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The Seven Essential Life Skills

Mind in the Making is the result of a now 13-year journey where I set out to find out
what can we do to keep the fire for learning burning in children's eyes.  All young children
are born with not only a passion but a survival skill to learn about the world that they live
in.  And yet, far too many children and adults have lost that passion, have lost that fire.
 For the business community, engagement is one of the major predictors of productivity
and that's what this is.  I wanted to understand this by going out and talking to some of the
best researchers who understand brain development, who understand how we grow and how we change.
The Seven Essential Life Skills

 I ended up finding that there are these life skills that emerge in all of us but we
don't pay very much attention to promoting them.
We think of learning as the content of what we learn but we don't think of learning as
the how we learn.  And what life skills are, are the show that we learn.  They, interestingly
enough, all involve what researchers call executive functions of the brain.  And I
know that sounds like a guy in a pinstripe suit bossing you around in your brain but
what these are are the capacities that take place in our prefrontal cortex that pull together
our social, our emotional and our cognitive capacities that enable us to achieve our goals.
Basically, Mind in the Making describes the research behind these executive function life
skills and then talks about how we can promote them in ourselves and in the children in our
A very important life skill is focus and self-control.  We live in a world that's full of distractions
and yet if we're going to achieve our goals -- and remember, all life skills are based
around setting goals and achieving them for ourselves.  If we're going to achieve our
goals, we need to be able to pay attention and not go on automatic.  So focus and self-control
involves being able to pay attention.  It involves being able to remember all the things
that we need to know to achieve the goal that we have.  It involves the flexibility to
be able to adapt to life changes and again, the control not to go on automatic but do
what we need to do to achieve a goal.
Perspective taking is understanding what might be going on in someone else's mind.  It's
understanding how that person thinks, how that person feels and how that person sees
the world. An intellectual, a social and an emotional understanding of the landscape of
other people's minds.  And it's very important to deal with other people if we don't think
that what we think is the only way that it -- you know, that's the only reality.  It's
very important to understand other people's realities as well.
Communicating is thinking through what it is you want to communicate and then understanding
the perspectives of other people who are going to be the recipients.  They're gonna be the
people who listen to or understand what each other says.  It's critical in business, for example, to understand what your customers need and want.  It's critical in any family
relationships to understand what other people think and feel but then to communicate in
ways that reach them best.
You could call communicating -- and they do this in the business world -- the elevator
speech.  If you only had a minute in an elevator with someone and that person was really important
to something that you want to do, what would you say to be able to get through to that
person?  That's what communicating really is.
Making connections is symbolic relationships. Understanding what things go together, what
things are alike, what things are different and how they might go together.  In fact,
making unusual connections is the basis of creativity -- so important in our world where
you can Google for information are the people who can put things together in a different way.
Critical thinking is a very important skill because, particularly today, we're awash in
information.  You could go on the Internet and find six different versions of, you know,
what -- if you're not feeling well what's really going on with you or even understanding
a so-called fact.  There is so much information and we have to have the capacity to understand
what is valid and what is reliable information. That's the basis of critical thinking.
Taking on challenges is more than coping with stress.  Life can be stressful no matter
how we plan for it, no matter what we want to do. Things happen to us that we don't like.
 And we have to be able to cope with those things.  But taking on challenges goes beyond
simply coping with the things that happen to us.  It means taking on that next harder
thing.  And if you think about the world in which information is changing constantly,
we are going to have to do things today or tomorrow that we didn't even know existed
yesterday.  So we have to have the ability to take on the challenge and try something
hard.  And failing is a part of learning.  So, you know, being able to fail but learn
from the failures is all part of taking on challenges.
Self-directed engaged learning is the ability to continue to learn from life, to learn from
our experience, to have the initiative to learn in ways that we can use the information
that we have.  So really all of the life skills -- all of the executive function life
skills add up to helping us be ongoing learners because it is the ongoing learners, again
in a world where information changes so rapidly --, it is the ongoing learners who will thrive.
There has been a lot of focus on skills.  Skills for the twenty-first century and so forth.
 But I think that these particular executive function life skills are the skills that we
need to thrive.  We need them when we're little children.  We need them when we're
teenagers.  We need them when we're adults.  We need them when we're aging.  These are
all skills that can help us live the life that we want to live -- that can help us thrive.
 That can help us be what we want to be.  And so there is so much scientific evidence
over time that shows that when we have these skills we have the life that we want to have.
I invite you to join me in this workshop where we're going to take a deeper look at the seven
essential life skills and we're going to look at some video clips really straight from the
researchers' labs so that you can go into the lab of a neuroscientist or a cognitive
scientist or someone else who studies our development, particularly among children,
and look at how we know what we know.  And then look at how to apply these life skills
to your own life.