5 Life Skills that are Tough to Learn but Will Pay Off Forever
What skills did your parents, or teachers, or aunties insist you absolutely needed to learn to survive in the adult world?
What were the non-negotiable skills the 'elders' in your life harped on all the time?
Maybe one of these sounds familiar…
“You need to learn to do mental math quickly. You can’t carry a calculator around with you all day.”
“You gotta know how to balance your checkbook, or you’ll never know how much money you have in your account.”
“You’d better work on your penmanship. Otherwise no one will ever be able to read a thing you write!”
Listen, as a parent myself, I know they had the best of intentions, but well, lots of those things have turned out to be less than helpful in our day-to-day lives.
There are some skills, though, that stand the test of time. You’ll use them every single day, and they’ll hold their value no matter how the world changes around you.
The truth is, though, that the more valuable the skills, the tougher they are to learn. Once you invest in them, though? You’ll never regret the time you spent on developing them. They are, undoubtedly, life changing.
Here are my top 5 life skills we all really need to know to flourish.
Mindfulness offers practical ways to find peace, joy, and perseverance in everyday moments.
The most important thing about mindfulness is that it empowers you to decide how you’re going to show up in the moment.
Mindfulness helps you choose your mindset, your attitude, and your effort. It helps you become more intentional about bringing your best to the moment you’re in.
And mindfulness isn’t just a skill to use when life feels hard. The biggest benefit to mindfulness is that it truly changes our internal wiring; it helps us remap our brain so that we respond in healthier ways. This practice that’s been around for thousands of years now has an entire scientific community behind it proving how powerful it truly is, which I think is pretty incredible!
Bottom line: Mindfulness helps you respond to life in a skillful way, and that’s evergreen.
2. Objective Listening
When you’re able to listen to someone from an objective perspective, you’re not just doing them a favor—you’re creating space for them and for you.
Being able to step into a neutral space to truly hear what other people are saying opens your world to the multitude of perspectives available in each conversation. Using this skill helps you engage in thoughtful dialogue, which is where you really begin to learn and grow.
One-sided conversations—where we speak to be heard rather than listening to understand—operate from a limited, confined space. When we learn to listen objectively, though, every conversation becomes more open, wider, deeper. And with that much space, the possibilities are endless.
The best way to practice this skill is by continually reminding yourself that you don’t know everything.
That’s okay! Turns out none of us do!
Our brains are naturally wired to try to figure everything out and find hard, concrete conclusions. They operate that way to minimize risk or pain. But that protection mechanism comes at a cost, because it can prevent us from fully exploring new ideas and beliefs.
The good news is, you can use your mind to bring down some of those walls and check your ego.
Think of it this way. Imagine that you’re in a huge open pasture. You can look out for miles in every direction. But when you try to move, you realize you’re stuck—you’re trapped inside a small, fenced yard. You want to get to that big, vast, beautiful place, one that’s full of new things to explore and new adventures, but your ability to move forward in any direction is limited.
Would you stay stuck in that small pen? Or would you open the gate and step outside of the familiar space?
All it takes is being bold enough to stay open to the possibilities—by seeing conversations as collaborative and meeting people where they are with plenty of room for you to move forward together.
As humans, we can experience so much fulfillment and gratification from learning and growing. But taking in new knowledge sometimes means that we have to unlearn things that we’ve believed or habits we’ve developed. Learning is exhilarating while unlearning can feel scary, so we sometimes limit our growth because we’re trying to protect ourselves from the unknown.
In his book, Think Again (which, side note, is an absolutely must-read, in my opinion!), Adam Grant reminds us to check in with ourselves and be aware of beliefs and habits we need to rethink. Here’s a bit that stops me in my tracks, no matter how many times I read it:
“This is an invitation to let go of knowledge and opinions that are no longer serving you well. … Thinking again can help you generate new solutions to old problems and revisit old solutions to new problems. … A hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it's time to abandon some of your most treasured tools and some of the most cherished parts of your identity.”
He says that (and I’m paraphrasing here) using old habits is like trying to use an old hard drive from a computer built in the 1980’s with a new device that’s current with today’s technology.
Mic drop, right???
In your life, you’re going to go through so many different seasons. You are going to learn things along the way, but you’ll probably have to unlearn just as many.
It takes courage to acknowledge the stuff we hold dear but isn’t serving us anymore.
Back in the day when I was a recruiter, I remember how many people would list “multitasking” as one of their top skills.
Originally “multitasking” was a term that applied to computers, which can run multiple programs at the same time, but over time, we started to expect that people should be able to work the same way.
Folks, I’ve got some bad news.
We are not computers. Our brains are not designed to multitask; in fact, they’re literally not able to multitask.
Science says that trying to multitask causes your brain to burn through fuel so quickly that you deplete its nutrients—and therefore feel exhausted—after just a short period of time. That lack of single focus can lead to anxiety, mental fog, and scrambled decision-making.
So I tell you this with love and respect: “Multitasking” isn’t a strength. It’s just a lack of focus.
When you learn to follow a single task, it increases your productivity and flow. Instead of giving scattered energy to many things, you’re giving the full force of your energy to one thing, which helps make the end result even better.
We live in a world that really likes to hype multitasking, so it’s going to take some rewiring of your brain to learn how to single-task.
To make it happen, you need to catch yourself in the act of attempting to multitask. Stop. Then shift your mind to a single task. That’s how you’ll strengthen your focus “muscle.”
And don’t forget to build breaks into your work time so that you can reset and refresh before you turn to the next single task you need to tackle.
I hope that after being here with me for a while you know that I do not stand for suppressing hard emotions.
Avoiding uncomfortable feelings is a coping mechanism we’ve learned along the way, and it’s an unhealthy one.
Remember, our brains are wired to protect us from real or perceived danger. But when we suppress uncomfortable emotions, they don’t go away. Eventually they will bubble up again and manifest themselves in unhealthy behaviors or as internal blockages that become heavy to carry.
And our brains aren’t wired to just block one thing. Our emotions travel on tangled pathways inside of us. When we block one path, it doesn’t just stop the negative emotion. It also prevents the positive emotions from flowing, too.
In order to keep those internal pathways clear, we need to learn how to let hard emotions flow through us—by cultivating equanimity.
You do this by noticing and acknowledging those tough emotions—crying when you need a good cry or screaming into a pillow if that’s what feels right. When you allow those emotions to have their moment, you face them.
Over time we learn to recognize that those hard emotions will not take us out, which is empowering. We can learn that we don’t have to avoid or fear those emotions.
And once you’ve allowed those tough emotions to pass by, you can pick a healthy habit from your toolbox and move forward.
It’s okay to feel challenging emotions. In fact, it’s necessary. We just can’t get stuck in them. When we let things flow, we open ourselves up to emotional and mental cleansing.
It’s never too late to start developing these life skills, my friend. No matter what changes are on the horizon—in your personal life or in our world—these are tools that will allow you to adapt and flow through anything you will encounter.
Those are the kinds of skills worth the investment of your time and your energy.
It may not always be easy, but I promise—it will always be worth it.