From The Straits Times    |

Photo: 123rf

Success has a very broad definition, especially from different groups of people. Yet, one thing is common: Everyone wants to be successful in life and in the areas that we care about. Regardless of how you define success, it requires skills.


1. Delayed gratification

Photo: Shutterstock

According to research, delayed gratification is one of the most effective personal traits among successful people. But what exactly is delayed gratification? In non-geeky terms, delayed gratification is the ability to resist the temptation of a short-term gain for a bigger reward at a later point in time. The famous experiment that is synonymous with delayed gratification is Stanford’s Marshmallow Experiment.

In the experiment, the researcher offers a child a marshmallow and places it on the table.

The researcher then leaves the room for a while. If the child is able to resist the temptation of eating the marshmallow, he gets two when the researcher returns. The children who were willing to delay gratification showed better progress in life in a range of measures including education, health and social life when they were tracked in follow up studies.

Now, let’s relate delayed gratification to your life and how it can help you succeed. Imagine that you receive your paycheck today.

Do you choose to spend it all on impulse on retail therapy? Or do you squirrel away your pay into a savings or investment account for gains in the future? It can also mean putting away time to enjoy the here and now and focusing your efforts on a long term pursuit, e.g. pursuing a Master’s degree or a new technical skill.


2. People skill

Photo: Unsplash

Societies are the result of people coming and living together. So, regardless where you go or what you do, you will always need to deal with people. That’s why people skill is a very valuable asset that can help you succeed in life. If you are convincing another person to buy into your business idea, your people skill lets you do that.

If you are in a leadership position, your people skill lets others endear themselves to you.

If you meet with a roadblock, your people skill helps you to unlock doors through tapping on your relationship with people. With good people skill, it puts you in the centre of every connection and helps you stand out in a group, community or organisation.


3. Networking

Photo: Shutterstock

Networking might your be your top choice of skill. Some people dread its awkwardness while others feel it drains both your time and your mental capacity. Plus, who wants to make small talk with another stranger when your calendar is packed with things to do?

But here’s why networking is important and how it can help you find success in life: Humans are relational beings. Every one of us wants to feel connected to each other. Networking creates an opportunity for you to kick-start a nurturing long-term relationship with a stranger.

You never know when you might meet with a potential lifelong friend who will stick by you. From a career perspective, networking helps you open doors to career development opportunities. When there is an opening at a company, you can trust your friend whom you are in touch with to give you a shot at the job.

You might even skip a few rounds of interviews if your networking skill is superb!


4. Storytelling

Photo: Shutterstock

Move over, public speaking. Storytelling is now the up-and-coming skill that everyone needs to have to succeed in life. Whether it’s at your workplace or with your friends, storytelling is a skill that will garner you rave reviews everywhere you go. Excellent storytelling skills allow you to make an emotional connection with the other party.

It lets you bring across your point with greater finesse and keeps the attention of your audience. The human brain is wired to remember information and messages if there is a story element attached to it. There is even a scientific explanation to why storytelling is loved by every human being.

When we hear a story that resonates with us, oxytocin is produced in our body. Oxytocin boosts intangible feelings such as trust, compassion and empathy. At the same time, oxytocin positively influences our social behaviour.


5. Lateral thinking

Photo: Shutterstock

It is not uncommon to hear that critical thinking is an important skill to develop. But as the whole world focuses on critical thinking, critical thinking is fast becoming a passé. If you are looking for the next big skill to develop, it is lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is a fancier word for the concept of ‘thinking out of the box’.

It is the mental process where you look at problems from fresh and/or unique perspectives to find a solution. It helps you break away from traditional modes of thinking and do away with established patterns and preconceived notions. The term lateral thinking was first coined by Edward de Bono in his book ‘The Use of Lateral Thinking’.

If you want to master the art of lateral thinking, you can adopt some of the lateral thinking learning techniques. Here are seven for you to have fun with: Alternatives, focus, challenge, random entry, provocation & movement, harvesting and treatment of ideas.


6. Discipline

Photo: Shutterstock

Discipline is a skill that is known to the world. Yet, few fully understand the true meaning of discipline, let alone master it.

But for the most successful people in the world, discipline is what differentiates them from the masses. Successful people often live their life with great discipline on a daily basis. Discipline lets you keep your focus on reaching your goals by sticking to doing what is right.

It is the bridge between setting goals and accomplishing them. There are two types of discipline you need to develop: internal and external discipline. External discipline is the ability to adhere to societal norms and established rules. Internal discipline (or self-discipline) is your ability to restrain yourself and the ability to differentiate right from wrong.

While both are important, developing internal discipline is what leads to success in life. For example, if you want to achieve financial independence early, you need to be self-disciplined to put money into your savings even when no one is there to enforce it.


7. Adaptability to failure

Photo: Shutterstock

Success is glamorous, but the path to success isn’t. Truth be told, the path to success is filled with failures. There is even a Chinese saying to epitomise failure’s part in success: “Failure is the mother of all successes”. The saying highlights the intimate relationship between failure and success and how failure begets success.

Failure is an important part of the lives of successful people. They work their way towards success by fine-tuning their actions after every failure.

So, if you want to succeed in life, be prepared for failure. While it is easy to speak of failure like this, the reality of failure hits harder than words. It is already shown in research that failure can be painful. Scientific experiments show that the brain reacts to failure as though we have experienced physical pain.

It is no wonder why there is a saying ‘failure hurts’. In order to survive the pain of failure, you need to develop the skill of being adaptable to failure. Regardless of how many times you are hit with failure, you need to remain calm and composed.

You need to pick yourself up, learn from your failure and reset your journey. In today’s day and age where ‘failing fast’ is a norm, you need to strengthen your heart to be adaptable to failure.


8. Goal setting

Photo: Shutterstock

If you don’t know where you are heading, it is likely that you will lose your bearing. If you are lucky, you might make slight progress. If you aren’t, you will end up moving in the opposite direction. At best, you will be circling in the same spot for years. Thus, goal setting is an important skill that you need to develop if you want to aim for success. It gives you a target to aim for and work towards.

A key technique used in goal setting is the SMART acronym, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Every goal that you set should tick off each of these characteristics in order to design a SMART goal to help you achieve success.


9. Financial literacy

Photo: Shutterstock

Financial literacy skills are hardly talked about in schools. Our education system focuses more on the measurable like PSLE and GPA scores. But many adults will admit that financial literacy skill is far more important in your future than your GPA. Without adequate financial literacy skills, you are set to make fundamental financial mistakes. In addition, you won’t have the knowledge of how to spend, save and live modestly to enjoy financial freedom in the foreseeable future. While it might be a tad slow, it is never too late to start brushing up on your financial literacy skills now. Check out some of the beginner resources we have compiled to help anyone become financial literate.


This article first appeared on, a leading online marketplace in Singapore that helps consumers compare and apply for financial products such as credit cards and loans.