16 skills that are difficult to learn but will pay off forever

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We all want to become a better person.

At least I know I do!

But sometimes it’s easy to get lost in all the advice and information out there.

That’s why it’s time for a return to the real essentials: 16 crucial skills that are difficult to learn but will pay off forever.

Without further ado, let’s get this show on the road:

1) Caring about and helping other people

Empathy is when you genuinely care about those around you.

But caring about other people isn’t just a “feeling.” It’s action.

Our society has become too focused on hashtags and showy identity labels. Caring about people is a lot simpler: you actually care by doing things to help them.

And you don’t do it for praise or recognition. You do it because you care.

As blogger Anna Mercury says:

“Care without action is emotional masturbation. It’s telling yourself you’re a caring person but not putting in the work to be one.

Action is our interface with this world: our movement, our thoughts, our speech, our silence. Other people cannot feel your feelings for you.

They can only feel their feelings, which are influenced by your actions. Use your actions to care.”


2) Sleeping, eating, and scheduling well

If we could all figure out our sleeping, eating and time management, the world would be a much better place.

Eating unhealthy foods, emotional eating, fast food and all the rest are damaging our energy levels, mental clarity, and ability to get things done.

I won’t even get into what eating and sleeping poorly is doing to us long-term (if there is a long-term).

When you learn the skills of eating and sleeping well you start to notice a big difference very rapidly.

Your schedule also falls into place since you’re getting up earlier, feeling more energized, and living life to the fullest.

3) Taking responsibility for your finances

Mastering your personal finances is not easy, and some of us have a pretty rough financial situation.

Experts advise making a budget as the single best thing you can do to get a handle on your money.

Financial expert Anna Gaid writes:

“Setting and following a budget is the most powerful step you can take in your personal finances.

It makes sure that you’re working toward your goals, and setting a tangible number to follow will help to keep you accountable every day, week, month, and year.”

This advice is spot on.

Taking responsibility for your finances starts with a budget, but it doesn’t have to mean you become a financial expert.

Just learn to save some money,

4) Mental and physical endurance

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Mental and physical endurance isn’t easy to learn. Some of us become strong in our minds and body growing up or after facing harsh challenges.

But many times we follow the easiest route and avoid pain.

US Navy SEAL and ultra-marathon champion David Goggins has great advice about this in his book Can’t Hurt Me

As Goggins says, instead of seeking out your comfort zone, you should be embracing your discomfort zone. 

“You are stopping you, you are giving up instead of getting hard,” Goggins says, advising us to “analyze your schedule, kill your empty habits, burn out the bullshit, and see what’s left.”

5) Learning to embrace your authentic self

One of the hardest things to do in this life is to learn to embrace your authentic self.

Many of us spend years attached to illusions, chasing what we believe we “should” do and trying our best to live up to ideas that other people have about us and who we are.

It’s a hall of mirrors and it’s exhausting.

The most important thing to do if you want to find out who you really are and skip the bullshit is to stop living so much inside your mind.

As the shaman Rudá Iandê writes:

“If you really want to find authenticity, you need to go outside of your thoughts. You need to go outside of that little box, that small and limiting hologram of yourself which you have created. You must feel yourself and taste your soul.

You are not only thoughts. You are emotions. You are instinct. You are a body. Thinking about your emotions, instinct and body only disconnects you from such an essential dimension of your being.”

6) Following through on your goals and promises

It’s easy to make big promises or talk tough, but following through is the only part that really counts.

If you set goals and make promises but don’t come through with action you become somebody that a few respect and become ineffective.

Following through on what you say and your plans is deeply powerful.

This starts with getting out of bed in the morning even if you don’t want to, but it extends all the way to pursuing your goals with righteous fervor.

Because it’s not about that outer accomplishment. It’s about the unbreakable contract you have with yourself.

7) Using failure as rocket fuel for your dreams

When you fail, it hurts and it makes you want to throw in the towel.

Let’s be honest:

Sometimes it is time to throw in the towel on a specific project, career, relationship, or friendship.

But no matter what you are dealing with in terms of frustration, that burning disappointment and anger have immense power and potential!

In fact, you can learn to unleash your inner beast and use anger for positive things and worthwhile goals.

When you fail you use it to learn. Never take it personally, and learn the skill of transforming failure into victory.

8) Learning to objectively listen to other people

Learning to listen to what someone else is saying is harder than it sounds.

If you can master this skill you will have a skill that makes the world a much nicer place for everyone involved.

Sometimes folks are just plain wrong and listening to them may be disturbing, confusing, or sad. Other times, somebody you thought was bonkers turns out to have some very valid insights.

The only way you’ll know is by reserving judgment and just listening.

Don’t just react or cut in – listen (even if you disagree).

9) Practicing moderation whenever possible

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Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Have you ever heard that saying? It’s a good one.

But truly:

Whenever possible learn the skill of moderation when it comes to food, pleasure, relaxation, intimacy, and all the good things in life, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

I love double bacon cheeseburgers, but if I ate them every day my fingers might be too pudgy to type this article without a whole lot of typos.

Moderation is one of those skills that will serve you your whole life.

10) Speaking with consideration and care

It’s easy to throw words around recklessly without caring much where they land.

But cleaning up those words is harder, especially if they hit family, friends, and loved ones in awful ways.

Learning to pay attention to how you speak and what you speak about is one of the most important skills you will ever learn in life.

Words have enormous power, and if you become conscious of your speaking you can shape it to become a much more supportive, upbuilding, and cooperative endeavor.

Maybe you’re right and they’re wrong. But maybe you both love margaritas and that’s just a better topic of conversation for the night at this time.

11) Building new friendships and enriching old ones

Friendship is a skill, I really believe that.

Of course, there are the friends we grow up with and the friends we make by chance.

But even old friendships need maintenance, and making new friends isn’t easy.

The main skill to learn in making friends is to find a common bridge between you and another person.

You may be in line at a movie and know nothing about the movie, but you’re tired of the long line and so is the mega fan in front of you. Congrats, you just found common ground.

12) Learning a new language, recipe, or trade

There’s no better way to build a skill that will last a lifetime than to learn a language.

My best memories of university are learning French and German. Languages are a lot of fun, and surprisingly they’ve actually come in useful a few times as well.

Plus you get to watch all sorts of new movies and shows in the original, too, and that’s pretty epic!

Learning new ways to cook and skills such as plumbing, electrical work and more is also amazing.

These skills will stand the test of time.

13) Standing up for your core values even if it’s unpopular

There’s a right way and a wrong way to stand up for what you believe in.

The wrong way is to be aggressive and provocative, out looking for a fight.

The right way is to not back down on what you believe but be steadfast and not shift and change it for what’s popular or what other people tell you to believe.

Many people hide what they believe in to fit in or not cause a scene.

But one of the best skills you can ever learn is to never weasel out of your true beliefs come hell or high water.

14) Full honesty with yourself and other people

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Honesty is always the best policy.

Apart from a few rare situations where a white lie can do you good, you should always tell the truth.

Nowhere is this more important than in telling the truth to yourself.

Many of us lie to ourselves our whole life: about who we are, what we care about, what we want, and what we fear.

Don’t be that person.

Practice honesty. It might hurt at first but it’s always better in the end.

15) Reaching out for help when you need it

Reaching out for help in any form is not a sign of weakness or “failure.”

Some of the strongest people I know are those who admitted when they simply had no options left for how to face their problems and the situations they were dealing with.

A big part of growing up and becoming a functioning and effective adult human is knowing when to ask for help.

Whether it’s therapy, advice, religious counseling, or even literal physical or advisory help on a project or assignment, knowing when to ask for help — and being humble enough to do so — is a skill that will always come in handy your whole life.

16. Understanding the real way to find love

It’s all too easy to spend our life chasing love and romance that lets us down in the end.

It’s happened to me and it’s probably happened to you.

But finding true love and romance is actually a skill.

The skill consists in shifting your perspective and looking at life in a truly different way than you ever have before.

True love won’t arrive and “fix” you, and you won’t show up and “save” a perfect partner either.

Love will arrive when you truly love yourself. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. And that’s a skill.

The truth about life

The truth about life is that no outer experience, person, award, or accomplishment will fulfill you.

They could be amazing experiences and situations you help create or participate in and bring you great joy, learning, and connections, but there won’t ever be this one big “peak” moment at which everything is perfect.

And even if there is – and you’re standing on that gold medal spot on the Olympic podium – that moment eventually fades.

The skills that stick with you in life are deep in your bones and how you breathe and speak.

The skills that help you become truly fulfilled come from getting out of the box and reorienting how you think about and experience this thing we call life.

If you practice the above 16 skills you will be on the path to deep inner peace and a life of meaning and purpose.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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