Over 40 years when I began teaching I also began researching ‘What do we really need to learn to achieve a healthy, happy, successful life?’, and it took until the mid-nineties for me to be confident I had discovered the answer. For almost 20 years, whenever I’ve explained my evidence to people, their most common response has been, “WHY DIDN’T WE KNOW ABOUT THIS BEFORE?”

Unfortunately the research into this question has only really been extensive and intensive in the last 20 years, which probably explains why until recently so few people were aware of it. In fact, it amazes and disappoints me how few people, especially in leadership and influential positions, are aware of it, despite the plethora of excellent research, evidence, books, articles, videos etc. now available, some of which are outlined in this article.

“What do we need to learn to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to our community?” is central to The World Health Organisation definition of mental health, their answer is similar to the extensive evidence on research on effective leadership, business, politics, employability, success in sport, drama, literature, music, etc. in that key to success in them is determined by how well we: –

  1. Learn and cope with new things?                          (Effective Learning)
  2. Concentrate and communicate?                             (Communication)
  3. Understand and solve problems?                           (Cognition)
  4. Know ourself and what we need to improve?      (Self-awareness)
  5. Manage our feelings and behaviour?                      (Self-management)
  6. Cope with difficulties and setbacks?                        (Motivation)
  7. Show respect and empathise with others?              (Empathy)
  8. Relate and cooperate with others?                            (Relationship/Social)


If an individual has developed well in all these areas they will probably have good health, well-being and life chances.

Conversely an individual poorly developed in some of these areas will probably be vulnerable or disadvantaged.

This research evidence actually identifies the key factors in what really causes children, young and mature people to be disadvantaged, or vulnerable. Since the late nineties there has been a gradual increase in the awareness and reference to these abilities, capabilities, competencies, habits of mind, intelligences, smarts, ‘character skills’, ‘soft skills’, ‘non-cognitive/cognitive skills’, ‘life skills’. Possibly the wide variety of names or terms used is a key factor in the lack of international acceptance and awareness of this evidence and why Governments and media have been so slow to fully support it.

I suspect that my unusual background and philosophy on life are major factors in my research and discovery of the very extensive research from such a wide-range of areas. I was born to a very non-academic working class family in the blitzed East End of London, just after the Second World War, reading, study and academia were not part of our culture, so my exam success (I passed the 11+) was a complete mystery and a huge surprise. In fact we had never heard of A levels or anyone who had gone to university. When I was persuaded to teach (P.E. and Science) in my old secondary school I was very keen to discover the factors that contributed to success, why I had achieved it and hopefully help many others.

Once I began teaching, I was determined to analyse, understand and explain how children and then adults were developing, but I still did not become interested in reading or literary study until my first post-graduate study in 1985, (a Dip.Ed. in Personal and Social Education). This course provided me with easy access to a library and sparked my (30+ years) passion for reading, researching and studying the “Science of Learning” (the what, how and why of learning).

What follows is my attempt to provide a brief summary of my main recommendations from the huge amount of scientists, gurus, authors, books, research, videos etc. I’ve discovered in the last 30 years.


I am ashamed to admit that until 1985 I had read very few books at all, the birth of my children and my post-graduate studies changed that immensely. These books and research are placed approximately in the order at which I discovered and read them (their first publication dates are in brackets).

1986 Howard Gardner

Frames of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences (1983)

It illustrates that the traditional view of intelligence is flawed and introduced an excellent modern definition as a ‘set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life’.
1991 Stephen Covey

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic (1989)

Probably my favourite book showing that applying the skills as habits means you become a very effective leader.
1991 William Edwards Deming

Out of Crisis (1982)

The ‘Father of Quality’ applies a scientific approach to the business world, leadership and life.

“The aim of leadership is to remove the causes of failure: to help people to do a better job with less effort.”

1992 Peter Senge

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

This bestselling business book demonstrates the importance of systems thinking and the learning organisations in the success of individuals, groups and teams, ideal for schools and education organisations but still very rare.
1993 John Whitmore

Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practices of Coaching and Leadership (People Skills for Professionals) (1992)

THE book on Coaching-it helped to spark effective coaching to develop skills in a wide variety of areas, using the technique previously used in sport.
1993 Peter Salovey and John Mayer

Emotional Intelligence (article in Imagination, Cognition, and Personality) (1990)

Their scientific approach to emotions was very helpful since it supported my own research so much in that poor development in a person’s ‘emotional intelligence’ could explain so much about their behaviour, characteristics, and difficulties.
1994 Gordon Dryden & Jeanette Vos

The Learning Revolution: A lifelong learning program for the world’s finest computer: your brain!  (1994)

This gives an excellent overview of the ‘Science of Learning’ and confirmation that ‘We are what we learn’. I think it is still the best book to entice people into the potential and joys of learning. I’ve given 20+ copies to people, over 10million copies sold worldwide
1995 Daniel Goleman

Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ (1995)

This provided international publicity for the importance of the intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences. Very significant in catalysing research and evidence to supporting the importance and need for all to develop the 8 skills.
1996 K. Anders Ericsson et al.

The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (the American Psychological Association Inc.) (1993)

Excellent article produced scientific evidence to support my own research on the importance of effective practice. 20 years later it’s received international support. With numerous books and evidence supporting this research.
1999 Don Beck & Christopher Cowan

Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (1996).

Demonstrates how humans can develop throughout life caused by our changing life conditions so that we need to learn skills to adapt to our new environment and overcome the new difficulties. Based on the 1970s theories of psychologist Clare. W Graves, showing ‘we are what we learn’
2002 Jim Collins

Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (2001)

This influential book provides some excellent research and analysis of effective leaders, showing clearly that they (level 5 leaders) invariably have very good development of the 8 skills and why we must measure them.

“The problem is not in my estimation, a dearth of potential Level 5 leaders. They exist all around us, if we just know what to look for.”

2003 Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi

Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness  (2002)

This provided the evidence to explain the sporting term, ‘being in the zone’,

 “The flow experience is when a person is completely involved in what he or she is doing, when the concentration is very high, when the person knows moment by moment what the next steps should be, like if you are playing tennis, you know where you want the ball to go.”                  Demonstrates the importance of developing concentration as a key part of the skill of communication.

2005 Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Uta Frith

The learning brain: Lessons for education  (2005)

Excellent focus on the importance of education in an evidence base derived from neuroscience. The Science of Learning is key to 21st century education and this is invaluable for this.
2005 Richard Layard

Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (2005)

This provides research evidence and analyses happiness or well-being scientifically showing that development of the 8 skills is central to it.
2006 Carol Dweck

Mindset –The New Psychology of Success (2006)

This provided scientific evidence to support the ‘Locus of Control’ explanation of how our skill of motivation can develop to determine our chances of success and well-being. Her research has been invaluable in helping to demonstrate how skills can be learnt effectively (and not), especially the skills of effective learning and motivation (including resilience).
2006 Julia Margo & Mike Dixon

Freedom’s Orphan’s: Raising Youth in a Changing World (2006)

This IPPR book/report analyses worldwide evidence to provide support for the need to prioritise developing and measuring the 8 skills in our children.
2006 Michael Marmot

Status Syndrome: How Your Social Standing Directly Affects Your Health and Life Expectancy.(2004)

This book is based on more than three decades of research that began in the 1970s and took him round the world to discover the relationship between health and social circumstances, illustrating that the health of individuals in developed nations is dependent on their development of the 8 skills
2009 Keef Feeley

A Wonderful Life? (2009)

This aims to provide a clear enjoyable read to help everyone understand why so many young people are struggling to cope in the modern world and how they can be helped to develop the 8 skills they need to achieve good health, well-being and success.
2010 Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success            (2010)

This best-seller focuses on the learning and development of successful people. They are products of their learning environment, their culture, their family, and learning experiences, basically their development in the 8 skills.
2011 Daniel Kahneman

Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011)

This 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner got it for this very important research demonstrating that human decision making and judgement is frequently flawed, often very irrational. Developing the 8 skills, especially self-awareness is needed.
2011 Martin Seligman

Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How  To Achieve Them (2011)

Provides an overview of  his excellent extensive research on optimism, motivation, and character, supporting my own research on how the 8 skills are key to good health and wellbeing. Crucially he has helped to stimulate the need to develop these skills (referred to as character skills).
2011 Daniel Siegel

Mindsight : The New Science of Personal Transformation (2011)

This brilliiant UCLA professor of psychiatry integrates a wide range of  scientific evidence to create a mindsight (mindfulness) approach that develops our self-awareness skill  improving our health and well-being.
2011 Daniel H. Pink

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2011)

Pink uses the Self Determination Theory (SDT) extensive research of professors Deci and Ryan to explain what really motivates us exposing the mistakes most of us have and use.
2012 Keef Feeley

Miraculous! (2012)

Sequel to A Wonderful Life?, focuses on showing how developing and measuring the 8 skills could transform our vulnerable, struggling young people into healthy, happy, successful ones.
2012 Paul Tough

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (2012)

This bestseller argues that successful children have more to do with their character skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control, greatly supporting the need to change the priorities in our society, schools, parents to focus on developing and measuring the 8 skills.
2013 James J. Heckman

Schools, Skills, and Synapses

(National Bureau of Economic Research, 2008)

“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.”

James J. Heckman, Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics research shows clearly that development of skills in early childhood heavily influences health, economic and social outcomes for individuals and society at large emphasising, like me, the need to measure the skills that really matter.

2014 Walter Mischel

The Marshmallow Test: Understanding Self-control and How To Master It (2014)

The now iconic ‘marshmallow test,’ one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology, proved that the ability to delay gratification is critical to living a successful and fulfilling life. The evidence is now extensive that good self-management is one of the essential skills to improve health and life chances
2015 James Kerr

Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life (2013)

Outstanding insight into the keys to effective leadership and teamwork. “A collection of talented individuals without personal discipline will ultimately and inevitably fail. Character triumphs over talent.”

“A sense of inclusion means individuals are more willing to give themselves to a common cause.”

2015 Matthew Syed

Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success (2015)

Emphasises the need to be able to think scientifically to ensure there is a culture in which errors are not feared and blame is allocated, but viewed as key to being key to success

“Science is not just about a method, then, it is also about a mindset. At its best, it is driven forward by a restless spirit, an intellectual courage, a willingness to face up to failures and to be honest about key data, even when it undermines cherished beliefs. It is about method and mindset” P. 56

2016 K. Anders Ericsson (and Robert Pool)

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016)

Finally the book on his 30+ years of extensive research demonstrating an approach to learning should radically transform learning and education. Clearly shows ‘We are what we learn’
2016 Oliver James

Not In Your Genes: The real reasons children are like their parents (2016)

Provides the scientific evidence to explain why & how we become who we are, invaluable for teachers, politicians, parents, people in the media – everyone.
2017 Angela Duckworth

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2017)

Superb support for my own research providing evidence for developing the skills of self-management and motivation. “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”