Perhaps they are using psychological skills that we don’t know about? There are certainly lots of life hacks that people use in order to get ahead. For instance, studies show that if you want someone to do you a favour, do something nice for them a few days before. Humans have a need to balance the scales; they like to reciprocate, it’s a tit-for-tat kind of mentality. So are there any other psychological abilities and skills that truly smart people use? Here are four of them: ‘Our life is what our thoughts make us.’ Marcus Aurelius It’s very easy to get into the trap of thinking that our thoughts are just ideas and phrases that pop in and out of our heads, and not something we can control. I remember going to see Paul McKenna in London for a phobia workshop weekend. If you don’t know who he is, he is an expert in NLP, getting rid of phobias, hypnotism, that kind of thing. Onstage he asked the audience to imagine a typical Monday morning, getting up for work, going through the motions.
Then describe our feelings and our moods.
The majority of us said things like ‘Monday blues’, depressed, tired, drained, heavy, lacklustre, no energy. He then asked us to imagine that instead of going to work on a Monday, we were jetting off to a luxury holiday resort on an exclusive island with 5-star facilities. Now he asked how we felt.
The audience responded with ‘excited, raring to go, relaxed, can’t wait, happy, positive, lifted.’ ‘You see the power of the mind?’ he said. Neither of those things happened but just by changing your thoughts you also changed your mood. Of course, we can’t spend our lives on holiday. But we can take those feelings of excitement, happiness, relaxation, and positivity and use them on tough days like Monday mornings. Why will it make a difference? Because positivity attracts positivity. But more importantly, negativity does the same. Sure, you’re not on holiday, but you are bringing those feelings and emotions of excitement and happiness to work. This has a knock-on effect on your day. Yes, you’ve still got to go to work, but perhaps it will be more pleasant because of your attitude? Likewise, our whole life is made up of our thoughts. If we are grateful for what we have, we’ll live a contented life. You could call this particular way of thinking a ‘psychological skill’ that smart people use. I guess it’s a little like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A way of actively changing the way we think on purpose to improve our lives.
The second of our psychological skills is all about intelligence, but it involves a certain kind of intellect. Imagine you’ve just passed your degree and you’re excited and you’re telling friends. How would you feel if someone piped up: “Oh, I got an honour degree in that subject.” Really? Or there’s always someone who knows more than you and doesn’t hesitate to tell you. We all want others to know how clever we are. But when it costs other people, or steals their thunder, or ruins their moment, it’s not clever. In fact, it’s downright stupid. If you need to boost your own ego by climbing over or trashing other people’s achievements, you are not socially intelligent. Social intelligence is the understanding that we all need our moments as the centre of attention. We all deserve the spotlight on our achievements. Recognition for our knowledge, our smarts. But allowing others to revel in the limelight is a more intelligent way to show your intelligence. Why? Because people associate their feelings of importance and pride with you when you let them share their best moments. In future, don’t be the know-all that everyone dreads being around.
There is an ability that truly smart people have which is the knowledge that most things will pass. I remember when my boyfriend died in 2013. At the time I thought I’d never get over the loss and pain. Now it’s 2020 and I can reflect on those tragic times and know that whatever dreadful thing happens in the future, it will pass. I will get through it. Of course, at the time, if someone had tried to give me this advice on grief I would have probably lamped them. People who are going through horrific trauma and grief don’t need advice.
They need support. This knowledge comes from your own experience. All we have to do is simply exist. And that’s what I did, for a long time. I took minutes, then hours, then days at a time. Until one day I was coming out of a migraine and was lying on the bed when a cooling breeze flowed over my hot, throbbing head. I remember thinking ‘This feels nice.’ Up until that point, nothing had felt nice since my boyfriend’s passing. But I knew that if something as simple as the wind could be pleasant, I would get through the pain of his death. This is one of those psychological skills that comes with time and experience. Because you have to pass through trauma and come out the other side to know it. Of course, these days staying in the present through mindfulness is considered to be extremely therapeutic. However, there’s nothing wrong with revisiting the past in order to arm yourself to face the future. Now, more than ever, there’s a trend to want to blame anyone but ourselves for our own predicament. How often do we see those TV adverts ‘Where’s there’s a blame, there’s a claim.’ It’s written into our DNA that we should blame someone else for what’s gone wrong in our lives. However, there’s something very powerful about accepting that we are at fault when we’ve made a mistake. Psychologists call this ‘locus of control’. Locus of control is the degree in which an individual feels they have control over their own life. This can refer to our successes as well as our failures. We attribute this control to internal factors (ourselves) or external factors (others, environment, etc.). For example, say that a person has failed an exam. If they have an internal locus of control, they’ll attribute their failure to a lack of revision, partying the night before the exam, not paying attention in class. In other words, they’ll blame themselves for the outcome. However, someone with an external locus will say the reasons for failure were their parents not waking them up in time to get to the exam on time. Or that their tutors didn’t teach them from the right books, or that the classroom was too hot/cold.
They will blame other reasons for the failure. Now, why is this important? Surely in life, some things are out of our control. Sometimes things happen that do ruin our chances. And yes, this is true. But studies show those who consistently take responsibility for their own successes or downfalls, in other words, have an internal locus, are happier, healthier and more successful in general.
These are just four psychological skills that anyone can master. Do you know of any others? I’d love to hear them! R.
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