16 Personal Development Skills You Need to Learn

Let’s see, you’re probably unhappy with how your life is turning out. Maybe it’s your relationships, your job hunt, your productivity, but whatever it is, you’ve decided enough is enough. Today, you’re going to improve and build skills to grow as a person. But you don’t know which skills to acquire.

Fear not, because we’ve compiled a list of essential personal development skills to help you improve your professional, communication, interpersonal, analytical/critical thinking, mental, and life proficiency.

Professional Skills

Start a CV

A CV, or Curriculum Vitae, is essentially a professionalized collection dump of all the cool things you’ve done to advance your career. It involves anything, from working at Pizza Hut to working at Facebook. If you’ve gone to conferences, gotten 30,000 subscribers on YouTube, published an article on a major website, all of that will go in your CV.

A CV helps you write resumes. When you go to apply for a job, you can pull from the CV for the amount of space available on the resume. You already know what you’ve done and wrote a few words about what that experience entailed, so you save time tailoring your past experience for that current job’s resume.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, a CV can boost your confidence. You might suffer from imposter syndrome and think you’ve done nothing in your life even to deserve applying for a lucrative job, but when you list all your work and achievements in one place, you can see how wonderful you really are.

CVs provide empirical evidence to how awesome you are. Let’s say you’re a coder who loves developing video games. While you’ve never landed a high-paying video game job, you built your own game and published it for free online. You got about 100,000 plays from that one game. That’s something to feel proud of, and potential employers will notice that too.

Looking at your fully stocked CV gives you the confidence to pursue the jobs that will challenge you and spark growth. When you can say “I’ve done a bunch of awesome things — look at my history,” you can tell employers that you are awesome and they’d be a fool not to hire you.

Learn to Write a Killer Resume

Now that your CV has got you feeling confident and secure in your abilities, translate that into an amazing resume for jobs.

A great resume is one that accurately and succinctly describes your work experience from the past 10-15 years, with some space to include other skills you possess. All the information fits onto one page and is easily skimmable for job recruiters. Employers tend to look at resumes for only six seconds at a time, so you have to make sure yours counts.

To make your resume the best possible, include these tips:

  • Add numbers as much as possible. For example, don’t say “Helped employer earn substantial sums of money,” say “Helped employer earn an estimated $20,000 from fundraising.”
  • Make your personal info as professional as possible. No emails like pigsinablanket89@gmail.com. It’s best to have your first and last name in the email, with a few numbers if your name is already taken.
  • Use reverse chronological order, listing your most recent experience first. Employers want to immediately know where you ended up to ascertain your skills, not where you started.

Create a Personal Website

A resume and CV can list your achievements, sure, but they can’t fully capture who you are. With more companies focusing on their internal culture, an employer wants to know if you’ll be a good match for their team in ways beyond what they can see in your resume, CV, or a brief interview.

That’s where websites come in. You can upload more professional material on your website than you can with a CV, such as writing samples, videos, audio work you’ve done, public speaking, interviews, and pictures of previous work experience.

The more evidence an employer can see of your previous work, the better they’ll understand your skills and what you can offer their team. From the look and feel of the website, and especially if you have a blog, the employer can feel out your personality.

Having a website will set you apart from the competition and show employers you’re serious about advancing your career. With services like WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix, buying a website is cheap and affordable, so there’s little reason not to start up your personal website.

Communication Skills

Public Speaking

Public speaking is one of America’s top phobias, but it’s also one of the best activities you can do to improve your communication. When you speak publically, you force yourself to be eloquent and logical in your speech since you don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of others.

If you’re still a student, you will most likely have to give presentations in front of your class, which will be ample opportunity to sharpen your public speaking skills. If you’re out of school though, you might not have as many options.

You could ask to present reports or research in front of your coworkers if it’s in the scope of your job. If that’s not an option, you could film or record yourself speaking and post it to YouTube. Anything is better than nothing.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is perhaps one of the biggest communication cues people mess up regularly. When you avoid eye contact with someone, you seem distracted, which can be rude to the speaker. Worse, depending on where you look, you could look like you lack self-esteem and overall give a poor impression to your interlocutor.

Eye contact is crucial to maintaining focus in a conversation and showing someone respect. You look more confident and seem more authoritative when you do so.

Certain factors may hinder your ability to maintain eye contact, such as a cultural upbringing in which eye contact is uncouth or developmental disorders, but if you don’t have these, you should be practicing better eye contact.

Writing Effectively

There’s no such thing as bad writing, only ineffective writing.

Writing effectively means using strong verbs and short sentences. It means speaking how people like to be spoken to — actively, not passively. Learning to write effectively helps you get your point across faster. No more email chains asking you to clarify because you were too vague in the previous email.

Some tips on how to write more effectively:

  • Follow basic construction. No need for fancy footwork. While you’re allowed some variation, you should lay out the subject first, then a strong verb, followed by a direct object, an indirect object, and a prepositional phrase if you so choose.

For example: “I went to the deli on Fourth street and bought a sandwich” is wordier and worse that “I bought a sandwich from the deli on Fourth street.” As the saying goes, say what you mean and mean what you say. When you don’t know what you’re saying, you tend to get wordier.

  • Avoid filler words. “Like,” “that,” “however,” and other filler words can usually be omitted without disrupting the meaning of the sentence. Keeping sentences as short as possible aids readability and effective communication.
  • Write often. Getting in the groove of writing helps you understand when you’re wordy and unclear. Writing frequently builds your writing muscles and allows you slowly to improve your written eloquence.

Even if it’s a word dump Word doc you write a few dozen words on every morning, some writing is better for your communication skills than no writing at all.

Interpersonal Skills

Active Listening

Passive listening involves hearing someone’s words at face value — but we often don’t even get that far. Distractions dominate our ability to focus, whether it involves a vibration from your phone or thinking about the projects you have to do at work.

And yet, active listening is rewarding because it’s hard to do. When you give someone your full attention and receive every message they give out, not only the verbal ones, you understand another person far better than if you passively listened.

Non-Verbal Skills

While what you say is important, what you don’t say matters even more. Posture has been shown to not only influence how confident you feel but how others perceive you as well. When you keep your back straight and chin up, you express authority, confidence, and trustworthiness. Proper posture is not only essential for making a great first impression but avoiding injuries too.

Be sure to keep open body language open. The more closed off you make your arms, neck, and legs, the more nervous you’ll look and thus feel. Be sure to smile often and, of course, maintain eye contact. To feel the most prepared to accomplish your personal development skills, you must ensure your body language is up to par.

Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills

Read to Challenge Yourself

Don’t read passively, letting the words wash over you. Read to remember the author’s work. If you’re reading fiction, take notes and highlight parts of the plot, character arcs, or other literary devices you think are important. If you’re reading non-fiction, also take notes and ask yourself how the pieces of information interact with one another.

Read works you think are boring. Often, boring works are works that don’t show you their themes so easily. They might not be action-filled like the “Princess Bride” or a spy thriller, but there’s something to learn from the seemingly boring text in your hands.

Write Essays

Unless you want to be a writer, writing essays may make you feel like you’re back in high school. The reason you had to write essays at all while in school was that it helped you think and analyze texts. If you really want to improve your analytical skills, nothing is better than writing essays.

Every English major in undergrad knows it. Essays involve essentially proving your opinion on something with sources and citations to help back up your points. You need to assess how the evidence backs up your claims and thoroughly explain why that is the case.

When you couple writing analytically with writing effectively, you get an effective combination of writing well-researched opinions in an active, understandable manner. Even if it involves writing a 500-word essay a month, starting small and working your way up to bigger projects will lead to lasting cognitive and verbal improvements.

Consume Critical Works

If you don’t have the patience to write essays, you could at least consume the works of people who have made supported arguments. The internet contains thousands of websites publishing people’s critical essays, such as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and online open-access academic journals.

Further, YouTube is becoming a treasure trove for people to write critical and well-researched articles to explain a topic or opinion thoroughly. They’re called “video essays,” and they range from topics such as movies, television, the internet, politics, and philosophy.

The particular side of YouTube specializing in video essays is called BreadTube, and you can view a list of good channels on the BreadTube Reddit page.

Since you’re now reading to challenge yourself, every time you read or watch a video essay, you will analyze what the author’s saying and really see if everything they’re saying makes sense. When you constantly challenge other people and carefully think about what they’re saying, you lose gullibility and learn to think for yourself.

Mental Skills

Self-Confidence

Self-confidence isn’t actually a skill — it’s a superpower. Once you learn to be more confident in yourself, you’ll see changes cascade through your life.

As described in Brian Tracy’s book The Power of Self-Confidence, those who are confident acquire and keep more friends, land jobs, find successful romantic and platonic relationships, and live an overall better life than those who lack confidence.

Lacking confidence gives you the opposite life outcome. You’ll find yourself in poor relationships, in a job you hate, unhappy, and wishing you could be someone else instead of embracing the awesome things about you. When you act like a mouse, all the vultures and snakes in your life will start to circle you and threaten your livelihood.

But when you act like a lion, you control the field. You control your life and sculpt it how you want to.

Some people are born confident for a variety of reasons — looks, money, access to helpful resources like better schools, etc. If you lack those for whatever reason, it’s unfortunate, but you’ll have to work a little harder to achieve self-confidence.

No matter who you are, here are some things to help you obtain the superpower of self-confidence.

  • Become your own best friend. A best friend cheers up after you’ve been rejected from a job or a cute date. A best friend showers you with compliments and accepts you completely. If you’re the reverse and lambast yourself when you do something wrong, you create a mental space in which you don’t fully accept yourself.

Cultivate and internal atmosphere of positivity. Talk yourself up in the morning. Get hype. Even if you have to pick out one thing about yourself that you like — something as small as your cuticles or nostrils, focus on that attribute and praise it. You show yourself that there’s something to like about you, and you can slowly build from there.

  • Keep only beneficial people in your life. Toxic people make you doubt your strengths. They play up your weaknesses and make you feel terrible about yourself. When you give time to such people, you subconsciously tell yourself that you deserve to be treated in such a way.

Self-confident people will say no, they deserve better. And you deserve the same. Cut out toxic people from your life to make room for those who will support you for who you are. Healthy people boost your confidence, not tear it down.

  • Accept yourself. It’s cheesy and you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but it’s so incredibly true. If you don’t love yourself, others won’t either. Even if you have to say “I’m okay with the fact that I slept a little later than I wanted to,” you turn the tide away from internal negativity and push it toward positive waters.

Discipline

A close second behind self-confidence is discipline. Discipline is absolutely necessary for personal development. Discipline involves doing things that are hard and that you don’t want to do. And personal development, though rewarding, will be the hardest commitment to maintain in your life.

Which is easier: sleeping in on the weekends, watching Netflix, and ignoring your responsibilities until Sunday night or waking up at 6 am, going for a jog, and knocking out your assignments before lunch before working on a personal project?

You want to do the first one — and that’s what you’ve mostly done before — but you know you have to do the second one to achieve what you want in life faster.

Discipline allows you to overcome laziness and procrastination. It allows you to get. Stuff. Done. It’s crucial to writing a novel or starting up a business or getting a better body. But as trying to wake up at 6 am proves, maintaining discipline is hard work.

So start slow and work your way up. Even if it’s working undistracted for 30 minutes at a time, you’re improving your focus and reteaching yourself that work comes first, then play. Not work with various play breaks in between. One before the other.

To build your discipline, do these three things:

  • Stop believing in motivation and inspiration. Motivation is when you feel the urge to do something you meant to do, like go to the gym. Inspiration involves creative projects like writing or brainstorming.

But believing in motivation or inspiration removes your autonomy, as you’re waiting for fleeting feelings to come, if they do at all, to get work done.

Instead, force yourself to get the work done. Again, it’s best to start small, such as going to the gym once a week or writing 200 words a day. When you get in the habit of doing rather than waiting, you’ll build discipline and see results far faster than motivation or inspiration could give you.

  • Focus on your identity. There’s a lot of talk about how labels aren’t helpful and that they cause more harm than good. But labels can help you in one crucial way — they prompt you to become what you want to become based on the definition of the label you choose, which can benefit you if you do it right.

For example, let’s say you want to get in shape and build muscle. Tell yourself you’re an athlete who cares about their health and their ability to push past physical limitations to foster growth. You lift yourself from someone who struggles who goes to the gym to someone who needs to go to the gym to become who they want to be.

Even if it’s as simple as “I’m someone who puts my goals before my laziness,” focusing on identity helps you internalize your goals, which allows you to achieve them easier (though still not easily).

  • Embrace resistance. At its core, discipline is the ability to push through what you’re resistant to doing. Such resistance is why procrastination is so bad — people can’t push past the mental resistance of starting a task early and instead need a time-based pressure to motivate them to do it.

When you lean into resistance rather than shy away from it, your perception changes. You don’t run away from a challenge but run towards it. Getting into this habit helps you get stuff done faster and more efficiently since you’re not thinking wistfully of lazing on your couch watching Netflix. You disrupt your comfort zone and achieve growth.

Thomas Frank says it best in his video; motivation is your desire to do something, and discipline is your ability actually to do it. And as Nike says, “just do it.”

Life Skills

Work-Life Balance

With all these skills to implement, it may seem like you have to spend every waking hour trying to improve yourself. Americans tend to work 1,786 hours a year, which is more than in most countries. As a result, the American need to work may extend into hours typically designed for relaxation, such as evenings and weekends.

To maintain relationships, proper health, and sanity, you need to focus on striking up a better work-life balance. You could ask your boss to work only four days a week instead of five, working long hours on the days you work.

You could ask to do less work, or you could find ways to work more productively on the clock, such as minimizing distractions and getting noise-blocking headphones.

Find a compromise with your boss so that you’re not taking work home. The evenings should be spent with loved ones, decompressing from work, and taking time to improve your health. Anything else could add potentially lethal stress.

Stop Buying So Much Stuff

Take stock of what’s in your closet. Barring seasonal clothes like summer tank tops and winter coats, how many items there have you actually worn in the past month? There are probably things in your closet you could get rid of and not bat an eye, but we continue to accumulate things we don’t need.

Unless you downsize and adopt the minimalist lifestyle, that is. Minimalism isn’t living in an empty apartment with only the amount of items that can fit in a backpack. Minimalism involves committing to buying what you really need and will see yourself using.

It doesn’t involve buying an item because it’s on sale only to never use it. It can involve a closet full of clothes — as long as you actively wear every article. You’ll save money, declutter your home, and find yourself surrounded by valuable things you actually want, not dealing with all the things you don’t.

Espouse Empathy

Those who are empathetic have a longer fuse since you can understand another person’s perspective and see where they’re coming from. They’re angry less often, and their ability to connect with other people is heightened as well.

There’s also the passive improvement where those who are empathetic treat others well and are thus treated well in return. When you understand the wants, mental states, and desires of other people, you live a more connected life.

Master These Personal Development Skills

And you will live a far happier and more successful life than if you sit comfortably in your comfort zone and do what’s easiest. No matter what skills from this list you choose, each other them will make you more efficient at getting jobs you want, building better relationships, communicating more effectively with people, and living an overall high-quality life.

But now the question becomes this — what will you do? Will you click away from this article and continue on with your bad habits, or will you enact change to improve yourself? No one else can control you but you, so you better start improving yourself today.

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