Improving, not Using

If there were one aspect of the Habits  that stood out as being the most important to understand when learning out the Habits of Mind it would be this:

Focus on Improving your Habits of Mind, not merely using them.

One of the problems people run into when first discovering the Habits of Mind is that they come to view them as fixed¬†characteristics. We read about Persisting, for example, and think to ourselves that “yes, I know someone who is persistent”. Or we reflect on Managing Impulsivity and can immediately identify with someone who can’t do that. We first see the Habits as something people have or don’t have, and of course this isn’t true.

Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because if we view the Habits of Mind as something fixed, it leads down a path of labelling what we believe people naturally possess instead of a path of improvement and development. We begin to see the Habits of Mind in much the same way as we look at our height, or our eye color – that they are just part of who we are. If this happens we tend to use the Habits of Mind as a way of simply labelling people, or as an excuse for our own or others deficiencies e.g. “You can’t expect me to do that, I just can’t manage my impulsivity!”

If the Habits of Mind were simple labels they would be of little use. They really are ways to direct our attention to areas of our thinking that we can develop, improve, grow, extend and otherwise build upon so we can become more effective. Investigations into the nature of intelligence (that I discuss briefly here) clearly show us that we are all capable of significantly improving our abilities, and the Habits of Mind are no exception.Pic 1

As you read and learn about the Habits of Mind keep your sights clearly fixed on the development and improvement of the Habits of Mind. When you see an example of someone “using” a Habit of Mind, always add a description of how well they are using it. They might be very good at using it, or poor at using it.

When you come across poor examples of a Habit of Mind, ask yourself how that person could improve their Habit of Mind. If you’re in the role of an educator (parent, teacher, employer) you might also ask what you could do to help that person get better at their Habits of Mind.

It is without a doubt the single most important lesson I can teach you about the Habits of Mind. Whatever you do don’t ever be content with simply “Using” your Habits of Mind. You must focus on “Improving” your Habits of Mind.




  • BarbaraRobinson

    It seems to me that we are, to a large extent, born with these habits of mind. Certainly in little children you can see persistence, posing questions, finding awe and humour, gathering data through senses etc. I wonder when it is exactly, that we forget to use them or improve or continue to develop them. Is it how parents and teachers respond to children that dictates how many habits are constantly used by children?

    • Alice Meinicke

      Indeed, I believe we are generally born with some capacity to practise these habits, but through our learning as we experience life, some approaches are strengthened/reinforced if they are perceived to deliver us the things we want. Sometimes, though, a person may not be aware of what they are lacking and this is where our guidance as teachers can come in!

  • Cheryl Broughton

    I completely agree we do not want to use these habits as labels. I have seen this used in the classroom where the habits being used is referred to and students are able to gauge for themselves the extent to which they have used it. This is a bit like growth and fixed mindsets people move between having a growth or fixed mindset depending on the context. We as educators need to be be very mindful of guiding students towards positively using the habits and recognizing for themselves when they are exhibiting a particular habit.

  • Tami-Jo Richter

    I agree with improving the HOM- they are not something taught and then left- they are explicitly taught, continually used and assessed and should develop a deepness or complexity as students grow older.

  • Rebecca Werchon

    I completely agree and we do need to understand them all in order to improve them.

  • Ashlee Bray

    To be a good educator, we ourselves must continually use and assess our personal skills and dispositions to enable us to effectively support student development.

  • jbrumfield

    There seems to be an inconsistency in this conversation. Please correct me if i am misunderstanding something – it seems to me that Habits of Mind is based on the ability to “think about our thinking.” This skill involves planning, goal setting and then evaluating this chain to include results, skills that are mostly learned. Being aware of what is taking place within our mind (including emotions and sensations) would involve a related and slightly different ability of observing these phenomena while they occur, from a place other than that in which thoughts are taking place. This, i believe is some of what BRobinson (see October 17, 2015 above) is referring to in “little children.” My inquiry is – how to access or reestablish this ability?

  • birminghamseobook

    Yes, I agree. Sometimes using labels like ‘using’ techniques lowers our ability to incorporate good Mind habits.