Life Compass
Stress Tests of Character

Lesson Plan #2

 How Do You Build Good Habits or Strengths of Character?

During Lesson #1, we identified habits & strengths that support academic flourishing, such as courage, tenacity, resilience, attentiveness, curiosity, and patience. This lesson helps students understand that habit formation takes time and effort  and is worth their focus and attention.  


Return to the inspiring image or story from “Introductory Lesson #1” (or choose a new one). Did the people involved wake up one morning and say, “Today I’m going to build the Golden Gate Bridge” or “Today I am going to write lead a march on Washington”?  What leads them to that point?

Sometimes we might wish we had a magic wand. We could wave it at homework and POOF, the homework would complete itself.  Or wave at our feet and POOF, we would be an expert soccer player. Or wave at my computer and POOF, a perfect essay would appear.  

But the “good stuff” isn’t just the finished product  it’s how we get there. When we talk about amazing human accomplishments, we don’t just admire the book or discovery or structure, we are awed by people’s strength, grit, and grace along the way.  We admire the character of the people who make a difference in the world. The habits they practice as they navigate stress tests in their work often reveal more about their character than the accomplishments themselves. 


Another word for character strengths is “good habits.” What exactly is a habit? 

Let’s brainstorm.  Have students make a T-Chart about what they know and what they want to know about what a habit is, how they are formed, and how they are helpful or unhelpful for our development. Alternative:  give students sticky notes to write down and ideas and populate a large T-Chart on the board. 
          What I know...           

      What I want to know...      

Have students share their ideas and review some of the common themes and questions.  Students will likely point out that habits can be both good and bad.  

Ask: What are some good habits  habits that improve your life and help you be a better person?  What are some unhelpful habits  habits that do not help you thrive as a student or a person?
Introduce HABITS Acronym to communicate five key ideas.

H: Happy and Healthy

Habits can be good, bad or neutral. Good habits help you thrive. In this class, we will work on building good academic habits that will support your growth.

A: Ask Aristotle

The Greek philosopher said, “We learn by doing.” You don’t learn to play the piano by thinking about pianos — your fingers have the play the scales over and over until finger location becomes a habit. Likewise, if you want to be more courageous, you have to practice taking risks that move you toward positive goals. 

B: Bite-Sized Beginnings

Break your goals into bite-sized chunks. If you take small positive steps you every day, you will build the strong habits of character you need to flourish at school and in the rest of your life.

I: I Can 

Remind yourself, “I can change. I can grow.”  [I can learn math. I can learn to write. I can become a strong reader . . . ]. Our brains are constantly growing and changing  our neural pathways are malleable and responsive to effort.  This mindset gives us the motivation we need to pursue our goals, even when we encounter challenges.

T: Time

It takes weeks (or months!) for an action to become a habit.  So be patient with yourself. After a while, you won’t have to think about whether or not you are to proofread your work or organize your materials or turn off distractions or treat your classmates with respect.  It’ll be a habit. When you act in a certain way over and over again, it becomes a mental routine that you do automatically, like brushing your teeth.


What is one academic habit that would help you find success in this class?  What’s one action you can take this week to build that habit?

The Stress Tests of Character curriculum was made possible with the generous support of a grant from the Kern Family Foundation and our partnership with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

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For more information on this and other resources, visit The LifeCompass Institute.