The term ‘Life Skills’ refers to the skills you need to make the most out of life.
Any skill that is useful in your life can be considered a life skill. Tying your shoe laces, swimming, driving a car and using a computer are, for most people, useful life skills. Broadly speaking, the term ‘life skills’ is usually used for any of the skills needed to deal well and effectively with the challenges of life.
It should therefore be clear that everyone will potentially have a different list of the skills they consider most essential in life, and those that they consider unnecessary. Someone living in a remote rural community might put driving a car high on their list of essential skills. A Londoner or New Yorker, however, would probably rank that pretty low.
This page is therefore designed to provide a broad general introduction to the concept of life skills and point you towards other pages that you may find useful for developing your skills.
Defining Essential Life Skills
There is no definitive list of life skills.
Certain skills may be more or less relevant to you depending on your life circumstances, your culture, beliefs, age, geographic location, etc. However, in 1999, the World Health Organization identified six key areas of life skills:
Decision-making and problem-solving. This describes the skills required to understand problems, find solutions to them, alone or with others, and then take action to address them.
Creative thinking and critical thinking. This describes the ability to think in different and unusual ways about problems, and find new solutions, or generate new ideas, coupled with the ability to assess information carefully and understand its relevance.
Self-awareness and empathy, which are two key parts of emotional intelligence. They describe understanding yourself and being able to feel for other people as if their experiences were happening to you.
Resilience and ability to cope with problems, which describes the ability to recover from setbacks, and treat them as opportunities to learn, or simply experiences.
It is also true that different life skills will be more or less relevant at different times your life. For example:
When at school or university, you'll need study skills. These may include understanding how to organise yourself for study, do research, and even write up a dissertation or thesis. These are not skills that everyone will need, but writing skills are likely to be useful in a variety of careers and jobs.
When buying a house, you may need to employ negotiation skills, and you will certainly need plenty of patience and good temper. These skills are also likely to be high on your ‘essential life skills’ list if you have children!
When you have a job, you may need to develop leadership skills, especially if you need to lead teams or groups;
...perhaps the most important life skill is the ability and willingness to learn.
By learning new skills, we increase our understanding of the world around us and equip ourselves with the tools we need to live a more productive and fulfilling life, finding ways to cope with the challenges that life, inevitably, throws at us.
Most people associate learning with a formal education, but learning can, and should, be a lifelong process that enhances our understanding of the world and improves the quality of our life.
Looking Beyond the Obvious
It will be clear that Skills You Need has many pages that can help you to develop these important life skills, and lots more.
These skills fall into a number of areas, including personal skills, interpersonal skills, writing skills and numeracy skills. Each of us already has a number of these skills; equally, we will all recognise that there are particular areas that could be improved.
Personal skills are the essential life skills we need to help maintain a healthy body and mind.
These skills include many of those on the World Health Organization’s list, such as resilience, self-control and self-awareness. They include skills such as how we recognise, manage and cope with emotions. You can find out more about your personality type on our page Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) and our page Keeping your Mind Healthy is also worth a read.
Being able to manage anger and stress can also be essential life skills. Learning about anger and stress, recognising what may trigger them (in ourselves and others), what the symptoms are and how to control or manage such emotions can greatly enhance the quality of our lives. You can find more about how to cope with stress in our pages on Stress and Managing Stress. We also have a section on Anger and Anger Management.
Many people battle with low self-esteem and confidence, which can cause stress and prevent them from reaching their full potential. Our pages Improving Self-Esteem and Building Confidence provide practical ways to overcome these issues.
Interpersonal and Communication Skills
The second important area of life skills is interpersonal and communication skills. These are the skills that we use to make connections with other people and are therefore an important part of what makes us human.
Communication skills are generally seen as a subset of interpersonal skills, as are decision-making and problem-solving, but both are important enough to consider in their own right too.
This is such a huge area that you may find that it is worth taking our Interpersonal Skills Self-Assessment Test to find out how good your listening and other interpersonal skills are.
Communication and other interpersonal skills cover a huge range of skills, including:
- Effective listening skills, together with techniques such as clarification and reflection, can help prevent misunderstanding.
- Verbal and non-verbal communication, include both how to use your voice and choose the right words, and also the use of tone of voice, body language and how you dress. They can help to build rapport.
- Unfortunately, there are also many barriers to effective communication in any communication situation. These can lead to misunderstanding or even conflict.
Literacy: Reading and Writing Skills
Most people communicate, at least some of the time, using the written word—through letters, emails, reports, text messages, social network feeds and a host of other methods.
Being able to write clearly and concisely is a very powerful way to communicate, either one-to-one or to a much larger audience. We provide articles that will help you to improve your written communication and learn or refresh your knowledge on some of the fundamental rules of writing.
Our Writing Skills section includes lots of help and practical advice to help you improve your writing.
Many people struggle with maths or numeracy. Developing or refreshing your numeracy skills, however, can give you a real boost in life. Better numeracy skills can:
- Make you more employable;
- Help you to develop a better understanding of the world around you;
- Save you time and money; and even
- Improve your mental health.
We don’t all need to be great mathematicians, and we’re certainly not all rocket scientists, but an understanding of the basic principles of day-to-day numeracy, arithmetic and maths will help to open many doors.
See our Numeracy Skills section for easy-to-follow, real-world examples of basic numeracy. There is plenty there about particular areas of maths that may be a struggle. The section also contains useful information about real-world maths, including budgeting, understanding interest, and loans and savings, all of which could save you money in both the short and longer term.
Lifelong learning and personal development
When you look at this list, it will probably be clear why a willingness to learn may be the most important life skill of all!
There are so many important life skills, but it is also important to remember that you have been developing these skills since you were born. Continuing to learn and grow is only an ongoing part of that process.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Learn how to set yourself effective personal goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study and in your personal life.
Our eBook is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their skills and learning potential, and it is full of easy-to-follow, practical information.