5 critical life skills everyone should have

According to the World Health Organization, there are 5 general life skills that everybody needs.

  • The World Health Organization identified 5 basic life skills that are crucial to cultivate and learn in order to have a better and more productive life.
  • Ranging from creative thinking to learning to cope with stress, these skills should be instilled in youth during their education and nurtured over a lifetime.
  • Although the best time to develop these skills is during one's youth, the second best time is right now.

It's no secret that our education system isn't ideal. Many of the life skills we need aren't being taught; instead, we focus on programming youth with industry-specific skills to prepare them for the workforce. Too often, this means that kids are graduating from high school and college ill-equipped to handle the broader challenges found in life. Though important, learning the structure of a cell won't teach you how to de-escalate conflict before it goes too far, and learning how to find the value of x won't teach you how not to crumble under pressure. Not only do life skills improve one's quality of life, they are also attractive to employers, who need workers that are mentally stable and well equipped to handle challenges and responsibilities that aren't listed on the job description.

That's why the World Health Organization (WHO) identified five fundamental life skills that are relevant for everybody, regardless of culture, education, or background. Specifically, the WHO focused on psychosocial skills rather than skills like, say, financial management or learning to cook. These are broad abilities that one can improve over time through conscious effort that deal with one's sense of self, sense of others, and cognitive abilities.

1. Decision-making and problem-solving

Everybody, even trust-fund babies, are faced with challenges and difficulties in their lives. Not all of us are talented at overcoming these challenges, however. Some misinterpret the premise of a problem, others work themselves in circles and get caught up in analysis paralysis. One way to make decisions and solve problems effectively is to follow Kristina Guo's DECIDE system, which she initially developed for health care managers:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Establish the criteria and constraints
  3. Consider all the alternatives
  4. Identify the best alternative
  5. Develop and implement a plan of action
  6. Evaluate and monitor the solution and feedback when necessary

If this seems far too clinical to you, another option is to follow Benjamin Franklin's method of decision-making, which he called "Prudential Algebra." When his friend Joseph Priestly wrote Franklin for advice on a problem, Franklin instead gave him a framework for making decisions. His method involves dividing a sheet into a pro and con column and listing out all of the reasons pro and con to a given decision. Then, Franklin would assign a weight to each pro and con according to their importance. Going down the list, if a pro and a con were of equal weight, he would cross them out. If a con were worth the weight of two pros, he would cross the three out. In this way, Franklin would wind up with a final list leaning towards either pro or con and make his decision accordingly. He would do this over the course of several days, so that his mind was always fresh when tackling the problem.

2. Creative thinking and critical thinking

We all know that there are few domains that don't rely heavily on creative and critical thinking. Defining critical thinking, though is a very slippery task. "At one level we all know what 'critical thinking' means — it means good thinking, almost the opposite of illogical, irrational, thinking," wrote Dr. Peter Facione in his essay "Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts." But there's more to it than that vague definition, of course. Facione asserts that "Critical thinking [is] purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based." Put simply, it's a self-aware, focused, analytical way of looking at things.

As it turns out, one of the best ways to improve one's critical thinking skills is to study the humanities. The trend has been to think of the humanities as some kind of vestigial tail trailing behind the rest of the more cutting-edge fields of study, a holdover from a time when poets were actually celebrities. However, the humanities has always been about teaching people to think well. Regrettably, humans have peculiar, bias-prone, and heuristics-reliant brains in place of more efficient and purpose-built computers, but we have to learn to work with what we've got.

There's research that backs this assertion up as well. One study from North Carolina State University, for instance, found that students enrolled in humanities courses became more skeptical of pseudoscience compared to those enrolled in a course on scientific research methods.

3. Communication and interpersonal skills

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, "The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Without becoming gifted, or at least competent, in communication, you're at risk for experiencing constant misunderstandings and needless fights and arguments.

Good communicators make more money, have higher self-esteem, have better marriages, and are sought out more by employers. Although social anxiety can make it challenging to get out there, seeking out metacognitive therapy has been shown to be very effective. If it's feasible, just stepping out of one's comfort zone and intentionally practicing communication is perhaps the most effective method at improving this crucial life skill.

4. Self-awareness and empathy

Self-awareness and empathy are two sides of the same coin. Together, they constitute an understanding of the experiences, emotions, and thinking that take place both within oneself and in others. Researcher Phillipe Rochat described self-awareness as "the most fundamental issue in psychology" and for good reason. Little in life would not be improved by a thorough understanding of ones' own motivations. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can promote self-awareness and empathy, critical skills that can combat drug addiction, reduce stress, and promote a stronger understanding of others. Many of the life skills mentioned in this list overlap, but none are quite as influential as self-awareness and empathy.

5. Coping with emotions and coping with stress

One of the few certainties in life is that things will go wrong. Learning how to handle these inevitable challenges with grace and resilience is essential. According to the American Psychological Association, there are ten methods for learning to promote resilience and bounce back from life's challenges:

  • Make connections with friends and family members.
  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
  • Accept that change is a part of living.
  • Develop realistic goals and work towards them regularly.
  • Take decisive actions.
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery, especially when faced with hardship.
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  • Keep things in perspective. When face-to-face with a significant challenge, it can be easy to lose the big picture.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  • Take care of yourself by paying attention to your needs and feelings and by staying in good shape.

These life skills are far-reaching and deeply impactful. Perhaps the best thing about improving any one of these skills is that they all feed into each other. Becoming a better communicator will both reduce the instances of stress and improve your ability to combat stress, critical thinking skills will help you with decision-making, cultivating empathy can make you a better communicator, and so on. With some intentional effort and focus, these five capabilities can be improved, improving your life in the process.

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
Big Think Edge
  • Push Past Negative Self-Talk: Give Yourself the Proper Fuel to Attack the World, with David Goggins, Former NAVY SealIf you've ever spent 5 minutes trying to meditate, you know something most people don't realize: that our minds are filled, much of the time, with negative nonsense. Messaging from TV, from the news, from advertising, and from difficult daily interactions pulls us mentally in every direction, insisting that we focus on or worry about this or that. To start from a place of strength and stability, you need to quiet your mind and gain control. For former NAVY Seal David Goggins, this begins with recognizing all the negative self-messaging and committing to quieting the mind. It continues with replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones.

Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Master Execution: How to Get from Point A to Point B in 7 Steps, with Rob Roy, Retired Navy SEALUsing the principles of SEAL training to forge better bosses, former Navy SEAL and founder of the Leadership Under Fire series Rob Roy, a self-described "Hammer", makes people's lives miserable in the hopes of teaching them how to be a tougher—and better—manager. "We offer something that you are not going to get from reading a book," says Roy. "Real leaders inspire, guide and give hope."Anybody can make a decision when everything is in their favor, but what happens in turbulent times? Roy teaches leaders, through intense experiences, that they can walk into any situation and come out ahead. In this lesson, he outlines seven SEAL-tested steps for executing any plan—even under extreme conditions or crisis situations.