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The Most Important Skill In Life (It's Not

What You Think)


What do you think is the most important skill in life? I recently asked my co-workers this
question, and I heard:
The ability to focus.
Communication skills.
Inspiring others to greatness.
These are wonderful skills, but I dont think they are paramount. For me, the most important skill
in life is mastering how to get happy and stay happy. Another way of saying it is, mastering our
emotions.
Whats so important about mastering our emotions?
When you have mastered your emotions, you can pick and choose how you feel at any given
point in time, no matter what else is happening around you. You can choose to be happy, even
when Rome is burning behind you.
And when you are happy, you can do all those other things that people mentioned, i.e., focus,
communicate, lead others to greatness. You are free to do your best and most inspired work.
Getting happy and staying happy is about taking responsibility for your feelings. Its about
mastering your emotions, and ultimately, yourself.
The saying, Own your own actions and set yourself free, has had a profound impact on my life.
Except that its not enough to own your own actions: you also have to own your own feelings in
order to have true personal freedom.
One of the reasons its so hard to get happy and stay happy is that we allow others to own our
emotions. How many times have you heard: He made me so mad when he [insert offensive
action], or She really pissed me off in that meeting!
When you say, So-and-so made me mad, youre saying that power lies with the other person.
They made you mad. They have the power to control your feelings.
But actually, they didnt and they dont. You chose to get mad. You chose to stay mad. You
chose to hold yourself apart from happiness.
We have to take responsibility not only for our actions, but also for our emotions. Many people
go through life like Pavlovs dogs, triggered to emotional responses by events that are outside
of their control. If we operate unconsciously based upon our triggers, well go through life
feeling like a victim, a pinball bouncing back and forth between external forces.
I got promoted, yay, Im happy.
That jerk Mark threw me under the bus at work, Im mad.
I did that for many years, until a mentor asked me, When are you going to finally make the
connection between you and all your problems? They all start with YOU.
The path to self-mastery and happiness starts with accepting responsibility for your feelings and
taking back the power you have inappropriately given to other people or life events.
How do we get happy and stay happy? How do we master our emotions?
Like all skills, mastering emotions takes practice. I started by paying attention to my every
thought and feeling. You cant know if youre losing control of your feelings if you dont know
how youre feeling at any given moment. Staying present is the key.
When youre present to your feelings, you can always ask yourself, Do I want to continue
feeling the way Im feeling right now?
If the answer is no, then the next step is to choose how you want to feel. Your feelings are
controlled almost 100% by your thoughts (in case its not obvious, Im excluding people with
clinical depression), so if youre unhappy, it is most likely because youve been thinking
negative thoughts. If youre going around thinking, Im a failure, my boss sucks, Im underpaid,
no one loves me, people are toxic, my life is hell, then you are most likely feeling crappy.
To break the cycle of negativity, choose to change your thoughts.
There is literally a smorgasbord of thoughts from which we can pick and choose to fill our
mental plate at any given moment. What works for me is to practice an attitude of gratitude,
because gratitude and happiness are powerfully linked. This isnt just my opinion a tremendous
amount of research supports the conclusion that your happiness and well-being are deeply
intertwined with how thankful you are.
Sometimes youre not feeling particularly grateful. Ive been there. But there has to be
SOMETHING youre grateful for, even if its small, even if its ridiculous. There was a time in
my life when I was losing my business, taking on all of its debts, and feeling tremendously guilty
and ashamed for putting my employees out of jobs. I was sitting in my car bawling when
suddenly I noticed I was wallowing in self-pity.
I didnt want to continue feeling that debilitatingly bad, so I grudgingly started up my mental
gratitude listexcept in that moment, I didnt feel grateful for much. The only thing that came
to mind was, I have clean socks on. Ridiculous, I know. But that thought led to gratitude for
my husband (who had washed my socks), gratitude for my impending motherhood (I was eight
months pregnant), and eventually, gratitude for all the lessons I had learned as the proprietor of a
failed business. I was able to pull myself together to a place of peace if not outright happiness
and move forward with closing down shop.
No, as of today, I have not yet completely mastered my every emotion. I cannot claim to always
be in a state of happiness. Ive still got much work to do. Mastering the emotions requires
constant integration and constant practice, and for those who choose to pursue this most
important skill in life, our work is not done until our last breath.

Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They


Avoid
Editors Note: Following the huge popularity of this post, article source Amy Morin has
authored a Dec. 3 guest post on exercises to increase mental strength here. Cheryl Conner has
also interviewed Amy Morin in a Forbes video chat that expands on this article here.
For all the time executives spend concerned about physical strength and health, when it comes
down to it, mental strength can mean even more. Particularly for entrepreneurs, numerous
articles talk about critical characteristics of mental strengthtenacity, grit, optimism, and an
unfailing ability as Forbes contributor David Williams says, to fail up.
However, we can also define mental strength by identifying the things mentally strong
individuals dont do. Over the weekend, I was impressed by this list compiled by Amy Morin, a
psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker, that she shared in LifeHack. It impressed me
enough Id also like to share her list here along with my thoughts on how each of these items is
particularly applicable to entrepreneurs.
1. Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves. You dont see mentally strong people feeling
sorry for their circumstances or dwelling on the way theyve been mistreated. They have learned
to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes, and they have an inherent understanding of
the fact that frequently life is not fair. They are able to emerge from trying circumstances with
self-awareness and gratitude for the lessons learned. When a situation turns out badly, they
respond with phrases such as Oh, well. Or perhaps simply, Next!
2. Give Away Their Power. Mentally strong people avoid giving others the power to make them
feel inferior or bad. They understand they are in control of their actions and emotions. They
know their strength is in their ability to manage the way they respond.
3. Shy Away from Change. Mentally strong people embrace change and they welcome
challenge. Their biggest fear, if they have one, is not of the unknown, but of becoming
complacent and stagnant. An environment of change and even uncertainty can energize a
mentally strong person and bring out their best.
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relying on shortcuts.
10. Give Up After Failure. Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs
are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong
people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from
every failure can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.
11. Fear Alone Time. Mentally strong people enjoy and even treasure the time they spend alone.
They use their downtime to reflect, to plan, and to be productive. Most importantly, they dont
depend on others to shore up their happiness and moods. They can be happy with others, and
they can also be happy alone.
12. Feel the World Owes Them Anything. Particularly in the current economy, executives and
employees at every level are gaining the realization that the world does not owe them a salary, a
benefits package and a comfortable life, regardless of their preparation and schooling. Mentally
strong people enter the world prepared to work and succeed on their merits, at every stage of the
game.

13. Expect Immediate Results. Whether its a workout plan, a nutritional regimen, or starting a
business, mentally strong people are in it for the long haul. They know better than to expect
immediate results. They apply their energy and time in measured doses and they celebrate each
milestone and increment of success on the way. They have staying power. And they
understand that genuine changes take time. Do you have mental strength? Are there elements on
this list you need more of? With thanks to Amy Morin, I would like to reinforce my own abilities
further in each of these areas today. How about you?

5 Powerful Exercises To Increase Your


Mental Strength
The following guest post is by Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker in Lincoln, Maine. In
addition to working as a psychotherapist, she is also an adjunct college psychology instructor
and she serves as About.coms Parenting Teens expert.
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Identify and evaluate your core beliefs. Look for beliefs that are black and white, and then find
exceptions to the rule. Very few things in life are always or never true. Modifying core
beliefs requires purposeful intention and hard work, but it can change the entire course of your
life.
2. Expend Your Mental Energy Wisely
Wasting brain power ruminating about things you cant control drains mental energy quickly.
The more you think about negative problems that you cant solve, the less energy youll have
leftover for creative endeavors. For example, sitting and worrying about the weather forecast
isnt helpful. If a major storm is headed your way, worrying about it wont prevent it. You can,
however, choose to prepare for it. Focus on what is only within your control.
Save your mental energy for productive tasks, such as solving problems or setting goals.When
your thoughts arent productive, make a conscious effort to shift your mental energy to more
helpful topics. The more you practice expending your mental energy wisely, the more it will
become a habit.
3. Replace Negative Thoughts with Productive Thoughts
Although most of us dont spend time thinking about our thoughts, increasing your awareness of
your thinking habits proves useful in building resilience. Exaggerated, negative thoughts, such
as, I cant ever do anything right, hold you back from reaching your full potential. Catch your
negative thoughts before they spiral out of control and influence your behavior.
Identify and replace overly negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive. Productive
thoughts dont need to be extremely positive, but should be realistic. A more balanced thought
may be, I have some weaknesses, but I also have plenty of strengths. Changing your thoughts
requires constant monitoring, but the process can be instrumental in helping you become your
best self.
4. Practice Tolerating Discomfort
Being mentally strong doesnt mean you dont experience emotions. In fact, mental strength
requires you to become acutely aware of your emotions so you can make the best choice about
how to respond. Mental strength is about accepting your feelings without being controlled by
them.
Mental strength also involves an understanding of when it makes sense to behave contrary to
your emotions. For example, if you experience anxiety that prevents you from trying new things
or accepting new opportunities, try stepping out of your comfort zone if you want to continue to
challenge yourself. Tolerating uncomfortable emotions takes practice, but it becomes easier as
your confidence grows.
Practice behaving like the person youd like to become. Instead of saying, I wish I could be
more outgoing, choose to behave in a more outgoing manner, whether you feel like it or not.
Some discomfort is often necessary for greater gain, and tolerating that discomfort will help
make your vision a reality, one small step at a time.

5. Reflect on Your Progress Daily
Todays busy world doesnt lend itself to making much time available for quiet reflection. Create
time to reflect upon your progress toward developing mental strength. At the end of each day,
ask yourself what youve learned about your thoughts, emotions and behavior. Consider what
you hope to improve upon or accomplish tomorrow.
Developing mental strength is a work in progress. There is always room for improvement, and at
times this will seem more difficult than at other times. Reflecting upon your progress can
reinforce your ability to reach your definition of success while living according to your values.

14 Things Every Successful Person Has In


Common
Im constantly interviewing successful people here at Forbes. Since 2007, Ive spoken to over
1,200 CEOs, celebrities, authors, politicians and even an astronaut. When speaking to these
individuals, I always notice common traits that they all have, which lend to their success. Ive
boiled all of these into the top 14 things that all of them have in common. If you can think of any
additional ones, leave them in the comments.
1. They know when to stay and when to leave. Successful people know exactly when they
should change employers, start a company or fold their company. They have good intuition and
arent afraid to make hard choices, despite opposing forces.
2. They do more than whats asked of them. They view their job descriptions as just the
beginning of what they can do with their job. After theyve completed their mandatory tasks,
they will always ask to take on more projects that challenge them. They are even willing to take
on the tedious work that no one else wants to do in order to be a team player.
3. They are willing to fail in order to eventually succeed. All successful people know that it
doesnt come easy and they are bound to fail more than they will succeed at anything. They are
willing to learn from each failure, as it will help them make better decisions that lead to success
later. While many people give up after failing at something, a successful person will persevere.
4. They know that they make their own luck. Luck is derived from hard work over time and
positioning yourself for success. You wont randomly get lucky and successful people know that.
They will do at least one thing every single day to put themselves in a better position to get lucky
and then use that luck to grow.
5. They set real goals that they can accomplish. Successful people wake up and theyve
already planned their day, while unsuccessful people are scrambling to figure out what they need
to do next. Their goals are very focused, big yet obtainable and are aligned to their strengths.
They know what they are capable of and will invest all of their efforts in it, avoiding their
weaknesses.
6. They take accountability for themselves and their actions. They arent relying on other
people in order to get the job done. Instead, they are looking inwards and are trying to find the
solutions, while leveraging their current assets. If they make a mistake, they own up to it and
immediately think of ways that they can improve next time, not making the same mistake twice.
7. They make change instead of being affected by it. Successful people arent waiting around
to be affected by economic trends. They are the ones who are creating the trends and making
things happen.
8. They are able to adjust to changes in the marketplace. Successful people are willing to
reinvent themselves to stay relevant in the business world. They understand that if you stay
stagnant and ignore trends, that you will be left behind. They are constantly coming up with new
ideas, searching for the next big thing and getting new skills.
9. They can communicate their story effectively. If you walk up to a successful person and ask
them what they do, they will able to tell you everything in a concise manner. They know who
they are, what they do and can make you believe in them. They have strong posture and are very
persuasive and confident.
10. They ask the right questions to the people who can deliver the right answers. Successful
people know they need to solve problems by tapping their networks. They arent afraid of
emailing or calling the best person who can answer their questions. They are always prepared
with the right questions and are always willing to help the other person out in return.
11. They are life-long learners who push themselves out of their comfort zones. While most
people think that when they graduate college, they are finished being a student, successful people
remain students. They are constantly learning new things and have new experiences. They arent
afraid to try new activities and to fail at them.
12. They know who they are and their place in the world. Successful people are confident and
can lead themselves, as well as others. They have their own vision and mission and seek to bring
it to life on a daily basis. They also know who they arent and dont waste time on things that
they arent good at or they arent satisfied with.
13. They are more excited about the journey than the pay out. Successful people ignore get
rich quick schemes. They are more focused on building sustainable careers through hard work,
risk taking and creativity. They enjoy the journey, despite the obstacles, because they are doing
something that has meaning in their lives.
14. They create instead of just consume. While most people are busy reading emails, watching
TV or listening to a podcast, successful people are creating new tools, presentations and coming
up with ideas. They are the ones who are making things that other people need instead of being
on the other end of the spectrum, consuming them.