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

Titanosaur footprints discovered on the roof of a French cave

Scientists discovered footprints made by some of the largest creatures ever to walk the Earth.

Dinosaur tracks in the ceiling of Castelbouc Cave in France.

Credit: Jean-David Moreau et al./J. Vertebr. Paleontol.
Surprising Science
  • Paleontologists published a paper on the discovery of dinosaur footprints on the roof of a French cave.
  • The prints are deep underground and were made during the Middle Jurassic period.
  • The footprints belonged to titanosaurs, the largest land animals ever.
Keep reading Show less

The science behind ‘us vs. them’

Humans may have evolved to be tribalistic. Is that a bad thing?

Videos
  • From politics to every day life, humans have a tendency to form social groups that are defined in part by how they differ from other groups.
  • Neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky, author Dan Shapiro, and others explore the ways that tribalism functions in society, and discuss how—as social creatures—humans have evolved for bias.
  • But bias is not inherently bad. The key to seeing things differently, according to Beau Lotto, is to "embody the fact" that everything is grounded in assumptions, to identify those assumptions, and then to question them.

Catacombs of Paris: The city of darkness finds its new raison d'être

Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.

Excerpt from a 19th century map of the Paris Catacombs, showing the labyrinthine layout underground (in color) beneath the straight-lined structures on the surface (in grey).

Credit: Inspection Générale des Carrières, 1857 / Public domain
Strange Maps
  • People have been digging up limestone and gypsum from below Paris since Roman times.
  • They left behind a vast network of corridors and galleries, since reused for many purposes — most famously, the Catacombs.
  • Soon, the ancient labyrinth may find a new lease of life, providing a sustainable form of air conditioning.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast