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What Are The 16 Habits Of Mind?

Young asian girl wearing a green coat with hood catches a bubble in her hands with her arms stretched out in front of her. The background is a park with green grass and green trees.

What Are The 16 Habits Of Mind?

By Paul Haluszczak

The Habits of Mind describe 16 mental disciplines that are needed to navigate the question: “What is the most intelligent thing I can do right now?” Developed by Dr. Bena Kallick and Dr. Art Costa through decades of curated research and real-world application, the Habits of Mind serve as a starting point to more deeply understand the habits we need to handle the complexity of the world around us.


Being a beginner at anything is always a challenge. Everything is new and every question takes a significant amount of time to answer. If a particular skill is involved, it can create immediate feelings of inadequacy.

Learners who have a strong habit of persisting stick to the tasks before them until they have reached an acceptable level of completeness. Giving up is a last resort. If the first attempt fails, they go back to the drawing board and create the next game plan.

Managing Impulsivity

We live in a world full of shiny objects. Everywhere we look, from our screens to retail shelves to billboards adorning our highways, calls for our attention are constant. If we don’t feel like being intentional with our choices, the world is often ready to make those choices for us.

Learners who are able to build this habit of managing impulsivity are able to remain attentive to the challenge or opportunity they chose to engage with. When new choices arise, they are able to take a step back, weight their options, and make a confident decision.

Listening With Understanding and Empathy

The capacity to understand and meaningfully connect with others almost seems like it would be a prerequisite to consider oneself an active, contributing member of society. 55% of our interactions are spent listening to the person or people we’re in conversation with. Yet, at what age were you taught how to understand and empathize with others?

Developing this habit results in a natural way of thinking that considers how potential solutions will impact primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. It empowers learners who carry this habit to connect deeply, build trust, and express positive leadership abilities.

Thinking Flexibly

Our brains our remarkable. The neurons that fired off when you smelt coffee this morning will be a completely different group of neurons one month from now (a concept known as representational drift). Although this group of neurons is always changing, the smell of coffee remains the same. Our minds are naturally flexible.

To strengthen this natural behavior, learners should be encouraged to assess and reassess the information available to them throughout a problem solving process. As circumstances change, they must build the habit of taking in new information and applying it appropriately.

Thinking About Your Thinking

Metacognition is a wonder of evolution. The ability to think about our own thinking gives us the confidence to step into the unknown, build the plane while it’s flying, take action before the whole picture is clear.

Strengthening metacognition occurs within learning opportunities that demand strategy, action, and reflection. The opportunity to think through different possibilities, test them out, reflect, and test again, is the universal path toward progress.

Striving for Accuracy and Precision

The standardized education system has often prioritized efficiency over all else. The learner who finishes their test first is seen as smart, the speed reader gets the most stars on the reading tracker, and the learner who picks up on things quickly is labeled “gifted.”

The world has shown many examples where the need for speed has resulted in catastrophic results—from oil spills (e.g. sloppy safety checks) to financial collapses (e.g. trying to accelerate wealth). Learners who are supported in striving for accuracy and precision over how fast something is completed, develop pride in and commitment to their work.

Questioning and Posing Problems

Theoretical physicist, Richard Feynam, spent his days interacting with the world with his 12 favorite problems top of mind at all times. With everything he consumed, he looked for ways to connect this new information to those 12 problems.

Feynam’s practice led to an exceptional ability to ask questions and pose problems nobody had ever thought of before. This habit made him an expert learner and teacher alike. The ability to ask meaningful questions and pose important problems is a habit worth strengthening.

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

When a challenge arises, we have the opportunity to explore in what ways we’ve experienced a challenge like this before. By reaching into our past, we can pull forward the relevant knowledge and skills that can be applied to this new situation.

To practice developing this habit, we simply must ask what’s familiar and what’s unfamiliar with the current situation. Then, we can take the unfamiliar and begin utilizing the habit to ask meaningful questions and pose the problems that need to be solved.

Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

If “location, location, location” is the guiding principle in real estate, “communication, communication, communication,” might take the cake in the 21st-century workplace. Being able to think and communicate that thinking with clarity and precision is consistently at the top of hiring managers’ wish list in prospective candidates.

Thinking and communicating can happen through multiple media—through writing, video, and audio for starters. To provide opportunities for learners to become comfortable and confident with their thinking and communicating that thinking will reap immeasurable rewards today and far into the future.

Gathering Data Through All Senses

Did you know that scientists often suggest we have nine (not five) sense? Beyond the usual line-up of sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch, our internal senses look for hunger, thirst, pain, and balance.

Our brains are gathering data from all of these senses all the time, but to become aware of that data and to use it appropriately requires conscious habit development. To be consciously aware of each of these senses opens up a world of possibility.

Creating, Imagining, and Innovating

Humans have been around for thousands of years yet scores of new inventions and discoveries pop-up every day. The world truly is what we make it. Activating our creative muscles is one of the most fruitful workouts we can provide our minds.

The most important hurdle to jump over when it comes to creative expression is the fear of judgement. We must create a safe and trusting space for learners to create freely, applying improv’s “yes, and” principle in every moment.

Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Have you ever come across an adult with a child-like spirit where they experience the world with an inexhaustible sense of wonder and awe? Do you find yourself naturally attracted to this trait, sensing your own inner child waking up to play?

Creating a disposition of wonder and awe invites us to be endlessly curious about the world around us. To look at something as simple as a light turn on and ask “how does that work?” can lead to the discovery of Thomas Edison, photons and electrons, light waves, and so much more. To cultivate this habit in learners, encourage them to see rabbit holes and opportunities rather than distractions.

Taking Responsible Risks

Adventure doesn’t have to equate to carelessness. We can go on unexpected journeys while weighing the pros and cons of each decision along the way—understanding the difference between discomfort and danger.

Learning how to take responsible risks gives learners the courage to explore beyond their comfort zones and enter the Zone of Proximal Development where new learning thrives. Everyone has a different level of risk aversion, so we must meet them where they are and build their confidence over time.

Finding Humor

The gray line between humor and harm can be a thick one, but for young people who are navigating the social norms of society, it’s incredibly important for them to define this line as best as possible.

People who are able to find humor are known to be creative problem solvers, find novelty in the most ordinary things, improve their health and well-being, and attract good relationships. When we can bring humor into our environments along with an invitation to explore why something is humorous, we can cultivate a great habit for young people.

Thinking Interdependently

There’s no “I” in team is a cliché with scientific backing. The ability to collaborate with others and use multiple perspectives when approaching a problem increases the odds of coming up with solutions that are helpful and help more people.

Thinking interdependently is a habit that takes time and doesn’t have to solely involve synchronous, spoken communication. Shy and social learners alike can engage in developing this habit while maintaining a sense of safety by utilizing multiple media for communication.

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

Learning is a natural phenomenon. If you’re alive and breathing, you’re learning. Therefore, the question isn’t “are you learning?” Rather, it’s “do you enjoy learning?” To build a habit where learners are open to continuous learning, they need an environment where learning is connected with joy and fulfillment.

The 16 Habits of Mind, although extensive, only touch the surface of the overlapping habits that, when intentionally integrated into learning experiences, can unleash the genius in every child.

To learn more about the Habits of Mind, join our live webinar this Thursday with Dr. Bena Kallick and Dr. Art Costa—co-founders of the Institute for Habits of Mind. For a complete summary of each habit, head over to the Institute for Habits of Mind’s website.