by Liberty Stembridge, Finance Columnist
Published in Finance on 12th December, 2018
As an entrepreneur, you'll be learning all the time, if you're not, you're not growing and your company probably won't be either. In fact, we're all learning all the time, but we're not all doing it in the best way.
So many of us pour over books when it comes time to learn something new, without realising that this is probably one of the most inefficient way to actually learn something (and keep it in your brain forever). Smart Learning refers to the practice of "hacking" your brain - taking advantage of how you brain has evolved to learn, in order to learn better, quicker and more efficiently, to improve not only your ability to intake knowledge, but to retain it.
Learning how to learn means you can quickly start integrating other skills into your life, and these can benefit your business in innumerable ways.
There's no one trick to smart learning, but there is a tonne of research into how the human brain learns and what we can do to aid our learning. Of course, not all brains are the same, some people for example, are visual learners, whereas others are more auditory. The key to developing smart learning skills is to research what you can do, and test it out on yourself to see if it works. Don't be afraid to experiment and see what sticks.
How is confidence a skill? Because you have to learn it, and work at it. Confidence comes naturally to some people, but for a lot of us we do need to develop and grow our confidence in order to succeed.
With a bit of confidence, you can go far in life, and the same applies even more so to entrepreneurs. If, as an entrepreneur, you don't have the confidence to be able to speak publicly, or sell yourself to investors, or even just convince your own family and friend's that your idea is worthwhile, you're never going to get anywhere.
How can you develop confidence? By putting yourself in situations that force you to leave your comfort zone, and really going for it. When we leave our comfort zone we have two options: curl up into a ball and cry, or be confident and take on the challenge head on. I encourage you to do exactly that. Put yourself into situations that require you to be a bit more confident, even better if they can help you to build other helpful skills for your business.
Try public speaking, or improv class. If you like being creative, try writing or drawing and showing your work to others. You might fail dismally, or you might be a huge success, it doesn't really matter either way. What matters is that you put yourself out there, and hopefully, your confidence will rise.
Meditation is quite possibly one of the most useful skills that you can learn, and will be beneficial for the entirety of your life. Every day, more and more research comes out showing the benefits of meditation, how it can calm the mind, heal the body, ease mental illness, improve your relationships, increase self-esteem, help the grieving, the dying and the wildly successful.
Everyone and anyone can meditate, and by all accounts it's looking like we all should. Meditation is simple the practice of being mindful (read: aware) of your body and mind, becoming present with the moment that you are in. Although in meditation it is useful to try and clear your mind of all thoughts, and that is hopefully what will ultimately happen, this can often be frustrating for beginners, so it's best not focus too much on clearing your mind and more on the breath.
Meditation doesn't seem at first like one of those skills you can really learn, you just do it. This is not the case, it takes some people years to learn how to meditate in order to get the full benefits of it, but for others it only takes a few minutes.
The best place you can go to learn how to meditate is guided meditations. These tracks range from a few minutes to a few hours and quite literally guide you through the meditation, teaching you how to focus on your breath, reminding you to come back into the present moment, reassuring that it's okay to get distracted. These tracks are available for free online, or through paid subscriptions like Headspace.
What you do every day, the habits you create and maintain, form your life. They dictate your health, happiness, how much time you have, who you meet and where you work. Good habits will propel you towards better mental health, better physical health, better relationships and an overall better wellbeing. Bad habits will drag you back, keeping you stuck in a place you don't want to be in. That's why it's so important that we develop the skill of discipline, especially for entrepreneurs, so that we can focus and develop good habits, and discard bad habits.
For entrepreneurs, discipline helps not only to keep you sane, but to keep everything running smoothly. Without the discipline in place to keep you doing the things you know are good for you, but don't necessarily want to do, you will inevitably end up slacking and this can quickly start to spiral.
There is no one key to being disciplined, it's a practice as are most things. However, there are some things you can do to help. The first being to hold yourself accountable. Get other people involved, that will call you out when you fail to do what you said you were going to do. This gives you great motivation to actually do these things in the first place.
Secondly, don't ever stop reminding yourself. It's easy to go to bed and say "tomorrow I will go to the gym" but unless you're already in the habit of going to the gym everyday, you're probably going to forget or flake out. By reminding yourself, either with physical notes, alarms on your phone, or getting other people to bug you, you start setting your brain up to feel like it has to go to the gym, and slowly, a habit is formed.
Critical thinking is the ability to look at a situation objectively and analytically, using logical thinking to make deductions and decide on the best solution, outcome or otherwise make some sort of judgement.
Critical thinking is an absolutely essential skill for an entrepreneur. By practicing and developing your logical and critical thinking skills you become a better leader, a better manager, you're able to make better-informed decisions and your business will benefit from increased efficiency and more money. Critical thinking isn't just a skill you're born with either, it's something you need to work at and practice every day, a bit like maths.
You wouldn't go into a maths exam expecting to be able to figure everything out straight away, you'd practice every day, probably for weeks beforehand in order to be fully prepared. Well, life is now one big maths exam (sorry), and you need to be preparing every day.
There are lots of ways you can develop your critical thinking skills, as well as plenty of resources online to help you out. Certain activities such as maths problems, philosophy problems and other logic-based activities can help to develop logical / critical thinking skills, but you don't have to spend all your time doing sudoku.
Essentially, you need to develop the ability to become aware of your basic mental processes, and question your basic assumptions to draw logical conclusions using whatever information you are given. This process can be applied to almost every situation in life.
The ability to express yourself creatively and effectively is an invaluable asset to any entrepreneur. Skills such as writing, drawing and more are some of our most powerful methods of communication and should not be overlooked. You might not think of yourself as creative, as someone who can write or draw or take photos, maybe you're more into programming and computing, and that's okay, but having the ability to express yourself properly to others will ultimately enhance the quality of your communication, which is a game-changer.
There is nothing more important when running a business than effective communication, without it the whole show can collapse. If you're unsure about where to start, take a writing class. Learn how to construct a story, how to express exactly what you're feeling about a subject, how to use grammar to portray what you want the other person to understand.
As mentioned, taking a writing class is a great first step to developing your ability to communicate effectively. Even better if you can find one designed for managers or business owners. If writing still doesn't appeal to you, try public speaking, or learning a new language, or even something abstract like still-life drawing. Some might be more directly related to your role as an entrepreneur than others, but ultimately, the idea is to start unlocking your creativity and expressing yourself, so you should be looking at whatever interests you the most.
This refers to your ability to relate to and work with others. A lot of entrepreneurs can be introverted, slightly isolated people, and if this sounds like you, it might be worthwhile to work on your interpersonal skills. Negotiation, delegation, problem-solving and team-building all depend on good interpersonal skills. Being able to communicate properly and get people to like you is essential not only for selling yourself or your product, but also to build a team of people who will actually support you and your work.
There's no one trick or magic pill that will give you good interpersonal skills. If you're an anxious or very introverted person, this might not come naturally to you, and that's okay. If you've got the money, hiring a life coach or even a therapist might help you overcome some of your social anxiety. Otherwise, practice is key. Pushing yourself to go out, to interact with people more and see what works and what doesn't. The only way to get better at something is to try, most likely fail a few times, and slowly improve.
Whether your the owner of a successful business or a wannabe entrepreneur with big dreams, constant self-development is crucial to further growth and success. These are just a few of the many skills you'll need - the most important thing is that you are open to change.