The power of habits.

Habits form a significant part of the learning process, and the success of learners is dependent on the habits they develop early in their school careers. This posts looks at how habits are formed and changed and gives examples for learning,

In general, any habit can be broken down into a three-part loop:

  • First, you sense an external cue; this creates an overall spike in your brain activity as your brain decides which habit is appropriate for the situation.
  • Then comes the routine, the activity you are used to performing when faced with the particular cue.

Finally, you get a reward, the feeling of success. Your overall brain activity increases again as your brain registers the successful completion of the action and reinforces the link between the cue and the routine.

Not all habits are equal. Some habits, known as keystone habits, are more important than others because adhering to them creates positive effects that spill over into other areas. Keystone habits can help people change. e.g. obese people keeping a food journal. Keystone habits work by providing small wins – that is, early successes that are relatively easy to attain.
One of the keystone habits for future success in learning and later life is that of the practice of reading on a daily basis. Reading and reading comprehension are critical elements in the learning process, as learners move from learning to read.

Developing a keystone habit helps you believe that improvement is possible in other spheres of life, which can trigger a cascade of positive change. The sooner a child embraces a love for reading or being read to the better.

Another keystone habit is that of willpower, which is a crucial habit in life.
Willpower is actually like a muscle: it can tire. A lack of autonomy also adversely affects willpower. Allowing children to play and discover without intervening is a crucial element in developing autonomy. If people do something because they are ordered to rather than by choice, their willpower muscle will get tired much quicker. If you want to make a positive change in your life, you should recognise that change requires patience, as well as confidence that your habits are keeping you on the right trajectory – even if you don’t see immediate results. The development of persistence and perseverance are critical in the development of habits and are values that will lead to future success in later life. Habits drive behaviour change in the long term, and small changes spark potent transformations. Success and failure are built over the long term, and immediate results and instant gratification hamper the development of persistence and perseverance

If you want to make a positive change in your life, you should recognise that change requires patience, as well as confidence that your habits are keeping you on the right trajectory – even if you don’t see immediate results. People are too goal oriented when they should be paying more attention to the underlying process that helps them achieve, or fail to achieve goals.

In the book, Atomic Habits, by James Clear, he highlights some of the following points as being important in the development and appliccations of habits:

  • Good habits should be satisfying. The more often a new behaviour is repeated, the more ingrained it becomes.
  • Self-improvement is a life-long process.
  • Small habit changes can produce effects that improve life
  • Habits are intertwined with personal identity – in addition to personal identity, accountability or the act of making oneself answerable to another person is an essential factor in establishing a good habit. Habits are more natural to build when individuals feel accountable to someone who is in a place to evaluate their identity.
  • Outcomes are a delayed reaction to long-standing habits – Building knowledge takes time.
  • How people talk about a new habit, even to themselves, affects its implementation – the way a person frames a habit can influence whether or not the habit ultimately sticks. People who frame new habits in a positive light tend to be more successful than those who impose a frame of loss or difficulty. Make the execution of new routines/habits as attractive and pleasurable as possible. Use as much specificity as possible when discussing new goals. Simply by setting the intention out loud, even in an empty room, raises the likelihood of actually following through.
  • A new habit is more likely to become ingrained if it is easy – new patterns can be challenging to implement, particularly when the behaviour requires some considerable effort. Use the 80/20 principle to adapt time to reward time spent on the new habit.
  • Good habits yield positive results over the long term – Environments can be designed to support good habits better – when it comes to cultivating the right habits or breaking old ones, context matters. An environment can help ingrain new habits or break old ones. Think about the ways environmental design can influence peoples behaviours on a larger scale

Accept that any goal worth achieving demands a change of habits, a change of attitudes and an acceptance of the inevitability of sustained difficult effort.

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