How to Improve Your Self-Development Skills

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Influencer" by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al.. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are self-development skills? How can you improve your self-development skills?

Self-development skills help you evaluate your own goals and what actions you can take to achieve them. In the book Influencer, the authors suggest a few ways to enhance these skills.

Let’s look at how to improve your self-development skills.

Self-Development Skills

One area of impact influencers should focus on is self-development skills. We’ll answer the question: How can you ensure that people have the skills necessary to change their behavior for the better and implement critical practices?

Most importantly, the authors argue that effective influencers must believe in what Carol Dweck refers to as a growth mindset—the understanding that you, and others, are capable of learning and getting better at something—because implementing critical practices almost always involves learning new skills. Instead of telling people what they need to do, effective influencers spend their time creating opportunities for people to learn and practice the skills they need.

The authors recommend using the following strategies to help people learn and improve their self-development skills:

To support skill development, provide opportunities for intense focus over short periods of time. This intentional practice requires deep concentration that cannot be sustained over long periods of time; therefore, it’s best to practice skills for short periods of time before focus begins to fade. 

(Shortform note: In Peak, Anders Ericsson elaborates on this idea of practice, arguing that not all forms of practice are created equal. He echoes the authors’ belief in the value of short, intense training sessions, but goes on to add that the highest form of practice is deliberate practice in which the learner’s work is measurable, competitive, time-tested, and observed by a teacher or coach. According to Ericsson, engaging in deliberate practice is the best way to become an expert at any skill.)

As people practice a skill, offer ongoing feedback based on clear expectations. According to the authors, consistent feedback is more important than the time spent developing a skill. Not only does frequent feedback help people improve their skills more quickly, but it’s also motivating to observe ongoing progress and areas of growth. 

(Shortform note: As you support others in learning a skill, be wary of “feedback fatigue,” emotional depletion caused by ongoing negative feedback. While people seek out opportunities to improve and grow, we also crave acceptance. Everyone’s threshold for constructive feedback is different. If you notice that someone is constantly second-guessing their work, is overly self-deprecating, or rejects positive feedback, it might be a sign they’re experiencing feedback fatigue.)

Throughout the process, normalize setbacks. People will struggle to learn new skills if they lack the resilience to work through challenges. Learning something new isn’t a smooth road, and you’ll have more success if you normalize the challenges that will come along the way.

(Shortform note: When learning a new self-development skill, not only is it important to normalize setbacks, but also to accept failure as an integral part of the learning process. A 2019 study found that to achieve optimal learning, people need to fail about 15% of the time. When we reflect on failures, we have the opportunity to apply our learning again, increasing our rate and retention of knowledge.)

Finally, the authors say, don’t underestimate the importance of interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, or  “soft skills.” People’s ability to work effectively with others and manage their own emotions is critical to their long-term success and ability to persist through challenges. (Shortform note: While some people argue that soft skills cannot be taught, research has shown that coaching and mentoring programs have led to dramatic increases in participants’ resilience, focus, and self-regulation.)

The Debate Over Growth Mindset

There has been some debate about the impact of a growth mindset on skill development. After Carol Dweck published Mindset in 1998, the concept quickly became a part of the conversation about how to improve student outcomes in schools. However, some studies found that encouraging a growth mindset in students had little to no impact on their academic performance, while others demonstrated that students who had adopted a growth mindset received higher grades and showed increased motivation.

Dweck has gone on to clarify that in order for a growth mindset to be impactful, “the environment has to support the belief change and the behaviors that come with it.” In the context of exerting influence, believing in a growth mindset is less important than creating an environment that celebrates learning, mistakes, and failures as much as it does success.

How to Improve Your Self-Development Skills

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al.'s "Influencer" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Influencer summary:

  • A three-step guide on how to influence human behavior
  • How to change the minds of those who are unmotivated to change
  • How you can use the power of community connection to inspire people

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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