Five Micro Skills Essential to Your Sanity and Success in Life, Your Career and Relationships
A different take on how to equip yourself for the future.
This is a companion article to my friend and colleague Jade McAndrew-Barlow’s “These 5 Micro Skills Give You Career Agility”. I take a different approach to Jade’s excellent one, so that all the bases are covered.
As the last few years have shown, we live in very uncertain times. The amazing impacts of Covid, a new Cold War (with a very hot one now underway in Europe), a weakened US with at least the possibility of a new civil war sometime in the next 20 years, a broad dissatisfaction with problematic work situations leading to the Great Resignation and ample demonstrations of the looming impacts of global warming are like a series of very bad planetary alignments in our collective astrology charts. The end might be fucking nigh.
Given circumstances, it makes sense to evaluate where you are at, and what steps you can take to be better positioned for the future. Jade has taken a very pragmatic, career-focused approach that I fully support. How we feel about our careers has ripple effects throughout our lives and the five micro skills that Jade chose are excellent.
As a compliment to these, I’ve decided to take a more meta approach. What you will find is that Jade’s five are specific examples of some of my meta five. That means working on those will provide practice on working on the ones I will present here. Jade’s will provide quick and easily observed benefits in your career. Seeing the success of these I hope will encourage you to then broaden the lessons in addressing my five micro skills.
The Nature of Micro Skills
But before we start, a word about micro skills. The term micro skill implies a skill which is pretty easy to define and pretty easy to learn. Also implicit in all conversations about micro skills is that they will have benefits beyond the obvious and often serve as powerful enablers.
Although micro skills can be bite sized, they still hit all the issues with producing change. This means they require perseverance and repeated practice if the changes they provide are to be really embedded in our lives and personalities with lasting effect.
So don’t assume these can be learned and implemented immediately and all the work is done. Stick with them, integrate them fully into your lives and practice them whenever you can.
Also the biggest learning can be broken down into a series of smaller steps. When the skill is a shift in consciousness, it can actually be the same micro skill, repeated over and over again that gradually moves us to where we want to be.
Now on to my list of five essential micro skills.
The first micro skill will seem a weird one, but I promise you has benefits far and above so many other skills. I call it counter-believe. In all aspects of our lives we accumulate a set of beliefs or ideas that we hold to be true. These can be immensely valuable but they can also cause our thinking to be locked in a pattern that is hard to break out of.
Counter-belief involves taking something that you hold to be true and, for a day or a week or more, acting as if you believe the exact opposite. So let’s pick a belief — money is the root of all evil. Let’s say you believe this. That belief will have consequences in your life. Let us say that the consequence you are experiencing is that whenever you are making headway on wealth you sabotage it somehow. This pattern tends to suggest that there is an issue with that belief. So what do you do?
For a week, pretend that you believe that having money is great and immensely positive. Note that I said to pretend. As kids we play pretend all the time. One of the amazing things about pretend as a kid is how the pretend becomes real while you are doing it. You can scare yourself playing a scary pretend, and get all the physiological response of really being scared, because in fact you are. Your brain can’t tell the difference between pretend and real once you get into it.
You set out to pretend that you believe money is wonderful and positive. In the beginning this will take constant effort. Now what you have to do is start acting as if you believed that. What would you say that reflected that new view? How might you act? Keep at it. As the week progresses, note down any thoughts that come to you about the nature of money.
At the end of the week, spend some time reflecting on the experience and looking over your notes. Perhaps during the week you started reading the financial newspaper and you noticed that there were articles both about rich people doing bad things and rich people doing good things. In fact you noted at the time that this was the same as for poor people. Some do bad things, some do good things. So maybe being rich or poor is not the factor at play. It is the person.
Now I picked a confrontational but pretty common example.
What we are doing is allowing IMMERSION in a different way of thinking to let us explore that different perspective, and to do so over an extending time span. Immersion is a wonderful way to learn anything. Here we are using it to explore our own limiting beliefs.
You can use this technique to explore anything.
Our lives are so busy and our time so precious that, as adults, we have generally lost the joy of play. Yet play is an immensely powerful activity. Kids play all the time and use this to both exercise their imaginations and often to work through or process things that they find challenging.
So what are the characteristics of play that make it so valuable. Of course play can vary enormously, but we could broadly characterise play as, firstly, process rather than result oriented. Secondly it is positive emotion focused. The previous approach is a specific example of play. But here we want to think wider.
A characteristic of play that is immensely valuable is the loss of time. Lots of us will have the memory of being told off by our mums because we were so involved in playing that we forgot to come in for dinner or something.
Loss of time is also a characteristic of another thing, deep meditation. Neuroscience has been showing the immense value of meditation in everything from stress release to creativity, problem solving and intuition.
Play is a form of active meditation, where the play keeps the conscious mind busy so that the subconscious mind can do its stuff.
What form play takes for you is highly individual. Just pick something where you can focus on the doing, not the end result, and on something that makes you feel good. Set some regular time aside for this and see the benefits start rolling in.
Daydreaming is something most people do as children but it is often drummed out of us by parents and teachers. Daydreaming is when your mind just drifts away from whatever you are doing and goes off in its own direction. It is pleasant.
Daydreaming is, in fact, a form of meditation. Just as discussed above, it has great benefits from stress release to creative problem solving, and much more. Since different parts of the brain become active during daydreaming, this may be why it is so helpful in assisting you to find creative solutions to issues.
Here’s a good short guide to how to daydream.
A great micro skill to develop is how to teach others. I call this a micro skill because it is something you can break down into lots of little steps.
One of the best ways to learn something yourself is to teach it to others. The process of explaining to others really helps you to engage yourself with the material at a much deeper level. You end up making much deeper realisations about the topic than you might have had you not taught.
The trend in our society, not just for careers, has been greater and greater specialisation. 200 years ago the average man (yes, I know, but that’s how it was) not only could but often did build their own house. Today there are so many specialisations involved in completing a house that scheduling and project management is an also required specialisation to make it work. As recently as 50 years ago most households grew significant amounts of their own food, in addition to whatever else the household did for work. A look at job titles shows the rapid creep of specialisation into more and more fields.
To draw from another field, the problem with extreme specialisation is that it is only a valid solution for a set of specific environmental conditions. In nature we see that highly specialised creatures are often the first to go extinct when the environment changes. This is because the price of specialisation is greater dependence. Dependence on a single species of plant. Dependence on a narrow range of temperatures. Dependence on a supply chain that delivers on time, on cost and just in time. This last one, of course, is back onto our workplace focus.
The issue is that we are spending more and more time training to be able to do a narrower and narrower set of roles. The issue is that the pace of disruption is picking up. Even moderate estimates of the impact of AI on work, to pick just one example, show massive upset looming over the next 10–20 years (and it is my belief that anyone making moderate estimates of the impact of Ai has completely failed to understand the nature of the technology). We’ve all seen what mighty changes a tiny virus has wrought. Think of all the other disruptions coming — other new technologies, climate change, geo-political changes, free trade agreements, GDPR lawsuits, legal reforms, social reforms, pushbacks against reforms and the list goes on. All this suggests that having a wider skill set could be really useful.
Then there is the whole can of worms of starting your own business, let alone being really entrepreneurial. It is hard to find the money to pay others to do ALL the roles that are required. Guess who is going to have to carry the extra roles?
If you had a look at Jade’s article I mentioned at the start of this article you will see that her micro skills all sit in this category.
If you reflect on the above five micro skills they all have one thing in common — they are things that children do naturally. Pretend, play, daydreaming, learning lots of diverse things and teaching each other or our teddy bears are things most kids have done at some time or another.
As adults we are taught to not do these things, that somehow it is wrong to do these when you are grown up. Sadly this is a huge lie. Maintaining those childhood characteristics is critical to our health and happiness. They are also key to developing and maintaining a growth and development mindset.