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How to Build Life Skills

Discover the science behind life skills and examples of life skills for you to explore.

Have you ever wondered why some people get ahead and others do not? Have you noticed that the smartest people are rarely the ones in charge? That’s because “smarts” are just a small part of what is required for success. We also need to develop life skills, which include a mixture of psychological and behavioral skills. In this article, we’ll talk about what life skills are, provide examples of life skills, and talk about how to build the most important life skills.

What Are Life Skills?

Life skills can be defined as abilities that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life. They may also be called psychosocial skills, as they are psychological in nature and include thinking and behavioral processes. Others define life skills as behavioral, cognitive, or interpersonal skills that enable individuals to succeed in various areas of life (Hodge, Danish, & Martin, 2013).

Life skills are often broken down into three types (​​Prajapati, Sharma, & Sharma, 2017):

  • Thinking skills: This might involve being able to think of multiple solutions to a problem or develop new innovations in a creative way.

  • Social skills: This might involve knowing how to develop healthy relationships, how to communicate in effective ways, and how to interact with others successfully.

  • Emotional skills: This might involve being comfortable in your own skin, dealing with emotions effectively, and knowing who you are.

Research suggests that developing life skills may help reduce drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. It may also reduce aggression and violence (Botvin & Griffin, 2004). In addition to these bigger outcomes, life skills can just make life a bit easier. When we can regulate our emotions effectively and develop enduring, supportive relationships, we’re happier and healthier. This is why developing life skills is key not only to be successful in life, it’s key for our health and well-being.

Examples of Life Skills

According to several key organizations including UNICEF, UNESCO, and WHO, the following are the basic life skills (​​Prajapati, Sharma, & Sharma, 2017):

  • Self-awareness

  • Critical thinking

  • Creative thinking

  • Decision making

  • Problem Solving

  • Effective communication

  • Interpersonal relationships

  • Empathy

  • Coping with stress

  • Coping with emotion

Of course, these skills overlap, with each of them aiding and supporting the others. There may also be other life skills and there may be subcategories of life skills within each of these basic life skill types.

Building Life Skills

It is difficult to build life skills simply by reading about them. Building life skills often involves engaging in activities that require the skill. With time and practice, these activities help you get better at the given life skill. So, here are a few activities that can help you build life skills that lead to well-being.

  • Loving-kindness meditation. Loving-kindness meditation is a type of meditation that focuses on imagining sending love to the self and others. It can help cultivate life skills like compassion, kindness, love, and other important relationship skills. You can try several loving-kindness meditations here.

  • Gratitude journaling. Writing a journal with lists and stories of the things you’re grateful for is a great way to build your emotional coping skills. And, gratitude is one of those skills that actually sticks (Davis et al., 2016). Once you’ve built this skill, your brain can find it easier to be grateful even when you're not trying. Learn more about gratitude journaling here.

  • Affirmations. Affirmations are when we say a positive statement, usually about ourselves, out loud. This can help us develop more positive feelings about ourselves, boost our confidence, and improve our sense of self-worth. You can learn how to do positive affirmations here.

Final Thoughts on Life Skills

There are so many life skills we could build that improve our lives. It can often be hard to know where to start. Generally, we benefit from building the skills we’re worst at—that way, we can see the biggest gains. But, if you’re having a hard time getting started, just pick something easy and enjoyable. Then you can move on to more difficult life skills later on.


  • Botvin, G. J., & Griffin, K. W. (2004). Life skills training: Empirical findings and future directions. Journal of primary prevention, 25(2), 211-232.

  • Davis, D. E., Choe, E., Meyers, J., Wade, N., Varjas, K., Gifford, A., ... & Worthington Jr, E. L. (2016). Thankful for the little things: A meta-analysis of gratitude interventions. Journal of counseling psychology, 63(1), 20.

  • Hodge, K., Danish, S., & Martin, J. (2013). Developing a conceptual framework for life skills interventions. The Counseling Psychologist, 41(8), 1125-1152.

  • Prajapati, R., Sharma, B., & Sharma, D. (2017). Significance of life skills education. Contemporary Issues in Education Research (CIER), 10(1), 1-6.

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