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Last Updated on May 12, 2020

13 Most Practical Skills to Learn Now (For a Better You This Year)

13 Most Practical Skills to Learn Now (For a Better You This Year)

Consider any highly successful person in history and you’ll notice they all have one thing in common:

They’re skillful people who know how to get stuff done.

But here’s the kicker:

They haven’t just mastered any skills. Instead, they’ve worked on developing skills that actually add value to their lives.

So, to help you with the same, I decided to consolidate this list of skills to learn this year. With more time spending at home now, you have no excuse not to learn something useful to help you grow!

These skills belong to all spheres of life, ranging from interpersonal to the most profitable ones. But regardless of which sphere of your life these skills cover, each of them has the potential to change your life for the better.

1. Speed Reading

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You’ve got a presentation tomorrow and you’re drowning in a whole stack of files to read through.

Since there’s really no time to read all that information, you decide to skim through to get the gist. The only problem is that as soon as you start reading faster, the text stops making sense.

Almost every reader has the habit of subvocalization, which essentially means that he says the words in his head while he reads them. This habit is known to significantly increase reading time.

Speed reading helps eliminate this tendency by allowing readers to skim through the text and comprehend it at faster reading speeds. According to an article on Forbes, an average adult reads at a speed of about 300 words per minute while speed readers clock in at 1500 words per minute.[1]

Imagine all the time you could save while reading the paper, researching for reports, skimming through emails, and reading books.

Personally, I’m up at around 500 wpm right now. If you want to learn more about reading faster, you can also read this fantastic article on how to speed read: How to Read Faster: 10 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed

2. The Art of Delegating

This is a skill that I believe everyone, especially those in managerial positions, should master.

The problem is that many of us are trying to micromanage tasks and the people around us.

But here’s why that sucks:

Micromanaging drains all your mental energy on tasks that don’t matter.

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By learning to delegate, you can free up your time and mental space for important tasks.

To master the art of delegating, check out my step-by-step guide: How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

3. Learning to Play an Instrument

You might just consider playing an instrument as a fun skill to learn.

But what if I tell you that learning to play an instrument can help you boost memory and improve cognitive functions?[2]

In fact, it’s even shown to retard the onset of dementia.[3] With so many mental and health benefits, this is certainly one of the best creative skills to learn.

Check out Udemy’s list of music courses where you can learn to play any instrument online. However, if you’re after faster results, I’d recommend looking up someone in your area who could teach you the instrument you’re interested in.

4. Prioritizing Tasks

Many of us lack the skill to prioritize. But today, more than ever, we need to learn this art to increase productivity and output.

I believe that the biggest reason why people fail at prioritizing tasks is that they lack daily planning. Something as simple as having a to-do list in order of priority can help you boost your daily output and effectiveness.

But it gets better…

By learning to prioritize, you’ll let go of a lot of useless tasks that wouldn’t make it to the priority list.

And despite that, you’ll realize at the end of the day that you accomplished more results with lesser effort.

Here’s atheultimate guide to help you prioritize better: How to Master the Art of Prioritization.

5. Mastering Body Language

According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), people consider information from body language over facial expressions when perceiving emotions.[4] This study effectively proves that you can get your message across to people more firmly if you use the right body language. That makes this one of the most important skills to learn.

Now, “body language” itself is quite an extensive subject involving gestures, eye contact, body posture and much more.

To master your own, try out these 11 body language tricks. Bear in mind that body language doesn’t improve overnight. In fact, it’s a subconscious change that occurs over the course of months.

6. Videography Skills

Have you noticed how social media giants like Facebook and Instagram have been trying to push more video content on your feeds? You’d also know that brands are now routinely marketing their products and services through Youtube; a lot more than they used to.

There are a host of reasons for that, one of which is that video content has been proven to garner increased user interaction.

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It’s simply more stimulating, gripping and entertaining. People enjoy it and want more of it every day.

So, by learning videography skills like shooting, lighting, and editing, you can ride this social media wave and help yourself or others generate more video content. Oh, and there’s always the possibility of making good money out of this skill!

If that interests you, then you can check out these videography skills courses on Skillshare.

7. Mental Clarity

Did you know that in 2013, the average person’s attention span had decreased to about 8 seconds?[5]

Now, there are a plethora of reasons why our attention spans are dropping so rapidly. But I attribute this loss in attention span to our collective loss in mental clarity.

What you need is to develop the skill of decluttering your brain and find your purpose, drive, and reason.

Without a defined goal, you’re just a hamster running in its wheel. And a lousy one at that since research shows that mental fatigue drastically impacts physical performance as well.[6] So, it’s about time you reduce your brain fog.

By having mental clarity and defined goals, you can then reverse engineer your brain and decide what you really need to focus on. With that knowledge, you’ll know what needs immediate attention and what can wait.

Interested in learning more? Here’s an article about it: How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

8. Learning Humor

What if I tell you that being funny is a skill?

In fact, I consider it so powerful that I decided to include it in this list of skills to learn.

Being funny is almost synonymous with being liked. If you make people laugh, then you’re automatically a center of attraction for all your social groups. This brings with it a lot of benefits including greater influence in your peers and increased social exposure.

Research published in the American Psychological Association shows that humorous speech is comprehended and retained better.[7] So, in easier terms, people can understand you better if you’re funny.

Another study showed that humor increases camaraderie and productivity in work environments.[8]

Now, as a funny guy myself, the best advice I can give you to learn humor is to watch people who are good at it. Notice how they deliver punchlines and focus on their timing and tonality. You may notice that quite a lot of them actually try to laugh at yourself. Embracing their “weaknesses” is actually a way of showing their confidence in themselves: How Laughing At Yourself Makes You Attractive Instantly

Another great way of learning humor is watching quality sitcoms like F.R.I.E.N.D.S. With time, you’ll start to notice yourself cracking similar jokes as the characters in these shows.

9. Writing

If you came to this list looking for creative skills to learn, then consider this evergreen one. Despite rapid digitization, writing remains one of the strongest forms of communication.

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Be it an office report, a social media picture caption or a romantic text; good writing can get you some useful brownie points.

But don’t just consider writing as an important communication skill. Writing is, in fact, one of the most profitable skills to learn.

Take it from me; I make a living from this skill and teach it to people all the time. Gone are the days when you had to write a book in order to make money writing. Today, there are industries like blogging, social media marketing, copywriting that have opened so many doors for people to earn a living through this skill.

You can try this free course to polish your copywriting skills. But if you’re looking for a general course to improve your overall writing, you can check out this online course by Arizona State University.

10. Learning a New Language

Learning a language is a fantastic way of improving your mental capabilities. When you learn a new language, you expose yourself to a brand new set of rules and vocabulary that exercise your brain muscles.

In theory, you’re training your brain to function better by learning a new language. Research shows that bilinguals take more rational decisions[9] and have a stronger working memory.[10]

Being bilingual can open a lot more doors in life than you’d think. By learning a local language, you can better connect with the people of that area. This can even lead to a host of job opportunities in the field of translation to consular officers.

One of the easiest ways to learn any language is by using a language learning app. Here’re some good ones recommended for you: 9 Free Language Learning Apps That Are Fun to Use

11. Carrying Conversations

Let’s just face it:

Nobody likes a person who’s hard to converse with.

In fact, there’s nothing worse than talking to a person who doesn’t know how to carry a healthy discussion.

People who know how to start a conversation and carry it are loved by everyone for the sole reason that they’re easy to spend time with.

No matter the situation, such smooth talkers never make others feel uncomfortable and can even say the cheekiest of things in the smoothest of manners.

This art is vital in winning arguments, negotiations, and conversations. If you want to improve this skill, then check out these conversation hacks to get along with anyone in any sort of discourse.

12. Social Influence

Social influence is one of the best skills to learn for everyone. In fact, this skill was mastered by some of the most powerful personalities in human history.

People like the late Nelson Mandela and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were masters of the art. Actually, they wouldn’t be regarded as the icons that they are unless they knew how to get people rallied behind them.

To positively influence people, you can try out these ways: 10 Powerful Ways to Influence People Positively

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Now, social influence is a complex subject. So, if you’re interested in working on this skill, I’d advise you to read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Influence: Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini.

13. Gaining Control over Your Creativity

We all know that creative people are more innovative and are able to find better solutions. But do you ever find your creativity burning out from time to time?

If so, then you’re not alone. In fact, creativity comes in fits and bursts for most people.

Here’s the thing:

You can gain control over your creativity so that ideas never seem to run out.

As a writer, engineer and entrepreneur, I know how irritating it is when you’re desperately looking for your creative juices to kick in. Merely waiting it out until you’re feeling creative again can make you lose precious hours… even days! And let’s just face it; we hardly have any time for that.

In order to gain control over your creativity, you can try a number of approaches. My favorite of which is retreating to a creative hobby that you love. This can be playing the piano, drawing or singing. Essentially, you’re looking to get those creative juices flowing so you can utilize them elsewhere.

A useful tip for obtaining a creative problem-solving approach is using the Six Thinking Hats Technique[11] by Edward de Bono. This approach suggests that you divide your thought process into 6 thinking styles (or hats) and use them only one at a time.

For example, virtually wearing the white hat can mean thinking only about the monetary aspect of a decision. Similarly, the red hat may compel you to think of the emotional facet alone while the black hat may warrant considering what could potentially go wrong and so on.

At times when you’re lacking the creativity to tackle a problem, using the Six Thinking Hats Technique can be a gem. Here are 30 more tips to rejuvenate your creativity.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. In this list, I tried covering everything from skills to learn for making money to those that can help you gain influence in your social circle.

Before choosing which skill you’re actually interested in, I’d like you to first consider why you’re learning it in the first place.

Learning to play an instrument could prove to be a great skill to learn when bored. But there’s no doubt that a skill like videography could prove to be a new income stream while gaining mental clarity could increase your productivity. So, choose the skill you want to learn according to the benefits you’re looking for!

Want to learn these skills effectively? These tips can help:

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on March 1, 2021

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable?

As someone on the Millennial/Generation X cusp, one of my first memories of a news story was the devastating crash of the Challenger space shuttle. I couldn’t process the severity or the specifics of the event at the time, but looking back, the Challenger explosion represents a heartbreaking example of what can happen when systems fail.

A part of the shuttle known as the O-ring was faulty. People from NASA knew about it well before the disaster, but NASA employees either ignored the problem—writing it off as not that bad—or were ignored when they tried to alert higher-ups about the issue.[1] This is a tragic example of single-loop learning where organizations focus on what they’re doing without reflecting on how or why they’re doing it, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Single and Double-Loop Learning

Chris Argyris describes the difference between single and double-loop learning with a metaphor. A thermostat that turns on and off when it senses a pre-set temperature is akin to single-loop learning. The thermostat being able to reflect on whether or not it should be set to that temperature in the first place would be more like double-loop learning.[2]

Imagine the difference if NASA would have encouraged and addressed employees’ questions about how they were doing, what they were doing, and whether or not they should be doing it at all—you’ll start to see how an extra layer of questioning and critical thought can help organizations thrive.

Single Loop Learning

Single-loop learning is when planning leads to action, which leads to reflection on those actions and then back to planning, action, and more reflection. Now, you might think that because reflection is involved, single-loop learning would be an effective organizational model. However, because there isn’t room for critical questions that ask why actions are being taken, problems begin to bubble up.

The Double Bind

When organizations are operating in single-loop learning, they get stuck in what Argyris calls the Double Bind. Because there’s no value placed on questioning why the team is doing something, team members are either punished for speaking up or punished for not speaking up if something goes wrong down the line.

Primary Inhibiting Loop

When an organization is stuck in single-loop learning, the double bind leads to what Argyris calls the primary inhibiting loop. Real learning and growth are inhibited because team members withhold information from each other. This withholding leads to distrust and is difficult to remedy because even if employees attempt to become more forthcoming, lack of trust sours interactions.

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Secondary Inhibiting Loop

Because information is being withheld, team members play unconscious games (not the fun kind) to protect each other’s feelings. For example, I might try to distract my colleagues from worrying about a problem in our plan by shifting the focus to another project we’re working on that’s going better.

When you’re stuck in single-loop learning, the organization does whatever it can to continue taking action after action instead of stopping to truly reassess the bigger picture. This leads team members to hide information from each other, which causes distrust and behaviors that try to mask flaws in the organization’s structures and systems.

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

A common misconception is that the opposite of single-loop learning involves focusing primarily on people’s feelings and allowing employees to manage themselves. However, the solution for single-loop learning is not about doing the opposite. It’s about adding an extra later of critical analysis—double-loop learning.

With double-loop learning, questioning why the organization is doing what it’s doing is an organizational value. Instead of moving from planning to action to reflection and back to planning, in double-loop learning, people are encouraged to reflect on why they’re doing what they’re doing. This can help the organization take a step back and reconsider what’s best for all stakeholders instead of being stuck acting and reacting.

Ultimately, double-loop learning gives team members the time, space, and systems to ask tough questions and have them addressed in meaningful ways.

Let’s think back to the Challenger disaster. If NASA had created an organization that uses double-loop learning, employees wouldn’t have felt compelled to stay silent, and the employees who did speak up would have influenced the process enough to reconsider the timeline and develop a solution for the O-ring problem.

Single-loop learning is like a train with no breaks. Double-loop learning provides the extra layer of critical thought that allows the organization to stop and pivot when that’s what’s required.

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Think back to Argyris’ thermostat metaphor. Instead of just reacting—turning on and off when it detects a certain temperature—double-loop learning invites the thermostat to reconsider why it’s doing what it’s doing and how it might do it better.

How to Shift to Double Loop Learning

So, how can organizations shift from single to double-loop learning?

1. Stakeholders Must Level With Each Other

The first step to shifting from single to double-loop learning is for all stakeholders to sit down and talk openly about their expectations, values, and goals. These sessions should be led by organizational experts to ensure that old single-loop learning habits of distrust, withholding, and game-playing don’t keep people stuck in single-loop learning.

One of the keys to team members leveling with each other is listening. Focus on creating an environment where everyone can speak up without fear of judgment or punishment.

2. Create Benchmarks for Lasting Growth and Change

Old habits die hard, and single-loop learning is no different. If systems, check-ins, benchmarks, and periodic times to reflect and reset aren’t put into place, old habits of withholding and mistrust will likely creep back in. You can guard against this by making it a norm to measure, assess, and improve how new double-loop learning systems are being implemented over time.

3. Reward Risk-Taking and Critical Feedback

Double-loop learning requires squeaky wheels. You have to create a culture that rewards criticism, risk-taking, and reflecting on the system as a whole and the reasons the organization does what it does. Think big picture stuff.

This is about walking the walk. It’s one thing to tell employees to speak up and give their feedback, it’s another thing entirely to have systems in place that make employees feel safe enough to do so.

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Kimberly Scott’s Radical Candor comes to mind as one way to start shifting to a more open and critical environment. Radical Candor is a system that incentivizes employees and managers to start speaking up about things they used to sweep under the rug. It’s a roadmap and a way to assess and improve open and reflective feedback between all stakeholders.

Double Loop Learning for Individuals

Double-loop learning isn’t only for organizations. You can also apply Argyris’ ideas to your learning.[3]

Here’s how that might look:

1. Level With Yourself and Seek Accountability

Instead of being stuck in a single-loop learning cycle, break out by adding another layer of critical reflection. Why are you learning what you’re learning? Is it important? Is there another way? Think big picture again.

Become clear on what you want to learn and how you’re currently trying to learn it. Then, open yourself up to others to keep yourself accountable. Leave the door open to completely shift major details about your learning goals.

2. Create Benchmarks and Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand

Just as with organizations, individuals also need to create goals and continuously reflect on whether or not they’re moving toward double-loop learning. Schedule times to meet with the people keeping you accountable for your learning plan. Then, ask yourself whether or not your learning goals still make sense.

Ask big picture questions. Are you in the right environment to learn? Is your learning plan working? Do you need to change course altogether or shift your goals entirely? If it’s double-loop learning, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and change course when the need arises.

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3. Value Risk-Taking and Accept Criticism

You’re also going to need to shift your mindset from simply learning and reflecting to accepting criticism, being critical of yourself as a learner, and taking risks and experiencing discomfort as you ask big questions and make drastic alterations to your learning plan over time.

Instead of concerning yourself with grades and GPAs, double-loop learning would mean you’re allowing yourself time to step back and analyze why you’re learning what you’re learning, if there’s a better way, and even whether or not you should be on that learning trajectory in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Think back to the thermostat example. Doing homework, handing it in, and then receiving a grade is single-loop learning. Thinking about why you’re doing any of that and making appropriate changes that align with your learning goals shifts you into double-loop learning, and that’s a great way to see the bigger picture and get the best results.

Learning and reflection are two of the most important things when it comes to organizational or personal development. This is why double-loop learning is key if you want yourself or your organization to succeed.

More Tips on Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Cherrydeck via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NPR: Challenger: What Went Wrong
[2] Harvard Business Review: Double Loop Learning in Organizations
[3] Journal of Advanced Learning: The role of reflection in single and double-loop learning

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