Describing Improvement

Now that we have outlined the importance of focusing on improving, not simply using, our Habits of Mind, it’s natural to ask how do we improve our Habits of Mind? What sort of improvements are we trying to achieve?

These are very important questions, because if we can’t describe what improvement looks like, we can’t direct our attention to achieving those improvements.

There are five different ways to look at the development of the Habits of Mind that we describe as Dimensions of Growth. These represent the different areas to work on when seeking to improve your Habits of Mind. They are in no particular order and can be worked on independently.

It is important to note that there is no end point to developing your Habits of Mind. They can never be ticked off as achieved. Each of the dimensions below is open ended, allowing for continual, life long improvement.

Meaning: the WHAT of the Habit of Mind.

It is possible to increase your understanding of what the Habit of Mind means. Some people have very shallow, limited understanding of the meaning of the Habit of Mind, other possess very rich and complex understandings. Although we instinctively feel we “know” what each of the Habits of Mind mean, we find that we can usually dig deeper into the meaning when we try.

We can look for richer more insightful examples of the Habit of Mind being used. We can gather more complex and complete analogies that show the depth and complexity within each Habit of Mind.

For example, a 5 year old might describe Persisting as “not giving up” and as an example cite “The Little Engine that Could”. A better definition might be “to keep looking for new ways to reach your goal when you’re stuck” and to give an example of Wylie Coyote. However both of these examples show characters only in one context and when they are pursing goals of their choosing. Even richer examples might be of people who persevere in many different contexts, and in situations not of their own choosing e.g. in the face of external adversity.

Capacity: the HOW of the Habit of Mind.

Each of the Habits of Mind has a skill set behind it. You have to DO something in order to engage in the Habit of Mind. Sometimes these actions are cognitive, other times they are physical. To improve in the Habits of Mind you may need to learn new skills, new tools or strategies, or other ways of going about engaging in the Habit of Mind.

For example, sometimes people complain that they aren’t very good at Creating, Imagining and Innovating. There are skills and tools you can learn to help improve this ability. A search of “Creative Thinking Tools” on Google yields over 50 million results on the topic.

Not all the Habits of Mind are equally skill laden, but all have a skill set of some kind. Each time you learn a new skill, tool or strategy that helps you engage in the Habit of Mind better, you are improving in that Habit of Mind.

Alertness: The WHEN of the Habit of Mind

A key component to improving in a Habit of Mind is becoming more attuned to the situations that call for the application of that Habit. For example, all the listening skills in the world aren’t going to do you much good if you don’t know when to use them!

We don’t want to use the Habits of Mind all the time. That might surprise you, but different situations call for different sets of the Habits of Mind to be applied. A surgeon in the middle of delicate heart surgery should be striving for accuracy, not finding humor! An air traffic controller should be Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision as he guides the plane down in the fog, not responding with wonderment and awe which might be distracting.

There are cues and signals in every situation that tell us which of the Habits of Mind are most required in a given situation. Learning to become more attuned and more alert to these cues is critical in developing our Habits of Mind.

Value. The WHY of the Habit of Mind.

One of the factors affecting our choice to engage in a Habit of Mind is the value we place on it. Successful people place a very high value on these patterns of behaviours because they have learned to recognise the benefits that they derive from engaging in theme.

One of the ways we get better at the Habits of Mind is to recognise the benefits they are bring us. This can expand from recognition in a single context such as a specific task, to a broader context of “work” or “home” until the person sees the benefit of the Habits of Mind in their life. Finally they begin advocating the Habits of Mind to others.

Commitment: the HOW WELL of the Habit of mind

In order to improve we must have a way of evaluating our Habits of Mind. This usually involves us becoming increasingly descriptive, qualitative and accurate in our self-assessment of our abilities. Further it involves becoming more sophisticated in the way we measure and set goals for improvement with the Habits of Mind.

As we develop in this dimension we become increasingly self-directing, self-modifying and self-managing in our development of the Habits of Mind