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.
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.