20 January 2013

Habits are not Like Hobbits: They Don't Just Disappear

Taken from an article published on Al Fin, the Next Level


Even without magic rings, hobbits tend to disappear when one closes a book or turns off the DVD player. They may persist for a short time in the mind, but they tend to fade fairly quickly.

Habits, once formed, tend to stick around -- sometimes for one's entire life. That is one reason why it is important for children to form habits that help them to fulfill their life goals, and form them while they are still quite young.

The following is a list of useful habits that will serve a dangerous child well, at any age:


The core of the 16 habits of mind is found in the list above, and brief explanations for them are found in the embedded slideshare below. Those who are acquainted with the concept of frontal lobe "executive function" (EF) will immediately see the similarity between the 16 habits of mind, and strong frontal lobe EF.

Explanations of Habits of Mind


Habits are usually formed unconsciously, and can be very difficult to eradicate if found to be dysfunctional or destructive.

Smart psychologists understand that habits can be displaced, or substituted. Habits are thought to consist of a "cue," a "behaviour," and a "reward." The cue triggers the habitual behaviour, which supplies the reward that feeds the entire cycle.

If the person can disconnect the cue from the dysfunctional behaviour, and re-connect the cue to a more functional and less destructive behaviour which can supply a sufficient reward, the destructive habitual cycle can be displaced or substituted by a more positive habitual cycle.

Even more advanced ways of dealing with habits are being developed in mice, using optogenetics. By interfering with the infralimbic portion of the mouse's prefrontal cortex, researchers were able to break unconscious ingrained habits. But unless the habits were "overwritten" or replaced by new habits, the old habits tended to return.

It is best to learn good habits from the very beginning. That is one reason why many of the most enlightened parents put strict limits on exposure to television, video games, and other popular entertainments, until the child has developed strong habits of self direction and goal fulfillment.

The workings of a habit often occur unconsciously, just as the formation of a habit can do. In that sense, habitual behaviours can occur very much like hypnotic trance behaviours. And indeed, some of the most effective hypnotic trances tend to be those which incorporate unconscious habits of behaviour.

More on this idea later, on another blog.

Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind is a book edited by two educators, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick, found here. An important caveat regarding the book: Like most modern cogs in the machine of modern educational theory, Costa and Kallick appear to be caught up in the "blank slate" delusion of thinking which was refuted so effectively by Steven Pinker, in his book "The Blank Slate." If the reader is able to understand that this underlying philosophical and biological confusion underlies many of the confused ideas which are mixed in with a number of useful ideas about habits of learning, a quick scan of the book can be worthwhile.

Otherwise, a study of prefrontal lobe executive function is likely to be much more satisfying and edifying, if the reader is easily able to apply the ideas to childhood learning and development.

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