How to Set Good Habits for the School Year
The new school year always starts out with so much promise. We have brand new backpacks, brand new notebooks, and brand new shoes.
But if we really want to have a better year than we did last year, we need to take a hard look at how we’re actually going to do things differently. We have to change our bad habits and try to develop new, more productive ones.
Sounds simple, right? But where do we start?
Let’s say, for example, that you’d like to improve your time management skills this year so that you aren’t always rushing to write papers the night before they’re due. You may know that having better time management skills would help your grades and your sanity. You may even buy yourself a planner with the intention of writing down assignment deadlines. But if you don’t take steps to actively change your old habits, you’re likely to go back to the pattern of doing everything at the last minute.
So how can you really make a change that will last? Here are a few important steps to creating new habits that really stick:
- Believe you can do it
In his book “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg argues that the first step to changing anything about ourselves is believing we can actually change. “If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.” So, remember that you do have the power to change…if you set your mind to it!
- Set goals and envision the benefits
The first step in creating a new habit is to set a goal for how you’d like your life to be. Think about some areas of academic life that you’d like to improve such as your time management, organization, exam preparation, self-advocacy, or other skills. Choose the one area you’d most like to change and envision what life would be like if you built a good habit in that area. For example, let’s say you’d like to be more focused when you do your homework. Take time to envision how your grades would go up and your stress would go down if you became more focused. Let yourself feel the confidence, pride, relief or other positive feelings that would result. Now you have the motivation you need to pursue that goal of being focused.
- Think about the reward you get from your bad habit
In order to change a bad habit, we need to understand why we were doing it in the first place. Usually, there is some short-term reward we get from continuing our bad habit even if it’s not good for us in the long run. For example, if you’re someone who always writes essays at the last minute, maybe it’s because you like the adrenaline rush of working under pressure. Or maybe you do things at the last minute because you’re involved in too many extracurricular activities. The clubs and sports bog down your schedule, but you accept the time crunch because you have so much fun in those activities.
Once you realize what reward you’re getting from the bad habit, you may become willing to give up that reward or to find other ways of getting it through more positive behaviors.
- Think through the steps needed to accomplish your goal
Once you have a goal, think about the specific actions you’d need to take to accomplish it. If your goal is to stop procrastinating on big assignments, you might want to buy a planner and start breaking down long assignments into manageable chunks and scheduling them in advance of the due date. If your goal is to be better prepared for your exams, you can commit to taking better notes throughout the semester and keeping track of old tests and quizzes so you can study them later. Write down a list of all the actions you will take to reach your goal.
- Be accountable to other people
One of the best ways to stick to our goals and create healthier habits is to let other people know about them and then check in about our progress. Brainstorm a list of family members, friends, teachers, coaches, or other mentors whom you can tell about your goal. Then make a point of checking in with them regularly about how your new habit is going.
Remember, changing our habitual behaviors can be really hard at first. But if you keep at it, you’ll soon realize that the new behavior starts to feel automatic, and soon you will have made big changes that can stay with you throughout your life!