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.

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

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

What if all humanity had to do to save itself was listen?

By working together, and learning from one another, we can build better systems.

Videos
  • Many of the things that we experience, are our imagination manifesting into this physical realm, avers artist Dustin Yellin.
  • People need to completely rethink the way they work together, and learn from one another, that they they can build better systems. If not, things may get "really dark" soon.
  • The first step to enabling cooperation is figuring out where the common ground is. Through this method, despite contrary beliefs, we may be able to find some degree of peace.

10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

(Getty Images)
Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
  • The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Keep reading Show less

Where do atoms come from? Billions of years of cosmic fireworks.

The periodic table was a lot simpler at the beginning of the universe.

Videos
  • Michelle Thaller's "absolute favorite fact in the universe" is that we are made of dead stars.
  • The Big Bang, when it went off, produced basically three elements: hydrogen, helium, and lithium. Every atom more complex had to be formed inside a star. Over time, stars such as the sun produce things like carbon and oxygen.
  • They don't really get much more far off the periodic table than that. If you want to go any farther than the element iron, then you actually need a very violent explosion, a supernova explosion.