In the last post I kicked off this series on Happiness with some thoughts about happiness in general. Now we’re going to start digging into the way that soft skills affect happiness, and how to up your soft skills and improve so much about your life, including happiness.
“Soft skills are the traits and abilities of attitude and behaviour
rather than knowledge or technical aptitude.”
I’m not going to delve here into why soft skills are so monumentally important at this time…but let’s just say that in the space of a decade they’ve gone from being considered fluffy, non-essential, nice-to-haves, to being called the C21st skills.
Without well-developed soft skills, this rapidly changing, globally connected, somewhat scary 21st century world is a challenging, hostile environment.
With soft skills, you’re equipped for everything that you’ll encounter, and excited by it!
That’s why soft skills are key to happiness.
The Good News & The Bad News
The good news about soft skills is that they are innate human capabilities. Unlike the ‘hard skills’ of knowledge or technical aptitude that we have to learn – or ‘input’ – we already have soft skills, to some extent.
We all have the ability to be creative, or to communicate, or be self-motivated, or confident, and so on. So all we have to do is ‘access’ our soft skills.
Ah, but the bad news…
We’re not very good at accessing them.
Even though we’ve got soft skills we don’t use them.
There are several reasons for this.
One of main ones is that our education system is (almost) entirely geared to learning hard skills, so our soft skills don’t get a look in.
And then, to make matters worse, they also get blocked by barriers.
However there is more good news…
- There are only 5 barriers that block all soft skills
- Once we’re aware of the barriers we can get rid of them, reveal our soft skills, and voila!…
Let the happiness grow :)
And that’s what we’re going to do here, starting with the barrier known as…
The barrier of Backward Focus is caused when your attention is caught up in ‘the past’. This could be your own past. Or it could be the broader cultural past you’re born into.
Your Personal Past
Have you ever been afraid to do something because when you tried it before it went pear-shaped and everyone laughed at you?
Or have you not tasted a food for years because once upon a time you thought it was yucky (yes, that long ago)?
Or maybe you feel you’re not educated enough, and twenty, thirty, forty years later it still makes you keep shtum instead of expressing your opinion.
Or maybe your sibling was artistic and you were compared with them, and you’ll still say “I’m not very creative”.
It’s easy to carry stuff from our past into our present, even when it’s got absolutely nothing to do with who we are now – and quite possibly wasn’t anything to do with who we were then either!
The Cultural Past
We’re all born into a culture not of our making, a culture that we are ‘domesticated’ into so we’ll fit in, a culture that we assume is reality – rather than one version of it – because we don’t know any better at the time.
But the cultural, religious, societal norms we’re plopped into existed long before we ever turned up.
And they impose themselves on us without so much as a by your leave.
How well do you fit into your culture?
Some people fit into their culture just fine, which is partly why so many at the top of the pecking order in any society often look remarkably similar. And if you’re one of those people, then Backward Focus may not be a barrier you hit.
But many others find themselves in a culture that limits their joy, freedom, and potential.
“The past is never dead.
It’s not even past.”
So there are many ‘boxes’ of the past that we can get locked up in. Some are big and blatant; other limit our lives more insidiously.
But despite their differences these boxes all have one thing in common – they’re caused when the past dominates our present, limits our potential, and dictates our future.
“The first problem for all of us is not to learn,
but to unlearn.”
How To Dissolve Backward Focus
When we defer to ‘the past’, we allow someone else to dictate what we think and believe, rather than living by our own principles and values.
This stunts all the skills associated with independent thinking, and cuts off a whole sphere of our ability.
It also causes us unhappiness
as we aren’t being true to ourselves.
To dissolve this barrier we need to shift our focus away from the past.
We do this by questioning received wisdom, reflecting on what we really believe, and then living by it, even if it flies in the face of current convention.
We don’t need to delve into the effect the past has had on us. We just need to become attuned to any frictions between what we believe and what the past – in all its forms – is asserting.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”
To do this we start flexing the soft skills that dissolve Backward Focus, such as questioning, reflecting, and independent judgement.
And the more we do this, the more of these skills we’ll be able to access, and the better we’ll get at using them.
So the more we question, the better we get at probing; the more we use our initiative, the bolder we become; the more we live by our own values the less likely we are to follow blindly.
And the more we live in alignment with who we are, rather than living in compliance with others’ expectations, the happier we become.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do
are in harmony.”
Happiness Habit: Backward Focus Thoughts
It’s very easy for our mind to be infiltrated by Backward Focus thoughts, and dealing with these is a good way to start dissolving the barrier.
Spend this week noticing when a Backward Focus thought sneaks up on you. You’ll recognise it because it will take the form of a judgement that defines you in a limiting way.
Start to notice what your inner voice says to you; the tone it uses; what it stops you doing; whether it’s a useful observation or a snarky criticism; what it says to you repeatedly.
Is your inner voice speaking your truth,
or is it someone else’s opinion?
Develop this habit without judging yourself!
Just listen and become more aware.
You may find the way you talk to yourself quite shocking! But the more you recognise it, the less this will happen.
When I find myself getting sucked into a Backward Focus way of thinking, I just say to myself “critical mind”. It’s a simple way of recognising what’s happening and putting a halt to it, without giving it any more of my time. You might find something similar that works for you.
Remember what the wise philosopher Marcus Aurelius had to say about this:
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts:
therefore, guard accordingly.”
In the next post we’ll be looking at how to dissolve the barrier of Inward Focus, to increase your happiness by improving all your relationships through developing empathic soft skills.
Until then, if you’d like some additional reading to help you on your barrier-breaking way, you can pick up a copy of How To BreakThru the 5 Barriers To Happiness
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