13 surprising ways to master essential life skills

If you haven’t mastered some of the most essential life skills already, it may be time to take a different approach.

Whether you’re looking to listen better or negotiate for a raise, here are some of the most surprising ways you can master 13 essential life skills.


It's a surprisingly simple yet underused concept: If you want to listen better, keep your mouth shut.

As Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel once said, 'The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.'

Not only does thinking about what you're going to say next take your attention away from the speaker, but hijacking the conversation shows that you think you have something more important to say.

Conserving willpower

As Florida State psychologist Roy Baumeister details in his book 'Willpower: The Greatest Human Strength,' we all have a finite amount of willpower in a given day. The key to conserving it is to limit the number of decisions you have to make.

Startup founder Julie Sygiel, a very busy entrepreneur, follows in the footsteps of Mark Zuckerberg and President Barack Obama by wearing a uniform every day.

'Almost everything in my closet is black, grey, or blue and every top goes with every bottom,' she tells Business Insider. 'The only question I ask myself when getting dressed is: 'Do I need fancy shoes today?' All of my sweaters and pants are versatile and can look casual or dressy, so my shoes are the key piece that determines the overall look.

'It's amazing how much quicker I get dressed in the morning, and it allows me to save more creative decision-making energy for important choices at the office.'

Time management

Warren Buffett once said, 'The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say 'no' to almost everything.'

If you don't prioritise your time over others', you'll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will mount.


If you don't have anything nice to say, that doesn't mean you shouldn't say it.

Sheryl Sandberg practices radical candor, which is feedback that lies at the intersection of caring about people personally and being willing to piss them off. When practicing, use the acronym HHIPP to remember: Radical candor is humble, helpful, immediate, in person, and it doesn't personalise.

Reading more

Assuming that most books are average, not great, then there are really only one or two major ideas to get out of them, which can take you less than three hours to ascertain if you skim.

Start by reading the table of contents to understand the ideas dispersed within the book, make notations on the pages you want to revisit, read more deeply for 30 minutes on your second visit, and, if the book is worth another read, take an hour or two to read the best parts again.

Creative thinking

The best way to come up with your next big idea may be to simply stop trying.

During a 2011 study, researchers found study participants to be more creative at times when they were relaxed or unfocused.

Another study by UK psychologist Sandi Mann found that subjects who had just completed the most boring task -- reading the phone book -- came up with the most interesting uses for plastic cups, which is a standard test of divergent thinking. Mann concluded that boredom encourages people's minds to wander, leading them to more associative and creative ways of thinking.

In fact, some of the most creative people in history had their biggest breakthroughs when they were idle. Inventor Nikola Tesla, for example, supposedly came up with an idea that led to his discovery of alternating current while on a walk with a friend.

Public speaking

Most people think that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with public-speaking anxiety, but research suggests that this doesn't work. A better strategy is to stop trying to relax and instead reframe your jitters as excitement.

Anxious study participants who announced that they felt excited were perceived as more persuasive and competent when they gave their speeches.


Recent research suggests that it's better to emphasise what you're giving the other person as opposed to what they're losing in any negotiation. Saying 'I'll give you my car for $9,000' is better than 'I want $9,000 for my car.'

Stress management

During the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs started teaching employees resilience to help them cope in trying times.

Rather than letting stress hurt productivity and focus, the idea behind resilience is using stress to your advantage as energy to help you perform in high-pressure environments like investment banking.

Making friends

It's hard to make new friends as an adult, but joining a choir could help.

Recent research suggests that singing can be a great icebreaker among large groups of strangers and can facilitate individual friendships down the line.

Asking for help

A recent study suggests that asking for advice makes you look more, not less, capable.

Author Tim Ferriss says that the biggest mistake is asking conventionally successful people for help. Instead, he suggests consulting those who've gone from zero to expert in about six months.

Overcoming procrastination

The only way to overcome procrastination is to abandon perfectionism and not fuss over details as you move forward.

Pretending the task doesn't matter and that it's OK to mess up could help you get started faster.

Making friends at work

According to relationship researchers, for two people to deeply connect, it's not enough to just talk shop -- both people need to share intimate details about themselves. And as the relationship grows, the level of self-disclosure also needs to grow.

When researchers from Washington State University interviewed coworkers to determine how they became friends. And in a competitive work environment, you would think sharing emotionally sensitive information could lead to awkward situations, but the researchers discovered a pattern of self-disclosure that included sharing problems from one's personal, home, and work life.

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