Chances are you personally know someone who has been prescribed Ritalin or another medication  for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Statistics vary, but as many as 1 in 10 US children have been diagnosed with the disorder. Among the lay public, hypotheses abound; some think it’s the glowing rectangles’ fault – all the flashing, buzzing media our kids consume has made it impossible for them to sit still. Others blame the pharmaceutical industry for pushing its wares on psychiatrists, and by extension, on our children. A third line of reasoning suggests that ADHD has always been with us, but that we’re only now able to identify and control it.

Whatever your position, the psychological research is clear on one thing: focus and self-control are essential life skills that translate into just about any definition of success you can come up with. Want to be less anxious or depressed? Focus and self-control can help you there. Want to build lifelong friendships? Focus and self-control won’t steer you wrong. And whether or not our multimedia world is significantly rewiring our brains, there is no question that people today feel the pressure to do more with less, and in less time, than ever before.

The good news is there are non-pharmaceutical, research-supported interventions that you can use to train yourself and/or your children to focus more effectively. Surprisingly, perhaps, most of them have nothing to do with plunking yourself down in a chair and forcing yourself to plow through something tedious.

In the video below, Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making and president of the Families and Work Institute, shares key insights from landmark psychological studies of focus and self-control. Although the test participants are children, the studies have enormous implications for human learning throughout the lifespan.

Video: Essential Life Skill #1: Focus and Self Control, with Ellen Galinsky (free preview: full video available with subscription to Big Think Mentor

In a fast-changing world, only our higher-order thinking skills can keep us aware, engaged, and growing.  In The Seven Essential Life Skills, her workshop for Big Think Mentor, Mind in the Making author Ellen Galinsky teaches lessons learned over decades of psychological research into how humans learn throughout the lifespan.  The seven essential skills she teaches here, and demonstrates with stunning video footage of classic psychological experiments, are invaluable tools for adapting to, learning from, and thriving within a world in rapid flux.

The seven essential life skills you’ll hone in this workshop are:

  • Focus and Self-Control

  • Perspective Taking

  • Communicating

  • Making Connections

  • Critical Thinking

  • Taking on Challenges

  • Self-Directed, Engaged Learning


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