What are the Habits of Mind?

What are the Habits of Mind?

Research on thinking and behavior reveals some identifiable characteristics of effective thinkers. It is not necessarily scientists, artists, mathematicians, or the wealthy who demonstrate these behaviors. They have been found in mechanics, teachers, entrepreneurs, salespeople, and parents – people in all walks of life.

The following habits of mind can be included in project outcomes and assessed through self-reflection, journals, discussions, and rubrics.

To learn more about the Habits of Mind, download Describing the Habits of Mind.


  • Good problem solvers stick to a task until it is completed.
  • They don’t give up easily.
  • They are able to analyze a problem and develop a system, structure or strategy to attack it.
  • They have a repertoire and employ a range of alternative approaches.
  • They collect evidence that their strategy is working, and if one strategy doesn’t work, they know how to back up and try another.

Managing Impulsiveness

  • Good problem solvers have a sense of careful deliberation.
  • They think before they act.
  • They intentionally form a vision of a product, a plan of action, a goal, or a destination before they begin.
  • They strive to clarify and understand directions, develop a strategy for approaching a problem, and withhold value judgments until they fully understand the idea.

Listening to Others with Understanding and Empathy

  • Good problem solvers learn to devote their mental energies to listening to other speakers and thinking through their positions.
  • We wish students to hold in abeyance their own values, judgments, opinions, and prejudices in order to entertain another person’s ideas.
  • This is a very complex skill, requiring the ability to monitor one’s own thoughts while attending to someone else’s words.

Thinking Flexibly

  • Good problem solvers are flexible thinkers and display confidence in their intuition.
  • They tolerate confusion and ambiguity up to a point and are willing to let go of a problem, trusting their subconscious to continue creative and productive work on it.

Striving for Accuracy and Precision

  • Good problem solvers value accuracy, precision, and craftsmanship and take time to check over their products.
  • They review the rules by which they are able to abide, the models and visions they are to follow, and the criteria they are to employ, and they confirm that their finished product fits the criteria exactly.

Questioning and Posing Problems

  • Good problem solvers know how to ask questions to fill in the gaps between what they know and what they don’t know.
  • They recognize discrepancies and phenomena in their environment, probe for explanations and information and are inclined to ask a range of questions.

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

  • Good problem solvers learn from experience.
  • When confronted with a new and perplexing problem, they will often turn to the past for guidance.
  • They call upon their store of knowledge and experience for sources of data and for processes that will help them solve each new challenge.
  • Furthermore, they are able to abstract meaning from one experience, carry it forth, and apply it in new and novel situations.

Gathering Data Through All Senses

  • Good problem solvers know that information gets into the brain through all the sensory pathways: gustatory, olfactory, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual.
  • Most linguistic, cultural, and physical learning is derived from the environment by observing or taking in through the senses.

Creating, Imagining, and Innovating

  • Good problem solvers have the capacity to generate novel, original, clever, or ingenious products, solutions, and techniques.
  • Creative human beings develop that capacity, trying to conceive different problem solutions by examining alternative possibilities from many angles.
  • They tend to project themselves into various roles using analogies.

Responding with Wonderment and Awe

  • Good problem solvers have not only an “I can” attitude, but also an “I enjoy” feeling.
  • They seek challenges for themselves and others.
  • They delight in making up problems to solve on their own, and they request enigmas from others.
  • They enjoy figuring things out by themselves and continue to learn throughout their lifetimes.

Taking Responsible Risks

  • Good problem solvers tend to go beyond established limits; they “live on the edge” of their competence.
  • They accept confusion, uncertainty, and the higher risks of failure as part of the norm, and they view setbacks as interesting, challenging, and growth-producing.
  • However, they do not behave impulsively.
  • Their risks are calculated.
  • They draw on past knowledge, are thoughtful about consequences, and have a well-trained sense of which risks are worthwhile.

Finding Humor

  • Good problem solvers can laugh at themselves.
  • Laughter is universal medicine.
  • Its positive effects on physiological functions include a drop in the pulse rate, the secretion of endorphins, and increased oxygen in the blood.
  • It has been found to liberate creativity and provoke such high-level thinking skills as anticipating, finding novel relationships, using visual imagery, and making analogies.

Thinking Interdependently

  • Good problem solvers realize that all of us together are more powerful, intellectually and physically, than any one individual.
  • We find ourselves increasingly more interdependent and sensitive to others’ needs.
  • Problem solving has become so complex that no one has access to all the data needed to make critical decisions; no one person can consider as many alternatives as several people can.

Learning Continuously

  • Good problem solvers are continually learning.
  • Their confidence, in combination with their inquisitiveness, allows them to constantly search for new and better methods.
  • People with this habit of mind are always striving for improvement, always growing, always learning, always modifying and improving themselves.
  • They seize problems, situations, tensions, conflicts, and circumstances as valuable opportunities to learn.

“Habits of Mind” is adapted from A. L. Costa and B. Kallick, eds., Discovering and Exploring Habits of Mind (Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2000).