Commonly, information online on habits is focused either on breaking bad habits – like quitting smoking. Or acquiring good habits – like meditating like a Buddhist monk. But besides reading comprehensive lists and watching fancy videos, the possession of good habits foremost requires good thinking.
That’s where habits of mind come in.
Professors, pilots, astronauts, and royalties from distant countries all keep and use certain habits of mind to operate effectively in the ever-changing world.
When a complex problem confronts you and quickly deteriorates your mood. A skilled thinker knows that – usually – his immediate reaction won’t lead to optimal results. Therefore, he fallback to a proven thinking system that can lead to behaving intelligently even when the immediately emerging emotions are forcing him to think like a two-year-old.
When I’m starved like a vampire chasing a vein and if I’m confronted with choosing between a big fat juicy burger or a freshly assembled salad with no meat in it. Guess what I’m going to eat? It surely ain’t going to be grass arranged in a plate.
But that’s why we have brains. Brains that enable us to think.
Brains that can distinguish between right and wrong.
But also, brains that are hardwired towards one important thing: To survive. And when survival mode is ON, this often leads to poor judgments.
In this installment, we are looking at the famous 16 Habits of Mind that, when embedded, will positively transform your everyday decision-making process.
Let’s begin with looking at the Habits of Mind definition:
What Are Habits of Mind?
The Habits of Mind concept is the process of intelligently deconstructing a challenging situation using 16 attributes so you can find opportunities in the face of uncertainty.
We can even say that they are heuristics – mental shortcuts – that promote clear thinking. Allowing you to reach an optimal solution even if you don’t know initially the answer to the existing question, or you weren’t born naturally smart.
Why Are They Called Habits of Mind?
Since the term habits refer to a behavior that is automatic. The concept of Habits of Mind aims to promote having a mental plan that activates good thinking patterns even when life is turbulent.
For instance, instead of investing impulsively in a trendy company with an unclear future because a couple of your friends did so. You apply Managing Impulsitivy – take time to consider all sides before acting.
Why Are Habits of Mind Important?
You could scream into a pillow about sending an email without adding the attachment you mentioned in the said email. Or you could say, “Yes, I did a stupid mistake, but never again!” And then learn how to upgrade your thinking.
The importance of habits of mind lies in the way we usually act/make decisions.
When a situation occurs, we commonly respond with a well-rehearsed repertoire.
Commonly, this repertoire is simply responding emotionally. Or acting based on past knowledge. Both of which are not optimal.
The idea here is to insert these good thinking patterns between the situation and your usual response. Therefore, preventing unintelligence from ruining your life – i.e., judging before understanding, screaming instead of first thinking, making rash decisions, etc.
After all, since you can’t be prepared for everything. And life is anything but predictable. Reaching a state of success is based on how you act when you don’t know the answer. How you act when you are confronted with an unfamiliar situation.
That’s actually how the whole idea of Habits of Mind was born.
The researchers who created this methodology were more interested in helping people produce knowledge rather than merely reproduce knowledge.
Or as stated in one of the original research papers on the topic:1
“The critical attribute of intelligent human beings is not only having information, but also knowing how to act on it.” Arthur L. Costa
What Are The Main Habits of Mind?
Both are highly regarded educators in the fields of critical thinking and cognition.
They propose 16 attributes (described below) that basically form a thinking system that a person can use to solve the ever-emerging difficult situations trying to hammer our progress.
And while these 16 ways to think cover a lot of the situations you might encounter. The authors also warn that you shouldn’t believe that this is a complete list of how one should exercise his ability to think.
It’s an incomplete list which lifelong learners should aim to expand.
So, having said all of that. Let’s see what are the 16 Habits of Mind and how you can apply them in your everyday life:
The 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 Humor
- 15. Thinking Interdependently
- 16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
People who reach their goals and achieve a state of success all possess the mysteriously hard-to-have trait of sticking to a task until it is fully complete.
Conversely, people who fail or don’t do well in life, school, or in a music band all do the same thing: They self-convince themselves that they “can’t do this” or “it’s too hard” – whatever it is.
Persisting is (yes) about sticking to a task/goal until it’s done – and a lot of times beyond that. But it’s also something else. Not stubbornly doing the same things even if they are no longer working. You keep going, but along the way, you make amendments to your initial strategy in order to advance.
How To Apply Persisting in Your Daily Life?
- Develop a clear system, strategy to attack problems.
- Modify your strategy when the initial steps are no longer working.
- Regularly reflect on your own process, so you can find better ways to act.
- Learn from your mistakes. See them as challenges in your way for achieving what you want.
2. Managing Impulsivity
Managing Impulsivity is about a self-imposed delay of gratification. Giving yourself time to consider all the possible options. Your ability to prevent an impulse from taking full control over your mind and body. And instead, inviting calmness and clarity to reach a well-measured next step.
On paper, this looks easy. When someone offends you. You pause and think before you speak. But in reality, it’s incredibly hard to not give into your impulses.
Managing Impulsivity is probably the most important habit of mind because without it, there is no way to have good thinking.
How To Apply Managing Impulsivity in Your Daily Life?
- When you sense that emotions are fastly energizing every molecule of your body, do all possible to invite fresh thoughts into your brain before you act.
- Restrain from doing something before you fully understand the idea, question, goal, etc.
- Identify your usual triggers: What makes you act irrationally? How do you usually act when you act emotionally? Then, think about what you can do differently.
3. Listening with Understanding and Empathy
Knowledge, wisdom… both can’t emerge without listening. Listening, and actually hearing what the other person has to say, is amongst the pool of qualities all intelligent people possess. You respect the point of view of others and refrain from speaking. All of this is done, so you can relate to what the other is experiencing.
When you can properly articulate what the other person has to say and detect cues in their behavior. You emotionally connect with them. You perform empathy. And most importantly, you overcome your natural egocentrism. That is, the inability to understand any perspective other than your own.
How To Apply Listening with Understanding and Empathy in Your Daily Life?
- While others speak, you are not preoccupied with composing a mental draft of what you’ll say next. You focus on the words generated by the other party.
- Listening is about the other person – not about you. What they are sharing? Why they are sharing it? What are they feeling right now?
- Monitor your own thoughts while you listen and steer them back to the party speaking.
- Even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, keep listening. You want to know exactly what you disagree with.
4. Thinking Flexibly
Thinking Flexibly is a much-needed quality for everyone looking to reduce errors. And the good news is that it’s right there and waiting. Your ability to change your beliefs and acquire new mental models is a unique characteristic of the brain.
As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
The thinking patterns that currently exist in your brain are not hardcoded. You can re-write them, change them, or completely remove old ones and replace them with new, better ones.
When you think flexibly, you don’t automatically act based on previous experience. You form a response considering the uniqueness of the current situation.
How To Apply Thinking Flexibly and Empathy in Your Daily Life?
- Consider multiple points of view and different sources of information before deciding.
- Keep your mind open for new ideas.
- Look for different fields – totally unrelated to your problem – to find a better solution.
- Aim to replace flawed and incomplete mental models with new ones.
- Your thinking improves when what you know gets harder to disconfirm.
5. Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition)
Metacognition is the mystical skill of detaching from your body and observing yourself from a distance. When this happens, you think about your thoughts. You are able to recognize what you know, don’t know, and don’t know you don’t know (unknown unknowns).
Thinking about your Thinking is taking time to consider how you typically think. Why are you thinking like this, and identifying what can be changed.
This whole evaluation process allows you to make adjustments to your mental processes and act better in the future.
It’s like you work on an engine of a car to make it work better, faster. Similarly, when you think about your thinking. You make modifications to your thinking systems. An important prerequisite for better decision-making.
How To Apply Thinking about Thinking in Your Daily Life?
- Regularly schedule sessions with yourself. Yes, one-on-one meetings with you and your brain. Think about a recent situation and deconstruct your thinking.
- Create a decision journal where you can record your decisions. Include how you think about the situation currently and what do you think will happen – your prediction. Then, schedule time to reflect on your previous decision and the back-then thought processes.
6. Striving for Accuracy
A desire to produce exceptional results is what pushes the world forward. Striving for Accuracy is about possessing an insatiable drive for excellence. Errorless behavior and expert craftsmanship regardless of what you do.
While perfection can hinder progress.2 You balance between what you consider great and what you can do now. Meaning that you do your best to produce exceptional results as best as you currently can. And though the results you’ll produce at this time probably won’t look like what you’d hoped to achieve. You keep persisting. Refining your work along the way.
How To Apply Striving for Accuracy in Your Daily Life?
- Get motivated to produce quality work.
- Define what quality means to you. What do you think it means for others? (In relation to this, I recommend reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.)
- Constantly review your standards and update them according to the changes happening around you.
- Continue to perfect your thinking patterns and your way of work to attain the highest possible standards.
- Consider yourself a craftsman. A person who is never done making refinements.
7. Questioning and Posing Problems
The skill to question is an essential tool to reach the core of a problem. We, humans, have this unique capability to distinguish between what we know and what we need to know. All of this happens by formulating questions in our heads and later finding the answers to these questions.
If you accept everything at face value – e.g., don’t question things, don’t have a critical thinking process. You will never move forward. You will simply respond to the things happening to you.
For instance, asking questions like: “If the Earth was flat, I should be able to see very far, right? Why then I can’t see the tallest building when the weather is good?”
Possibly a similar question was troubling the mind of Pythagoras – an ancient Greek philosopher who first proposed a spherical Earth.
How To Apply Questioning and Posing Problems in Your Daily Life?
- Ask yourself questions.
- Ask critical thinking questions.
- Ask others questions to better understand the problem.
- Ask questions about hypothetical problems. For instance:
- “What do you think would happen IF…..?”
- “IF that is true, then what might happen if….?”
8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
Tailoring a past solution to new emerging problems is the quickest way to solve problems. After all, why waste time researching an issue while you can tap into your past experiences to move ahead?
Our ability to learn from our experience – and the experience of others. It’s an essential tool for handling new and perplexing problems that try to sabotage our progress.
The idea here is to make analogies based on your experiences – even if they are not directly related to the current issue – so you can find a better way to move forward.
For instance, often when I get stuck while writing. I don’t read more on the same topic. I open my notes and I read something in a totally different field. Then, I look for how I can associate the text to my current topic. This makes my writing – or at least I hope it does – more interesting and engaging.
How To Apply Past Knowledge to New Situations in Your Daily Life?
- Don’t treat events as far away islands. Make it a habit to make connections between different ideas.
- Instead of approaching a new task as if it’s totally new. Ask yourself, “How is this task similar to things I did in the past?”
- Make associations from past experiences and apply parts to the current situation.
- Learn from others. Read books by different authors and in different fields. This will expand your pool of ideas and increase the likelihood of stepping on the correct path.
9. Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
The inevitably good side effect of good thinking is good communication. The capability of staying away from unnecessary complexity will make your life less complicated and will help you think with precision and great accuracy. Furthermore, the exchange between you and others will improve. Instead of endlessly discussing unimportant details. You’ll agree on the main approach and move along.
You can easily spot when someone is skilled at clarity and precision. You can’t unsee it. Rather than using vague and unclear language. This man uses words that cut like a surgeon’s scalpel.
How To Apply Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision in Your Daily Life?
- Teach yourself to filter. Distill the unimportant details and focus on the core problem.
- Avoid generalization. Use clear language.
- Clear thinking leads to clear writing and speaking. If you can’t express an idea using simple words, you don’t know the concept well enough – go back to the textbook. And also, use one of the mental models for learning – pretend that you’re teaching the concept to a child.
10. Gathering Data through All Senses
We get information not only through what we hear and see. Our brains gather inputs using all sensory pathways. That’s exactly what Gathering Data through All Senses is all about. To be open to the world and to your natural characteristics. This means to, “Stop to observe what I see; Listen to what I hear; Take note of what I smell; Taste what I am eating; Feel what I am touching.”
We can learn more about something if we consider all of its qualities. As you can’t determine whether a certain food is good unless you smell it and taste it. Your decision-making will be far better when you apply all of your senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
How To Apply Gathering Data through All Senses in Your Daily Life?
- Often the problems we face are abstract – we need to figure out how to increase sales, for example. In such cases, make the problem something tangible. Consider what a potential buyer feels, does, and touches when he’s considering your products.
- When you feel stuck. To continue working towards a long-term goal. Envision your future when you reach your goal. How your life will “taste” then? This can keep you moving forward.
- An interesting exercise from the book Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. Go to a museum, choose a painting or sculpture, and look at it for three hours straight.
11. Creating, Imagining, Innovating
The attribute of Creating, Imagining, Innovating is about finding solutions that are different from the “norm”. Proposing new original ideas. Imagining alternative solutions. Plainly, thinking in the direction of how to create a better future.
Because, after all, the world is constantly being optimized. People are not trying to make things more complex. Rather, people are doing all possible to reduce friction and improve their lives – and the lives of others.
This thinking pattern is for people frustrated by the status-quo in an ever-increasing effort to refine the future.
How To Apply Creating, Imagining, Innovating in Your Daily Life?
- Your life is a product of your creation. Tightly related to the decisions you make.
- Imagine what your life should look like and think about creative ways to get there.
- Creativity is not reserved for talented people. Many folks cut their wings by believing that they are not creative. But creativity is not something you are born with. It’s something you do. And you get good at it by practicing.
- Be open to feedback and don’t let criticism diminish your mood. Use the feedback to iterate and move forward.
12. Responding with Wonderment and Awe
Effective people, besides having an “I can” attitude, also possess an “I enjoy” attitude. They don’t simply move with zeal. They do so with a dose of excitement.
Folks who are average performing usually avoid problems that require learning or are outside their current set of skills. They shut down when challenges emerge.
Not great thinkers. They get ecstatic when there are problems to solve and opportunities to learn new subjects.
How To Apply Responding with Wonderment and Awe in Your Daily Life?
- Remain curios regardless of age. As I wrote in my piece a while ago, curiosity is far better than being smart.
- A notable difference between amateurs and professionals is that pros see opportunities when there are challenges, while amateurs see reasons to quit.
- See difficulties as opportunities to improve your life.
13. Taking Responsible Risks
Though new things scare us. We should do a lot of new things anyway. High returns are hidden not in what we know, but in what we don’t know will happen. The point is to make well-calculated decisions. If the worst-case scenario is cheap, it’s best to just do it. The more the negative side increase, the more we should be cautious.
As James Clear, the author of the book on habits (Atomic Habits) writes, “Your success depends on the risks you take. Your survival depends on the risks you avoid.”
There is a balance, but one thing is certain. You need to have strong foundations – thinking systems, money in the bank, specific skills – to avoid making desperate decisions. If you are desperate for something – money, admiration, fame – it’s likely this to lead to bad decisions.
How To Apply Taking Responsible Risks in Your Daily Life?
- Build equity in terms of mental models, critical thinking strategies, and capital. These will prevent you from making bets based on a desperate need to escape unfavorable situations. Or as Vice Chairman Keith Banks said once, “It’s not about timing the market, but about time in the market.”
- Once in a while, place yourself in a situation where you don’t know what the outcome will be. This will stretch your mental muscles.
- Taking risks worth taking. Think in bets. Realize that things are not back and while. They are gray.
- The moment you’re about to make a decision, ask yourself the following set of questions: “What are the consequences of each of my options in ten minutes? In ten months? In ten years?”
14. Finding Humor
This thing, life, will be quite a boring experience if there wasn’t laughter. Find humor in daily activities. Find amusement in the absurd and the unexpected. Instead of constantly criticizing yourself, laugh at yourself every chance you get.
Laughter is proven to be an antidote for bad mood and bad thinking.3 The act of laughing enhances your intake of oxygen. Stimulates your heart and muscles. Increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. In other words, it’s helpful.
How To Apply Finding Humor in Your Daily Life?
- You don’t have to tolerate things that are not joyful. Spend more time with positive people. People who are naturally funny and smile often.
- Using humor to regulate emotions is an effective strategy to deal with difficult life situations. When you face an unpleasant condition, take some time to come up with a humorous reappraisal – i.e., laugh in the face of danger.4
15. Thinking Interdependently
We are social animals. We thrive when we are surrounded by others. When we are in a group. When we are part of a team.
Thinking Interdependently is about cooperation. A sense of being heard. Helping others improve. It’s a quality that requires openness to accept feedback from others and use it to advance.
It’s no coincidence that the quote, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together” is astonishingly widespread.
If you surround yourself with smart people. If you are willing to contribute to the growth of the group – by both giving and receiving. You’ll reach a higher altitude.
How To Apply Thinking Interdependently in Your Daily Life?
- Take care of others. Spend time with others you care about.
- Have different groups of people. Your friends don’t necessarily have the same interests as you. But that shouldn’t stop you from finding other groups of people who can help you develop your passions.
- Let others shape your thinking, but don’t outsource thinking – called shifting the burden. It’s still you who should decide.
16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
Your willingness to continuously learn is probably the most important factor to go beyond the ordinary. Learning Continuously is about being humble when you don’t know and inspired to learn new subjects.
After all, the only constant thing in life is change. What you learned in school is far from useable. In fact, there is a huge chance that even what you learned last week is already obsolete.
How To Apply Remaining Open to Continuous Learning in Your Daily Life?
- Invest in books. Create a library. Join online portals that are devoted to continuous learning.
- Gather with people who are inspired to grow. Such that are with growth mindset.
- Experience new things and learn from them. Take time to review your mistakes and make adjustments.
- Welcome new information that is even not related to your area of interest.
- Be humble to admit when you don’t know.
Main Benefits of The 16 Habits of Mind
You always have the option to wait. That is, you could wait for others to teach you how to improve your work. Wait for feedback. Wait for opportunities. And you can wait, and wait, and wait…
Or, you could take the matter in your hands and change your trajectory in a positive direction. Create a thinking system. A framework that allows you to better spot errors in your judgments and find opportunities where others see only negatives.
And if it’s still not clear. That’s how the above-described mental tools help you.
The benefits of the 16 Habits of Mind are plenty. Not only that the attributes give you time-tested ways to think. But they also set a scene for your brain and thinking to gradually improve. For your brain to have a tendency towards first-class thinking patterns when confronted with dilemmas.
And even more specifically, I personally consider the benefits of the 16 Habits of Mind to be:
- They hand you patterns that permit in people intellectual behaviors rather than unproductive ways to think.
- Make room for new, fresh ideas that can lead to innovation and original solutions.
- Help you escape rut think and fall into negative states of mind.
- Promote thinking before acting and considering the consequences.
- Promote reflection and continuous growth.
Some Closing Thoughts
It’s a myth that great thinkers only have good ideas because they were born insightful. They keep making good decisions because they work (non-stop) on refining their thinking.
Such people are vicarious readers. Have inexhaustible curiosity. Hopeful about the future. Forgiving about the past. Motivated to make things better.
Not only do they have good daily habits. But also keep working on their thinking habits.
I hope that you’ll take some time to think, really think. About the proposed habits of mind and find ways to embed them into your daily life.
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” Wendell Berry
Add to your mental toolset by reading the following:
- How To Think Better (Evidence-Based Ways to Think Better)
- Adaptive Thinking: The Best Way to Deal With Unexpected Situations
- Thinking In 3D: A Better Way To Solve Complex Problems
- How To Overcome The 7 Worst Habits For Your Brain
- The Curse of Habit Stacking – Are Your Current Habits Slowly Destroying You?
- Keystone Habits: Or How To Adopt 100 Good Habits With Just 1 Habit
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- Arthur L. Costa, Ed. D. Describing 16 Habits of Mind. On the web: https://www.habitsofmindinstitute.org/hear-art/
- A lot of times we need to focus on progress not perfection. But perfection shouldn’t be neglected. The idea here is to commit to the process. Practice. And most importantly deliberate practice.
- Mayo Clinic, Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. On the web: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
- Max Mcclure, Stanford psychologists find that jokes help us cope with horrifying images. On the web: https://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/august/humor-coping-horror-080111.html