Basic Health Habit No.12: Life Skills

All of the skills required for a 
healthy, happy, and successful life are learned; 
they must be deliberately modelled, taught, and learned. 

Life skills are the abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. They are a set of human skills acquired via teaching (this is a good place to start), or direct experience (more haphazard, difficult, and unreliable), that are used to handle problems and questions commonly encountered in daily human life. Skills that function for well-being and aid individuals to develop into active and productive members of their communities are considered life skills.

Life skill is a a concept that is adaptable in nature and includes a synthesis of practical, cognitive, social, and emotional learning. This flexibility allows us to learn and unlearn, to make the choices that effectively resolve conflicts and solve problems, to develop the skills needed to create a healthy, successful, and happy life.

Because the skills required for a healthy, happy, and successful life are learned - this means everyone has a chance. The road to a healthy, happy, and successful life is always under construction.

Some of the important life skills identified through delphi method by WHO and HEALTH COACH are: 
  • Basic Health Habits
  • Practical skills
  • Creative thinking - lateral thinking
  • Critical thinking - perspicacity
  • Effective communication
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Self awareness - mindfulness
  • Responsibility
  • Assertiveness
  • Empathy
  • Equanimity
  • Problem solving
  • Conflict resolution
  • Coping with stress, trauma, and loss
  • Decision making
  • Resilience
Life skills involve a synthesis of imagination, creativity, knowledge, understanding, purpose, character, integrity, love and compassion, social skills, social responsibility, personal development, passion, curiosity and interest, attitude, coping, emotional and personal intelligence, reflection, meaning, gelotology, moral development, soft skills, productivity, and vocational skills.

The Importance of 
The Heart - Brain Connection 
in Learning

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The brain is the organ that is designed to change in response to experience. Social and emotional learning is a sound strategy to improve the skills of social adaptation and functioning. Emotion regulation lowers cortisol levels. Qualities such as patience, calmness, cooperation, empathy, and kindness are skills that are learned behaviours.

Social and emotional learning changes brain structure and function, gene expression, and promotes adaptive emotional and cognitive functioning. 

Self Preservation, Emotion, and Evolution

Plutchick's Wheel of Emotions - click to expand

Evolution not only applies to anatomy, but also to the mind and expressive behaviour.  

Robert Plutchik was a psychologist who developed a psycho-evolutionary theory of emotion to unify a number of theoretical perspectives and to better understand the biological and adaptive functions of emotion; to clarify what emotions are; to find ways to measure emotion; relating this information to other psychological disciplines; and to inform psychotherapy. 

Plutchik created the wheel of emotions in order to illustrate the various relationships among the emotions. The intensity of emotion decreases as you move outward and increases as you move toward the wheel's centre. The intensity of the emotion is indicated by the colour. The darker the shade, the more intense the emotion. For example, anger at its least level of intensity is identified as annoyance. At its highest level of intensity, anger becomes rage.

Combinations of Emotions: Plutchik's wheel also contains primary dyads, which are combinations of primary emotions that lie next to each other on the wheel of emotions.

Emotions are not simply a feeling state; they do not happen in isolation. Emotions involve stimulus, cognition, complex responses, psychological changes, impulses to action, goal-directed behaviour,  feedback processes; activated by issues of biological survival.  

Biologists tell us that our emotions are rooted in self-preservation, triggering physiological reactions that enable us to find food, escape danger and reproduce. Noting that the word emotion stems from the Latin verb for move, author Daniel Goleman pointed out in Emotional Intelligence, all emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us.

Cognition serves emotional and biological needs, and developed to predict the future more effectively. Each new cognitive experience that is biologically important is connected with an emotional reaction. The function of emotion is to restore equilibrium after unexpected or unusual events create disequilibrium.

Emotions have also evolved into facial expressions and body language so that each member of the group can signal his or her wants and needs to other members. As John D. Mayer, a leading expert in the study of emotions, has remarked: emotions convey information about relationshipsResearch shows the universal similarity in facial expression of the primary emotions - it is the cause of the emotion that changes culturally.

Few experts believe that human beings are born with a full range of emotions. Rather, they theorize, we enter the world with instincts and urges, along with an innate capacity for feeling. As we form personalities and relationships with others, these instincts and urges develop into full-fledged emotions. Sabitri Ghosh, Alive Encyclopedia of Healing

Affective Neuroscience

Affective Neuroscience is the study of the neural mechanisms of emotion. This interdisciplinary field combines neuroscience with the psychological study of personality, emotion, and mood, and is part of a group labeled behavioural neuroscience. 

After nearly 40 years of studying the brain mechanisms that underlie our emotions, neuroscientist Richard Davidson has identified six emotional ranges that affect how we think, feel, and react. Your unique emotional style is determined by where you land in each of these six spectra. 

The six emotional styles are:

Resilience: How long it takes you to rebound after adversity. Resilience is determined by signals between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. 

Outlook: How long you are able to maintain positive emotion. Outlook is determined by the levels of activity in the ventral striatum (a part of the brain linked to our reward system).

Social Intuition: How skilled you are at picking up social signals from other people. Social intuition is shaped by the interplay between the amygdala and fusiform regions. 

Self-awareness: How well you are able to perceive the physical sensations in your body that signal emotions. Self-awareness is determined by the ability of the insula to interpret signals from the body and organs. 

Sensitivity to Context: How you are at regulating your emotional responses, depending on the context you're in. This sensitivity is driven by activity levels in the hippocampus. 

Attention: How sharply and clearly you can focus. Attention is regulated by the prefrontal cortex.  

These six spectra combine to influence your personality. Though your emotional style is in part genetic, it is also influenced by environmental factors. The inherent plasticity of the brain means that, through conscious changes, the brain itself (and thus, how you think, feel, and respond) can be changed. Davidson suggests that, by first becoming aware of your own emotional style, you can find if it is helping or hindering you. Richard Davidson

At the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, Davidson and other researchers investigate the qualities of mind such as compassion and mindfulness in order to understand how healthy minds might be cultivated. He is perhaps most famous for his investigations into the neurological effects of meditation, showing how this practice can functionally rewire the brain.

Emotional Intelligence
The Five Components Of Emotional Health

1. Being aware of your emotions: Emotionally healthy people are in touch with their emotions and can identify and acknowledge them as experience.

 2. Being able to process your emotions: After connecting with their emotions, emotionally healthy people develop appropriate ways of expressing them.

 3. Being sensitive to other people and their emotions and having the ability to empathize:  The ability to identify their own emotions enables emotionally healthy people to identify emotions in others and to have an intuitive sense of what it feels like to experience them.

 4. Being self-empowered: Emotionally healthy people honour their emotions, which empowers them to fulfill their goals.

 5. Being in healthy relationships: Using their emotional intelligence and empathy, emotionally healthy people build and maintain strong, functioning relationships. Alive Encyclopedia of Healing 

Personal Intelligence
John D. Mayer, a personality Psychologist who co-developed the theory of emotional intelligence, has introduced the idea of personal intelligence.

People who display such an ability understand themselves and know who they are. They evaluate others more accurately and therefore make more allowances for others' foibles; they are better at acknowledging their own limitations, too. Those who are talented at this reasoning power make better guesses about how people are likely to behave. And they have a generally good idea about how their acquaintances, colleagues, and friends perceive them - they know their own reputation. At still deeper levels, these individuals recognize that their perceptions of the people around them might require revision at times. John D. Mayer, PhD

Mayer has emphasized: People can reason with emotions in the same way they reason with cognitive information. So you can solve emotional problems just as mathematicians solve math problems. 

You can build mental strength. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to change and develop mental fitness. Amy Morin, The 5 Biggest Myths About Mental Strength

Our personality is the sum of our mental processes; its job is to integrate our mental energy with our capacity for thought and self-control, and to help us express ourselves in our surroundings. We draw on our personality to manage our health and safety, to find the right environments to be in, and to draw on group alliances for protection, companionship, and a sense of identity.

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A Practical Guide 
The poet William Blake claimed that the imagination is our highest faculty and central to our perception and experience of reality. More than two hundred years later, scientific research on the brain and creativity confirms the great poet's insight. IDEAS producer Frank Faulk explores the key role the imagination plays in our lives.

The number of courses in creativity offered at business schools have doubled in the last five years. Imagination and innovation are critical components of the global economy. The rate of change due to globalization and communication technology requires a change in the way we learn. An imaginative skill set and creative capacities will be essential in the 21st century.

Imagination is the precursor to knowledge and is much more important.

  • EQ vs IQ
  • Curiosity, Passion, Imagination, and Meaning
  • Perception 
  • Critical Thinking
  • Practical Skills
  • Healthy Habit Formation


Gelotology is the study of laughter and its effects on the body, from a psychological and physiological perspective. Its proponents often advocate induction of laughter for therapeutic benefit in alternative medicine.

Snyder's Hope Theory: Charles Richard (Rick) Snyder was an American psychologist who specialized in positive psychology. Snyder was internationally known for his work at the interface of clinical, social, personality, and health psychology. His theories pertained to how people react to personal feedback, the human need for uniqueness, the ubiquitous drive to excuse transgressions and, most recently, the hope motive.

Hopeful thinkers achieve more, and are physically and psychologically healthier than less hopeful people. Snyder's Hope Theory has three components that contribute to hopeful thinking:

1. Goals: Approaching life in a goal-oriented way.

2. Pathways: Finding different ways to achieve your goals.

3. Agency: Believing that you can instigate change and achieve these goals.

Snyder characterized hopeful thinkers as people who are able to establish clear goals, imagine multiple workable pathways toward those goals, and persevere, even when obstacles get in their way.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences is a critique of the standard psychological view of intellect: there is a single intelligence, adequately measured by IQ or other short answer tests. Instead, on the basis of evidence from disparate sources, the theory claims that human beings have a number of relatively discrete intellectual capacities. IQ tests assess linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and sometimes spatial intelligence; and they are a reasonably good predictor of who will do well in a 20th (note: Not necessarily a 21st) century secular school. Humans, however, have several other significant intellectual capacities.

The Next Evolutionary Stage


Personal evolution through social-emotional learning:
Creating a more compassionate and empathetic society
 with peaceful solutions for old problems 

Evolution operates through hindsight; that is, it custom fits us to the environment we were in, with no anticipation or prediction. Having an impulsive mindset made a lot of sense when we were hunter-gatherers. In the environment where we evolved, we drank when thirsty, ate when hungry, and worked when motivated. We are hardwired for a wild and lawless, natural environment, not for the demanding social environments created by people that make up our world today. Socially, our behaviour is stalled in the egocentric adolescent phase of development and this is preventing us from solving our current health; social; political; economic; and environmental issues, and developing the skills required for survival in the 21st century.

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned in my 38 year career as a health professional, and as a researcher, is that all of the important skills for a healthy, successful, and happy life, are learned behaviours. Like all learned skills, some people will be more adept and accomplished, but this does not lessen the fact that these skills must be deliberately modelled, taught, and learned. The humane treatment of all living beings, including our natural environment, give us lots of examples and opportunities.

Gradualism, Techno-Physio Evolution, and Neo-Evolution
Evolution is basically descent with modification. The pace of human evolution has proceeded slowly and steadily, with any rapid change (10K -100K years) being caused by natural factors.

François Jacob described evolution as a tinkerer, not an engineer. It has proceeded without a reasonable master plan or goal. 

Over the past few centuries, and accelerating ever more quickly in the past 50 years, a steady stream of human innovations has begun to drastically speed up processes that were, until very recently, the sole province of nature.

Height and body mass are accurate indicators of health and mortality and are mainly the result of improvements in hygiene and nutrition, as well as technological developments that have accelerated rates of longevity globally. Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biology, genetic modification, robotics, networks, and sensors have the capacity to advance techno-physio evolution. Techno-physio evolution shows how increased control over our external environment impacts our biology. Culture and technology are replacing catastrophe and modifying natural selection as the forces driving human evolution, and at a rapid and accelerated pace.  

Play these patterns forward, and we aren’t long from the day when we’re engineering our children: choosing skin color, eye color, personality traits. How long after that until parents are saying, I bought you the best brain money can buy-now why don’t you use it. Discover Magazine

Creating a genetic master race is not as straight forward as it seems and is rife with complications and opportunities for surprise and disaster.

Social and Emotional Learning   
Developments in neuroscience and psychology are presenting us with the opportunity to increase our understanding of the inner workings of the brain, and supplying us with the tools (skills) to evolve personally.

This is the same story that is discoverable about every aspect of health and basic health habits (skills) - knowledge and understanding about our body is empowering our choices and outcomes, and a new story is being written.

The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences, psychologist Rick Hanson is fond of saying, and Teflon for positive ones. 
We’ve developed what’s called in science a negativity bias, which means that the brain, to help us survive, preferentially looks for, reacts to, stores, and then recalls negative information over positive information. Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life 

We have all experienced the self-inflicted, fixed loop of negativity that feeds our thoughts and beliefs. The internal self-derogatory dialogue, the fixation on an offensive event; we suffer some misfortune - big or small, real or imagined - and the pain or humiliation sticks with us for hours, days, or even years afterward. It is possible, with practice, to over-ride this evolutionary negativity bias. Deepening our positive experience is a skill that we can cultivate.

Neuroscience shows us that our experiences change the structure and function of our brain and nervous system. It is this resilient ability to adapt that gives us the opportunity to change our brain and the quality of our perceptions and experiences. In a healthy body, it takes forty five days to create a new neural pathway.

Empathy, Human Memory, and Feminine Culture
Cultivating awareness of your internal sensations activates parts of the brain called insula that track the internal state of the body, which means that they’re intimately involved in sensing your feelings and crucial for empathy. 

Research has shown that as people activate their insula more, such as through meditation, the insula actually gets thicker. In other words, neurons make more and more connections with each other, which actually measurably thickens your insula.  
This in turn increases your self awareness and your capacity to be more empathetic to others and skilled in all three types of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and empathetic concern.

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Implicit Memory Bank Detox
For most of us, as we go through the day, the moments in life are either neutral or positive. The problem is that neutral or positive moments get remembered with standard memory systems, which is to say they’re mostly in-and-out. But negative experiences are instantly registered and intensely focused on, based on the negativity bias of the brain. Then they get stored in what’s called implicit memory - not so much memory for events, like what I did on my summer vacation, but rather the feeling of being alive. And that implicit memory bank gets shaded in a darker and darker way by the slowly accumulating residue of negative experiences.  
To counteract that, we need to actively build up positive implicit memories to balance this unfair accumulation of negative implicit memories. And the way to do that is three steps for sure with an optional fourth step. 
The first step is to turn positive events into positive experiences. All kinds of good things happen in our daily life that we hardly notice at all, and if we do, we don’t feel it. Someone pays us a compliment, we hardly pay attention to it, or we deflect it. So instead of thatm you turn positive events into positive experiences.  
Second, really savor it. In other words, the way to remember something is to make it intense, felt in the body, and lasting. That’s how we give those neurons lots and lots time to fire together so they start wiring together. So rather than noticing it and feeling good for a couple of seconds, stay with it. Relish it, enjoy it, for 10, 20, or 30 seconds, so it really starts developing neural structure.  
The third step is to sense and intend that this positive experience is sinking into you and becoming a part of you. In other words, it’s becoming woven into the fabric of your brain and yourself.  
For bonus points, if you’re so inclined, it’s often very powerful to take a current positive experience and have it kind of go down inside to an old place of pain. Do not do this if you have a trauma history and you get flooded if you think about old pain. The method is to have the old painful material be in the background of awareness while the current positive experience that is its antidote is prominent and strong in a foreground of awareness, and hold both those things in mind for 10 or 20 or 30 seconds straight. If you can’t do that, don’t worry about this fourth step. But if you can do that, wow, this fourth step is really powerful. Honestly over many years, it’s how I filled my own hole in the heart. Buddhas Brain by Rick Hanson


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