25 Essential Skills I Wish Somebody Taught Me When I Was Younger
Super Mario. The crazy little Italian-American Plumber that shaped my childhood.
I used to spend hours and hours sitting in front of my TV helping that little guy save his pixelated princess from bad guys.
If case you’ve played it, you might have noticed that it’s extremely difficult to advance from one level to another if you don’t collect mushrooms that make you bigger and give you the ability to throw fireballs (…in real life something else happens…).
Life is like a game. Like a Super Mario game.
But in life, you are the character and you need to find your own “mushrooms,” that help you grow and excel.
This could be anything that helps you evolve as a person, in both a personal and professional way.
Wherever your starting point is, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you have 24 hours in front of you and you need to use them in the best possible way.
But you have to keep one thing in mind:
The world is shifting and evolving rapidly.
So if you are not changing, or evolving with the times, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re stagnating, or simply going backward.
“Every life form seems to strive to its maximum except human beings. How tall will a tree grow? As tall as it possibly can. Human beings, on the other hand, have been given the dignity of choice. You can choose to be all or you can choose to be less. Why not stretch up to the full measure of the challenge and see what all you can do?”
— Jim Rohn
And for those who attempt to reach their maximum, the rewards are huge.
So if you nurture your hunger for growth, and I know you do, because you are here on Zero to Skill and reading articles just like this one, then you will have an edge in life.
Usually, when someone subscribes to my private list, the first thing I ask them is:
“What is the one thing stopping you from learning a new skill?”
I’ve received a lot of responses, but this one pretty much captures what most of us are going through:
“Too many things to learn, too many choices… and scarce time”
Seeing answers like this repeat, I wonder why weren’t we taught essential skills that every person should learn at the young age.
Because of that, I started a research, talking to people and trying to gather everything I’ve learned as an educator, and I finally did it.
A list of 25 essential skills that will help you be more successful and help you grow exponentially!
1. Developing Self-Awareness
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
― C.G. Jung
In order to be “awakened”, you have to understand your life story.
Which events shaped you into the person you are today?
Once you’ve defined those crucial points, try to see what you’ve learned from them and how can you use that to win this game called life.
This will also help you find out when your core strengths came to life and how you can use them to grow as a person.
One more thing that will dramatically help you in this process is feedback from people that know you well and can give an outside perception on things you do well and things that can be improved.
2. Finding Your Personal Philosophy
Most of us use our internal compass.
Either something feels right to us or it doesn’t.
But behind the scenes of simply “feeling”, is a conscious evaluation of a situation according to our values.
For instance, I’ve always loved reading and learning new things.
But it wasn’t until I understood actual concept of values that I realized this stemmed from my value for GROWTH.
In order to determine your personal values, ask yourself following question:
What do I value in ______ (relationship, work, friendship, life, etc.)?
One thing that supplements our values is our beliefs towards the world.
Is the world a harsh place where every man is on his own?
Or is it a game, where every day you learn something new and experiment?
What positive beliefs do I have about this world and things that surround me?
What negative beliefs do I have?
No matter what you think, there is a big difference between:
“Ohhhh, it’s Monday again. Shit.”
“Oh yea baby, it’s Monday! Let’s start!”
3. Discovering Your Vocation (True Calling)
No, I don’t think we are all place on this earth with a purpose.
But, I do believe that throughout the life, we discover what are we good at and what we love to do.
And if you are willing to put some effort into it, we can combine these two and find an opportunity out there, where we can enjoy something and that will bring us success.
So, vocation consists out of:
Your Talents (what are you good at?)
Your Passions (what do you love to do?)
World Opportunities (what opportunities are out there for you to take or create?)
Play around and you will be able to find yours.
4. Goal Setting
Goals work like a lens of a camera.
If you set the lens and focus properly, you will be able to take a clear picture.
If it is out of focus, your picture will be blurry.
Here’s an example:
“I want to lose weight.” (Even though it is positive, it’s not specific and focused)
Here’s an improved version:
“I want to lose 4 pounds (2 kg) of fat by June 15th.”
All you need to do is write down yours and start.
Goal-setting is something your “conscious brain” can do.
The conscious brain is great at imagining things and thinking them through, but it’s next to useless when it comes to actually getting things done because it is easily distracted.
The subconscious brain doesn’t think this way. The subconscious brain sees a complete picture of everything happening all at once. The subconscious brain is aware of the input from all of your senses at every moment.
These two work hand in hand to help you out.
Visualization works best in the moment you wake up and in a couple of moments before you sleep.
By adding details, a clear path, and emotion of how would it feel if you already achieved it, you trick your mind into believing that it is already capable of achieving it.
You can also add a vision board to the mix, where you have pictures of your goals. Remember, we are mostly visual.
I want to be quite clear, this is not the Law of Attraction type of a thing. where you imagine a Ferrari, and tomorrow it magically appears next to your mansion.
It doesn’t work like that.
Visualization is one side of the coin.
Hard work and dedication is another side of the coin.
These two together can actually give you a Ferrari.
6. Habit Formation
Just like math, we tend to have a negative connotation towards habits.
Because of that, I prefer to think of habits as Personal Rituals.
If I think that I have to go to the gym. It’s hard.
But if I think that I am a healthy person, whose identity has a ritual of going to the gym and maintaining my vibrant body, then it becomes easy.
It’s not easy, it will take some practice until your change your perception and start thinking this way.
But start small and start with one habit at a time.
7. Creating a Health Regime (Diet + Physical Activity)
Of course, the end goal is to be healthy. Right?
For me, it is to be healthy and have a high level of energy. Plus, to look good.
I stopped training football (soccer) after 11 years and went from 65kg (143 pounds) to 86 kg (189 pounds) in less than 9 months.
I was fat. And for someone who always had abs while training, this was so weird and disappointing.
So I decided to do two things:
Find the right diet to get me to my ideal weight and maintain it.
Find the right physical activity to supplement my diet and then regularly do it?
It took me a couple of years to find my minimum amount of food intake and minimum amount of needed activities to maintain my goal.
But now, I look confident in my body, I am healthy and I have a high level of energy throughout the day.
So, set your goal, and then build an action plan and start. Evaluate and adapt accordingly to your results.
There’s nothing more I love to see in a gym that someone who has extra weight and they are working even harder than me to beat their goal into submission.
8. Learning the Art of Learning
Maybe I have a professional deformation, but I highly believe that this skill is the most crucial of all.
Everything we are and everything we’ve achieved thus far is because of our ability to learn.
People that operate on a big level, they are nothing more than extremely efficient at acquiring new skills and implementing them in their areas of focus.
I have a hunch that if you are still reading this, that you have growth as your core value, as well.
In that case, take a look at this article on Learning Algorithm.
9. Filtering and Acquiring Information
As I mentioned earlier, we are often over-cluttered with information.
By the way, did you know that Kim Kardashian broke her fu*king nail yesterday?!
How can the world go on…?
You get what I am saying?
Everywhere you go, you have information that is distracting you from your goals.
That’s why you should use your time spent on the internet wisely.
10. How To Be A Better and Faster Reader
In order to achieve this step above efficiently, you need to know how to become a better and faster reader.
To become a better reader, you need to approach reading anything with a specific intent.
By defining your goals (personal or professional gain), establishing one thing that you are trying to get out of a book (or an article), and skimming through the table of contents and taking notes, you will be able to retain much more information that you ever thought possible.
On the other hand, speed reading is a skill on its own, and it has several steps.
Here I will tell you that if you use a pointer (finger or a pen), to guide your focus, you will be able to double your reading speed.
Because every jump from one word to the next one, drastically reduces your reading speed.
Try it out and see.
11. How To Get Into State of Flow
Every person has something that can get them in the ZONE.
Oh man, when you’re there. Nothing exists.
Just you and your goal.
In order to determine how to enter a state of flow, just ask yourself a question:
When is the last time I was so deeply focused on what was in front of me?
Once you find specific activity. Ask yourself the following question:
What helped me be that focused?
For me, it’s playing good music on headphones and a goal I deeply care about, to be fully immersed.
12. Time Management and Productivity
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
– Bill Gates
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So I am kind of obsessed with time because that’s the only resource we can never get back.
If you want to be more productive, there two things you should have in mind:
How to get more time:
- One of the ways is to optimize your sleep schedule (instead of sleeping 9 hours, find your optimal amount that will keep you healthy)
How to use your time efficiently:
- Reclaim dead time (time you are spending on commute or watching TV)
- Focus on high leverage activities (implement 80/20 rule: 80% of results come from 20% of activities)
- Focus on things that can help you grow (reading, socializing with inspiring people and working on your goals)
A useful technique here is called “time blocking”, or as Gary Keller, author of The One Thing calls: “Schedule a meeting with yourself”
This is a block of time, where you are working on your most important goal for the day. No interruptions, just you and your goals.
And don’t forget to “procrastinate on procrastination!”
13. Decision-Making & Critical Thinking
“The more decisions you make, the better you’ll become at making them. Muscles get stronger with use, and so it is with your decision-making muscles.”
– Tony Robbins
The reality is not every decision you make will be a good one, but that should never stop you from taking action.
That’s why you should use your critical thinking skills to evaluate and analyze the situation you are in. Now you can be sure that every decision is heading on the right path.
Even if you make a mistake, draw a learning point out of it and use it for the next step.
You will become wiser on every step.
14. Managing Stress
In order to manage stress, you need to discover sources of it.
Ask yourself a question:
“What are the sources of my frustrations?”
Once you discover them, the next thing to do is to create strategies to deal with them.
You could have:
- A short-term strategy (What can you do to relax in an instant? Take a shower, play a song, go for a run, talk to a friend?)
- A long-term strategy (based on the sources of your frustrations, your guiding question should be: how can I organize my time, focus and priorities in order to minimize or eliminate this source?)
Also, the next skill can help you a lot.
15. How To Meditate
We are constantly working on something, interacting with people and spending a bunch of time on the internet.
We need to stop, relax and enjoy our inner self.
There are two rules I follow in meditation:
Rule #1: Fuck Buddha position. (This means that you shouldn’t listen to traditional rules in meditation and limit yourself only to this position)
Rule #2: Do whatever suits you. (If you want to sit down for 2 minutes and breathe, do that. If you want to lie down for 15 minutes and think, do that. Just find something that suits you, and try it.)
16. How To Be Alone
Ever since you were born, you’ve been surrounded by people.
Because of that, we are not accustomed to moments when we are alone for a couple of hours, without human interaction.
In these rare moments, just try to be present and reflect on your inner thoughts.
You will be amazed, how much you will learn about yourself and how much it will help you crystalize certain things.
17. How To Unleash Creativity
“Don’t die with your music still in you.”
– Wayne Dyer
“But, I am not creative!”
You’ve probably thought this to yourself at one point in your life.
Welcome to the club. But let me tell you. That’s a lie.
We all are. Maybe some of us are not in conventional ways (drawing, painting, singing, playing instruments, etc.).
My biggest creative talent is actually “Rapid Solution Creation.” BAM. I invented that.
You don’t have to be conventionally creative.
Ask yourself the following question:
“What was the last time I did something and amazed not only everyone present but myself as well?“
See if these things tend to repeat, and go with it.
18. How to Write for Pleasure
You don’t have to become an author.
But just create a ritual out of putting your thoughts on a piece of paper.
There’s a lot of incredible ideas just waiting to be materialized through the ink.
19. Public Speaking
This is probably one of the most useful skills I’ve ever developed.
You don’t have to be a professional speaker, but you need to learn how to get your ideas out there.
There are a number of tips for this, but the golden rule is:
“People never know what you will say when you are on the stage”
So go on, tell a story or share an idea. They might change someone’s life.
20. Interpersonal Communication
I hate chit-chat.
Man, nothing drains my energy like talking about the weather. And I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
So I decided to do something about it and created a sort of “How-To Guide for Creating Unforgettable Conversations”.
There are two parts to this:
What YOU are saying and what THEY are saying.
First, we will focus on what you are trying to say.
There are 3 important things here:
Message – What is the one specific message you are trying to transfer?
Sequence – In what sequence do you want to transfer your message?
Emotion – What emotion do you want to leave your conversation partner with?
Even though I’ve covered what you will say first, I am sorry to disappoint you–it’s not the most important part.
The quality of your conversations depends on how well you are able to listen to your conversation partner and respond accordingly.
So let’s cover the second part: what are they trying to tell you.
Again, 3 important things here:
Story – What major events happened in that person’s life that shaped them / lead them to engage in their career?
Next Chapter – What is the next step in their life? What is something they aspire to do?
Message – What message are they trying to transfer to you?
This might be a bit overwhelming. But just start simple and it will become natural over time.
Together with public speaking and interpersonal communication, persuasion will come naturally to you.
The main purpose of persuasiveness is to place the opposite part in agreement with your point of view.
This doesn’t mean you should be a jerk in the process.
Remember that, 90% of the quarrels erupt due to a wrong tone of voice. Only 10% of the quarrels are due to differences in opinion.
You will go a long way if you abide by the following: remain calm, strive for a win-win, and be sure to express the needs and benefits of the other party.
22. How To Say No
Sometimes you need to say NO.
Try to reframe the act of saying NO like this:
“You are not saying NO to others, you are saying YES to yourself and things that are important to you.”
The point is not to ever feel guilt tripped you into doing something you really don’t want to do.
Always chose to instead focus on doing something you love.
23. How To Create Your Personal Brand
Luckily, values we talked about highly correlate with this.
My example again.
One of my core values is growth.
Interestingly enough, everything I’ve done in my life is related to this topic. My degree in Adult Education, my position in Mindvalley as a Learning Experience Director and I started a Blog (Zero to Skill), so help people rapidly acquire skills.
People often describe me as a learning addict.
All of this, just confirms how much one value (growth) can shape your life and direction.
Sometimes, there’s not a lot you need to do in order to create your brand, just find a way to shape what you already are and get it out there in the world.
24. How To Build A Network
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
― Jim Rohn
Building a network is basically trying to find inspiring people that share the same values, beliefs and interests as you do.
Where you can provide value to them, and they can return the favor (value can be even food for thought).
The majority of my success and happiness comes from interacting and working with amazing people that drive me to achieve more personally and professionally.
25. How To Manage Your Personal Finances
Rule #1: Spend less than you earn.
Rule #2: Get another source of income (possibly a passive one)
Rule #3: Invest in assets (opportunities that have Return on Investment)
Oh man, that was long.
If you are reading this, congratulations!
You must be wondering where should you begin?
Pick one and start.
Some of these can be learned within several hours while some require more than that.
But, you have to know that learning even one of these skills can help you grow exponentially and give you incredible results in every area of your life.
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Author: Zdravko Cvijetic
Zdravko Cvijetic, the founder of Zero To Skill, creates practical content, ranging from articles, e-guides, and courses, that will help you become a top performer, by gaining clarity on your life path, mastering your habits and becoming 3x more productive. With a degree in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, he was able to create content that has influenced more than 100.000 people.