Changing Keystone Habit


Society is changing, so as many other sectors of life. Ever since the industrial revolution, man has tried to find better ways of coming up with better learning system to meet his needs. The society’s excellence is based on its population’s ability to meet its specific needs. Today world relies much on an education system that could meet the challenges of this century. American education system, when compared to other country’s education system through Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) assessment, performs dismally. One of the arguments that have been put forward is that there has been lack of motivation in the schools. Students attending K-12 school system are not motivated enough to perform. Daniel Pink in his book, The Drive have argued that motivation should not be anchored in rewards as it is in American education system. He points out that intrinsic motivation is what should be taken as the drive to better performance. He puts forward an Operating System (OS) 3 that consists of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose as the main ingredients to success in our education system.

Even though the education system in America has been improving, much still has to be done in ensuring that students, parents, and educators are involved in ensuring that success is achieved. Many people in America believe that students who excel in education are smart and those who do not perform well could not improve. It does not give room for students who want to improve because it is so rigid in insisting that they be smart. Learning should not be based on a system that only looks for smart kids instead it should be open to those who struggle to achieve success. The current generation of students has not accustomed themselves to the education system that was designed in an era that has been passed with time. Learning should be taken as a lifelong experience that takes into consideration the current social engagement that motivates the young. There has been a sweeping change in all areas of American society and this requires that education should change as well. Education design should encourage the participation and motivation of learners. However, the belief that motivation should be anchored in rewards have misled students and education designers in thinking that it has a role to play in encouraging good performance. Pink in his book shows that motivating students through the use of incentives could have a negative effect other than what is intended.

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Students should not put the effort in attaining good grades and getting homework just because they are required to but they have to be engaged voluntarily and enjoy taking part in enjoying the learning process. Pink has pointed out that in providing incentives, people are made to believe in being motivated when there is a benefit attached to whatever activity they are involved in. This has been the undoing in American education system and as Pink points out, motivation should come from something more. Pink demonstrates to his readers a motivation that he names Motivation 2.0. This motivation according to Pink involves knowing our thoughts concerning what we do, how we perform what we set to do and how we organize everything we do (Pink 20). Pink has continued to point out that many organizations and governments have applied methods that are outdated when it comes to motivating their employees. It is important that students should be encouraged to find motivation in learning through participating and enjoying learning processes. They should not be forced to go through education system but instead should find enjoyment and fulfillment in experiencing education. The students should be encouraged to be self-motivated without the use of incentives. It is through self-motivation that the students will enjoy learning. Instead of using a reward system such as grading transcripts, schools should encourage the students to feel part of learning experience.

Pink has been elaborate in arguing that carrot and sticks system does not work because people are not self-motivated and therefore they lack the inner drive to perform above what is basic and this is why many organizations do not have maximum performance. According to Pink, carrots-and-sticks, was aimed at seeking more rewards and avoiding punishment. This system postulated that workers were like parts of a machine which should work in cooperation at the right time and do different jobs that jointly contributes to the effective functioning of the whole machine. However, according to Pink, this form of motivation was counterproductive because it leads to opposite outcomes. The book details how depending on rewards for motivation can have hidden costs and thus promote opposite effects from those designed to come from that extrinsic motivation. Also, the book highlights experiments that have proven that incentives could lead to reduced performance. The author argues against the use of rewards in many organization through proving that rewards or incentives do not necessarily lead to higher performance. Good behavior and creativity are not a function of rewards system but they come from intrinsic motivation. Students have been attending school without knowing what they expect to find there but instead, learn without participating or putting any effort in learning. Pink showed that even after providing incentives for people working in an organization, they were not driven to improve their performance. It is, however, different when people perform their duties out of their own pleasure rather than working for incentives.

I believe Pink’s view on incentives is valid because when an individual performs a duty because of the belief that the duty will bring some personal satisfaction rather than performance motivated by incentives. The relevance of education is not apparent to young school going children because they don’t attach any value to learning. As they catch up with learning, the idea changes because they begin to understand why they are supposed to experience learning. The learning activities begin to sink into their minds as they begin to internalize learning experience. When an individual understands that education is necessary not only for the acquisition of degree but for a lifelong development. When the fulfillment is derived from learning, students will automatically engage in learning activities because they will be internally motivated. When the education system brings fulfillment, and does not have a rigid routine, students will not be pushed to learn but will always feel part of learning. Students will strive when they know that they receive robust feedback and that the education system is not meant to impart certain knowledge but to help them in changing their mental state so that they become better citizens and useful employees.

Pink clearly illustrated how reward system have failed through giving out an example of those who have to think through an assignment. Rewards only work when the path of the assignment is direct. This means that reward system only puts a lot of pressure on students and does not make them to be creative or innovative but rather makes them be technically mechanical. For instance, the candle problem illustrates that when a group of people involved in the study were provided with the candle, tacks and the box and asked to prevent the lighting candle from dripping. The time taken by these individuals in figuring out ways of stopping the candle from dripping was longer. When the tacks were taken from the box, the people who were involved in the study they spent relatively less time in figuring out how to stop the candle from dripping. This was because their thinking was activated and made easier. The pathway was established and easier so as to see that the path they took would lead them to a clear and expected answer. In my view, I think Pink is right in suggesting that a straightforward approach does not involve much thinking compared to cases where individuals are supposed to think for themselves. However, the straightforward approach hinders innovation and that’s why the people in his study could not see the box beyond being the container that holds the tacks rather than that which could perform other functions. People are fast in thinking of the box as a container of tacks and could not think of other uses that could be applied to the box. People fail to think outside the box when the answer expected of them is straightforward.

Pink also describes autonomy as the ability that individuals possess that motivate them in performing their own task independently. This is important because those who possess autonomy will be their own bosses and have the ability to make their own decisions. In learning it is important to instill autonomy in the students because only then will they be able to act on their own and embrace learning as an experience rather than a rigid process. Pink is also able to differentiate motivation from controlled motivation. He suggests that motivation ensures that an individual thinks and act out of full volition and choice whereas controlled motivation requires that an individual submits to the pressures as well as demands that are placed on learning (Pink 90). He continues to highlight the effect of allowing employees to have extra time which they could choose to perform their desired duties could have a great positive outcome on their performance. Those companies where employees are free to do whatever they want during their free time could add to the organization’s performance and will have the effect of raising employee’s confidence that is critical to employee performance. This means that rewarding those who performed a given function well and punishing those who have been involved in dismal performance does not only reduces the employees’ development and reflect negatively on the organization’s performance. Personally, I agree that those organizations in which employees are given free time to decide on their own what to do with their free time have many flexible ways of ensuring that the objective of the organizations are met with least effort because people will have to think for themselves about the best ways of ensuring that they perform.

Pink also introduced mastery by discussing what he called the three laws of mastery. In his discussion, Pink ascribes three definitions about mastery that one Mastery could mean pain, two, mastery could be used to describe asymptote and three masteries could also mean mindset. Pink has been able to describe that achieving mastery involves becoming better and better to any task that is required of an individual (Pink 20). This means that an individual will only attain mastery after fully becoming engaged in whatever task and making this his or her own experience. Through performing a task for another time makes an individual a better performer because his or her mind will make the performance a habit because the cues will be turned into a routine.

Becoming fully engaged derives flow that generates satisfaction in whatever an individual set to do. Therefore, better performance has a great flow that ensures that the individual has the power to be determined in seeking out the best way of performing and achieving the desired goals. Personally, I agree that with determination and full engagement, any individual could achieve much because he/she would find a reason to put in more effort as compared to reward which functions only to arrive at a set end result and does not go beyond that. The central argument as posited by Pink was that the workers had to find new ways of doing things better. When things were done better quality and financial success automatically followed. I believe that this sense when applied to the education system, many students should be allowed to choose some of the subjects and assignment that they would want to tackle in weeks, months or semester times so that they become motivate as drivers of the programme. Allowing students to decide on how and what they will learn is in itself self-motivation that have proven to have successful outcomes.

Because every individual could have different self-motivation levels, it is highly likely that others will have a higher drive compared to their peers. People who find drive as an important factor of performance will always achieve more. I believe that acquiring education and learning could be very daunting. People with the low drive will more likely require high self-motivation.

Educators and curriculum planners should be live to the fact that not every student is supposed to be “smart”. They should come up with specialized instruction procedure that will encourage students to be self-motivated if ever performance is anything to go by. Not all students will have similar learning capabilities, especially in Math as a subject. Taking an example of our K-12 schools, I believe the United States has done more on improving students’ self-motivation. I believe that Math, as a subject is a key building block in education and students when motivated to invest in keystone habit of greater math achievement, could make them naturally desire to perform on other subjects as well and hence improved overall performance. The cue should be identified and the routine changed in order to change the habit of poor performance. Because math education is administered in stages, there is a need for teaching individual students each new concept so that there is a continuous buildup of various stages. Students will find it difficult to proceed to the next level without achieving the required performance level. It will also affect the students’ performance later in life. When a student is encouraged to be proficient in math subject, he or she will be confident that they can be able to make it in school. Also, when the students become confident that they will achieve higher performance in math, they will be more likely to achieve in other subjects and areas of study as well which will mean that overall performance of K-12 schools will improve. 

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Taking math as a keystone transformative habit requires that teachers encourage the students to learn how to motivate themselves in practicing math as a subject. Motivation according to Pink (p. 9), could also lead to greater performance. The K-12 schools have for some time used a reward-punishment system which has been argued by Pink (p. 9) as not influencer of high performance. Again, encouraging the students to practice math should be done in a manner that gives them the power to decide on their own to put in effort in practicing mathematics. This will give then willpower that according to Kotler & Wheal (p. 25), will make them alter their state and hence improve their overall performance.

The education system should always focus on the best ways of promoting self-motivation or drive amongst learners. Students should be allowed to have their own plan for studying math and other subjects because they form a basis for future learning. I believe when students have the drive, they will be able to improve on their math because they will be having a belief that with good math understanding, it will be easier to pursue various career choices and every student will be having the personal purpose of ensuring that they put in more effort in improving their math skills and abilities. I also strongly believe that system of scoring math in a manner that competition is made eminent acts contrary to the real purpose of learning. I believe that many students are not able to find the drive behind studying and excelling in math subject. They fail to understand the value of math in their lives. The students should be allowed to attain the drive through letting them know how an individual could benefit from putting much effort into studying math.

A book by Charles Duhigg The Power of Habits was listed by New York Times as a bestseller in 2012. Duhigg explains that habits play important role in the lives of individuals, community, and society. He also writes that habits could be rekindled because they do not disappear easily. Through habit, an individual can automate his or her willpower. Through changing mindset, individuals, as well as organization, could unlock their potential which could sharpen decision-making capabilities, promote creativity and cooperation which leads to high performance. Habit is a strong influencer of individuals and society. Habit as argued by Duhigg (112), has the power to shape how an individual or society performs. Through changing a habit, an individual or society could harness the flow that opens up opportunities for optimal performance which could ensure that the individual and community achieve higher heights of happiness

Duhigg provides the argument that habit has a greater role in the lives of individuals, organizations as well as societies. The author uses various examples to illustrate how habit works in shaping individuals and communities. The author argues that habit have three step loop that includes cue, routine, and rewards. Cue according to the author is what triggers the brain so that it goes into an automation mode as well as providing a routine for the brain. The author defines the routine step that includes physical, mental as well as emotional behavior that comes from the cue. The reward is identified in this book as a positive stimulus that passes the message to the brain of the individual or the society that the routine which was used worked well and should be repeated and remembered. The author suggests that when individual and the society learns how to observe cues as well as rewards, they can achieve routine change that works best for them.

Duhigg then goes ahead to describe keystone habit as a habit that causes haphazard habit disruptions (p. 112). Through the example of Paul O’Neil who reduced the injury rate in his company. He set in place a system that encouraged his employees to reduce the daily occurrence of injury. Here, the injury was taken as a cue whereas the habit of reporting efforts of reducing the injury on a daily basis which was the routine. When employees complied with this requirement they were promoted. This promotion was the reward that O’Neil assured his employees. Also, in the fifth chapter, Duhigg underscores the importance of willpower through the “marshmallow study”. Willpower the author argues is giving individual freedom to choose what they have to do when given the opportunity to understand his own power and ability. The author argues that freedom of choice provides an individual with the willpower which is then turned into a habit that increases the performance level. When willpower is made to be automatic, it becomes a key ingredient to success.

Another New York Times bestseller, Stealing the Fire, authored by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal talks about the possibility that could be achieved by humans after unlocking the full potential of their minds. These two authors describe the power that is available in human mind and how it forms an important ingredient to better performance. The flow genome project as described by Kotler & Wheal (90), involves identification of peak performance that is known as the “zone”. This book describes how individuals could be led to alter their consciousness so that they could improve their lives. 

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Through illustrations, the authors described how individuals could unlock their individual utopia to change the humanity. They argue that ecstasis is achieved when an individual’s mental state is in flow and transcendence. The first part of the book explores ecstasis and its elusiveness. Kotler & Wheal describes the four ways through which individual could achieve this state. They have laid down these four ways of finding ecstasis which include technology, neurobiology, psychology, and pharmacology. However, they also point to some of the risks associated with each method that could be employed in achieving ecstasis and points out to ways of ensuring that ecstasis is made sustainable. Neurobiology, in particular, is highlighted by the authors as an important method of understanding how ecstasis is achieved. Through providing an example of how deeply religious subject’s state of mind is affected by their notion of God which leads to the hyperactivity in their caudate nucleus which forms part of the pleasure system of the brain. This hyperactivity leads them to feel serenity, love as well as joy. I believe that it is true as described by the authors that every individual has unlocked the potential that requires activation. 

The authors also point out to the four categories of ensuring that our mind is set on achieving our full potential. The first category is selflessness. This is where individual looks at the situation from a wider perspective. Secondly, the authors talk about timelessness. This is a state of taking your time when performing a duty. It is important to take time so that accuracy is achieved in the task performed. The third category is effortlessness. This is where everything we do is out of ease without much struggle. This provides the basis for intrinsic motivation for everyone. Lastly, richness is where an individual feels that his or her internal environment is in sync with the outer environment. This allows relaxation and intuition that connects individually to universal power.

In conclusion, K-12 school system has been stuck with old motivation system where incentives are promoted at the expense of good performance, especially in math subject. Through focusing on one keystone habit math practicing, I believe that students will be self-motivated, their minds will be in an altered state and their habit will change which will in turn trigger improved performance not only in math as a subject but on other subjects as well. Focusing on one keystone habit is the key to solving the underperformance problem in K-12 schools. Changing habit and unlocking potential is key to ensuring that performance in math subject is improved in K-12 schools.

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  1. Duhigg, Charles. “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”, Random House, 2012.
  2. Kotler, Steven, and Jamie Wheal, “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work”, Dey Street Books, 2017.
  3. Pink, Daniel H., “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, Riverhead Books, 2009.
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