As shown from the survey responses, the students had an overall moderately-strong positive responses to the practical psychology topic, with the strongest positive responses being "I understood the material well" and "I think this topic should be taught to other students in gymnasium (high school)."
PROPOSED STRUCTURE & CONTENT OF A PRACTICAL PSYCHOLOGY COURSE
In this section, I cover a few of the key elements that I believe should be in a practical psychology course for high schools. These include: Habit loops, identity-based habits, the 2-minute rule, keystone habits, and fixed & growth mindsets.
Based on Dr. Wendy Wood’s research at the University of Southern California, habits are essentially the hard-coding of our brains. Approximately 40-45% of our actions each day are decided by our subconscious and the habits that our brain contains. Thus, only about 55-60% of our decisions each day are conscious. A simple example is brushing your teeth before you go to bed. Many times, you’re in bed before you’ve even consciously realized that you made the decision to brush your teeth – this is also seen in negative instances, such as snacking on junk food while watching TV.
Habits are broken down into three main components: the cue, the routine, and the reward. James Clear, a blogger who writes about psychology from recent research (website in sources), prefers to phrase this as the 3 R’s: the Reminder, Routine, and Reward. Packaging content in 3’s is easier for students to remember, so I stuck with naming the loop the 3 R’s: reminder, routine, and reward.
A habit is initially triggered by a reminder, such as “I am going to bed,” which triggers the routine of brushing one’s teeth, which then grants the reward of having clean, smooth teeth. This habit loop is how habits are constructed in our brain: actions can happen with a reminder and a routine, but if there is no reward, the brain has no reason to continue doing it. The opposite is true too: if an action brings a reward, then the brain may crave it; however, given that there are many rewards that the brain can crave, without the reminder, this specific routine and reward will die off.
Practically, this habit loop is seen often in everyone’s daily lives. A simple example is getting out of bed (reminder), showering (routine), and feeling clean and ready for the day (reward). Other simple examples include brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, going for a jog or working out/training, driving to work, snacking while watching TV, eating when stressed, and eating when bored (both with stress and boredom being reminders for the eating routine to take place).
A strong tool with implementing new habits is to first focus on building one’s identity. A common example used by James Clear is someone who remembers peoples’ names well. When asked how someone remembers names so well, such a person will often reply “I’m just the type of person who’s good at remembering peoples’ names.” The key here is that her belief that she is the type of person that remembers names well is how she has constructed her identity. If she believes that she is the type of person who remembers names well, then her mind will subconsciously act that out. The opposite is also true: If a person thinks that he is terrible with remembering names, then his brain will have no impetus to improve, since that’s where he has constructed his identity. Thus, the identity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in both scenarios.
Thus, establishing the identity first is the key to building solid habits. For myself with my treadmill example, while I started with only going to the gym for 2 minutes everyday, I was constructing the identity of “I am the type of person that goes to the gym everyday.” Even though I was only on the treadmill for 2 minutes, then 2 minutes 10 seconds, then 2 minutes 20 seconds, etc., I was validating my identity in that I go to the gym everyday. Even though it was for such a short time, after ~21 days, I had constructed the identity and the habits of being the type of person that goes to the gym everyday. Then, the results follow.
Focusing on the Process vs. the Results
Often, when people set out to achieve goals, they focus wholly on the results. As with fitness, common examples are: “How much fat have I lost? How much faster was my mile run time? How much weight was I able to bench press today? Do I have six-pack abs yet?” Mentally, however, this breeds constant dissatisfaction with one’s self. It is important to give oneself small victories. Going from being overweight to being lean and having a six-pack can take a tremendous amount of time. If someone focuses solely on the result of losing 50lbs of fat, then every single day that he isn’t 50lbs leaner will be sad and self-destructive, constructing a negative image of one’s self. This is why solely focusing on the results can be dangerous.
The solution, then, is to focus on the process, not the results. By starting small and establishing habits, such as going to the gym for 2 minutes, then one can celebrate the small victory that she went to the gym that day, irrespective of the results. If she continues to increase this everyday, as with the treadmill example in increasing the treadmill time by 10 seconds, then three months from the start date, she will be on the treadmill for 17 minutes per day, effectively burning roughly 800 calories every workout – only by focusing on the constructive process of establishing the identity of going to the gym everyday, rather that beating herself down for not having lost 50lbs of fat yet. This gives a psychological boost to the mind, by celebrating the process. This removes the need to compare oneself to others; it doesn’t matter that someone else is 50lbs leaner that you are: you continued the process today, which you should celebrate. Enjoy this small victory, and over time, the results will follow. Altogether, the methodology is to build the identity by focusing on the process, and the results will follow.
The 2-Minute Rule
In loose terms, “anyone can do anything for 2 minutes” – and that’s true. That’s how good habits can begin. Instead of deciding to go to the gym every single day for 2 hours as a New Year’s resolution, start with going to the gym for only 2 minutes every day, and then slowly increase it from there (as I did with walking on the treadmill for only 2 minutes at first, and then increasing it by 10 seconds everyday). The reason for this is that, as mentioned, the priority is not for quick results, since achieving quick results is often idealistic and impractical. The purpose, instead, is to establish the habit. By starting with 2 minutes for a new routine, there is no way that the brain can make an excuse that one doesn’t have time for a routine, such as working out/training. 2 minutes is so short that the routine won’t cause any anxiety, knowing you only need to do something for 2 minutes.