4.9 What are the Habits of the Mind?

Jan 13, 2020 | Cognitive Psychology, Courses, ch4 Problem Solving & Creativity in Psychology

This lesson will teach you about the habits of the mind. No, these aren’t cool nun outfits for your brain; they’re mental behaviors that support an intelligent and thoughtful lifestyle. A brief quiz follows the lesson.

What are the Habits of the Mind?

How is it that two people, of equivalent intelligence and with the same support structure and background, can have such drastically different outcomes in life? All things being equal, why is it that some people seem prone to success and others to failure? For the last 20 years educators Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick have researched and studied these same ideas. From this research, they have developed 16 habits, which can be taught to help encourage success. Success by their definition isn’t just academics, but also in students’ careers and social lives. These 16 habits will help to develop human beings who can solve problems, be compassionate, and improve the world around them.

Let’s start with a loose definition. Habits of the mind are 16 behaviors that breed thoughtful and intelligent actions. Pretty vague, right? This will make more sense when we get into the actual habits. For now, let’s try and remember that the goal of Costa and Kallick in designing these habits was for teachers to impart these good behaviors onto their students so they can successfully overcome challenges in all walks of life. As such, the habits aren’t like traditional educational objectives, which are intentionally narrow. These objectives are designed to be broad enough to be applicable to life in general with the goal of solving problems to achieve positive outcomes.

The 16 Habits of the Mind


The 16 Habits

Let’s get down to these bad boys. There’s a whopping 16 of them, so use the bathroom if need be and get a snack.

1. Persisting

Successful people are persistent. Remaining focused on the task at hand and following through are vital to achieving your goals.

2. Managing Impulsivity

Like the dog from Up, it’s easy to get distracted by the squirrels of life. That isn’t as profound as I intended. Becoming an effective problem solver calls for patience, calm, and the ability to make logical and rational decisions.

3. Listening with Understanding and Empathy

Hearing what people are saying and listening are two different things. A good habit to get into is trying to focus on what the other person is trying to communicate, whether it’s through the words or the subtext of what they are saying.

4. Thinking Flexibly

This doesn’t mean touching your toes while pondering a problem. What Costa and Kallick mean by thinking flexibly is to look at an event from as many angles as possible. We (as humans, not you and I) often are entrenched in our own point of view. Put aside the ego for a minute and look at a problem from another perspective.

5. Thinking about Thinking

This habit could be thought of as consciously reflecting on how we think. Successful problem solvers are aware of how they think, as this is the first step in finding faults in your own thinking. Being able to reflect on your own cognition (known as metacognition) is part of what makes being a human so great.

6. Striving for Accuracy

The goal here is to take pride in your work, whatever that may be. Caring about what you produce is important to success.

7. Questioning and Posing Problems

An innate human desire is to question our surroundings. Just talk to a three year-old for a little while and you’ll see. Everything is met with a quizzical look and the question ‘why?’. Good problem solvers and successful people don’t lose this habit.

8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

Learning from your mistakes is vital to the human experience. This doesn’t mean that if you fail at something you should never try again, it means that you need to examine what caused failure and work to correct it. This way, whenever you encounter a similar problem, you can save yourself from failure.

9. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

We think the way we talk and vice versa. A confused mind produces confused communication. Intelligent people communicate their ideas directly and succinctly while avoiding overgeneralizations and distortions. Also, stop using literally, when you mean figuratively. That figuratively drives me crazy.

10. Gathering Data Through All Senses

For a while, scientists have known that the more senses you experience something with the better chance you have of retaining knowledge. By experiencing something with as many of your senses as possible, you’ll take in more information and have a much better chance of storing it for a long time.

11. Creating, Imagining, Innovating

Everyone has some creative and imaginative drive. Intelligent people know the many avenues they have to express themselves and use them. Applying creative problem solving often results in innovative solutions. Just look at Teflon, which was created entirely by accident.

12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Intelligent people enjoy finding out new information or solving new problems. Being curious about the world around you and enjoying the process of discovery makes learning enjoyable.

13. Taking Responsible Risks

As the old adage goes, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. Risks can be small, from reading a book from a new author you may not like, or large, like going to college across the country. Successful people know that to achieve great things, you have to put yourself out there.

14. Finding Humor

Finding enjoyment in little things makes life all the greater. Also, it’s been scientifically proven that laughing has a number of beneficial physiological effects, from a boost to the immune system to encouraging creative thinking.

15. Thinking Interdependently

Working together makes us all stronger. Learning how to be an effective member of a group is vital to achieving your best. Working in groups allows you to see things you might have otherwise missed and develop innovative solutions.

16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

No one, no matter how much school they’ve gone to, knows everything. Every day brings about opportunities to expand your knowledge and experiences. To quote Joe Dirt, ‘life’s a garden, dig it’.

Lesson Summary

Good golly that was a lot to cover! I hope you’ve learned a little bit more about the habits of the mind, which you’ll remember are behaviors, which promote intelligence and thoughtful actions. I won’t rehash them all here, but if you can work to adopt these habits (or encourage them in students), you’ll become a better human and citizen of this planet.

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