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Life Skills

Introduction

Human beings are full of potentials which manifests in our ability to do exemplary things; for example, ground-breaking scientific investigations, commendable social services, excellent achievements in various walks of life and so on. Psychologists believe that all of us are endowed with capacities to excel. Life skills help in realization and utilization of our potentials. Sometimes, with all the capacities, goals and determinations, we fail in realizing our dreams because of the hindrances created by poor life-skills. In fact, life-skills not only help in realization of our potentials but also in living life in a contended and meaningful manner.

What does life-skills mean?

The World Health Organization defines life-skills as, "abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life." Thus, life skills are basic skills that help individuals in leading a meaningful life and better adjustment in the society. They involve myriad of positive aspects of our life such as the values and ethics we possess, the proactive attitude that we keep towards the society we live in and various interpersonal and psychosocial skills that we have.

Core Life-skills

The World Health Organization has proposed a set of life skills. These are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Creative thinking
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Coping with stress
  • Coping with emotions
  • Healthy interpersonal relationship
  • Effective communications

Going by the list of these skills, it is obvious that they are global in nature, encompassing both interpersonal and interpersonal skills. These skills are usually clubbed into three major categories:

  • Thinking skills (critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, decision making)
  • Personal skills (self-awareness, self-management)
  • Interpersonal skills (communication skills, empathy, cooperation etc.)

Skills and their application

It is important to note here that these sets of skills are not all inclusive. Depending on the need, an individual may require any other life-skill. Also, various life-skills are interdependent as they affect each other. For example, critical thinking is required for effective problem solving as well as understanding an interpersonal situation from wider perspective.

Self-awareness

It refers to the ability to recognize own strengths, weaknesses, likings, disliking and so on. Often, we do not bother to identify our strengths and weaknesses. This may lead to under-utilization of our strengths and remaining unaware how our weaknesses obstruct our progress. Self-awareness is very important for being comfortable with one-self, to recognize the ways by which one can handle his/her stresses and to have optimum utilization of own potentials. For example, if an individual recognizes that he procrastinates a lot and due to this his efficiencies do not get reflected, he can work on better time management.

Empathy

Empathy refers to understanding others’ emotional states and perspectives. It helps in understanding other peoples’ concerns and reactions to a given situation. Thus, empathizing with others helps not only in having a balanced understanding of the behaviour and reactions of an individual but also facilitates a deeper insight into human behaviour.

To empathize with others, it is important that in an interpersonal situation we don’t jump to conclusions without understanding the whole context of behaviour of an individual. We often get tempted to form impressions about others based on our preconceived notions, ideas and hearsay. But it has an inherent danger of coming to conclusions without giving proper attention to all relevant information. Hence, it is important that before forming any impression, we should gather sufficient information, should try to understand the context of a given emotional state (e.g., anger) of an individual and try to understand the perspectives of others (e.g., by discussing about the situation with the other individual). This helps in having better interpersonal relationships.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking refers to seeing and analysing things in novel ways. It helps us in having new perspectives about things and allows us to have out-of-box thinking. Creative thinking requires flexibility, so that while attempting to solve a problem we are not stuck to a given way of solution whether or not it is working. Creative thinking does not always require identification of a new problem and finding out its solutions; it also refers to finding novel solutions to an existing problem. All the seminal experiments and innovations that changed our life exemplify creative thinking. For example, thinking that one can communicate to others sitting miles away through a device (phone) is an example of creative thinking.

Critical thinking

It refers to the process of analysing a problem or information in an objective manner. A critical thinker shows inquisitiveness to understand things in detail and while doing so, keeps himself unaffected by his biases by having an open minded approach to assimilate and evaluate new information. Critical thinking is an important life-skill as it inculcates the tendency to evaluate information objectively and from wider perspectives.

Problem Solving and Decision Making

Problem solving and decision making are interrelated skills. When a problem arises, one needs to objectively understand the problem which involves clearly defining the problem. Once the problem has been defined, various possible alternative to solve the problem should be explored followed by weighing the pros and cons of all the possible solutions. Based on this analysis, the best possible solution is chosen and applied. Once the decision to use a given solution is reached, the solution should be given a fair trial before accepting or rejecting it as the final solution.

Myriad of problems arise in our daily life. Some are simple and some are complex problems. It is important that the skill of effective problem solving is learnt in a manner that it becomes a natural way of approaching a problem/an issue. It helps us in having an objective approach towards a problem and also facilitates the process of selection of those solutions that are most economical (highest gain and lowest losses). Poor problem solving skill makes the solution of the problem difficult to reach for many reasons and the first is unawareness about the real problem due to lack of clarity about the exact nature of the problem. For example, a student can report that he does not like his school. However, it is highly unlikely that the whole school is a problem. He needs to define the exact nature of the problem such as ‘does he have problem with the quality of the teachers’, ‘does he have problem with the fellow students’ etc.

Coping with Stress

Effective dealing with stresses of everyday life is important for our physical and mental health. Identifying what makes us stressed, what are the ways to counter those stresses and how to prevent stresses are important skills. It is said that stress largely depends on the way we perceive an event and it gets compounded by the ineffective ways of dealing with those stresses. Having a proper understanding of an event, use of proper problem solving approaches and healthy life style can ward off stresses in significant ways. Also, once stressed, it is important that proper stress reduction techniques are used. It includes both balanced understanding of the stress inducing situation and use of specific stress inoculation methods.

Dealing with Emotions

Emotions are integral part of our life. We feel happy, sad and angry on different occasions and in different situations. Understanding our emotions in a given situation and managing it properly is important for successful life. Managing emotions does not mean suppressing emotions. Bottling up emotions does not solve problems; rather it leads to various other problems. Coping or dealing with emotions means a better understanding of the situations that arise negative emotions and to explore the aptness of our emotional reaction to a given situations (i.e., to see if there could be other ways of dealing with problems that could have prevented genesis of negative emotions). Determining the aptness of emotional reaction also involves judging whether or not the intensity or the target of negative emotion to a given situation was justified. There is a famous quote by Aristotle, "To be angry is easy. But to be angry with the right man at the right time and in the right manner, that is not easy." If we pay attention to our emotional reactions, more often than not, we fail in any one or more components. For example, either we get angry with the wrong person (annoyed on differences with boss and showing irritability on wife), or show anger as per our state of mind at a particular juncture and not according to the situation.

Effective Communication

It is again a very crucial life-skill which pertains to expression of thoughts and feelings clearly. Proper communication is important and it does not only involve communication of the content of our thought but also effective ways of communicating them. For example, if an adolescent has to refuse something (such as an offer by peers for taking drugs), he should not only be able to say ‘no’ but he should be able to say it assertively. Likewise, having logical sequence in  expression of thoughts impresses others. Also, effective communication involves proper use of both verbal and non-verbal languages. Thus, just telling that ‘I am confident’ is not sufficient; telling it with a body language that oozes confidence is important.

Healthy Interpersonal Relationship

Maintaining a healthy interpersonal relationship is crucial for our growth. It requires many other life-skills as pillars. For example, compassion, empathy, emotional reciprocity, effective communication and similar other factors are vital for developing and maintaining a healthy relationship with our family members, neighbours and colleagues. Poor interpersonal relationships lead to poor support system which can be a major source of stress as well as hindrance in tackling stresses.

Source: Living Life Positively (Facilitator Guide)



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