are no “life hacks,” there are skills that are difficult to understand but have a fantastic payoff when you master them.
I am not just talking about skills that make you money. Imagine a future where you can help others, where people warm to you, trust and confide in you.
Imagine being able to open your heart, but above all, love yourself.
#1. Managing Your Time.
“He who every morning plans the transactions of that day and follows that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.”
Time is the great equalizer. We all have 24 hours in a day, yet many people waste those hours either by sitting on the couch watching Netflix or fumbling around in the dark with some vague idea of improving your life but without any concrete plan.
Effective time management is one of the most highly valued skills by employers. If you don’t have a roadmap to your destination, how will you reach it or even know you have arrived?
For many people, the hardest thing to learn is how to plan. Not to execute what they plan, but to make a thorough and detailed to-do list and schedule it properly to set yourself up for success so that you can complete the tasks and meet your deadline.
You may be the kind of person that scoffs at the idea of a routine — seeing it as dull, or something “old” people do. But you NEED a routine to complete your urgent and most demanding tasks so that you can make way for recreation later.
My schedule is the same every day. I wake up, and I am at my computer writing half an hour later. I usually write for 3 hours or however long it takes and then work out for 1 hour. After a 2 hour break, I read books and other articles on Medium before resting. Finally, I plan my next article using inspiration from the reading I did previously.
I do this religiously Monday — Friday. At the weekend I do whatever I want. There is no need to break this routine because I have factored in rest periods. So far, I have not deviated from this plan, even when I had Covid for two months.
So make a plan NOW. Be realistic, or you won’t stick to it, but it is time to figure out how to achieve your dreams.
“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”
Being able to connect with other people is the key to a happy life. Can you remember times when someone seemed to “get” you? How did it feel to be truly listened to? To be heard? This is the power of empathy.
Empathy is an active skill that means putting yourself in another person’s shoes and understanding them. This requires hard work and the other person feels it. You will be amazed at how much you can heal and be healed just by talking and actively listening.
Here in the UK, we have a Charity called the Samaritans. They are a group of volunteers who take phone calls and visits from people suffering. They listen to anyone from the actively suicidal to those who are deeply unhappy but have not yet reached that final stage.
The Samaritans are trained, but they are not given some magical, special therapeutic techniques to use on their callers. Instead, they are taught to listen.
Does it surprise you that listening is a skill to be learned? Don’t we listen to people every day? Well, there is a difference between listening and hearing.
Active listening is an intense skill. It means concentrating on nothing else except what the other person is saying, putting yourself in their position, and relaying your understanding of their situation to them. This is vastly different from our usual practice of hearing someone’s words but just waiting for them to shut up so we can get our own thoughts in.
The other person guides active listening. It is so powerful that it stops many people from committing suicide. If you learn this skill, YOU will make people feel amazing. In turn, they will love and respect you. It is a win for everyone concerned.
Carl Rodgers was a Psychologist who founded the Humanistic Approach to therapy which has active listening at its core.
I have used active listening both as a Samaritan and a Police Officer. It is much harder to kill someone when they are the first person in years to care about you and what you have to say. In hostile situations where I have been outnumbered and outmuscled, active listening has spared me severe injury or worse.
#3. Positive Self Talk.
“Either you must control your thoughts or the outside forces will control them and be warned that the outside forces usually consist of fears, worries and doubts.”
― Maddy Malhotra
You can actively listen to others, show them empathy and be kind to them all day, but you will still suffer in your own life unless you can talk positively to yourself.
It doesn’t matter what other people think of you. Their opinions reflect what you feel about yourself, and it takes time to believe in yourself even if no one else does.
What you think, you manifest. Your external reality is a reflection of your inner world. I used to hate myself, which led to people being abusive to me wherever I went — school, public transport, days out, there would always be someone to insult, mock or assault me. How could so many people hate me?
In those moments, I may have decided to give my power away and blame others. There are good arguments to be made that they have no right to abuse me no matter what I think about myself. However, who does that help? I can only control myself, so why would I give others that power?
So I worked on myself — physically and mentally. At first, I gave the image of a confident person, although I did not feel it deep inside. I practiced the “fake it until you make it” philosophy. Sure enough, the longer I pretended, the more I slipped into the role. Alongside my new knowledge and hard work, I became the person I had always dreamed of.
As I grew to love and take care of myself, the abuse stopped. It never returned.
#4. Be Honest with Yourself.
“I’d always end up broken down on the highway. When I stood there trying to flag someone down, nobody stopped. But when I pushed my own car, other drivers would get out and push with me. If you want help, help yourself — people like to see that.”
– Chris Rock.
Admitting when you are wrong is difficult, but all successful people know how important it is. Even CEOs of major companies admit to making mistakes.
Mistakes are wasted if you do not learn from them. You bounce from one failed situation to another, never stopping to assess yourself and what you are doing wrong. You may repeat the same old scenarios in your life because you never learn from your errors.
Being honest with yourself involves accurately assessing your decisions and learning from your mistakes, but it also means asking for help if you need it. Remember the importance of active listening? Well the person who is suffering has to talk first! Many men, in particular, fail to do this, which is why the male suicide rate is so high.
Suicide is the ultimate in explosive anger turned inwards. When you bottle things up and suppress them, eventually, they will explode and cause destruction to either yourself or other people. This burst of rage and sorrow causes countless suicides and murders.
I struggle with food addiction because I use food to hide my sorrow. I bottled up all of the trauma I suffered as a Police Officer and suppressed it with alcohol and later with food. I am taking active steps to address my problems, and the first step is admitting I HAVE a problem.
Being honest with yourself, especially when you are struggling, and asking for help is critical in improving your life.
#5. Focus on the Present Moment.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” — Buddha
Most of us are not good at staying present in the moment. Yet the present is all we have. The past is a memory, and the future is an idea.
Our minds wander like the most undisciplined of children. You probably feel at the mercy of your thoughts and feelings.
Many Religions and Disciplines teach the importance of focusing on the present moment. Stoicism, Sufism, Buddhism, and Mindfulness teach us how to notice our thoughts without becoming attached.
My favorite Philosophy is Stoicism, a fundamental tenet of which is to only focus and worry about things you can control. Most things you worry about in life are beyond your influence. You have little control over wars, diseases, government decisions, even the decisions of other people in your day-to-day life.
It is liberating to surrender control of all these things and focus solely on your sphere of influence. You will approach your problems better and live your life happier because you have less to worry about.
Such a radical shift in philosophy won’t happen overnight. So you need to be mindful and notice your thoughts as they crop up. When you see you are worried about something beyond your control, observe it and let it pass. This requires practice, so if you feel unable to master it, acknowledge that as another thing you cannot control and let that go too!
I recommend the book “The Art of Living” by Epictetus to help with this new way of thinking.
#6. Discipline and Consistency.
“Live your life while you have it. Life is a splendid gift. There is nothing small in it. Far the greatest things grow by God’s law out of the smallest. But to live your life, you must discipline it.”
Whether you are embarking on a new fitness regime, studying for essential qualifications, or improving your financial situation, discipline and consistency is vital for any degree of success. Even when you achieve your goals, you need discipline and consistency to stay there.
Discipline is the difference between success and failure. It is better than talent or motivation.
Whenever we start something new, it has a novelty value. We feel excited by it and are in awe at future possibilities. However, eventually, the novelty wears off. The results don’t come overnight, and we realize we need to grind to achieve our dreams. This is where most people quit.
Most people are perpetual beginners. You can see it from the thousands of courses on every possible subject offered online. Compare the amount geared towards beginners with those for advanced students, and you will see a vast disparity. This is because most people who make the courses know that most people quit before ever reaching advanced status.
The only way to succeed when everyone else gives up is to practice discipline. Every day, show up and do your best regardless of how you feel. Make boredom and frustration irrelevant, and keep in mind your reasons for starting this endeavor in the first place. If it were always fun and easy, everyone would succeed. So join the elite and practice discipline in every area of your life.
Now you know the hard skills that will pay off in every area of your life. You know what it takes to make genuine connections with other people, even in the worst periods of their lives. You know how to love yourself and succeed when everyone is giving up.
You will find most online courses too easy as you will have the discipline to stick with one subject. Perhaps you can make courses yourself.
If you feel frustrated or overwhelmed by any of this, be mindful and let it go.
You owe the world the best version of yourself, and you shouldn’t settle for anything less.
CONTRIBUTED BY Leon Macfayden
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