My favourite book is, Stephen Covey’s, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, published in 1989, justifiably considered to be one of the most influential books ever written. I read it first in 1991, during my M.Ed., having been recommended to me by a very good friend. Since then I’ve given numerous colleagues copies as paperbacks and audio books, as well as providing over a hundred presentations & workshops using it as the central resource.

I realized immediately that it was an outstanding book with a very clear practical message, reinforcing my own research evidence that good development in the 8 skills are needed to become effective (healthy and successful).

In recent years the internet has been extremely helpful in providing greater access to Stephen Covey and The Seven Habits, these two links provides an excellent video presentation by Dr Stephen Covey and reading his audiobook.

These bullet points from page 46 (The Seven Habits—An Overview) of the book provides some key points:-

  • “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
  • Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits.
  • Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness.
  • Habits can be learned and unlearned.
  • It isn’t a quick fix.

Covey writes

“For our purposes, we will define a habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.

Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why.

Skill is the how to do.

And desire is the motivation, the want to do.

In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three.”

Throughout “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”,  Stephen Covey provides an excellent outline of the ‘knowledge and paradigm shifts’ essential to establish the seven habits and the inspiration to motivate us (desire) to try to achieve it. However, there is very little on:-

Skill is the how to do” and it is clear that in order for the 7 habits to become established the necessary skills need to be well-developed. The evidence from my own research can explain which skills are needed and how they can be developed. Too few people are able to ‘live the seven habits’ and I’m confident from my research that this is largely due to their lack of skill development.

Since 2003, I have been able to provide numerous presentations, workshops and courses using “The 7 Habits and the 8 Skills” as the central theme with the “Emotionally Healthy Effective Leadership & Teamwork” perhaps becoming the most popular.


I’ve included a few slides from these presentations to provide clear simple representations of each of the habits and how the 8 skills influence them.



The Habit of Personal Vision

  • Be Proactive means we are responsible for our own lives.
  • The word responsibility has two parts­ response—ability, we have the ability to choose our response.
  • Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behaviour, a product of their own conscious choices, based on values, rather than their feelings.
  • Reactive peo­ple delegate blame and responsibility. “They made me do it”.


  • Self-awareness is our skill (ability) to look at ourselves. If this is well-developed we are fully aware of our own thinking, feelings, values, motivation, habits, paradigms etc. This allows us to sense when we act or even consider acting ineffectively, a way that’s contrary to our principles.
  • Self-management is our skill (ability) to control our actions, reactions, behaviour etc. which if well-developed we can act effectively, free of all other influences, in line with our principles.



The Habit of Personal Leadership

  • Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each task with a clear understanding of your desired direction and destination.
  • “Leadership is about doing the right thing” and this habit means we are clear that we are aiming to ‘do the right thing’ before we start.
  • Too often people are achieving successes (superficial prizes, rewards, money, status etc.) that have come at the expense of things that are far more valuable to them. “They’re climbing up the ladder but it is not leaning against the right wall, every step takes them further in the wrong direction.”


  • This habit requires good development of our skills of Cognition, so that we can envisage (creativity) the final outcome, understand and solve the difficulties preventing success.
  • It also needs our Self-awareness skill to be well-developed so that we are fully aware our ourselves at the start and throughout.



The Habit of Personal Management

  • Put First Things First involves organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities established in Habit 2.
  • “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least” –Goethe
  • Effective management is putting first things first. While leadership decides what “first things” are, it is management that puts them first, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Management is discipline, carrying it out.
  • “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”
  • Time Management – Research evidence shows that most people spend far too much time responding to “the urgent” –relying on “crisis management” occasionally focusing on the “not urgent, unimportant”.
  • Highly effective people focus on the “Non-urgent important” (Quadrant II)
  • Investing more time on the planning, prevention, and rela­tionship-building activities of “Non-urgent important” (Quadrant II), means we spend far less time reacting to the urgent demands and crises.
  • Most of the activities essential to the develop­ment of the Seven Habits-creating a per­sonal mission statement, identifying long-range


  • This habit requires good development of our skills of Cognition, so that we can ‘see the big picture’, understand, identify and address the difficulties preventing success, before they are likely to occur.
  • It also needs our Self-management skill to be very well-developed so that we are self-disciplined and exert self-control to ensure we remain focused on ‘What we NEED to do rather than what we WANT.”



The Habit of Interpersonal Leadership

  • Think WIN / WIN means focusing on trying to get agreements or solutions with people that are mutually beneficial and mutually satisfying.
  • It requires a paradigm shift of COOPERATION is better than COMPETITION and SUCCESS for one does NOT mean LOSS/FAILURE for others.
  • It needs a character rich in integrity, maturity, and the Abundance Mentality to have a genuineness in human interaction.
  • This paradigm shift needs us to:
  1. See the problem from the other point of view.
  2. Identify the key issues & concerns involved.
  3. Determine what results would constitute a fully acceptable solution.
  4. Identify possible new options to achieve their results.


  • This habit requires good development of our skills of Cognition, so that we identify the key factors and acceptable solutions.
  • Also needs well-developed Communication and Empathy skills to discover and understand other people’s thoughts and feelings.



The Habit of Communication

  • Communication is a key skill in life, we spend years learning how to speak, read and write, but what about listening?
  • An effective communicator will first seek to understand another person’s views before seeking to be understood. People want a proper diag­nosis before being open to prescriptions -‘Diagnose Before You Prescribe’.
  • Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filter­ing everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobi­ography into other people’s lives, listening within their own frame of reference.
  • Empathic Listening is needed to fully, deeply understand the other person emotionally, intellectually and get deep understanding of the problem first.
  • Empathic Listening is difficult, you become vulnerable, it needs a lot of security to go into a deep listening experience because in order to have influence, you have to first be influenced. You have to really understand.


  • This habit clearly needs very well-developed Communication and Empathy skills to discover and fully, deeply understand other people’s thoughts and feelings.
  • It also requires good development of our skills of Cognition, so that we analyse the key factors and propose effective solutions.



The Habit of Creative Cooperation

  • Synergy is where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and is at the heart of an effective team.
  • Two or more people, creatively cooperating, will be able to produce far better results than either one could alone.
  • “When you communicate synergistically, you are simply opening your mind and heart and expressions to new possibilities, new alternatives, new options.”
  • Synergy is the outcome all the previous habits, it is emotionally healthy effective teamwork, developing unity and creativity with others.
  • Synergy requires realizing that people see the world differently and the different perspectives can provide more effective outcomes.
  • Insecure ineffective people tend to surround themselves with people who think similarly, avoiding the potential from creative conflict.


  • This habit requires very good development of ALL 8 SKILLS
  • Learning and embracing change is clearly central but it should be obvious that without very good development in all 8 skills being an emotionally healthy effective leader is not possible.7Habits-7-SHARPENtheSAW


The Habit of Self-Renewal

  • Sharpen the Saw means ensuring we remain physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally healthy.
  • This habit is essential as the other habits depend on it.
  • “A minimum of one hour a day in renewal of the physi­cal, spiritual, and mental dimensions is the key to the development of the Seven Habits, and it’s completely within our control.”


  • This habit involves repeatedly (daily) practising and developing each of the 8 skills underpinning the habits
  1. Effective Learning – Learn and cope with new things

  2. Communication – Concentrate and communicate

  3. Cognition – Understand and solve problems

  4. Self-awareness – Know ourself and what to improve              

  5. Self-management – Manage our feelings and behaviour           

  6. Motivation – Cope with difficulties and setbacks                        

  7. Empathy – Show respect and empathise with others               

  8. Relationship/Social – Relate and cooperate with others  

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

It is almost 30 years since this magnificent book was published and despite selling over 25 million copies, I have been very disappointed that it has not had a greater effect especially on societies throughout the world. It is obvious to me that the 7 Habits and the 8 Skills underpinning them could cause a huge paradigm shift and transform the priorities in society to radically change and improve education, health, social care, media and government. Sadly, only the business world still seems to appreciate the importance of the 7 Habits, perhaps explaining how developing and measuring the 8 Skills that underpin them will rectify this.


CHARACTER-what it actually means

“Character is a skill, not a trait. At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but skills can change over the life cycle. Character is shaped by families, schools, and social environments.”
Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success” (2014)
‘Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.’                                                                Albert Einstein

‘Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.’                   Bruce Lee


Even before I began teaching in the early seventies I had heard the term ‘character’ used, usually referring, explaining or justifying why someone behaved in a certain way. However, as a teacher experimenting and researching with pupil’s behaviour, I tried to understand it more thoroughly.
The English word “character” is derived from the Greek ‘charaktêr’, which was originally used of a mark impressed upon a coin. Later and more generally, “character” came to mean a distinctive mark by which one thing was distinguished from others, and then primarily to mean the assemblage of skills that determines the way they think, feel and behave, distinguishing one individual from another.
As I carried out my experimenting and research I was delighted to discover that basically Aristotle’s view was similar to mine in that virtually everyone is capable of becoming better, i.e. developing these skills. Furthermore, the subtitle to one of my favourite books, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen R. Covey is ‘Restoring the Character Ethic’ and in essence focuses upon developing the skills to improve character and become a more effective person.

Character Strengths and Virtues                                                                             The 2004 publication Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification by Christopher Peterson & Martin E. P. Seligman provides some excellent support for my research into discovering the answer to ‘What do we really need to learn to achieve a successful, healthy, happy life?’ It provides the following 24 character strengths and virtues, which I would call ‘skills’ as they can be learnt or developed and clearly overlap a great deal with the 8 skills.
Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
1. Creativity
2. Curiosity
3. Open-mindedness
4. Love of learning:
5. Perspective [wisdom]:
Strengths of Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external and internal
6. Bravery [valor]:
7. Persistence
8. Integrity [honesty]:
9. Vitality [zest, enthusiasm]
Strengths of Humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
10. Love
11. Kindness
12. Social intelligence
Strengths of Justice: civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
13. Citizenship [social responsibility, teamwork]:
14. Fairness.
15. Leadership
Strengths of Temperance: strengths that protect against excess
16. Forgiveness and mercy
17. Humility / Modesty
18. Prudence
19. Self-regulation [self-control]
Strengths of Transcendence: strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
20. Appreciation of beauty and excellence.
21. Gratitude
22. Hope [optimism]:
23. Humour
24. Spirituality [ purpose]
Since the start of this century there seem to have been a plethora of researchers who have published books or articles supporting the importance of developing the 8 skills, using a wide variety of terms.
The following extract from the introduction to ‘Promise and Paradox: Measuring Students’ Non-cognitive Skills and the Impact of Schooling’ (2014) attempts explain why “Non-cognitive skills” has become a popular term.
“Non-cognitive, therefore, has become a catchall term for traits or skills not captured by assessments of cognitive ability and knowledge. Many educators prefer the umbrella terms “social and emotional learning” (Durlak et al. 2011) or “21st Century skills” (National Research Council, 2012), while some psychologists and economists embrace the moral connotations of “virtue” and “character” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Heckman & Kautz, 2013).”

James J. Heckman
A very important supporter of the 8 skills and my research, though he does not know it, since the start of this century, is James J. Heckman, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, and Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics (2000) and an expert in the economics of human development. His research with various economists, developmental psychologists, sociologists, statisticians and neuroscientists has shown clearly that development of skills in early childhood heavily influences health, economic and social outcomes for individuals and society at large.
“An important lesson to draw from the entire literature on successful early interventions is that it is the social skills and motivation of the child that are more easily altered—not IQ. These social and emotional skills affect performance in school and in the workplace. We too often have a bias toward believing that only cognitive skills are of fundamental importance to success in life.”
James J. Heckman, PhD Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences 2000
In his 2001 article The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program with Yoma Rubinstein, they state.
“Much of the neglect of noncognitive skills in analyses of earnings, schooling, and other lifetime outcomes is due to the lack of any reliable measure of them.”

It is such a relief and so refreshing to see a Nobel prizewinner and eminent researcher reflect my own research and reach use almost the same words as I. Throughout the years since then he has continued to provide excellent research evidence emphasising the need for societies to focus on developing and measuring these noncognitive skills. The following extract is part of the summary from Schools, Skills, and Synapses James J. Heckman May 2008

• America has a growing skills problem.
• One consequence of this skills problem is rising inequality and polarization of society. A greater fraction of young Americans is graduating from college. At the same time, a greater fraction is dropping out of high school.
• Another consequence of the skills problem is the slowdown in growth of the productivity of the workplace.
• Current social policy directed toward children focuses on improving cognition. Yet more than smarts is required for success in life.
• Gaps in both cognitive and noncognitive skills between the advantaged and the disadvantaged emerge early and can be traced in part to adverse early environments. A greater percentage of U.S. children is being born into adverse environments.
• Recent research shows how cognitive and personality skills are affected by parental investments and life experiences

With James Heckman being such an important researcher he has had an increasing range of associates. In 2014 with several other researchers he produced the working paper “Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success” (2014) Tim Kautz, James J. Heckman, Ron Diris, Bas ter Weel, Lex Borghans that reviews the recent literature on measuring and boosting cognitive and noncognitive skills.
• The literature establishes that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills, personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many other domains.
• Their predictive power rivals that of cognitive skills.
• Reliable measures of character have been developed.
• All measures of character and cognition are measures of performance on some task.
• In order to reliably estimate skills from tasks, it is necessary to standardize for incentives, effort, and other skills when measuring any particular skill.
• Character is a skill, not a trait. At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but skills can change over the life cycle.
• Character is shaped by families, schools, and social environments.
• Skill development is a dynamic process, in which the early years lay the foundation for successful investment in later years.
• High-quality early childhood and elementary school programs improve character skills in a lasting and cost-effective way.
• Many of them beneficially affect later-life outcomes without improving cognition.

The influence of these important researchers probably helped to influence the increased establishment of the use of the term Character Skills as reflected in this extract from the UK newspaper, The Guardian 20th May 2011
“Why character skills are crucial in early years education”
James Heckman’s research into the benefits of concentrating on character over cognitive skills can help tackle inequality.
The character skills that are crucial are summed up in Heckman’s acronym “Ocean”: openness (curiosity, willing to learn); consciousness (staying on task); extroversion (outgoing, friendly); agreeableness (helpful); neuroticism (attention to detail, persistence). These are the skills that enable children to learn; without them even the best teachers can do little. These are the skills that are predictive of outcomes such as educational achievement, obesity, offender rates, employment and smoking. The single biggest predictor of longevity and school achievement is conscientiousness – which is effectively a form of self-control.

In 2012, Paul Tough’s excellent book “How Children Succeed; Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” was published and became a bestseller, helping to publicise James Heckman’s research and Character Skills a great deal. The following review gives an outline of it.

In this book the author reverses three decades of thinking about what creates successful children, solving the mysteries of why some succeed and others fail, and of how to move individual children toward their full potential for success.
The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. But in this book the author argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perserverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do, and do not, prepare their children for adulthood.
And he provides us with new insights into how to help children growing up in poverty. Early adversity, scientists have come to understand, can not only affect the conditions of children’s lives, it can alter the physical development of their brains as well. But now educators and doctors around the country are using that knowledge to develop innovative interventions that allow children to overcome the constraints of poverty. And with the help of these new strategies, children who grow up in the most painful circumstances can go on to achieve amazing things.
This book has the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, how we construct our social safety net, and also how to change our understanding of childhood itself.

The last sentence in this review could easily be a summary of my own objectives or mission, except that the 8 skills will also include the skills of effective learning, cognition and communication.
There does not yet appear to be a consensus to the character skills, the following being common examples:
Openness (curiosity, willing to learn); Consciousness (staying on task); Extroversion (outgoing, friendly); Agreeableness (helpful); Neuroticism (attention to detail, persistence); Perseverance; Curiosity; Optimism; Self Control.
The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) nationwide network of schools found throughout the United States are extensively referred to in Paul Tough’s book that has a Character Report Card. The character skills are described as Zest; Grit; Self-control; Optimism; Gratitude; Social Intelligence; Curiosity.

Now I understand…‘Why there is such concern about the shortage of 21st Century Skills.

21st Century_SkillsBy the start of the eighties I had taught Chemistry to University Entrance (Advanced) Level for several years and experienced the criticism each year from the Confederation of British Industries, via the media, of how poorly prepared the students were for Employment and Life. Frequently this criticism was given the most publicity by the media when the exam results arrived in August. The section on the evolution of the 8 skills illustrates that my research concluded that the skills needed to succeed in employment and life were not being developed in many of our children in society or schools as far back as the seventies and needed to become prioritised.
In the 30 plus years since then this message has grown almost exponentially such that in 2009 an initiative was launched at the Learning and Technology World Forum in London that set up The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project, created by Cisco, Intel and Microsoft, who wanted to sponsor a project to research and develop new approaches, methods and technologies for measuring the success of 21st -century teaching and learning in classrooms around the world.
The focus of the project was set on defining 21st century skills and developing ways to measure them with the objective of “What is learned, how it is taught and how schools are organized must be transformed to respond to the social and economic needs of students and society as we face the challenges of the 21st century.”
It is important to note that this 21st Century Skills project was largely being motivated by the shortage of skills for employment, or ’economic needs of students and society’, which had been part of my own research several decades earlier. In the nineties my research uncovered the following list which I have used repeatedly since then to emphasise this concern. Before displaying the slide I would always ask the audience –
“Which skills do you think are most desired in employees by the top 500 companies in the world?” Usually the responses focused on Reading, Writing, and Numeracy, then I would observe their reaction, surprise, at this list.
In 1990 the Creative Education Foundation listed the following skills desired by Fortune 500 companies in order of importance:
1. Teamwork
2. Leadership
3. Problem Solving
4. Goal setting/Motivation
5. Interpersonal Skills
6. Writing
7. Oral Communication
8. Organizational Effectiveness
9. Listening
10. Computation
11. Personal/Career Development
12. Reading

Later on I discovered a similar list, that seems to show that the views displayed by my audiences actually reflected the job-skills priorities in 1970.
Creativity in Action (1990) produced this table to show the job-skills needed by the the Fortune 500 companies.
Critical Job-Skills 1990                                              1970
1. Team work 1                                                                    10
2. Problem Solving 2                                                         12
3. Interpersonal Skills 3                                                   13
4. Oral Communication 4                                                4
5. Listening 5                                                                        5
6. Personal Career Development 6                               6
7. Creative Thinking 7                                                      7
8. Leadership 8                                                                   8
9. Goal Setting/Motivation 9                                          9
10. Writing 10                                                                       1
11. Organizational Effectiveness 11                               11
12. Computation 12                                                             2
13. Reading 13                                                                        3

I can fully appreciate why so many people and the media still seem to believe that list from 1970 is still applicable in the 21st century, since there seems to be so little media coverage or explanation of skills needed and how they are learnt, so the traditional beliefs continue.
At the start of the new century, in England, the Government created the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which regularly produced The National Employers Skills Survey (NESS) that collected and analysed data on the issues employers face in terms of recruitment, skill gaps and training. These surveys repeatedly produced tables similar to these.
When ‘The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project’ produced their list of 10 skills it was very similar.

ATC21S categories of 21st Century skills
1. Creativity & innovation
2. Critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making
3. Learning to learn, metacognition
4. Communication
5. Collaboration (teamwork)
6. Information literacy
7. ICT literacy
8. Citizenship – local & global
9. Life & career
10. Personal & social responsibility
(Dr Irenka Suto Principal Research Officer, Research Division,Cambridge Assessment 28th February 2013)

When this project was initiated I had spent many years focusing on the 8 skills, and it is easy to see how these ten 21st Century skills would integrate into the 8 skills. It was also helpful to have support for the increasing widespread use of the term “skills”, this is a quote from an article in the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy.
The term “skills” was used in the first initiatives of the project. However, many argued for the term “competencies” instead, since that term includes broader understandings in many languages of what is needed in the future. Still, it was decided to keep “skills” as a term, but clearly state that “skills” in this sense incorporates broader cultural “competencies”.

Studying these lists of skills over decades has been very instrumental in deciding to select the 8 skills, and as you read this book you will discover that the names have been continually changed and may change in the future. The ten ATC21S categories of 21st Century skills have been attached to the 8 skills.

1. Learn effectively to cope & enjoy the continual change in modern life.
1. Creativity & innovation,
3. Learning to learn, metacognition
2. Cognition– to understand & solve complex everyday problems to make good decisions –
2. Critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making
3. Communication– to concentrate, listen, speak, read, write & detect non-verbal information effectively
4. Communication
6. Information literacy
7. ICT literacy
4. Self-awareness to assess ourselves accurately & what to improve to become healthy & happy
5. Self-management to manage our feelings, control our behaviour & avoid ‘quick fixes’
10. Personal & social responsibility
6. Motivation to become resilient by learning from difficulties & setbacks
7. Empathy to understand & appreciate other people’s views & emotions -respect
8. Relate to cooperate well with others to lead & be part of a team.
8. Citizenship – local & global
9. Life & career

The evolution of the 21st Century skills or perhaps more aptly has been a huge asset in the evolution of the 8 skills since becoming an effective employee, employer, manager, leader, entrepreneur etc. in the 21st Century is likely to be a big factor in our health, well-being and success (difficulties overcome). Furthermore, the research into defining 21st century skills and developing ways to measure them could prove invaluable in the future as could its influence in “What is learned, how it is taught and how schools are organized must be transformed to respond to the social and economic needs of students and society as we face the challenges of the 21st century.”
However, this focus is quite narrow as it does not seem to consider:-
1. The majority of learning does not occur in organised education (schools, colleges etc.) and developing our skills will occur over thousands of hours of practice in numerous varied situations.
2. Skills are being assessed continually by everyone regularly when observing people in action (doing things) so measurements of skills need to be done frequently, in a wide variety of situations.
3. The widespread concerns about health and well-being such as
• Stress; depression
• Poor mental health
• Low self esteem
• Self-harm and suicide
• Substance misuse and binge drinking
• Anti-social and criminal behaviour
• Financial problems and gambling
• Relationship problems; sex related difficulties
• Chaotic Lifestyles

Now I understand…‘What we really need to learn to achieve a healthy, happy, successful life?’

The 12th June 1983 and 18th November 1985 are the two most important dates in my life, when my two children, daughters, were born. I was in my thirties and spent about 10 years anticipating and preparing for parenthood. I’ve never used the phrase “I just want what’s best for my children” since I think it states the obvious, but when I began teaching in the early seventies I did begin researching the answer to this question:
‘What do we really need to learn to achieve a healthy, happy, successful life?’

The extensive research evidence, to be able to confidently answer this question was not available to me until the nineties, and to my great relief, both my daughters appear to have achieved this so far. In the last two decades I’ve provided hundreds of presentations to parents resulting in this comment on numerous occasions: ‘Why didn’t we know about this before?”, possibly you will also.

I began my research and quest to answer this question when I returned to my secondary school as a young P.E. teacher in September 1974. I was born in the blitzed East End of London, just after the Second World War to a very non-academic working class family, yet I was a 22 year old, with a degree in Chemistry, with a passion for sport, but clueless as to how or why I had attained this position and expected to help these teenagers develop and prepare for adult life, according to my self-awareness at the time.
From a very young age I had repeatedly asked questions and tried to understand as much as I could, so trying to discover the answer to this question has probably underpinned much of my life. Therefore, I’m relieved that following decades of extensive worldwide scientific research we can finally be confident that we can answer this question and the articles in this blog will repeatedly demonstrate it.

The 8 Skills
For many years I have used terms similar to skills such as abilities, capabilities, qualities, competencies, and I can understand why others may be more comfortable with them but as a huge fan of sport I have comfortably used the term skill since early childhood to describe various physical abilities or actions.
‘Skill – any action or activity that can be learnt’
As a teacher I became aware that skills could be used to describe any action or activity that could be learnt, with language skills, mathematical skills, scientific skills and many others being continually used. In fact, the term skills is now applied in a huge range of areas such as Employability, Management, Leadership, Parenting, Coaching, Teaching it aptly describes the actions or activities needed to perform these tasks or roles.

The great philosophers for many centuries have been reflecting and offering advice on overcoming the difficulties we are likely to meet to achieve healthy, happy, successful lives and throughout the 20th century this increasingly became a focus for scientists. In recent years there have been huge advances in the science of learning (what, why and how we learn) especially in developmental psychology (the scientific study of changes that occur in human beings over the course of their life span) and neuroscience (particularly brain imaging). All this extensive research and longitudinal, sociological studies means that we are finally able to be confident that in order to achieve healthy, happy, successful lives in the 21st century we need to have good development in key skills (or skill sets). These 8 skills will appear in numerous lists under a variety of names, but presently I have used what seem to me to be the most suitable names at present (I have changed the names several times).

1. Effective Learning
In July 2013, the BBC science series Horizon broadcast a programme entitled “What Makes Us Human?” in which ‘Professor Alice Roberts set out to explore what it is about our bodies, our genes and ultimately our brains that set us apart from our furry cousins – what is it that truly makes us human?’ The conclusion at the end is simply summarised as ‘our ability to learn to overcome the difficulties of life’.
The scientific research and discoveries in the last few centuries have been staggering, resulting in life in the 21st century being complicated for everyone in the modern technological world. The complexity of everyday life in the modern world means that it has become essential for everyone to learn to adapt to the continual changes and new situations they are certain to meet.
Skill is the any action or activity that can be learnt and so the development of a skill can be assessed and measured by close observation of these actions or activities. When I began teaching and coaching sport (P.E.) in the early seventies, I needed to learn to observe the students very carefully to try to identify and analyse their skill. I realised quickly that I needed to improve my own communication and cognitive skills in order to do this effectively. In each sport there are sets of skills that had key actions that had to occur to become effective or master it, so I had to develop my own skill in detecting these actions, fortunately I had lots of opportunities to practise and improve this skill..
The sections ‘Common Examples of Characteristics’ attempts to provide a examples and explanations on assessing and measuring each of the 8 skills. Most people will be able to become more effective in measuring the 8 skills with practice, but we already carry out these assessments (probably poorly) by observing the key actions, characteristics or behaviours that are described. It is important to appreciate that this is ‘continual assessment and measurement’ so frequent opportunities to display the skills in varied situations is crucial to accurate measurement.

Common Examples of Characteristics for Effective Learning
When people have developed well in this skill:
• They will feel and show that they are becoming more comfortable with changes to their life, no longer become upset by it and adapt easily.
• They will be keen to learn new things and do so without the need to have someone motivating or teaching them.
• They can and enjoy learning in a wide variety of ways (eg. books, computers, video, people) and environments (eg. alone, groups, school), being able to practice and study for many hours.

Effective learning appears to be the only one of the 8 skills that babies are born with some measurable level of development, which is probably explained with the reference to the “What Makes Us Human?” TV programme. Babies have to undergo massive changes to their environment when being born and most adapt to the changes to their life, becoming less upset by it – hopefully! Babies and toddlers show a keenness to learn new things and usually need little motivation. In fact, over the many decades I’ve been observing babies and toddlers closely I’ve referred to them as ‘Learning Machines’ for what I hope are obvious reasons.

2. Communication
Any scientific analysis or comparison with other species identifies human’s communication skills as being significant. However human babies are not born with good communication skills, in fact their concentration and attention span are poor, but unless they develop them, our babies cannot receive the variety of information around them through their senses (see, hear and feel) to detect potential problems or danger. Therefore learning to concentrate effectively means they can learn to detect and understand sounds, visual gestures, facial expressions, body language, touch, and develop their ability to listen, speak, read and write. In the 21st century modern world, communication with a very wide variety of people, in large range of ways, is commonplace for all, so developing these skills to a high level is essential.

Common Examples of Characteristics for Communication
When people have developed well in this skill:
• They will be able to keep focused on what they are doing for a long time (many hours) and avoid being distracted even though they may not be enjoying the activity.
• They will be able to understand and communicate using a wide variety of ways and information, such as speaking, listening, reading, writing, computers, but also non-verbally such as facial expressions, visual gestures, body language, touch and tone of voice.

Clearly when babies are born their communication skills are very limited, but recent scientific evidence indicates that they may be able to detect sounds in the womb. However, when people (eg. babies) have poor development in this skill they can get very frustrated and their behaviour may be considered to be loud, naughty, anti-social, aggressive, violent or possibly they become very withdrawn, ‘quiet or sulky’.

3. Cognition
Since the start of the 20th century the term intelligence has largely referred to cognitive skills. The highly developed prefrontal cortex (frontal lobe) of the human brain has been identified as having a large influence on cognitive skills (understanding, planning, problem solving and decision making) which for over a century has been considered to explain ‘human intelligence’. Academic and exam achievement is largely related to this skill, especially in mathematics and science.
In the 21st century modern world, most people are expected to make many important complex decisions throughout their lives, as part of normal everyday life, so good development in this skill has become essential to all if they are to achieve success and good well-being.

Common Examples of Characteristics for Cognition
When people have developed well in this skill:
• They will be traditionally described as ‘bright, quick-witted, clever, and intelligent’.
• They can think analytically so that they understand concepts and information that may be difficult for others (eg, science and maths) and also apply it to solve problems and see long term consequences to make good decisions.
• They can work out the ‘pros and cons’ accurately and see the ‘big picture’.

Scientific evidence indicates that when babies are born they have little development of this skill and initially show little evidence that they can solve problems. People who are poorly developed in this skill have been unfairly referred to as ‘slow, thick, retarded etc.’ yet often they have not had the opportunities to practice and develop this skill, especially in their early years, when their brain is most able to adapt and learn.

4. Self-awareness
This skill (action that can be learnt) is, basically our perception or understanding about who we are and how we relate to the world, consequently poor development in this skill is likely to be central to the huge rise in depression, bullying, self-harm and poor mental health in the 21st century. Humans are thought to be one of the few species that can develop their self-awareness sufficiently to learn to recognise themselves in a mirror, usually by the age of two years. We will learn to assess ourselves by feedback from people and our environment, becoming aware of our emotions and evaluating our strengths and weaknesses. The huge influence of the media and communication in the 21st century has meant the criteria on which people assess themselves has changed immensely, resulting in many having poor or fragile self-esteem.

Common Examples of Characteristics for Self -Awareness
When people have developed well in this skill:
• They can assess themselves very accurately using their development of the 8 skills as key criteria.
• They will know their strengths and weaknesses, and what they need to improve.
• They will regularly study (reflect on) their behaviour and emotions and why they occur, and avoid putting too much emphasis on the superficial (appearance).
• They will be confident with good, sound self-esteem.

In recent decades the advancement in scientific evidence indicates that when babies are born they have little development of self-awareness but within two to three years have surpassed virtually all other species in the development of this skill.
People who are poorly developed in this skill are likely to behave in a way that shows they lack an understanding of themselves, what they do and why they do it. Their actions may show that they lack confidence, have low self-worth or self-esteem by either being withdrawn or following other people, trends, fashions, behaviours.

5. Self-management
When babies are born they are unable to manage their emotions or control their impulses and parents are very familiar with toddlers ‘losing their temper’ when they cannot get what they want. Key to humans being able to overcome difficulties relies very much on ‘staying in control’, ‘doing what is needed and not what is wanted’. For several decades, scientists have been assessing this skill and detecting its importance in success in areas as widespread as academia, sport, business and leadership. Identification of poor development in this skill, largely occurring in the pre-fontal cortex, can often explain addictive personalities, anti-social and criminal behaviour.

Common Examples of Characteristics for Self-management
When people have developed well in this skill:
• They will not be impulsive or ‘lose control’ and use their emotions in a controlled effective positive way.
• They will express their emotions to others in ways that are clear and appropriate to the situation (suitable behaviour).
• They know how to behave and adapt their behaviour according to where they are and who they are with.
• They have strategies to manage their impulses and strong emotions (eg. anger, anxiety, stress, jealousy) to avoid them behaving in ways that has negative consequences for them or for other people.
• They do what they NEED to do and not what they WANT (‘avoid temptation’), avoid taking ‘quick fix solutions’ to problems.

Again the scientific evidence indicates that when babies are born they have little development of this skill and their behaviour is impulsive and reactive. Poor development in self-management is frequently described as ‘being childish or babylike’ and provides the explanation for numerous problems with adults and adolescents. In fact, poor development in the skill has traditionally been called ‘bad behaviour’, even though often poor self-awareness may be the major factor.

6. Motivation
This skill has seen a huge amount of research in recent decades, with the conclusion that poor development in this skill invariably results in people struggling to achieve success or good well-being. Humans will experience difficulties from the moment they are born and in the womb; these setbacks help them to learn to become resilient. If children are protected excessively and prevented from experiencing these difficulties, they grow up unprepared to try to overcome difficulties they will meet in the future, which means they will fear failure and avoid challenges or new situations. It is important to note that what motivates us, which will depend greatly on our self-awareness, is very different from what keeps us motivated, as this will require developing resilience, persistence, determination, will power, responsibility etc.

Common Examples of Characteristics for Motivation
When people have developed well in this skill:
• They are resilient and bounce back from disappointment or failure
• They do not ‘fear failure’ and view errors as part of the normal learning process, studying any experience or outcome to see what can be learnt from it.
• They use their and other’s experiences, including mistakes and setbacks, to change (improve) their thinking and behaviour (growth mindset and internal locus of control).
• They take responsibility for their lives, not blaming others, believe that they can influence what happens to them and make wise choices.

When babies are born they do appear to have some resilience, often being termed as ‘fighters’ when they experience difficulties or setbacks. Babies and toddlers do not appear to fear failure and learn by experience (‘trial and error’). However, people who are poorly developed in this skill become reluctant to try new things, look for excuses and blame, lack optimism and become despondent easily.

7. Empathy
Humans have become successful (overcome the difficulties in their lives) by being ‘social animals’, their success as a species is because they work as together as a group or team, and much of their motivation and pleasure involves relationships with others. Consequently, it is important for us to become emotionally sensitive to other people and appreciate or ‘tune into’ their thoughts and feelings, and essential in forming good strong relationships. Poor development in this skill means they are likely to experience many difficulties with other people, falsely believe ‘everyone thinks and feels the same as they do’, or feel alienated and alone and likely to have frequent huge relationship problems.
In recent years, this inter-personal skill has increasingly become better understood, it’s importance and how it is developed. With travel, migration and integration becoming commonplace in the 21st century, this skill continues to become ever more important, sometimes being referred to as ‘diversity’.

Common Examples of Characteristics for Empathy
When people have developed well in this skill:
• They are able to see the world from other people’s emotions, beliefs and points of view, understanding how people are feeling through their words, body language, gestures, and tone.
• They refer to people’s feelings a great deal and try to explain behaviour in terms of their emotions and skills, being used as a counsellor or be confided in by others.
• They are able to show respect (care and consideration) for people from all cultures, backgrounds, interests, attainments, attitudes, and values.

When babies are born they do not appear to have any empathy and learning it is very dependent on the quality and quantity of interaction they have with other people (attachment). People poorly developed in this skill struggle to form good quality relationships, will try to stick to ‘like-minded people’ and tend to disrespect others. In recent years they are often diagnosed as being autistic or having Asperger’s syndrome.

8. Relationship/Social
With relationships and teamwork being so important to humans, unless we learn to handle a wide variety of relationships and deal effectively with them they are likely to feel lonely, rejected, frustrated, angry and unhappy. The quality of their lives is invariably greatly affected by how well we ‘get on with’ other people and social or relationship skills are essential to our popularity, effectiveness with others and whether we will be able to lead or ‘blindly’ follow others.

Common Examples of Characteristics for Relationship/Social Skills
When people have developed well in this skill:
• They work and learn well in groups and teams, taking on different roles, cooperating with others to achieve a joint outcome.
• They get on’ with lots of very varied people and will not ‘bitch or slag off’ others.
• They display an appropriate level of independence from others, while maintaining positive relationships with others.
• They put the team before themselves and make very good employees despite poor leadership.
• They try to support others, are comfortable with support but seen as a leader by many people.

Again, newborn babies do not appear to have any relationship/social skills and as with empathy, development is very dependent on the quality and quantity of interaction they have with other people. Poor development in this skill will result in people struggling to become team players, continually ‘falling out with others’, being selfish, and following others (like sheep).

Now I understand…

1952 I was born in East London.
1970 I went to university (Lancaster-Chemistry degree)
1973 I began teaching (P.E. & Maths-Carnegie College, Leeds)
1974 I began researching the Science of Learning (& teaching)
1983 I became a parent (2 girls)
1985 & 1990 I did part-time courses for Dip.Ed. & M.Ed. (Anglia)
1996 I became a step-parent (2 boys, 2 girls)
2003 I became a Learning Consultant (National Strategy-Behaviour) when I began providing hundreds of presentations and training sessions to parents, teachers, leaders, health, social, youth workers and others.
I’ve had the following comment on numerous occasions, “why didn’t we know this before?”
In 2015 I decided to begin this blog to attempt to share some of the learning, understanding and extensive research I’ve discovered, so that others can also say- Now I understand…