The 7 Essential Life Skills

What we have now is a picture of human development built on the idea that humans are learning creatures, and that what we are depends on what we learn, from cradle to grave.

The 7 Essential Life Skills

Like the cockroach, we humans are extraordinarily adaptable creatures. At the same time, we are creatures of habit, and our lives can easily become routinized to the point where the very idea of change becomes terrifying. This is the flip side of adaptability – we can fit ourselves into a niche so snugly that we never want to leave.

Developmental psychology – the study of neural, cognitive, and socioemotional human development – has provided us with some of our deepest insights into human plasticity, our ability to change even the physical structure of our brains to adapt to new challenges. The French psychologist Jean Piaget is generally recognized as the father of developmental psychology – and as our brains and consciousness are most flexible and rapidly developing during childhood, it's not surprising that his research focused on children. Piaget mapped out stages of cognitive development through which the child grows from a sensory infant, to a toddler unsure of the boundaries between her imagination and the external world, to an older child able to manipulate complex abstractions like algebraic formulas.

If Piaget formalized the stages of human cognitive development, his successors have been busy mapping out the “play in the system" – the specific ways in which different minds develop differently depending on everything from dna to their parents' personalities to their own free will. What we have now is a picture of human development built on the idea that humans are learning creatures, and that what we are depends on what we learn, from cradle to grave.

Video: The 7 Essential Life Skills, with Ellen Galinsky, for Big Think Mentor

By the time it reaches the general public, this research is often distorted into hyperbolic claims like “Listening to Mozart will make your baby smarter." Taken together, these often mutually contradictory prescriptions serve only to drive non-scientists crazy and make intelligent people cynical about developmental psychology as a whole.

Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making and president of the Families and Work Institute spent much of her career on the faculty of Bank Street College – a progressive school of education and educational laboratory where cutting-edge research from developmental psychology is turned into educational practice. In her view, the most important findings of developmental psychology add up to a consistent, substantial picture of the 7 essential skills humans need to keep learning and growing throughout the lifespan.

We tend, erroneously, to think of learning as preparation for doing. For this reason our education system is built around the idea that you finish your education, then you start your career. But the key lesson from developmental psychology is that the tangible markers of what we think of as “success" – emotional well-being, professional reputation, and so on – are simply the byproducts of a life spent learning.


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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

Your genetics influence how resilient you are to the cold

What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.
Keep reading Show less

Harvard study finds perfect blend of fruits and vegetables to lower risk of death

Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
  • The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
  • Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast