Mental habits are different from Decency & Propriety Habits in that they require direct training, not just a good example. Here’s the list of Mental Habits, one of which is in Charlotte’s Top Three (the three habits she wrote about most). Can you find it?
- Imagining (forming a mental picture of something that is not present)
- Meditation (following out a subject to all its issues)
- Mental Effort
- Observation (seeing fully and in detail)
- Perfect Execution (working carefully with one’s hands with an aim at “perfect”)
- Reading for Instruction
- Thinking (logical thinking)
Four mental habits she mentioned only briefly and defined:
- Reflection (ruminating on what we have received)
- Thoroughness (dissatisfaction with a slipshod, imperfect grasp of a subject)
Quite a list and lots to think about! Did you find one of Charlotte’s Top Three? If you chose “Attention,” you’re right. The habit of attention is one of Charlotte’s Top Three. Imagine how your home and school time would be different if your children had the habit of paying full attention the first time you told them something! Talk about smooth and easy days! Here are some of Charlotte’s practical suggestions for cultivating the habit of attention.
- In school work, start with short lessons (10 to 15 minutes) and increase the length only as the child has mastered full attention. Think of it like you would think about training a muscle to run a marathon: short distances first, then increase the distances as you become stronger.
- Use good, interesting books for lessons!
- Vary the order of lessons to use different parts of the brain/body alternately. “If the lessons be judiciously alternated — sums first, say, while the brain is quite fresh; then writing, or reading — some more or less mechanical exercise, by way of a rest; and so on, the program varying a little from day to day, but the same principle throughout — a ‘thinking’ lesson first, and a ‘painstaking’ lesson to follow, — the child gets through his morning lessons without any sign of weariness” (Vol. 1, p. 142).
- Those of you who have very young children can encourage them to look at an object longer than they are first inclined to. When they throw aside or set down an object because they’re done looking at it, take the object and show them some new facet of it or some new way to use it, thus nudging their attention span a little more.
- Don’t repeat yourself. This admonition can apply to both school work and everyday home life! Explain to the children that you are going to help them develop this habit of attention, so you are no longer going to repeat yourself; they must learn to listen the first time. Then your responsibility becomes to say something once and administer the consequences that naturally follow if the child doesn’t respond right away.
- In both school work and home life, set time limits that assume the child’s full attention on the task at hand. “The sense that there is not much time for his sums or his reading, keeps the child’s wits on the alert and helps to fix his attention” (Vol. 1, p. 142).
- Those of you who have older children should explain to them how a habit of inattention can hamper them all their lives, and that only they can make themselves pay attention. You can only try to help them. “As the child gets older, he is taught to bring his own will to bear; to make himself attend in spite of the most inviting suggestions from without. He should be taught to feel a certain triumph in compelling himself to fix his thoughts. Let him know what the real difficulty is, how it is the nature of his mind to be incessantly thinking, but how the thoughts, if left to themselves, will always run off from one thing to another, and that the struggle and the victory required of him is to fix his thoughts upon the task in hand” (Vol. 1, p. 145).
We’ve only touched on a few of Charlotte’s thoughts and suggestions for the habit of attention, and this post is already getting way too long! Next week we’ll talk about Moral Habits, the category that includes the other two of Charlotte’s Top Three habits.