The most important skill you can learn

What is the most valuable skill you can learn? Computer programming? Another language? Communication skills?

Instead of these, and other popular answers, I’d like to suggest it’s something we don’t even teach in schools:

The most important skill in life is being able to set goals and make them a reality.

Ask yourself, how often do you get an idea to do something: get in shape, expand your business, learn a new skill, and… nothing happens?

This kind of thing is distressingly common. The gap between most people’s intentions and their actions is frighteningly large.

Instead, most people act on a kind of default mode. They go with the flow, handling whatever challenges and crises fall into their lap. Maybe some efforts are made to improve things in one direction or another, but most of the time those plans fizzle out.

Sometimes you might even get really serious and tell yourself, “this time is different.” Except it usually isn’t. Life gets in the way and you go back to your starting point.

This situation is made worse by the fact that most people don’t even recognize that there is a skill to be learned here.

When people fail at their goals, what do they blame?

“I’m too busy.”

“I’m not sure what to focus on.”

“I don’t have enough willpower.”

“Now’s not the time, I’ll work on that next month/year/never…”

Very rarely do people respond to their mediocre track-record of following-up on their goals with, “Wow! I should really learn how to set goals and make them happen.”

I see things differently. I don’t think the main obstacle to setting goals and achieving them is that you’re too busy (who isn’t?). Or that you aren’t sure what you want to do (who is?). Or that you’re sometimes lazy and lacking willpower (everybody feels this way).

Instead, being able to choose goals that will make your life better, planning how you’ll achieve them, sticking to that plan and making adjustments as life gets in the way are all skills.

Like any other skill, these are skills which can be learned.

These are not always easy skills to learn. However, they’re always valuable ones to have mastered. The ability to set an intention—whether it be for an exercise, career or self-education goal—and to make it happen is the foundation of any other skills or abilities you develop.

I would like to teach this to you.

My team and I have been working on a brand-new course to teach you how to turn ideas for your life into a reality, called Make it Happen! Over this week, I’m going to give you some free lessons drawn from this course to give you a better idea of how it works.

The first lesson comes from a class of academic ideas surrounding the literature on goal-setting: expectancy theories.

The basic idea is this: You put in effort towards your activities based, in part, on your expectations of what is likely to come from that effort.

If you expect success, you’re more likely to pursue it doggedly. If you think failure is likely, or that your effort won’t bring rewards, you’re more likely to give up and lose interest.

Makes sense, right?

Except, now consider that your own effort changes how likely you view success. If you commit to something and work consistently at it for a long time, that itself will increase your chances of success. If you’re sloppy, lose focus and can’t sustain motivation, that will decrease your own expectations of future results.

This has the potential to create a dangerous spiral if you’re not careful. You don’t put in enough consistent effort into your goals because, your experience of the past shows that you are the kind of person who doesn’t tend to stick to things.

If, on the other hand, you start to stick to things better and get better results from those efforts, that too can form a spiral. Except now it’s a virtuous cycle where each example of sticking through with your own goals bolsters your commitment to take on bigger and more challenging versions in the future.

Over the next several days, I’m going to be giving more free lessons on the skill of goal-setting, to try to give you the tools to start your own virtuous cycle of setting and realizing your goals. However, these lessons will only go to my newsletter subscribers. If you are not already on the list, signup here:

After, starting on Monday, I’m going to open my new course Make it Happen! for those who want to go deeper and start the process of mastering this skill.

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