This living business can get tricky. We may sit atop the evolutionary scale, yet the word human is often used as a synonym for mortal, fallible, faulty. It may be that we are most faulty by too often getting in our own way. We need to act on the world as it is, but we filter experience through our own perspectives and feelings, however limited or skewed they may be. Of course, if we’re paying attention or live long enough (or both), most of us wind up learning a thing or two and come to master some of our inborn and acquired distortions. Such skills are no less valuable for being hard won—although we may wish we had had them at the outset.
Here are 7 skills that will clarify your vision and bring you closer to your life goals.
1. Understanding that not everything that happens to you is about you.
We are all stars of our own movies, and everything in the world is but a backdrop. Your partner’s mood dips. Your company’s market value lifts. You’re mired in a traffic jam. It’s human nature to experience it all through the lens of how it affects you personally. To live a life that is less reactive, more directed, it is necessary to put the ego in its place. We can cognitively prompt ourselves to recognize that our own point of view isn’t the only one, or necessarily the best one. We can then see situations with clarity and approach them effectively. We may even see the wisdom in others’ points of view, and learn from them.
2. Realizing that you don’t have to act the way you feel.
No one feels good all the time. We suffer disappointments or outright opposition. Some days require more effort and energy than are available to us. We disappoint ourselves on something that matters to us. Or events happen that absorb us in sadness or consume us with anxiety.
3. Knowing how to solicit honest feedback.
There are two types of people in the world. “There are ones who think they’re self-aware and the few who actually are.” To complicate matters, there are two types of self-awareness: internal (how we see ourselves and our own values and passions) and external (how others view us). Only the latter can tell us that the tale we’re telling is boring or that no one trusts us because we kiss up to the boss.
4. Staying true to your own values despite what others expect of you.
Your own needs and values matter. If you don’t reasonably accommodate them in all that you do, you will be setting yourself up for a life of regret or resentment. A life of meaning requires the thoughtful exercise of your passions and skills. That, of course, obliges you to discover what they are and equip yourself to deploy them.
5. Being open to new information or revised thinking.
The world doesn’t stand still. Situations change. Available information changes. However much we get emotionally attached to our own decisions, however much our opinions and perspectives may have once served us, there comes a point at which constancy can curdle into rigidity.
6. Zoning in on your purpose in a zoned-out world.
As Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in life are the day you are born and the day you discover the reason why.” Purpose, however, hinges on self-regulation, the ability to resist impulses in the service of long-term goals. Unfortunately, an entire generation is coming of age absorbed in Facebook and other media that undermine self-regulation. You may want big ideas, but if your attention is jerked away constantly, they won’t come. There’s no time to process anything on a deeper level.
7. Tolerating ambiguity.
You’ll never know exactly what you’re missing out on. You can’t know for sure what the other side is thinking during a negotiation or what your date or partner really thinks of you. You’ll never know whether the decisions you make today are the best ones, or what you may have sacrificed in making them—or, for that matter, where they will lead.