The 16 Habits Of Mind That Will Make You Stand Out In Life (If Applied)

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One of the central messages of the Indian mystic, Sadhguru is that “we can only control what’s in our minds, not outside events.”

And it’s no wonder why he puts most of his effort into getting this message across. 

The thing is, if we can learn to respond, instead of reacting to the situations life throws at us, we are free. It means we’ve taken our mood and happiness from fate and chance into our own hands.

This is why developing the habits of mind is important


What are Habits of Mind?

In 1996,  Arthur L. Costa, a professor of Education at the California state university, and Bena Kallick published a book called Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success. 

Basically, the habits of mind refer to 16 sets of traits that help successful, intelligent, and happy people navigate life effectively. 

The thing is, one of the major problems we have when faced with difficult problems is that we react, instead of responding. And when we let our problems control our minds, everything goes downhill really fast. 

A better alternative is to develop the right mindful habits that will fortify you for the inevitable hurdles of life. 

That said, here are the 16 habits of mind as written by Arthur L. Costa. 

The 16 habits of mind as listed by Arthur L. Costa.

1. Persistence

Before Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist became the most translated book by any living author, selling over 65 million copies worldwide, he had to knock on the doors of publishers to help him sell the book.1 

Before Harry Potter became an incredibly famous book, J.K Rowling was turned down 12 times by publishers. It has now sold over 500 million copies, becoming the best-sold series in history. 2

Here’s the thing: Nothing great ever comes easy. But the sad truth is that most people rarely remember this when it gets tough. 

Why? We all have already pictured how success should look like in our minds even before we get started. 

And when things begin to take even a slightly different turn from what we had imagined, we fold up and try something else. 

Develop the habit of staying in one thing for a long time even when the initial excitement that comes with starting a new thing wears off. 

Mastering a skill will toughen your mind and make you a more valuable person in the long run.


2. Manage Impulsivity

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Pericles 3was one of the most respected and loved statesmen of Athens for one reason: 

Unlike most statesmen who got caught up in emotion and ego when giving their opinions concerning important matters, Pericles always made sure he never said anything in the heat of things. 

Instead, he would withdraw himself into his home, sometimes for days, calming his mind, and separating impulse from wisdom. This habit made Pericles stand out as a leader. 

In his book Stillness is the Key, Ryan Holiday explained that to be able to sit and just examine your thoughts as they come and go is one of the most important skills required for balance and clarity in life. 

One of the most prominent things you will notice in the life of any great mind is their cool-headedness. 

Mystics, philosophers, spiritual leaders, great scientists, etc., all understand a person who can manage his or her impulses is a free person. 

Understand that the reason why most people fall into all sorts of addictions and self-destructive habits is a lack of self-control. 

When you cannot separate your impulse from your actions, your life can degenerate into chaos really fast. 

Develop the habit of separating delaying your actions when you feel impulsive. Learn to just watch your thoughts come and go. 


3. Listen With Understanding And Empathy

Some of the things we quickly attach ourselves to in life even from a tender age are our values and ideas. 

We’ve all grown with certain ideologies from which we evaluate and understand the world. And as we go through life, we impulsively defend them, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. 

This is why being able to listen with understanding and empathy is such a remarkable habit of mind. It requires humility and detachment. 

It is part of human nature to interpret the world through a lens that we already understand. In conversations, we often find it difficult to truly listen because, in our minds, we already think we understand life. 

This is why Robert Greene specifically advised in his remarkable book, The Laws of Human Nature, that when you interact with people, “You must begin with a position of ignorance.” 

And as Malcolm Gladwell also advised in his book Talking to Strangers, “The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.” Why? Another mind represents a new and delicate world which you should carefully explore. 

Everyone has something that you can learn. 

And the only way to get something out of every encounter is to keep your ideologies and pay attention with a childlike open spirit. Those who can practice this habit learn to move much faster in life. 

As Robert Greene Concluded in his famous 48 Laws of Power, “The secret to success is retaining your childlike qualities.”


4. Thinking Flexibly 

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One of the most important habits required for creativity and success is flexibility. 

“Be like water,” Bruce Lee famously said. Like water, you must be able to take whatever shape life demands. 

Pay attention to life and have enough courage to change your plans and ideologies based on what reality offers you today. 

Before Mark Manson became one of the most famous self-improvement authors in the world, he wanted to be a musician. And he had this dream for a long time. 

But as much he loved the “idea” of being a famous pop star, he also understood at some point that he didn’t really want it. 

Robert Greene is estimated to have worked up to 80 jobs before becoming a successful author. Meaning, he had his dreams but was still flexible enough to know when to let it go.

Flexibility opens up your mind to see the opportunities that rigid people cannot see.

As Arthur Schopenhauer explained in his Counsels and Maxims, the landscape of life keeps changing, depending on the view (the age or perspective) we are in. 

Those who refuse to acknowledge the reality in front of them get left behind. 


5. Thinking About Thinking (Metacognition)

Metacognition means being rational. It is the act of intentionally examining your thoughts and actions. 

Look at it this way. The average person hates to spend time alone. According to research, people would rather take the pain of electric shock over being left alone. 4

We have evolved to become addicted to the distractions that are ever so present around us all the time. 

Hence, being able to spend a reasonable amount of time alone is a skill of mind that sets you apart from the distraction-seeking multitude. 

In his book Deep Work, Carl Newport also emphasized that quiet and focused moments where your mind is solely immersed in a task are necessary if you want to stand out at your craft. 

Studies also show that those who practice metacognitive thinking are much more likely to come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems. 5

Why? When you think about your thoughts, you are more likely to connect ideas and concepts even across unrelated subjects and disciplines. You’ll be able to honestly examine your actions and know how they affect you and others. 

In a not shell, metacognition makes you a better person. 


6. Striving For Accuracy 

The first time Henry Ford laid his eyes on a gas-powered engine was in 1885. 

Though he was just 23 at that time, that encounter ignited a dream within him to invent a far more sophisticated version of the piece of technology. 

As of 1896, driven by ambition and hard work, and with the help of some friends, Ford already completed his prototype which he called the Quadricycle. 

But Ford’s Quadricycle was far from perfect. 

Ford quickly realized that many parts of the prototype came from different locations. And as a result, most of the parts were either too heavy or deficient. 

Here’s the interesting part. 

Ford kept redesigning and adjusting his prototype. Each time, he would analyze his failure and think of ways he could come closer to the design he wanted. 

By 1904, the Ford Motor Company had produced the Model A, which was light and durable. The best of its kind at that time. 

Develop the habit of striving for perfection. Every successful person has felt the need to create something unique. 

For writers, it may be that perfect character. For a scientist, it’s that experiment they’ve always wanted to prove. For Ford, it was creating the perfect car. 

Whatever it may be, always sharpening your aim towards it will make your mind go to work to make it a reality someday. 


7. Questioning and Posing Problems 

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In his book, Mastery, Robert Greene explained that always wondering how things are made gives us a greater feel of reality, which in turn gives us a better chance at altering it. 

Albert Einstein too once said that “the most important thing is never to stop questioning.” 

Why? The moment we stop wondering and asking questions, we die intellectually. 

Here’s the thing: For a young vulnerable child, everything is strange. As a result, wondering happens naturally. 

But it takes a conscious effort to keep this part of our nature alive because as we grow older, a natural decay slips into our attitude towards life. 

Everything becomes too familiar and boring. 

But regardless of how time changes our view of life, we must understand that those who remain relevant are those who actively uphold their curiosity. 

Never dismiss or oversimplify anything you don’t understand. Permit yourself to wonder. 


8. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

Though Robert Greene worked countless jobs before writing his first mega-bestseller, The 48 Laws of Power, he wasn’t wasting his time at those jobs. 

In fact, the experiences he gathered from working all those jobs under different bosses and colleagues were pertinent to writing his first book (and the rest that followed).

If we can pay enough attention to the experiences we have, we can get valuable information on the right way we should live our lives. 

Ryan Holiday has a bunch of cards where he writes the lessons he learned both from personal experiences and books. 

This way, he makes sure he doesn’t forget them. Whenever he’s passing through a tough time, he cracks one open and applies the wisdom from it. 


9. Thinking and Communicating With Clarity and Precision

One thing no one will easily forget about Barack Obama as a President is his use of words. 

He communicates with the right words clearly and precisely, and as such, he always gets a great response from people when he speaks. 

The habit of thinking and communicating with clarity is exhibited by those who understand that no one understands what’s on their minds. 

Hence, they have to make sure that they communicate their ideas to others as clearly and accurately as possible without generalizing terms, exaggerating, or cutting out important details. 

This habit of mind is especially important because it teaches you to be extra cautious when you communicate with others. 

Words are delicate. Just failing to pass an idea with the right words can make it elicit a different reaction than you expected.


10. Gathering Data Through All Senses

Woman in White Dress Standing on Green Grass Field

To have a great time living, you must know how to experience the wonders of creation through all your senses. 

Find time to get rid of the distractions all around you and just experience life in its fullness and beauty. Don’t snap or chat while eating. Eat your food slowly. Taste the ingredients.

Pay attention to nature. Marvel at its beauty. Take walks and feel the gentle breeze bounce against your skin. Breath deeply when you breathe. 

When you touch something, beware of it. Notice the smile of a little child. Hear the sounds around you. 

In the words of Sadhguru, “Leave as a full-fledged human being.”


11. Creating, Imagining, Innovating 

When Henry Ford first laid his eyes on a car engine, as much as he loved it, his first impulse was to create a better version of it. 

Those who stand out in life have the drive to create. 

The world is moving fast, and things quickly become obsolete. Learn to think of ways to do things differently. 

Of course, being creative and innovative is no easy thing. It entails taking risks, and sometimes facing ridicule. You have to learn to be flexible and fight the downward pull of sticking to only ideas you are familiar with. 

But the risk of creativity and innovation is one we all must take if we want to advance as a species. 

Teach your mind to look outside the box. In the short term, it’s much more difficult than following conventional ideas. But in the long run, you are teaching yourself a skill that will set you apart for life. 


12. Responding With Wonderment and Awe

“Whoever can no longer pause and stand in awe of the wonders in the universe is dead,” Albert Einstein once said. 

Responding with wonder is natural for a little child. But for a grown-up, it’s a skill that you have to consciously teach your mind. 

The hurdles of life can make us quickly forget the ever existential beauty in the world, We close ourselves up to new ideas while we keep regurgitating the old familiar ones. 

This attitude, however, is a downward pull. We must learn to look at life with the eyes of a child. 

Creative artists, innovators, naturalists, are our models for developing this habit. See how they wonder at the blueness of the sky or the beauty of a butterfly. In the same way, we must retain a habit of active wonder. 


13. Taking Responsible Risk

Growth always lies on the other side of our comfort zone. 

Our lives are composed of moments of chaos and order. When everything you do produces the result that you want, that’s order. 

Order is what we all want. We want to be sure of our results before we take action. Why? Anything lesser than our expectation breaks our hearts. 

However, as hard and uncomfortable as it may be, here’s the hard truth: 

“To grow, we must embrace chaos.”

We must be willing to shoulder the discomfort and the responsibility of not knowing. Learn to test your foot on the less frequently trodden path of chaos. 

Try out new ways of doing things. Do the opposite of what you are comfortable with. Learn to embrace the inevitable mistakes that come with taking risks. 

Put opinions aside. As Robert Greene laid it out in Mastery, If you are always too mindful of how people will perceive everything you do, you’ll never do anything bold and worthwhile in life. 


14. Finding Humor

Photography of a Guy Wearing Green Shirt

As much as it is great to be a goal-getter and take your ambitions seriously, it is also a remarkable habit to be able to look at the craziness of life and just laugh.

There are going to be situations you don’t understand. You will meet people who will have ideologies that you never imagined, 

Most abnormal situations you find yourself shouldn’t be taken as another serious project that you get angry about, or a puzzle you must decipher. 

The best antidote to most of the crazy things we come across in life is to just laugh and move on. 

Times will come when your actions will surprise you. You are going to fall short, fail, say, and do the wrong things. 

But it’s all a part of life. Those whose minds are always at ease have developed the habit of looking at life with an unserious eye when there is need.


15. Thinking Independently 

Living well, to a large extent, lies in how well you can relate with others. 

The thing is, a lot of effort is required to work well with others. 

Here’s why:

When you work alone, all you have to deal with are your ideas, most of which are already familiar to you. You rarely see your own mistakes, and as such, you are less likely to criticize yourself. 

Working with others, on the other hand, is a different ball game.  

First of all, there are going to be ideas you don’t agree with. You might have to work with people you don’t like. You also have a higher probability of facing harsh criticization since it’s much easier for others to see your errors. 

In a nutshell, thinking interdependently is a habit of mind that doesn’t occur naturally. It takes a conscious effort to build it and get comfortable with it.

It requires humility and empathy. You have to be willing to let others prevail even when you think the ideas in your head are the best. 

This way, you’ll be able to learn from and contribute to others in a way that leads to a better work environment. 


16. Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

The fact that we need to keep learning to grow intellectually is no big news. 

However, the hard truth is that most of us still degenerate intellectually as we grow older. You know why?

Life becomes too familiar. 

Hence, being teachable requires a conscious effort to resist the urge to fold in as we get older. 

See your ideologies as things to play with. Be willing to let them go when they no longer serve you. There are too many people who remain unteachable because they just can’t let themselves give up the ideas which they’ve built their lives around. 


References

  1. High Five With Paulo Coelho
  2. J.K. Rowling’s pitch for ‘Harry Potter’ was rejected 12 times — read the now-famous letter here.
  3. Pericles – Wikipedia.
  4. Do people choose pain over boredom?.
  5. Metacognition Importance and Overview – Missouri EduSAIL.

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