We are what we do. As Aristotle puts it in his text Nicomachean Ethics, “virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions”. In other words, we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

But you don’t need a degree in Greek philosophy to know this. Instinctively, as parents and as teachers, we know that doing the right thing repeatedly can produce good habits, which then produce the results we want. Want to have clean teeth? Brush your teeth every night. Want to feel rested? Avoid caffeine before bedtime, sleep early, don’t take your mobile phone to bed with you. And so on.

But what do we do when we want to solve a challenging problem? What sort of habits do we need to have ingrained in ourselves? Here’s where Habits of Mind come in. Formulated by educators Art Costa and Bene Kallick in 1982, they were initially referred to as “intelligent behaviours” that helped a person both effectively identify problems and solve them.

Through their research, Costa and Kallick eventually identified 16 Habits of Mind:

1. Persisting
2. Managing impulsivity
3. Listening with understanding and empathy
4. Thinking flexibly
5. Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
6. Striving for accuracy
7. Questioning and posing problems
8. Applying past knowledge to new situations
9. Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
10. Gathering data through all senses
11. Creating, imagining, innovating
12. Responding with wonderment and awe
13. Taking responsible risks
14. Finding humour
15. Thinking interdependently
16. Remaining open to continuous learning

Some of these seem pretty straightforward – of course, persistence can lead to success. You can pick apart a tricky problem if you simply hammer away at it along enough. But how can humour help.

It’s not about knowing the answer…
In teaching Habits of Mind, say Costa and Kallick, we are interested in not only what a student knows, but how students behave when they don’t know the answer. Critical thinking – and developing critical thinking skills – doesn’t come from knowing the answer, but from knowing how to frame the problem, what data to gather, and how to find the answer.

Acquiring good Habits of Mind doesn’t happen overnight, either. As a teacher or parent, you need to provide repeated opportunities over a long period of time; it is when these habits are reinforced, reflected on and modelled at home that they become internalised within the student.

As we continue to progress through the 21st century, it is rapidly becoming clear that good grades are only a small element of eventual success in work and in life. Helping your child develop good Habits of Mind is one way that you can equip them for the career challenges of the future.


This article was first seen on goguru.com

This is an introduction to a 16-part series on Habits of Mind. Follow the series here.