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Where’s Your Think Tank? Incorporating a Positive Learning Space into your Habit Loop

The Think Tank in Lynn Haven, FL

The Think Tank in Lynn Haven, FL

I’m writing to you from mine. It is nothing special to the casual observer, but to me it is where all of my great thinking (which also may be nothing special to the casual observer) occurs.  It’s a wide L-shaped porch on a ranch home in Lynn Haven, Florida.  It’s one of those places that craves a glass of sweet tea,  some good music (usually predictable classics from my demographic DMB, REM, U2) and a rocking chair.  It’s also a great place to think and to write.  It’s a safe place where there is no silly idea even if it gets to paper and where the brain waves flow.  I have written about 10 blog pieces there since last summer and I do much of the professional development planning for my faculty there.  I started a novel here and managed to write the first seven chapters in the friendly confines of this space. I have the good fortune to be a this place about 12-15 weekends a year despite the fact it is 3 hours from my home.

As I started my normal routine while here, I contemplated just how important this space is to my learning habits and then reflected on how important a Think Tank is for a student.  I also began making connections to my new favorite read, Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  Duhigg, citing significant psychological evidence from prominent researchers, suggests a three pronged habit feedback loop to all activity.

Cues lead to Routines that lead to Rewards which develop cravings to restart the loop.   When I’m in Lynn Haven, my  brain gets cues that it is a good time to write and reflect.  It helps me settle into the aforementioned routine on the porch: tea, music, reading material, and WordPress.  The Think Tank becomes routine.  Eventually, the process leads to resulting rewards.  Chapters get completed.  Connections to other thinkers, learners, and writers are made.  Self-satisfaction levels become raised.

If I think back to my best learning situations, each had these elements.  At boarding school, the CUE came from my beloved Religion Through Literature Instructor Rev. John Bensinger ( CUE:  Read this book this week and grapple with the spiritual elements of the text.  You will write a 3 page essay making connections.  ROUTINE: Go to the Ryan Library at 7:00 PM after dinner and one, maybe two episodes of Cheers.   Reading, Reflection, Research from the Encyclopedia of Christian Religion.  Stay until 9:00 PM.  Next morning awake at 6:00 AM.  1st Draft writing until breakfast.  Return to complete the assignment and hand it.  REWARD: The look on Rev. Bensinger’s face as he twitches his mustache with a deep look of satisfaction on his face while reviewing your paper.  Also, the reward was the opportunity to present at the next chapel based on said paper.  It was a lifetime opportunity that shaped my future.

You might reflect back on your most satisfying long term successes.  I imagine if you did you would find a similar pattern.  For athletes, it look like 6 AM wakeup with a protein shake (CUE).  Significant time and effort spent in the weight room and the practice field/court (ROUTINE) came next.  It was probably was followed by the (REWARDS) of enthusiastic applause and recognition on Friday nights or the satisfaction of belonging to a team united for a greater good.  This loop inevitably led to a craving that did not diminish after graduation, but the routine perhaps was replaced by late night parties rewarded by hangovers.  Unfortunately, getting up and starting with the same protein shake would not replace the fact that many in college replace the critical routine link in this loop with a negative activity.

As we begin a new school year, I am not sure there may be a more important discussion to have with your students about the necessity of finding a Think Tank.  A Think Tank allows one to step into a positive habit loop of learning.  With all of the distractions our students face particularly due to technology, there are a lot of negative cues that can make learning less rewarding.  For example, CUE: a text message while studying.  ROUTINE:  answer the text and check said text’s reference to Instagram, followed by inevitable reaction/counter via text and maybe a Facebook post with picture.  REWARD: distracted mind renderings through study about the content, reduced skill, and lots of stimuli based arousal sending chemicals through the body.  Those chemicals become a short term satisfaction reward that inevitably sets up future cravings.

Some quick thoughts about creating a positive Think Tank:

1.  It is an inviting place.  A dirty bedroom or an office with uncomfortable chairs doesn’t give off the Think Tank vibe.

2.  It is an often available space, but not one that can be taken for granted.

3.  Nature helps.  Man’s connection to nature creates powerful thought processes.  Think Henry David Thoreau and Walden. 

4.  Have everything at your fingertips, but not too much.  I would suggest you have no more than a computer, a book, a notepad, and a beverage.  Too much more leads to distractions.  Too little will lead to making one get up and move from the space, defeating the purpose.

5.  Block out at least an hour and a half.  30 minutes to settle in and reflect on the task at hand. 30 minutes deeply thinking and writing. 30 minutes to edit, reflect and finalize the product.  It is unsatisfying (NO REWARD) if there is not something completed, published, checked off.

I hope that you will help your students develop this Think Tank.  It would be a wise thing for you to do professionally as well.

Until next time, happy thinking…

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