New Hacks for Boost Your Soft Skills in 2019
Soft skills are the personal character traits or qualities each of us has. They make us who we are, generally encompassing our attitudes, habits and how we interact with other people.
They refer to abilities that make people better employees and open doors for many opportunities that are not directly related to the subject matter of their jobs.
In other words, soft skills refer to a person’s ability to relate to others, to get him/her and others organized, to communicate in written, spoken or other forms. This blog describes new hacks to Enhance Your Soft Skills and Tips to improve your Soft Skills before the Next Interview.
Soft skills have been defined by the World Health Organization as follows: Soft skills include psycho-social abilities and interpersonal skills that help people make decisions, solve problems, think critically, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, demonstrate qualities of leadership and team building, manage time effectively, and cope with the stress and strain of life in a healthy and productive manner.
Essentially, there are two kinds of skills –those related to thinking called ‘thinking skills’ and skills related to dealing with others called ‘social skills.’ While thinking skills relate to the personal level, social skills include interpersonal skills. It is the combination of these two types of skills that are needed for achieving behavior change and negotiating effectively.
Soft skills allow us to effectively and efficiently use our technical skills and knowledge. They improve the way we interact with our bosses, co-workers and customers/clients. They permit us to get our work done on time.
They influence how we feel about our jobs and how others perceive us. Consequently, the demand for and reliance on soft skills is on the increase due to the constant change in the work environment, customer-driven market, information-based technology, and globalization.
The development of soft skills in this market is important as there is intense competition for many available positions. The ability to develop and use soft skills can make the difference between the achiever and the non-achiever.
Earlier the focus of management was on ‘hard’ skills. The emphasis was on the technical skills necessary to perform effectively.
These skills tended to be more closely related to the actual task being performed. But now every single occupation you can think of demands that you have specific character traits.
Moreover, an important thing to note is that soft skills are transferable between occupations. While you may have to go back to school to learn new technical skills if you change careers, you can always take your soft skills with you since they are valued in a variety of fields.
Today, employers want people with efficient soft skills. These are key skills to effective performance across all job categories. As the world has changed, and the nature of work has changed, the skill set required of managers and other executives has changed.
Today’s business is all about people. It is about communication, relationships and about presenting yourself, your company and your ideas in the most positive and impactful way.
Many business people like to think that success is based on logical, rational thoughts and acts, but it is also to be remembered that the human element is as important as the skills mentioned above. That is why a strong soft skills set is considered to be very important.
WHAT IS PERSONALITY?
Personality is the way we look, feel and behave. It is the totality of a person’s being – not merely the external appearance but also various other traits. Personality includes the following:
Integrity: a person’s honesty in dealing with others, loyalty to one’s beliefs, value systems etc.
Acceptance: by others who come into contact with a person, and recognizing and accepting them as a whole.
Discipline: refers to a person’s disciplined approach to life and work.
Dedication: refers to the commitment a person shows towards the achievement of the individual as well as group goals.
Interpersonal skills: the way a person develops and sustains interpersonal relations with all those he/she has dealings with – bosses, co-workers, fellow students, customers/clients, suppliers, private and government organizations.
Communication skills: refer to the effective way a person communicates with others through various channels – writing, speaking, listening, and using positive body language.
Leadership qualities: refer to the qualities which help a person behave in a leadership position getting work done willingly, exercising participative leadership style, and be a role model by setting an example.
Team management: refers to the effectiveness with which a person demonstrates the ability to build and manage the team in order to achieve the desired goals and objectives.
Stress management: the quality of keeping cool in stressful circumstances, identifying the factors causing stress, and finding solutions to reduce – if not eliminate altogether the stressors.
Positive attitude: be able to have a positive attitude even in the face of difficulties and impossible situations, and be willing to try out ideas in the face of obstacles and hardships.
Win/Win situation: be able to negotiate and bring around the other person to an acceptable solution to a problem – thus creating a win/win situation for both the parties.
Keep the end in mind: be able to focus on the ultimate end (goal) in mind bypassing the various problems that may crop up on the way.
Synergize: be able to combine or work together in order to be more effective, or to make things or people do this.
TYPES OF PERSONALITY
There are several types of personality people have. Some of these are:
Perfectionists: They are never satisfied until they achieve perfection. Sometimes people forget that there is nothing which can be absolutely ‘perfect’; it may be rather very close to the idea of being perfect.
Such people are usually a source of stress for themselves as well as for others working with them. However, such people cannot be categorically criticized for aiming at total perfection as they tend to achieve excellent results.
Helpers: They are always willing to help others in times of need – with guidance, advice, resources etc.
Romantics: They are sometimes called dreamers and think of innovative ideas which sometimes people think are impractical. But sometimes the craziest idea can lead to a wonderful new design, product or service.
Quite often the world moves on the shoulders of dreamers! If we can’t dream, we can’t think, we can’t imagine, we may not be able to act on some new idea.
Achievers: These are the people who are determined to achieve what they have planned for. They put all their efforts in performing to their utmost capacity, show dedication to the task in hand, and ultimately reach their goal. It is the expected sense of achievement that propels such people.
Asserters: These people neither remain passive nor aggressive in any situation. They rather assert their rights, respect the rights of others, and have the innate ability to convince others and thus elicit cooperation from all.
Questioners: They are ‘Doubting Toms. The question everybody’s opinion, behavior, ideas, a way of working etc., and quite often are dissatisfied with the outcome. Others quite often misunderstand such people and consider them to be obstacles to progress.
Adventurers: They are ever ready to take risks in order to reach their goal. No risk is too big for them, and so they believe in experimentation with an adventurous spirit.
Observers: There are some who are great observers of people and things around them. They visibly – or surreptitiously sometimes – observe people, events, things, environment etc., and are often a source of important information which others might not have noticed. Quite often such people are good at analyzing things, events, people etc.
Peacemakers: They avoid confrontational situations, and always take initiative in making peace with different parties who may be at loggerheads with each other.
We cannot say that every individual can be categorized into only one of these. More often than not, we have several characteristics common to the above-mentioned types. However, one particular characteristic may be dominant in one person, and another in the other person. So which one are you? Think about it!
IMPORTANCE OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT
Personality development is gaining more and more important because it enables people to create a good impression of themselves on others. It helps them to build and develop relationships, helps in their career growth. Some people have a particularly charismatic persona, while others are strong listeners and advice-givers.
It is important to have the ability to build on and develop strengths, while at the same time acknowledging and working to improve on the weak points in your personality.
After all, personality development is a tool that helps you realize your capabilities and your strengths in making you a stronger, a happier and a successful person.
ELEMENTS OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT
The following elements are crucial to the development of personality:
It includes recognition of self your character, your strengths and weaknesses, desires, likes, and dislikes. Developing self-awareness can help you recognize when you are stressed or feel under pressure.
It is often a prerequisite to effective communication and interpersonal relations, as well as for developing empathy with others.
You need to think of these aspects: Relationships with people: A clear demarcation needs to be made with regard to your relationships at the social as well as the professional level. These relationships need to be nurtured over a period of time and sustained.
Spiritual self: You need to be clear in your spiritual beliefs and your relationship with forces in the universe. You need to have the courage of conviction to stand by your beliefs and values.
SWOT is the acronym for ‘Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.’ It is in effect a distillation of all the steps and considerations that should be taken to know about your own self and take appropriate measures.
Answer these questions about yourself
What are the professional qualifications I have that make me stand out from others?
What are my outstanding skills?
What do others think about my strengths?
List your weaknesses. (You may consult a close friend or a family member about them.
Do I have some undesirable habits? And What do others think of my weaknesses?
Think of the opportunities that are available and you can make use of:
What technology and/or new knowledge can I use for improvement in my skills?
What new skills can give me a competitive advantage over others?
There are likely to be a number of threats that may pose obstacles to your progress. List them:
Is someone doing better than me?
Are new technologies threatening my progress?
Are my personal traits preventing me from achieving my targets?
What are the obstacles I am facing?
So do a SWOT analysis of yourself and know your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This exercise will help you to analyze yourself and prepare the ground to take corrective measures.
How can you use the results of your SWOT analysis?
Focus on your strengths when:
Writing your CV;
Facing an interview;
Aiming for promotion;
Interacting with others.
Be prepared for multi-tasking:
In modern times doing just one task at a time is not enough. Learn to do multitasking at a time.
Quite often several of them may be related to each other.
Multi-tasking prepares you for a more responsible position in the future.
Pay attention to, and take suitable steps to:
Work on your weaknesses and reduce them (if not eliminate them altogether).
Work on changing your threats to opportunities you can explore and use to your advantage.
Many strong personalities are shaped and molded by big visions and goals that they have. Determine what it is you want to accomplish most – whether it is to become a successful architect, a scientist, or a management professional. Setting goals is a major step on the road to developing an engaging and fascinating personality.
WHAT IS A GOAL?
A goal is a roadmap to future. You need to decide what your ultimate goal is (in personal and professional life). After you have decided on your goal, you need to plan how you are going to achieve it.
Failing to plan is actually the same as planning to fail. While making a plan you need to think of all the aspects and resources – physical, mental and financial you would need.
Abraham Lincoln once remarked: “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d need 6 sharpening my ax.”
• Goals need to be specific. You can’t achieve anything if you are vague and not focused on a specific target to achieve.
TYPES OF GOALS
There are two types of goals and you need to concentrate on both (though with different perspectives and approaches):
Short-term goals: Be clear about them and work towards achieving them.
Long-term goals: While taking care of short-term goals, do not lose sight of your long-term goals because they are the ones that you ultimately want to achieve. Quite often some short-term goals pave the way for long-term goals too.
It means to:
Perceive the world in new ways;
Find the hidden pattern in things, situations and behaviors;
Make connections with unrelated phenomena;
Generate solutions and act on them.
PROCESS OF CREATIVITY
There are two steps to creativity:
Thinking: Think of an idea, an approach which is either different from others or altogether new.
Producing: Convert your idea into action.
If you have ideas but do not act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.
It is an extension of one’s creativity, and means implementation of a new or improved:
Moreover, any innovation should be able to create value in order to be acceptable.
Creativity can take a back seat if one faces the following barriers:
Making assumptions: You are prepared to look at all aspects and make your own assumptions and do not care for others’ feedback or ideas.
Over-reliance on logic: If you are over-reliant on your logical thinking, you create obstacles to new thought or approach. Everything cannot be achieved only by logic. Whereas logic opposes, a hunch, a dream can become reality through experimentation.
Cultural barriers: Sometimes some people are unable to involve themselves in tasks that require a creative approach on account of cultural barriers – fear of castigation from the community or orthodox religious beliefs.
Emotional barriers: A lot of people have a strong emotional approach to changing the existing pattern of things and remain attached to the old order without realizing that change is the only constant factor in life. This feeling of emotional attachment to the existing order creates obstacles to creativity.
Perceptual barriers: Our perceptions play a crucial role in our approach to creativity. If we have a mental block with respect to the ways things could improve by using creative and innovative methods, we just cannot be creative.
Resource barriers: In order to create something several resources may be needed, and if we have a resource crunch, we won’t be able to proceed further.
Stress: Any creative work can be done only with a relaxed mind and body. If we are passing through a stressful phase, it is just not humanly possible to generate creative ideas.
You can stimulate your creativity by going through the following steps:
Associating: looking at different ideas, analyzing and grouping problems.
Questioning: posing questions to you and others, and questioning the validity and practicality of ideas and approaches.
Observing: surveying the environment, and observing people, events, situations.
Networking: You may need the cooperation and support of those who are willing to help you in your creative ventures.
Experimenting: The validity of any idea or approach cannot be ascertained unless there is a process of experimentation. A lot of ideas emerge to be viable propositions with trial and error process. This is the way to learn something new.
Before speaking it is necessary for the speaker to know what to say and how to say it. Both the content and manner are important. A wrong word here and there and/or an unpleasant tone could cause irreparable damage.
You should also know your audience – their level of knowledge, age-group, interest level, goals, hierarchy etc. This will enable you to reach out to them irrespective of the fact whether you are speaking to a single individual, a small group of people, or even a large audience.
Approximately 75 percent of our day-to-day communication is non-verbal. We communicate a lot without saying a word. The success of verbal communication also depends to a large extent on our non-verbal communication, as ‘actions’ speak louder than words.
Our attitudes lead us to certain behavior. Behavior and attitude operate together for most people. If we have a positive attitude we tend to act positively, look for options, and seek solutions to problems. On the other hand, negative attitude leads to a feeling of defeat, and consequently to negative behavior.
In order to communicate effectively with people, we need to understand the acceptable boundaries of space. Given below is an indication of how we generally use space in the communication process:
Public space: It ranges from 10 to 20 feet between the audience and the speaker, such as at a press conference or an election meeting.
Social space: It ranges from 4 to 10 feet, for example, communication among business associates, meeting strangers in public places.
Personal space: It ranges from 2 to 4 feet, for example, among friends and family members, waiting in a queue at an ATM.
Intimate space: There is no minimum range for contact with parents, spouses, children and close friends.
DEALING WITH CONFLICT
Every human being experiences conflict. It is a factor of human interaction. Whenever two or more people are involved in communication, there is potential for misunderstanding, and hence, conflict. How we handle conflict is the key to our own well-being and to developing and maintaining good relationships.
There are three basic ways to deal effectively with conflict situations:
Listen carefully to determine the nature of the conflict;
Identify areas of agreement; and
Allow the other person a way out.
NEGOTIATION, PERSUASION, MEDIATION
The starting point for negotiating in conflict situations is to realize who the distressed, unhappy or concerned individual is. Human nature often causes us to assume it is “the other person.” We say to ourselves, “It’s their problem.” In reality, we actually are the distressed party in the conflict.
Once we realize we have control over only our own behavior, we have taken the first step in resolving the conflict. Remember, your behavior is in your control. You cannot control the other person’s behavior, except by changing your own actions toward that individual.
There are at least three tools to use to effect behavior change:
Negotiation: Arranging or managing through discussion or compromise;
Persuasion: Moving your argument to a new position or belief;
Mediation: Intervening in conflict with intent to resolve through discussion.
All three tools require you to present information in the form of facts. Information involves identifying who, what, where, when, why, and how. Agreement or at least presentation of information can lead to discovering ways to persuade individuals involved in the conflict.
Persuasion involves using the information to convince others that there is more than one way to look at an issue. Mediation usually introduces a third party to the conflict in an attempt to resolve problems.
There are a variety of negotiation solutions to conflict. One that is easy to learn and use is the ‘one-point’ solution. This technique involves getting feedback in the communication process and involves open-ended questions.
The one-point solution is the difference between asking for:
General feedback like, “What is it you really want?”
A specific response like, “What is the one thing that will make you change your mind?”
From time to time we all become angry. It is a human characteristic. But we are not born angry, we learn anger. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we can learn to control it. Although we are not always successful in controlling our anger,the more we practice ways to control it, the more we will succeed.
Once we understand how to deal with our own anger, we can use that understanding to help us deal with anger in others.
How to deal with angry people:
Practice good listening skills
Acknowledge anger (do not tell an angry person, “Now, don’t be angry”.)
Do not yell at or lecture angry people (it disrespects their point of view)
Be responsive by verifying the person’s message
Be specific about what you are going to do to help
Allow angry people a way out regardless of what they say
BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION
There are many barriers to effective communication
BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE LISTENING
Here are some barriers to effective listening. You will probably recognize that most of them apply to you all at one time or another
We can think faster than a speaker can talk, and jump to conclusions.
We are distracted and allow our minds to wander.
We lose patience and decide we are not interested.
We overreact to what is said and respond emotionally.
Sometimes we create barriers to resolving the conflict. If we do not confront the problem soon after identifying conflict, the issues may become more difficult to resolve. Other obstacles to resolution may include the following:
Judging a problem too quickly;
Searching for a single answer, and believing ours is the best;
The assumption of either/or (either it’s my way or not at all);
Deciding that “the problem is theirs, not mine”.
HOW TO OVERCOME BARRIERS TO RESOLVING CONFLICT
Often we create obstacles to resolving conflict when the solutions are simple. If we determine that the conflict could be negotiated, and we are willing to do so, then it will be useful to list some options toward resolution.
List them all, even the ones you really do not want. Be creative and invent options that seem unusual. This ‘brainstorming’ technique provides the basis for negotiating. Often ‘crazy’ ideas lead to acceptable ones.
BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE LISTENING
From this point, you decide what you can give up, and you find out what the other person can concede. Negotiating a resolution to conflict need not be an ‘either/or’ situation.
Both parties in the conflict can win something if there is real effort to resolve the problem. Ask yourself these questions, as you move towards resolution:
Is it worth fighting for?
Can it be negotiated?
Do I want to win the argument more than winning a relationship?
REDUCING THE FILTERS
Even one filter can reduce the effect of or distort communication but in most instances, two or more are operating at the same time. Being aware that they exist is half the battle won in reducing the effect of filters.
It is not always possible to eliminate attention filters, but they can be reduced. If the proposed conversation will take more than a few minutes, find somewhere quiet to hold it and let it be known that you want no interruptions.
It is simple enough to get your timing right. If someone approaches you at an inconvenient time, politely tell them so and arrange to meet later.
You can do little about other people’s emotions, but try to put your own on hold when talking and listening to others. If you sense emotional filters becoming barriers, keep your conversation brief and to the point.
Take care over the words and phrases that you use. How would you respond as the listener? If you are on the receiving end, question the speaker, and ask him/her to justify their comments.
CONSEQUENCES OF INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
The way we develop our interpersonal relationship skills affects our attitude and behavior. If we are able to enhance these skills we become aware of the following
Liking: We make an effort to like people, things, and ideas even though we were initially reluctant to do so.
Understanding: We start understanding that all the people are not the same. They have widely differing ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior, and we learn to deal with them in a positive frame of mind
Trust: Understanding takes us closer to building trust in people, in ideas, in approaches. Trust is the backbone of any relationship – personal, social, professional.
Direct and indirect contact: Sometimes we have direct contact with people and at other times we have indirect contact. It means we hear about people and their attitudes through others, and form opinions based on hearsay. What we need to do is verify ourselves before taking up a position either way.
Awareness of our biases: We introspect and think logically – not emotionally. This makes it possible for us to be aware of our own biases, and we need to take steps in order to overcome them.
Effective time management is simply about self-discipline. There is no magic formula, no piece of paper to fill in which will suddenly make you good at managing your time.
Everyone has a lot of work to do and not enough time to do it. However, we can all think of people who seem very organized and others who have the same amount of work to do, but the first kind manages to do it in time, and better too.
The first lesson to learn about time management is that in the real world of work, things go wrong. Computers break down, files go missing, and problems crop up and so on.
These things will always happen and there is really no way of avoiding them. This means developing and using a simple set of time management systems that work for you.
Before you start to plan on what and when you spend your time you need to know how much time you have available to you. The way you manage and budget your time is very similar to the way you manage and budget your money. Imagine your salary. At the end of each month, you are paid a sum which you know about in advance.
You, therefore, know how much you can afford to spend on things like mortgages, bills, food, clothes etc. If in any given month you receive a particularly large bill you adjust your expenditure accordingly.
You may choose not to go for dinner for instance, or not put money away to save. You can do this because you know exactly what your income and expenditure are.
You also know how much time you have available to you, which is, 60 minutes in an hour, and 24 hours a day and so on. The amount of time available is static.
You also usually know how long you have to take to complete any particular task because most tasks have deadlines. So once you know this you can start budgeting your time, just as you would budget your money.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE TIME?
IDENTIFYING YOUR PRIORITIES
What is the purpose of your job?
What are you expected to do?
What is the timescale for doing it?
What do you need to do (which tasks do you need to carry out) in order to achieve that purpose?
MANAGE YOUR PRIORITIES
Work falls into two categories:
Reactive tasks: There are certain tasks for which you have to provide an immediate response. There is no time to plan for them.
Proactive tasks: These are the tasks about which you know in advance, and so can plan accordingly.
In order to manage your time as per the situation created by reactive or proactive tasks you need to follow the following course of action
You need to know (approximately) what percentage of your working day and week you spend on either proactive or reactive tasks
Plan for the proactive tasks
Leave time for reactive tasks
Never leave things until the last minute. Plan in the time that you intend to spend on a certain job and stick to it.
One of the most common mistakes people make in managing their priorities is that they leave the ‘big’ and important tasks until last while they clear up the ‘little’ jobs.
Of course, what normally happens is that they get to the end of the day and realize they have spent the whole day in doing relatively unimportant tasks and facing interruptions, and then feel stressed because they still have to attend to the important jobs?
The presentation is a method of communicating your ideas and thoughts on a given topic. Doing an academic or business presentation can be a difficult task – particularly when you are doing it for the first time – but once you practice, it will come easily to you. Presentations can be very effective in making your point clear.
It may be just an internal presentation – perhaps to your colleagues/classmates, or to your boss or it may be a marketing or technical presentation. Perhaps it may be to a large group.
You must organize yourself well before you can even think of making a presentation.
When you decide to make a presentation take care of the following:
Subject: You must be thoroughly conversant with the subject of your presentation.
Collect information: Collect all the information required – from your knowledge and experience, colleagues/classmates, books and journals, Internet etc.
Size and type of audience: You must know in advance who your audience is going to be. You should analyze the audience needs beforehand. Answers to these questions will enable you to plan accordingly
STEP-2: PREPARE YOUR PRESENTATION
Write the script in points
Introduction, Main body – points you want to discuss
Prepare notes on a small index card for you to use when making a presentation (if you are not using PowerPoint).
Prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Do not write paragraphs. Write points only, and click point by point instead of the whole slide. This will help the audience to concentrate on the point you are talking about.
Practice either by yourself or in front of a small audience. You can do so in front of a mirror also if nobody is available.
Check your timing. Quite often you may have to keep to the time limit. Hence it is better to check whether you conform to it – neither less nor more.
Get rid of stage fear.
Preferably start with a simple and appropriate ice-breaker. Maintain proper and regular eye contact with the audience.
Look at the points only. Then speak from memory.
Always stand while making a presentation. Sitting presentations lose their effectiveness as the invisible thread of eye contact with the audience is lost.
Correct body language is important. Use hand movements and gestures to emphasize your points.
Make your presentation interactive. You may elicit information from the participants instead of giving out all of it yourself.
In the end, ask if there are any questions. Answer them with confidence.
Thank the audience for their patience and participation.
Learning does not mean only rote learning which is the memorization of information based on repetition. Examples of rote learning are the alphabet, rhymes and poems, numbers, multiplication tables, statistical and chemical formulae etc.
However, its role is limited to learning of basic facts and figures. In order to pursue higher levels of learning or to move up in your chosen profession, it will be helpful if thinking skills are developed.
It will ensure that the learning that takes place will not only be based on real understanding of the subject but will also be of a more lasting nature. It is more so because such learning will be borne out of one’s own conviction.
You can improve your thinking skills by understanding specific types of thinking, how they work, and practicing to improve your thinking abilities. As you become more conscious of these skills, you become a better learner and a more efficient practitioner of your profession.
This means that after you have collected information and generated new ideas, you have to connect the information in order to fit the different pieces in a logical manner i.e. you have to integrate all the relevant information. For this, you have to do the following:
Make a summary of all the information by combining it with a precise and understandable statement; and
Reorganize the existing information to make way for new information.
This means looking at the quality and logic of the information collected. So you evaluate it in the following manner:
Set standards which you would like to have;
Set up criteria that you will apply for judging the relevance and validity of information;
Verify the accuracy of the information you have collected.
Basically there are two categories of <a href=" https://wikipedia.org " target="_blank"> thinking – critical and creative </a>.
They not only help you in solving problems but also enable you to be efficient in the process of decision making. However, it is essential that you remain flexible in your thinking. It will ensure the effectiveness of your thinking.
If you have the ability to think critically, it means that you have the skill to judge whether an idea is feasible. In modern times, things keep moving very fast. New developments take place even before you have been able to implement the ones that came before them.
This is a very fast-paced world. If you do not keep up with it or rather ahead of it you will be left behind, and your competitors will surge ahead. So what you do is to think critically, evaluate, and make informed decisions. The information that you already have may have gone out of date, so think – and think critically and act with confidence.
It means thinking of unusual ideas which have not been brought forth by anyone so far. If you want to think of new ways of doing things, you have to leave the shelter of your limited horizon and think “out of the box”.
There are always different approaches to a problem and many different ways of doing things. So if you choose the uncharted path, you pave the way for yourself to find new meanings, different interpretations, and still be logical.
Creative thinking will help you develop new ideas and concepts. When you try to use creative thinking, remember the following:
There isn’t always one right answer. There may be many such answers.
In order to be creative, you may have to forego logic sometimes. Only then you will be able to use your creativity.
Engaging in creative thinking is quite often fun as you try to explore new ways not yet tried.
You may not always succeed. Keep trying and ultimately you will hit upon an innovative idea.
Every day you will be faced with at least one problem to solve. Problems arise in many shapes and forms. They can be routine everyday problems or more complex ones. We also solve problems on a daily basis, in academic situations, at work, and in our day-to-day lives.
NEED FOR PROBLEM-SOLVING
No matter what job you are in, or what course of studies you are pursuing, you will be judged on your ability to solve problems. Problem-solving is important because we all have decisions to make, and questions to answer in our lives.
Any job or academic situation will also bring problems to be faced. It is important to demonstrate that you have the right skills to resolve these problems, and the capability to handle the challenges and pressures they may bring.
Evaluate information or situations;
Break them down into their key components;
Consider various ways of approaching and resolving them;
Decide on the most appropriate of these ways.
Problem-solving is one of the most widely sought-after skills. You may have to face an immediate challenge to make reasoned judgments and find solutions independently on a daily basis.
SKILLS FOR PROBLEM-SOLVING Basically, the following skills are key to problem-solving:
Analytical ability, Creative thinking, Logical reasoning, Persistence, Teamwork, Communication, Persuasion, and negotiation
METHODS OF PROBLEM-SOLVING The following methods could be crucial in solving problems:
Focus on the solution – not the problem: First acknowledge the problem and then move your focus to a solution-oriented mindset where you keep fixed on what the ‘answer’ could be instead of lingering on ‘what went wrong,’ and ‘whose fault it is.’
Simplify things: Try simplifying your problem by generating it. Remove all the details and go back to the basics. Try looking for a really easy, obvious solution. It is often the simple things that are the most productive!
Use language that creates possibility: Avoid closed, negative language such as ‘I don’t think….’ Or ‘This is not right but….’
Do not be judgmental: Approach problems neutrally – without any judgment. Practice focusing on defining a problem, keep calm and do not make things too complicated.
What sets a good problem solver apart from others is their positive attitude towards tackling challenges and a willingness to take personal responsibility when seeking a way around the problem. You should try to think that problems are actually opportunities in disguise. This approach will make the task of problem-solving an easy one.
Communication for seeking employment is one of the most important aspects of life. Though it is extremely significant at the start of the career, it is equally relevant at any stage of a career change.
WRITING CV (CURRICULUM VITAE)
Writing an effective CV goes a long way in ensuring that the prospective employer gets to know about you in a positive manner. Your CV is your first introduction, and it shows what you are and what you can do for your employing organization.
Adhering to the correct etiquette at the workplace is very important as it has a bearing on your interaction with your co-workers and visitors, as well as your total personality.
Quite often we either waste time or create misunderstanding or even give an unfavorable impression about ourselves. Behaving in a professional way at the workplace goes a long way in ensuring our peace of mind as well as a professional approach to work.
When we meet people for the first time in the professional capacity we need to take care of the following:
The power of introductions: We need to introduce ourselves as well as others in a group in a brief but appropriate manner. We need to be absolutely business-like about it.
The handshake: The handshake needs to be firm – neither strong nor limp. It shows your personality.
The exchange of business cards: Business card is to be given by holding it in both hands and extending it towards the other person not to be given by one hand.
HOW TO WRITE A GREAT CV?
Grammar: There should be no grammatical mistakes or spelling errors. Complete sentences should be used only where necessary.
Layout: Most attractive skills should be kept on top. Education and experience should be written from the most recent ones to the earliest.
Presentation: It should be typed neatly. Use font size not higher than 12 points. Headings and sub-headings can be made bold. Use an attractive and business-like typeface, e.g. Times New Roman or Ariel. Use bullet points rather than numbers.
Style: There is no single style, but skill-based (to be put on top after the name) CV is very effective as the recruiters are an ability to focus on your skills. In today’s business world, a potential employer decides to engage your services not for what you did but what your current skills are.
Size: The length should preferably be not more than two pages.
Group discussion: Sometimes you may have to go through the process of group discussion with other applicants. Here are some points to remember:
Try to take lead by initiating the discussion. It gives a good impression.
Do not continue talking at length. Stop after you have made a point. You may involve others by asking “What do you think?”
Do not interrupt others while they are talking. Wait for a suitable moment to enter the discussion.
Do not use phrases like “According to me…” or “In my opinion…” or: “In my personal opinion…” Rather use “I think…” Or “I feel…”
Do not be adamant about your opinions and thoughts. Others may think differently. Find a way out or a compromise solution.
Do not raise your voice. Talk normally.
Your body language must be positive even if you don’t like the other person’s viewpoint. Negative body language (raised eyebrows, smirking etc.) shows you in a bad light.
Create an impression of group discussion. It goes a long way in creating a good image of you as a potential team player.
Face-to-face interview: It is the most important part of the recruitment process, as you are just one step away from being hired. You need to be fully prepared for the same. Here are some guidelines.
Dress formally. Do not wear flashy clothes. Good grooming is very important as it gives the first impression of your personality.
Look confident even if there are butterflies fluttering in your stomach. (This usually happens at your first interview.
Greet the interviewer(s) with an appropriate greeting, and sit only when asked to do so. You may be carrying a briefcase or a portfolio or a handbag.
Never keep it on the interviewers’ table. Rather put it on the floor standing against your chair leg. (You may need to pick it up later when asked to show some documents such as education and experience certificates.
Carry a spare copy of your CV and certificates in original as well as photocopies. You may be asked to show the originals and/or to submit the copies. Do carry a couple of passport size photographs also
Answer the questions with confidence. Your answers should be of average length (depending on the type of question) – neither too short nor too long.
Do not fabricate answers. Stick to facts. If you tell lies, or you are vague, you are likely to be caught – later if not at the time of interview.
Always look positive. Uncomfortable questions can be answered in a diplomatic way.
Never badmouth your previous boss or organization. Talking ill of them creates a negative impression about you.
At the end of the interview, the interviewer(s) may invite questions from you. If not, request them to answer a couple of questions.
Ask relevant questions but never about salary and/or working hours. Nobody likes to answer them. You may rather try to get clarification regarding the job profile.
If offered the job immediately after or during the interview, do not accept or reject it outright. Politely say that you need to think about it and will get back to them shortly, say, within 2–3 days or a week at the most.
Do not forget to thank the interviewer(s) before leaving the interview room.
Hacking the interview
Although resume writing is a skill you can delegate to someone else, interviewing is something only you can do, so it’s a critical skill to master. It can also be one of the most intimidating things you do when looking for a new job.
Interviews are somewhat unpredictable. You can’t know for sure what questions you’re going to be asked and you might be asked to write code on the spot—a scary proposition for many. But what if there was a way to “hack” the interview so that it was basically a formality?
You might expect me to go in-depth into the strategy for passing a technical interview in this blog, but instead, I’m going to focus on something much more important.
I’m going to help you gain an advantage that will make it so the cards are in your favor before you even get into the interview. Skeptical? Read on.
The quickest way to “pass” an interview
Imagine this scenario: you walk into a job interview, shake the interviewer's hand, and as he looks at you, his face lights up with a moment of recognition. “Hey, I know you. I recognize your picture from your blog. I’ve read a lot of your blog posts.”
If that happens during an interview, what do you think your chances of getting offered the job are? Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: “Well, that’s great, but I don’t have a super popular blog, so it’s unlikely any interviewer will have ever heard of me.”
The key point is that contrary to popular belief, most interviewers decide to hire people based on all kinds of nontechnical factors.
NOTE I’ve seen the most technically competent, yet arrogant and unfriendly people lose out on a job to a much less skilled but likable person.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can get hired for a job by representing skills you don’t have and just being famous or friendly, but what I am saying is that there are many technically competent developers applying for a single job, and the biggest factor that determines which one of them gets it isn’t technical aptitude.
To put it simply, the quickest way to pass an interview is to get the interviewer to like you. There are many ways to go about doing this, most of which can be done before the interview even starts.
How I got my last job
For the job I held before going out on my own, I determined ahead of time that I wanted to work for this particular company because they seemed like a very good company and they allowed their developers to work from home.
I spent some time researching the company and found that some of the developers for that company maintained blogs. I started following all of the blogs of the developers who worked for that company and began putting thoughtful and relevant comments on many of their blog posts.
Over time, many of the developers working at that company began to recognize my name and started to know who I was based on my comments on their blog. Some of them even started reading my blog.
The next time that company was hiring for a developer and I applied, how hard do you think it was for me to get the job?
I still did an interview, but as long as I didn’t completely blow it, I was pretty much a shoo-in for getting an offer (and a much higher one than I would have gotten if I had not gone about applying for the job in the way I did).
Thinking outside of the box and building rapport
The key to “hacking” the interview is to start thinking about a strategy for the interview before the interview starts. A majority of job hires come from personal referrals. You should try to make sure that any job you apply for is applied for through a referral.
When you go into an interview as a referral, the interviewer automatically is in a position to think more highly of you, because you’re borrowing the social credibility of the person referring you.
But what if you don’t know anyone at the company you’re applying to? How do you get a referral? In my example, I found the blogs of developers who were already working for the company and built a relationship with them. When a position opened up, it was easy to get a personal referral.
You have to be willing to think out of the box a little bit and come up with ways that you can build relationships with contacts within the company. I know one developer who looked up the hiring manager for a job and found out that the hiring manager belonged to a particular local club in the area that met weekly.
This smart developer joined that club and became friends with the hiring manager. I’m pretty sure he didn’t even have a formal interview when he was offered a position at the company.
With the advent of social media and the internet, it’s easy to find information about any company and to make connections with employees already working for that company. You just have to be willing to do a little legwork ahead of time.
If you want to build a bunch of relationships at one time, try joining a local user group. There are many user groups for developers that meet on a weekly or monthly basis.
If you become a regular attendee—and especially if you give a few presentations—you’ll quickly build relationships with developers and hiring managers from many local companies.
Landmine: What if you need a job now?
Perhaps you agree with everything I’m saying, but you only have one problem—it’s too late. You just got laid off and now you need to find a new job, but you don’t have time to build a network or reputation online or even “stalk” a potential employer. What can you do in this case?
Your best bet in this situation is to try to make contact with the interviewer ahead of time if possible and do as much following up as possible. See if you can get a pre-interview before your interview by asking to meet to talk about the company or ask a few questions before you sit down for the real interview.
Ask for five minutes of a person’s time for a quick call to touch base. Come up with as many excuses as possible to put yourself in front of as many people who have some influence on the hiring decision.
I know this technique sounds crazy—and you’re better off taking the longer road— but in a pinch, this works. A good friend of mine who runs a startup company called Health Hero used this exact approach to get the company accepted to three different startup accelerator programs, which are notoriously difficult to get into.
He simply set up pre-interviews with all the key decisions makers, and by the time he went to the real interview, everyone knew who he was and liked him.
But what about the actual interview itself?
Hopefully, by the time you walk into the interview, the interviewer already knows who you are, but either way, you need to know what to do in the interview.
Now, obviously, you need to be technically competent to pass a technical interview. But assuming you have the skills to pay the bills, so to speak, the next thing to focus on is demonstrating confidence in your ability to know what needs to get done and do it.
Think about it from an employer’s perspective. Hiring an employee is an investment. It costs money and time to hire an employee, and you want to see a good return on that investment.
Employees who are autonomous and can do what needs to be done without asking them to do it are employees who almost always add to the bottom line—plus, they are a lot less of a headache because they require very little of your own resources to manage.
I’d rather hire a developer who knows a little less but knows how to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it, than someone highly skilled who requires constant hand-holding to be productive.
When you’re in an interview—to the extent that it’s in your control—focus on demonstrating why you’re the kind of employee who gets things done without being asked to do them.
You’ll still have to prove that you’re actually technically competent, but if you can convince the interviewer that you are a go-getter who doesn’t let any obstacle stop you, not only will they probably like you, but there is a good chance they’ll hire you as well.
What can you do right now?
Whether you’re actively looking for a job right now or just trying to keep your options open, there’s no better time than now to start preparing for your next job interview.
The first thing you should do is make sure you’re keeping up on your technical skills. All the interview tricks in the world won’t help you get a job you aren’t qualified for. Make sure you’re reading technical blogs and blog articles and putting time into developing your skills.
You can also start developing your network before you need it. Start reaching out to employees at different companies in your area and making connections that can help you later. Read and comment on blogs and get to know other developers and even recruiters in your area. Try to figure out ways to expand your circle.
And don’t forget to practice. You might want to interview for jobs just to get practice doing interviews—even if you have no interest in a new job right now. The more practice you get, the more comfortable you’ll be in an interview that counts.
You’ll also benefit greatly from focusing on marketing yourself, but we’ll cover that in the next section.
Even if you aren’t actively looking for a job right now, make a list of companies that you’d potentially like to work for and who you know at those companies. If there are companies on your list that you’d like to work for, but you don’t know anyone at those companies, come up with a plan to meet at least one person working at one of those companies and build a relationship with them.
Find at least one local user group in your area and attend a meeting. Introduce yourself to as many people as possible.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of just doing what everyone else does and follow the path laid out for you. While it’s true that most software developers will work as an employee for most of their careers, it isn’t your only option. There are many profitable ways to put your programming skills to good use.
You might not even be aware that there are other options besides traditional employment—I know I wasn’t. In this blog, I’ll lay out your options so you can better decide what you want for your future. Later in this section, we’ll look at each one of these options and learn what it takes to succeed down each employment path.
Option 1: The employee
This is the default and obvious employment choice that a majority of software developers pursue. I was an employee for most of my software development career, partially because I didn’t know there were any other options and partially because it’s the easiest route to take.
I probably don’t need to define for you what exactly being an employee is, but it’s worth taking a look at some of the benefits and detriments to choosing this employment option.
By far the biggest benefit to being an employee is stability. I don’t mean stability in one particular job or working for one particular employer; instead, I’m referring to stability in terms of having a predefined way to make a living that you know will succeed.
As an employee, as long as you have a job, you will get a paycheck. You may lose that job in the future and have to look for new work, but you at least have some period of relative stability where you can depend on a set level of income each month.
Being an employee also is an easier road to pursue than other choices because you have a limited scope of responsibility and that path is pretty clear. There is a well-defined process for finding and applying for jobs.
It isn’t up to you to figure out what you need to do to get paid. As an employee, you also usually have paid vacation and—in the United States at least—some help with medical insurance.
The negative side of being an employee mainly involves your freedom. As an employee, you’ll spend the majority of your time doing work for your employer. You don’t have much of a choice in the kind of work that you do, and you might not always get to do the kind of work that you enjoy.
You’re also usually expected to conform to some kind of schedule defining how many hours per week and what days you need to work.
And while being an employee means that your income is defined ahead of time, it also means that is it “capped” to some degree. As an employee, you’ll eventually hit what is known as the “glass ceiling” in terms of your income and advancement opportunities.
You’ll eventually reach a point where you can’t make significantly more income and you can’t advance up the ranks any further without switching career paths.
Option 2: The independent consultant
Many software developers make their living by being an independent consultant. An independent consultant is just a software developer who doesn’t work for one particular employer but instead does work for one or more clients.
If you’ve ever had a side job where you did some programming work for a client who either paid you an hourly rate or a fixed price for that work, you know what consulting is.
I consider an independent consultant to be a software developer who makes a majority of his or her income doing this kind of work. This is very different from being a contractor who works for a single client and is paid hourly to do only their work.
A contractor is more of an employee relationship. An independent consultant usually has his own company that he contracts out to do work for clients but isn’t bound to any one single client.
I spent a few years in my career as an independent consultant and I still do some independent consulting work today. I always had the dream of getting out on my own and working for myself, and I imagined being an independent consultant would be the fulfillment of that dream.
I thought about how nice it would be to be my own boss instead of working for someone else, but I had no idea that being an independent consultant really meant trading one boss for many bosses.
Not to say that being an independent consultant is all bad. There are some definite perks to not having a single employer whom you have to report to.
As an independent consultant you can set your own hours, for the most part, and you have the freedom to choose what jobs you want to work on—assuming you have enough work to be picky.
You can come and go as you please and have a flexible schedule, but clients will expect to be able to get a hold of you and to have their work completed in a timely fashion.
The biggest benefit, by far, is probably earning potential. As an independent consultant, you can make a much higher hourly wage than you can be working for someone else. I currently bill clients $300 per hour for work I do for them, and I know some independent consultants whose bill rates are even higher.
That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily make a fortune just by becoming an independent consultant. You won’t start off at a $300-per-hour bill rate—although in section 2 on marketing, I’ll give you some practical ways to boost your bill rate. You also won’t typically blog out 40 hours’ worth of work per week, each and every week.
Even though it can seem like you’re making a ridiculous amount of money as an independent consultant, a large amount of that time will be spent looking for clients and on other overhead related to running a business.
When you’re an independent consultant, you’re literally a business (not just in mindset). You’re responsible for your taxes, legal counsel, sales, health-care, and everything else associated with running a business.
Option 3: The entrepreneur
The entrepreneur route is probably the most difficult, most undefined, yet potentially most rewarding route you could go with your career. That’s a lot of adjectives to describe a single career choice and for good reason.
I equate being an entrepreneur to being a professional gambler. There is very little, if any, stability in being an entrepreneur, but if you hit it big, you could hit it really big.
So what exactly does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a pretty vague definition and can mean many different things. For the most part, though, I consider a software developer-entrepreneur to be someone who develops their own business or product using their software skills.
While an employee and an independent consultant trade dollars for hours, an entrepreneur trades their time for no pay up front, but a chance at a much bigger future payoff.
I’d consider myself in the entrepreneur category right now. I spend most of my time developing training and other products that I sell, either directly or indirectly through partners, to make my living.
I still write code, but I don’t usually write code for any particular client. I’m either writing code for a particular product or service I’m creating or developing training materials to teach others what I know.
In fact, this very blog is an example of an entrepreneurial effort. I’m taking a pretty big gamble, spending a large number of hours writing this blog. I’ll get a small advance from the publisher, but it won’t pay for the time that I’ll spend working on the blog.
I’m hoping to either sell enough copies of the blog and get paid royalties to compensate me for the effort, or to use it as promotional material that will help me draw customers in others areas of my business.
Other software developer entrepreneurs operate in completely different ways than I do. Some of them form startup companies and look for large funding from outside investors called VCs, or venture capitalists. Others build small software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies and make their money by selling subscriptions to their services.
For example, the founders of the popular developer training company Plural sight started out with classroom training. But later, they found that they could do much better by providing a totally online service and then moved into a SaaS model when they started offering a subscription-based service.
I’m sure you can guess by now what the two biggest advantages of being an entrepreneur are: complete freedom and completely uncapped earning potential. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have any boss, besides yourself—although you can be the harshest one.
You can come and go completely as you please and you’re entirely responsible for your own future. You could also make millions of dollars or more if you build something that’s extremely successful. You’re able to apply leverage to your time to make the returns from it grow in potentially exponential ways.
But being an entrepreneur isn’t all limousines and parties. It’s probably the toughest and riskiest career choice you can embark upon. There is no guarantee of any income at all, and you could go deep into debt chasing your brilliant ideas.
The life of an entrepreneur is filled with roller coasters. One day customers are buying your product and you’re on top of the world; the next day your project falls flat and you wonder how you’re going to afford to pay your rent.
Being an entrepreneur also requires you to invest heavily in other skills that you might not need to worry about as a software developer working for someone else or doing client work. Entrepreneurs have to learn both sales and marketing as well as many other aspects of business and finance that are critical to being successful.
outlines the benefits and drawbacks of being an entrepreneur.
Complete freedom Very risky
Huge earning potential Completely on your own
Work on what you want Requires many other skills
No boss Might end up working very long days
Which should you pick?
For most software developers, especially when starting out, it makes sense to be an employee. That option has the least risk and doesn’t require you to already have a large amount of experience under your belt.
I tend to view being an employee like being an apprentice. Even if you have aspirations of making it out on your own, it’s a good place to start to learn the craft and hone your skills.
With that said, if you’re just starting out and have the opportunity to be an independent consultant or entrepreneur and you can tolerate the risk involved, you can get all of the inevitable failings and mistakes out of the way early and set yourself up for a nice career later on.
The choice is really up to you and you can always switch paths later.
Being a professional
In one of my favorite blogs of all time, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield expounds upon the difference between being a professional and being an amateur:
Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don't show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.
Being a professional is all about showing up, doing your work, and not letting adversity defeat you. Being a professional requires you to overcome your vices so that you can sit down and produce the best work possible.
In this blog, we’re going to focus on what it means to be a professional and how you can be a professional in your software development job whether you work for someone else directly or produce work for clients.
As a software developer, professionalism will be one of your greatest assets. Not only will learn how to act like and be perceived as a professional help you to get better jobs and more clients, but it will also help you feel better about the kind of work you’re doing and to have pride in that work—a critical component of long-term success.
What is a professional?
Simply put, a professional is someone who takes their responsibilities and career seriously and is willing to make the tough choices that have to be made—often at their own expense—for the purpose of doing what they know is right.
For example, imagine what you’d do in a situation where you’ve been asked to cut your normal quality standards and ship some code as quickly as possible. How do you react in this situation?
What if you’re repeatedly asked to work in this way? Can you stand up and do what is right, even if it may end up costing you your job? What principles do you stand for? What quality bar do you personally set for your work?
A professional is what we should all strive to be. A professional is someone you can count on to get a job done and do it right, but a professional also doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear. A professional will let you know when something isn’t possible or the path you want to proceed down is wrong.
A professional is someone who may not have all the answers, but thoroughly studies their craft and seeks to hone their skills. A professional will freely admit when they don’t know the answer, but you can count on a professional to find it.
Perhaps most importantly, a professional is consistent—stable. A professional has a high-quality standard for their work and you can expect a professional to adhere to it each and every day. When a professional doesn’t show up, you had better call emergency dispatch, because there is certainly something wrong.
Have principles that they abide by Do whatever is asked
Are focused on getting the job done right Are focused on getting the job done
Aren’t afraid to admit when they are wrong or Pretend to have the knowledge they don’t
Consistent and stable Unpredictable and unreliable
Takes responsibility Avoids responsibility
Being a professional (forming good habits)
It’s easy to identify a professional, but how do you become one? What is it about you and your work that reeks of amateur, and how do you neutralize the odor?
It starts with habits. Habits are an essential part of becoming a professional because a large portion of what we do every day is completely habitual. We get up, we go to work, and we perform our daily routines each and every day, mostly without thinking about it.
If you want to change your life, you need to start with changing your habits. This is, of course, easier said than done. Bad habits are exceedingly difficult to break and new habits aren’t easy to form.
But if you want to become a professional, you need to develop the habits of a professional. At one time when I was working on a team following the Scrum process, where we would have a daily stand-up meeting stating what we had done, what we had planned to do, and what was impeding us, there was one developer in particular who always had a written version of exactly what he was going to say.
Every single day before the Scrum meeting he would prepare his statement, instead of coming up with it during the meeting like most of us did. This is the kind of habit a professional develops.
Another strong habit to develop as a professional is time-management skills. How good are you at managing your time right now? Do you know what you’re going to work on each day before you work on it?
Do you have a good handle on how long routine tasks will take? Get in the habit of effectively managing your time by planning out your day in advance. A professional knows what work must be done each day and roughly how long it will take to do the work.
These are just two examples of the kinds of habits that are important to develop as a professional software developer.
You’ll have to decide for yourself what habit you need to form to reach your own standard of professionalism in your work, but habits are critical because they build consistency and consistency is what makes you reliable. (For a great blog on the subject of habits, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)
Doing what is right
As a software developer, you’re often faced with many difficult challenges, both technical and ethical. If you want to be a professional, you need to be able to make the correct choices in both of these cases.
Often the technical challenges you face are more objective. There are right ways to solve technical problems. It’s easy to prove one solution over another. But the ethical challenges can be much more difficult. There isn’t always a clear-cut right answer.
One of the biggest ethical challenges software developers face is that of going forward with decisions they know are correct and in the best interest of their client even if making those decisions could jeopardize their own well-being or stability.
One of my favorite software developers and authors, Bob Martin, wrote an excellent article on saying “No,” which addresses this very issue. In this article, Bob compares a software developer to a doctor. He talks about how absurd it would be for a patient to tell a doctor how to do their job.
In his example, a patient tells the doctor that his arm hurts and that he needs to cut it off. Of course, the doctor says “No” in this case. But in many cases, software developers in a similar situation, fearing the wrath of higher-ups, will say “Yes” and perform an amputation on their code.
A professional needs to know when to say “No,” even to their own employers, because, as Bob Martin put it, professionals have certain lines they won’t cross. It might even mean getting fired, but sometimes that’s the price to pay if you want to call yourself a professional.
In the short term, it may be painful, but consistently choosing to do the thing you know is right over the course of your career is much more likely to pay off than the alternative—plus you can sleep better at night.
Sometimes professionals have to make tough decisions about the priorities of what they work on. Unprofessional developers will often waste time by gold-plating things because they can’t decide what to work on next or they’ll constantly have to ask someone else to set their priorities. A professional assess the work that has to be done, prioritizes it, and gets to work.
Landmine: What if I can’t afford to say “No”
It’s easy for me to sit back in my chair and tell you that you just have to say “No” sometimes, but not everyone has the luxury of being able to risk their job. I understand that you may be in a position where you literally can’t say “No,” because doing so could be catastrophic for your future.
My advice in this situation is to go ahead and do what you need to do to get by, but never let yourself get in this kind of situation again. It’s easy to get trapped into situations where you need a job, but when you get trapped in those situations you limit your own options and allow people to exercise great power over you.
If you’re in this kind of a situation, try to get out of it as fast as possible. Save up some money so that you don’t have to worry so much about losing your job. You might even consider looking for another job where you won’t be required to make so many ethical decisions or where your opinion is more highly valued.
When it comes down to it, you have to do what you have to do, but always try to put yourself in positions where you have the upper hand or are at least on equal footing, whenever possible.
Seeking quality and self-improvement
As a professional, you must strive to constantly improve and increase the quality of the work you produce. You won’t always be able to produce the quality of work you desire, but over time, with consistency, you’ll reach your standards.
The big mistake many software developers make is to lower their standards when they seem out of reach instead of seeking to improve themselves to rise up to meet the challenge.
It’s important to apply quality to every detail of your work, not just the parts that seem most important. A real professional has high-quality standards for all areas of his or her work because a professional knows that, as T. Harv Eker put it, “how you do anything is how you do everything.”
If you lower your standards in one area, you’ll inadvertently find them dropping in other areas as well. Once you’ve crossed the line of compromise, it can be difficult to go back.
And don’t forget to play to your strengths. You can, of course, improve your weaknesses, but it’s a good idea to know what your individual strengths are and use them to your advantage. A professional has a good, accurate, and realistic self-assessment of their own abilities—and weaknesses.
The way a professional meets the high-quality expectations they have is by continuous self-improvement. If you want to be a professional, you need to dedicate yourself to always improving your skills and learning more about your craft.
Make sure that you have an education plan that you can follow to expand your skills and learn new things that will help you do a better job. Don’t ever be happy with good enough—always strive to become a better version of yourself.
Would you define yourself as a professional today? If so, why? If not, why not?
What are your habits? Observe your day and try to identify as many habits as possible. List your habits in two categories, good and bad. Now identify some good habits you need to develop. Come up with a plan for developing those habits.
When was the last time you had to say “No”? If you’ve never encountered this situation, think about what you'd do if your boss asked you to do something that you knew was wrong. How would you react?
Freedom: How to quit your job
For the longest time, my dream was to one day quit my day job and work for myself. I felt trapped working in the corporate world, and I knew that I could do better if I could just get out on my own. The problem was, “How?”
I didn’t know anyone who had successfully made it out of the rat race, so I didn’t know what I needed to do. I just knew that I wasn’t completely happy working for someone else.
Now, you may not want to work for yourself. You may want to continue to enjoy the benefits of being an employee—and there is nothing wrong with that. But if you’re like me and have always dreamed of working for yourself and becoming your own boss, read on.
Going about things the smart way
Want to know the easy way to quit your job and work for yourself? Just go into your boss’s office tomorrow and tell them you quit. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. I hope you have quite a bit of money saved up in the bank, because once you do that you’ll be completely on your own. Good luck.
This might not be the smartest way to go about gaining your freedom, though. It’s easy to be a bit impatient and not see another way to escape, so you might be tempted to do exactly that—I know I’ve been.
You might be able to quit your day job with just a few months of savings, lacking a solid plan, and jump right into the ocean of entrepreneurship or independent consulting and make it, but is it worth taking the risk?
It’s not a pretty sight. Usually, after just a few months, there is blood everywhere. Checking accounts are bleeding, credit cards are hemorrhaging, and what seemed wonderful and beautiful suddenly got extremely violent.
It’s really difficult to create a business when there is a gun to your head. You just can’t make good decisions and you’re paralyzed by fear.
I’m not saying this to scare you—although I hope it does if you’re considering leaping before you look—but instead I’m saying this to help you understand that you need an actual plan if you want to quit your job and work for yourself. You have to figure out a way to build up enough side income to support yourself while you get the new thing working.
I’d be a hypocrite if I told you that I never attempted to make the leap myself without having a solid plan. I’ve been tempted down that path and have succumbed before. But eventually, I got smarter.
I figured out that the only way I was really going to be able to make a jump was to figure out how to start building my new business on the side and make it successful enough to support me while I made the transition, even if it meant a big pay cut.
Before you think about quitting your job you need to have a solid plan in place. I’d highly recommend starting whatever business you want to create on the side first and only transitioning to doing it full time when you’re generating enough income from it to support yourself.
I know this is the slow and painful way to quit your day job, but it’s important to do things this way for more than just financial reasons.
Landmine: I already quit my job and I didn’t save any money…now what?
Whoops. I just hope you’re reading this blog before you put a second mortgage on your house. If you’re already in the situation where you’ve quit and gone out on your own, you’ll just have to face up to reality a little quicker.
My advice in this situation is to start working really hard and develop some good productivity habits to give yourself the best chance of success. You should also cut as many expenses as possible. That probably means getting rid of cable. You want to give yourself as much runway as possible.
But also be realistic. Think carefully about how long you can survive and what you can do to stretch that time out. Have a plan for when you need to throw in the towel and go back to being an employee if things don’t work out.
You can always try again later. Just make sure not to jeopardize your whole future by taking out massive credit card debt, mortgaging your house, or borrowing money from friends and family.
Also, perhaps it helps to know you’re not alone. The first two times I tried to make it on my own, I didn't do things the smart way and I had to go crawling back to regular employment.
Preparing to work for yourself
Working for yourself is harder than you thought—probably much harder. We’ve already talked about how it’s important to start your new business as a side business before quitting your job so that you aren’t strapped financially, but perhaps a more important reason for doing this is to prepare you for what it’s like to work for yourself.
When you’re commuting to the office every day and spending your hours making someone else rich, it can seem like working for yourself would be a much easier and pleasurable way to spend your time. Now, while working for yourself is rewarding, it’s also a lot of work, especially when you’re just getting started.
The trouble with working for yourself is that you can’t really get an idea of how much work it’s going to be until you’ve already quit your job, and by that point, it’s too late.
That’s why I strongly recommend starting up your new venture on the side and making it successful before you dive into it fulltime.
Working at your new venture on the side will give you an idea of the kind of hours you’ll have to pull working for yourself. Many aspiring entrepreneurs have no idea how difficult it can be to run a business and how much extra work is involved to deal with all the overhead and nondevelopment aspects of running your operation.
By starting your business on the side while you still have your fulltime job, you’ll get an idea of what it feels like to work longer days and to run the new venture.
You’ll also avoid the risk that causes ulcer-inducing stress and early gray hairs because your survival won’t depend on this thing succeeding. If you fail at your business, you’ll still have the income from your job to rely on.
If you’re still not convinced, one of the most solid reasons I can give you for doing things this way is that your business—especially your first one—is likely to fail. A majority of new businesses do.
It might take you more than a few tries to create a successful business that can sustain you. Would you rather spend years saving up enough money to take one shot at it and hope that it pans out, or have enough runway to give several tries until you finally get something that sticks?
How much do you really work?
I’m going to be completely candid and honest with you here when I tell you that even though I was a great employee for most of the companies I worked at, I didn’t work half as hard during the day as what I could have.
I’d have never figured this out if I didn’t start my own business and start tracking my time. When I first started working for myself, I couldn’t believe how much harder it was to get through an 8-hour day.
I was working 8- to 10-hour days at my regular job every single week, so why was it suddenly so hard to sit down and work 8 hours when I was working for myself? And why was I getting way less than 8 hours of work done in that time?
I discovered the answer to this question by carefully measuring my time. I set up a mechanism to log and track my hours during the day so that I could see where my time was going.
When I did this, I found that I was usually getting only around 4 hours of actual work done during a day. I wouldn’t have believed it if someone else had told me—I still could hardly believe it, but the numbers didn’t lie. Here I was working harder than ever, but I was producing only half of my potential capacity each day.
I immediately began to wonder how much work I was actually getting done during a day at my regular job before I quit. I thought back through my typical working day and I tried to figure out how I was spending my time.
I started with eight hours. Then I subtracted from those eight hours about one hour a day for work- and non-work-related socialization. Generally, I found that I’d get pulled into various conversations throughout the day, usually in small chunks, but adding up to an average of one hour a day. Some of this was work-related of course, but I don’t consider this to be productive work.
Now I’m left with seven hours. From those seven hours, I can subtract another two hours for general overhead related to checking and answering emails, reading bulletins and memos, and attending pointless meetings where real work isn’t being done and I don’t really need to be there.
Finally, I’ll take off one more hour for what I’ll call general laziness. We all goof off from time to time and check our Facebook messages, answer personal emails, and so on. There is no sense denying it and it probably adds up to about an hour each day.
So, what does that leave me with? Four hours. Out of an eight-hour day at work, most of us probably only work about four hours. And I’m sure that on some days it’s even less. But there’s another factor to consider. How hard do we work during those four hours?
I like to think of it this way. Imagine the difference between jogging down the street and running for your life because a man-eating lion is chasing you.
That’s the difference between the kind of work you do when you’re working for someone else and when you’re working for yourself. When you’re working for yourself, you tend to work much harder, because you only make money when you’re working.
Taking that into account, we could probably estimate that, on average, we only work half as hard when working for someone else. What I came to realize was that in a typical day of work at my regular job, I might have been just putting in the equivalent of 2 hours of real, hard, productive work. (And sometimes I stayed late and worked 10 hours to do it.)
What is my point in telling you this? It’s two-fold. First, I want you to realize that when you work for yourself, you’ll be working much harder than you do working for someone else, even if you technically put in the same amount of time—you need to prepare for this and be used to this kind of workload.
While it may be true that you may be more motivated working for yourself because you’re passionate about what you are doing, don’t count on that passion lasting. Passion tends to fizzle out over time and is somewhat fickle. (For a good blog on this subject, check out So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport)
Second, it’s important to realize that you can’t necessarily plan eight hours’ worth of work into your working day when you work for yourself. When I first quit my regular job to work fulltime on my side business, I figured I’d be giving myself an extra eight hours a day to get things done.
Because I was working three to four hours each evening on my side business while holding down my regular job, I thought I could work just eight hours a day and now get twice as much work done. I was completely wrong and it almost caused me to become discouraged and give up.
Before you quit your job, it’s important to have realistic expectations of how much work you actually get done and to train yourself ahead of time to handle a much heavier workload.
At your current job, you can start tracking your time during the day and see if you can get to the point of producing six hours of productive work consistently. Also, working on your side job during the evening will prepare you for what it will be like to spend a full eight or more hours working on it each day.
Cutting the cord
Okay, so you’ve made the decision. You want to be independent. You’re tired of working for “the man,” but how do you do it? I can’t offer you a one-size-fits-all solution, but here’s a fictional example of how a software developer might make the transition to self-employment.
Joe has been a software developer for about ten years. He likes his job, but he really wants to become a freelancer and work for himself. He likes the idea of having the flexibility and freedom of choosing his clients and deciding what to work on and when.
Now, Joe has been thinking about making the jump for quite a while. The first thing Joe did was to start cutting his monthly expenses and stashing away cash. Joe wants to have some breathing room when he transitions to self-employment, so he has saved up an entire year’s worth of living expenses to cover him at least through the first year.
Joe figures that if he can make half of what he needs to live during the first year of his freelancing, he’ll have enough savings to last him two years. That’s plenty of time to get his new business going or to realize it isn’t going to work out.
(Note: Joe didn’t save a year’s worth of salary, but a year’s worth of expenses—what he needs to live, not what he needs to live comfortably. He’s willing to make that sacrifice to pursue his dream.)
Joe also started devoting about 15 hours each week to freelancing while he still kept his regular job. He spends about the first 2 hours of each day doing freelance work. He spends 5 hours each week working on getting new business and advertising, and 10 hours doing billable work.
Joe made sure to start doing this six months before he planned on quitting his job so that he’d be sure that he’d have some guaranteed income coming in and not feel so much pressure when he quit his job.
Joe calculated the exact day he’d quit in advance and has had it on his calendar for over a year. When that day comes, Joe hands in his two-week notice and begins his dream. He’s financially and mentally prepared for the transition.
Landmine: Dangerous employment contracts
I have to caution you that the advice in this blog might get you into trouble. I’ve seen some pretty nasty employment contracts that say whatever you’re working on belongs to the company you’re working for.
Before you start a side project that might eventually become a full-time job for you, make sure you check to see what you agreed to when you took your current position.
If the wording of your employment agreement says anything about the company owning what you produced, you might want to check with a legal professional to find out how to properly handle that situation.
Now, I’m not a legal professional, so this isn’t legal advice, but I’ll give you my opinion on what I think you should do. First, if you have an employment contract that basically states that everything you create belongs to your company whether you do it on your own time or not, I’d suggest either asking to have that clause removed from your contract or finding a new job.
I don’t believe in slavery, and to me a contract like that is draconian. I can understand a business being concerned about you creating your own company on their time using their resources, but I don’t think any employer should restrict what you do in your own time (just my opinion).
If your employment contract has a clause saying that what you create on company time or using company resources belongs to them, things could be a bit more tricky, because they aren’t so straightforward.
In that case, personally, I’d be pretty upfront about what I was doing, and I’d carefully document the hours I worked on my side project and the resources that were used.
If you have a log blog that shows that you worked on everything on your own time and you used your own resources, I’d think you’d be in pretty good shape. Still, in this case, you want to tread carefully. It couldn’t hurt to get a lawyer involved.
The bottom line is if you think you’re going to have a problem with your employer, you probably will. You can either choose to keep everything you’re doing on the side very secret or make it very transparent—either way has risks of its own.
My best overall advice, though, is to carefully document and log the work you spend on your side business so that there’s no question about the ownership.
Calculate exactly how much money you’ll need to earn each month to live. You might be surprised to find out how high it is right now. If you want to get “free” quicker, you’ll need to figure out a way to reduce that amount so that your side business will need to bring in less income.
Start tracking your time every day at work. Get an idea of how you're spending your time currently each day. Now, figure out how much of that time is an actual productive time where you're actually doing real hard productive work—you might be surprised by the results.
Speaking, presenting, and training: Speak Geek
One of the most effective ways to connect with people and market yourself is through speaking or giving some kind of training. This medium might not scale as well as other mediums, but getting up in front of an audience and talking directly to them is one of the most impactful things you can do.
I know, for me at least, there’s nothing more invigorating than stepping onto a stage and giving a speech or a presentation. There’s something powerful about being able to connect directly with an audience and adapt based on a feedback loop that you can’t get with other mediums.
Even if you aren’t going to get up on a stage and speak at a conference, giving a presentation at work can be very helpful to your career. You create a great opportunity to be able to show how effectively you can communicate your ideas and to influence your coworkers and even your boss.
The only problem is, it isn’t easy to just start speaking. You might be wondering how you can get started when you don’t have any experience, or you might even be scared to do it. It’s not easy getting up on a stage and talking in front of people—especially if you’ve never done it before.
In this blog, I’m going to tell you why doing things like speaking and training is so important for your career, and I’ll give you some practical advice on how to get started or take what you’re already doing to the next level.
Why speaking live is so impactful
Have you ever gone to a rock concert or seen a band perform live? Why did you do it? You could have just bought the album and listened from home. You might even have better audio quality using your own headphones listening to a CD-quality album. The same goes for plays and live theater. Why not just watch a movie instead?
It’s hard to explain, but there’s a personal connection you get when you attend a live event that you don’t get when listening to or watching a recording. There’s something about hearing a presenter speak live that is more impactful than many other mediums—even if they contain the exact same content.
People who hear you speak are much more likely to remember you and to feel like they have a personal connection with you. We remember the times we saw our favorite band in concert, but we don’t remember the times we listened to their albums.
Speaking is also an interactive medium—or at least you can make it one. When you speak at an event you can directly answer questions from the audience and get them to participate in your presentation. Interacting in this way can build large amounts of trust quickly and can help you create fans who will promote your message for you.
Coincidentally, just now as I was typing this blog, I saw a tweet from a developer who attended one of my talks on marketing yourself and now is doing everything he can to promote me and my blog to other people. I don’t think I’d have made that same kind of connection with him if he hadn’t heard me speak in person.
Many famous software developers who you probably know of boosted their careers by speaking. My friend, John Papa, is a great example. He started out doing a few small speaking gigs and now he’s able to travel all over the world talking about various technologies. He’s created many opportunities for himself by being known as a speaker.
Getting started speaking
Okay, perhaps I’ve convinced you that speaking is important and worth doing. But you might be wondering how you can get started because that part can be a bit tricky.
Let me start off by saying that you aren’t going to get a speaking gig at a major conference if you haven’t spoken before and haven’t built up a name for yourself.
But you don’t need to start there. It’s better to start small and begin to perfect your skill of public speaking. It can take some time to get good at speaking in public, so it’s good to get some practice.
One of the best places to start is by giving presentations at your own workplace. Most companies are happy to have their employees present on various topics, especially if the presentation is directly related to what you’re working on.
Offer to do a presentation on some technology that your team is using or to give training in some area where your team could use help.
You don’t even have to present yourself as an expert, but as someone who earnestly wants to help by sharing what you’ve learned. (In fact, you’ll find that you should almost always take this approach.
Too many people get caught up in being perceived as an expert instead of being honest and humble. Being a real down-to-earth human with real flaws and weaknesses will go a long way to building trust with your audience and will make you seem a lot less like a jerk.)
Another easy avenue for public speaking is code camps and user groups. There are usually many different user groups for software developers in most metropolitan areas.
It usually isn’t hard to find some user group nearby that you can attend. After attending a user group for a while, you can ask the organizer if you can present on a particular topic.
Most user groups are always looking for new people to present, so as long as you have a topic that’s interesting, you’ll probably be given a shot. This is a great opportunity to speak in front of a smaller, more forgiving audience, and as a bonus, it’s a good way to market yourself to local companies and recruiters in your area.
In addition to user groups, you can find yearly code camps all over the world. Most code camps will let anyone with any level of experience speak on a topic of their choosing.
Take advantage of this opportunity and try to speak at least one code camp every year. Most of these events are low-pressure situations because no one paid to get in them. You can relax, and if you mess up, it’s not that big of a deal.
Finally, once you have some speaking engagements under your belt, you can start submitting to developer conferences. There’s quite a bit of competition in this area and there tends to be a bit of a “good-old-boys” system with some of the events.
But once you break into the circuit, you can find many opportunities to speak each year, and for most of these events, you’ll be completely reimbursed for travel and any other expenses. (Many software developers I know get to travel all around the world speaking at these events.
They might not get paid to speak, but they get to go to all kinds of places they wouldn’t get to go otherwise and to expand their audiences. These bigger events are also a great way to get business if you’re a freelancer.)
Landmine: I’m terrified of public speaking
It’s okay, many people are. The fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias. But what can you do about it? Well, there are organizations like Toastmasters (Toastmasters International -Home) that you can join that will help you to get over your fear of public speaking in a comfortable atmosphere.
You can also start very small by doing little things like standing up and talking in meetings or giving presentations to a smaller team of people you know well. As you get more and more comfortable, you can move on to more intimidating events.
You have to remember that as human beings we’re very good at adaptation. If you do something enough, you’ll adapt to it. Paratroopers who are first learning to jump out of planes are pretty terrified, but after doing many successful jumps, the fear eventually goes away. If you keep attempting to speak in public, the fear will dissipate over time as you adapt.
What about training?
Doing training, whether live or recorded, is another great way to build a reputation for yourself and even to make a little money. I’ve had quite a bit of success by producing online courses, and not just through the money they’ve brought me, but also through the reputation of being an expert in the industry.
It used to be difficult to get a job as a trainer or to get a training gig, but now almost anyone can put together some form of training online.
Of course, you can still do traditional classroom training as well, but for most developers who aren’t going to focus on making a career out of it, online video training is a much simpler and more scalable solution.
A great place to start out is to create simple screencasts that you can share on free video sites like YouTube. A screencast is just a recording of your screen while you teach something or show someone how to do something.
If you can clearly teach a concept to other developers with your screencasts, you can easily build up a reputation for being a knowledgeable expert in an area. That reputation can translate into a better job or even freelance clients who seek out your expertise.
Even though you might start out giving training for free—and free training is a great way to promote yourself—you might eventually want to start charging for the content you’re producing. There are a few different options you can choose from to charge for your video training content.
First, there are dedicated developer training companies like Plural Sight. Most of the online video training content I produced was for Plural sight, but there are other companies that will pay you to produce content and give you a share of the profit in the form of a royalty payment. This is similar to writing a blog.
When you produce content for one of these types of companies, you usually are commissioned to produce that content and don’t have to worry about marketing and selling, because you’ll be integrated into their existing audience.
Typically, sites like these will have some kind of an audition process, so there’s no guarantee you’ll be accepted, but there’s no harm in trying.
If you want to go a more solo route, you can try creating content yourself and selling that content directly. I’ve had some success with this approach as well, as I have been selling my “How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer” (http://devcareerboost.com/m) training directly from my website.
The only difficulty with this approach is that you’ll have to do all your own marketing and you’ll need to figure out a way to distribute the content and accept payment for it.
One hybrid option is the online education company Udemy. Udemy allows anyone to publish content, which is hosted on their platform, but they take a large cut of the profit and you’re mostly responsible for doing your own marketing and acquiring your own customers. I know several software developers who have been successful on that platform.
Come up with a list of all the user groups in your area. Also, come up with a list of any code camps that you might be able to speak at. Offer to speak at one of these events on a topic you feel comfortable talking about.
Take a look at some of the free and paid training you can find on the web for software developers. Take some notes and see if you can figure out what kind of things successful trainers are doing.
Try to create your own short training in the form of a screencast and publish it on a site like YouTube.
Create a list of topics you could speak about.
If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self. —Napoleon Hill
Throughout the blog we’ve talked about how to improve your career in a practical sense, how to using marketing to open doors and release the floodgates of opportunity, how to expand your mind through learning and teaching.
How to be productive through a focused effort fueled by persistence, the basics of finance and how to think in a way that causes your wealth to work for you rather than you work for your wealth, and, finally, how to strengthen and shape your body. But there’s one missing link that ties it all together.
If we were simple machines it wouldn’t matter. But the truth is we aren’t simple machines—we’re human beings. We’re not just a body connected to a mind. We can’t just give ourselves instructions and expect them to be carried out.
There is another force that drives us, a powerful force that can send us on the path to success or drive us into the ground. You can call this force what you will, but for the purposes of this blog, I call it spirit.
This section is all about that intangible connection between the mind and body that motivates us to action and ultimately controls whether or not we live up to our potential or fall back helplessly believing ourselves to be a victim of circumstance. In this section, my goal is to equip you with the tools to conquer the greatest enemy you will ever face—yourself.
How the mind influences the body
Everything in this blog so far has been mostly backed up by at least some scientific evidence, but now we’re about to reach into the realm of the unquantifiable. What I have to say on the upcoming subjects will mostly be a combination of my experience and my opinion.
Why should you take seriously anything I have to say on these subjects? A fair question, for sure. I could tell you that what I’m saying here is what I believe has led me to the success I’ve been able to experience in my life, but perhaps you don’t want to be like me—or you aren’t very impressed. In that case, a much stronger argument is to be made in saying that the ideas I’m about to give you in this section aren’t entirely my own.
Many of the concepts in this section are derived from great works by authors much more famous and successful than me. But, more importantly, some of the ideas that came from these blogs—specifically the idea that the mind is a powerful influencer of the body—have been the hallmarks of the success of some of the greatest minds of the 20th century.
It starts with the mind
There’s almost nothing you can do without believing you can do it. It’s amazing how much your mind influences your body and your ability to succeed. It’s easy to quickly dismiss the idea that if you can believe it.
You can achieve it, but there is some serious truth to that idea. At least, the converse of that idea holds more truth: if you don’t believe it, you’re sure not to achieve it.
You have to learn how to harness the power of your mind, to gain mastery over it, if you want to be able to put into action even the smallest plan that you devise. But it isn’t an easy task. You can’t just will yourself to believe something. Have you ever sat and tried to do it?
Give it a try now, if you like. Try to believe that elephants are pink. Can you convince yourself of it? Even if your very life depended on it, could you change such a simple belief? There is almost no trick you can conceive to get your mind to believe some arbitrary piece of information.
That doesn’t mean that you could never believe that elephants are pink. A compelling piece of evidence could instantly transform your mind— but it’s unlikely you’ll ever find a piece of evidence compelling enough to force you to believe such an illogical fallacy.
In fact, your mind is so powerful that even if you were presented with compelling evidence that completely contradicted your current belief on the color of elephants, you might still go on believing what you currently believe, what’s comfortable to you.
You can see that the power to master your mind isn’t quite as easy to obtain as it would seem. To some degree, we’re victims of the biological processes of our brains. But we aren’t animals, we’re humans, so we have the power to conquer this basic biological process because we have consciousness; we have the freedom of choice, of free will.
I may not be able to convince myself that elephants are pink, but I can, in time, with repeated affirmations, change many of my beliefs to my own liking. I have the power to shape my own thoughts—as do you.
But what good is it to change what you believe? Why does it even matter if you possess an exceptional ability to alter your own thoughts and ways of thinking? Does the physical world change to meet your own perception of reality?
This is where things get interesting. I won’t answer you outright with a “Yes,” because if I did, you’d likely stop reading this blog and throw it in the trash bin. Of course, your physical reality isn’t molded entirely by your thoughts and beliefs…right?
Well, before I answer that question, let’s take a step back. Let’s think about how the physical world is actually altered. Suppose there’s a block on a table and you’d like that block to be moved to another location.
If you don’t believe it’s possible, you won’t even try. But if you do believe it’s possible and you believe that you can move your hand, pick up the block, and place it in a location off the table, then you can use your mind to control your body to perform the actions.
Technically, what you believe does have the power to shape your reality—it’s just an indirect shaping that requires the use of your body.
It’s a mystery how consciousness is able to send signals to our nervous systems to move our limbs. Sure, we know how the chemical and physical process works, but we don’t know what sparks it. We don’t know how the intangible minds we all possess are able to directly manipulate the physical world—how we actually fire that first neuron.
Now, I’m not naïve; I know that plenty of people will tell you that we indeed do know how this happens: that we’re just bags of chemicals interacting with our environment, forever on autopilot, a chain of chemical reactions that are completely based on the circumstances of our environments.
But if you believe this is true, how is it, then, that you’re able to make the choice to read this blog? How is it that I’m able to write it?
Either a complex set of chain reactions made both of the actions inevitable—neither of us had a choice, we’re just along for the ride—or there’s something else, something that we can’t identify that gives us … freewill, the power of choice.
The mind and body connection
When I use the words mind and body, I’m defining the mind as the nonphysical part of your body. Whether you call it a spirit or a mechanical mechanism of consciousness, it’s distinct from the lower functions of the body, including the brain.
This distinction is important because when I say that the mind influences the body, I also mean that it influences your brain. We don’t have to look far to prove this.
The placebo effect, in which the brain thinks it’s receiving some drug but actually gets a sugar pill or some other substitute, is well documented. Just like Dumbo’s feather gave him the power of flight, your mind can influence your body in ways that you don’t have conscious control over.
Because we know that our minds are capable of manipulating the universe through the power of thought, realized as action through our bodies, we also know that what we believe or what we think has the ability to influence our physical reality.
In the most literal sense, this means that what you think becomes reality—at least as far as it’s within the power of your body and mind to make it so. This principle is embodied in many different forms and philosophies.
One popular one is the law of attraction that states that “like attracts like.” If you think negative thoughts, negative results will result and vice versa.
You may have also heard of the popular blog by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (Atria Blogs/Beyond Words, 2006), which is a bit too mystical and hyped for my taste, but still hits on an important truth that has been revealed in many ways in the past and will continue to be reinvented and discovered in the future:
The same basic truth that people who are able to change their beliefs and control their thoughts through active mindfulness are able to bring into reality that which they think about.
I really don’t mean to get all mystical on you here. I’m a practical person; thus I believe there’s a practical explanation for much of the way this mechanism works, but at the same time I won’t pretend that there isn’t a somewhat mystical component to it that can’t be ignored.
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
Regardless of how the mechanism works, it’s important to understand that what you think in no small way influences and shapes the reality you live in. You don’t even need to read this blog to see the truth in this statement. Simply look around you.
When you think about the people you interact with every day, do you notice certain patterns of thinking that result in certain patterns of behavior and results? Do you know any very successful people who maintain a negative attitude about life and lack a personal conviction and belief in themselves and others?
Do you see people in your life who are constantly victims, but not due to any external force—although they constantly claim it to be so? Even when you reflect on your own life, how often has the thought you’ve feared the most or worried about excessively somehow defied all odds to actually come true?
If you truly want to shape the direction of your life and control it, you have to learn to harness the power of your mind, the power of thought. Regardless of whether or not I’ve convinced you about the mind and body connection in this blog.
If you at least believe in the slightest degree that your mindset and beliefs can have a positive or negative impact on your life, the next couple of blogs will offer you some practical advice on how you can shape your mindset to be the shape most productive for your growth.
Look for connections between the mind and body. Try to find instances in your own life where what you’ve thought has influenced your reality in either positive or negative ways.
What was your mindset the last time you experienced a great success? What was your mindset the last time you encountered a major failure?