When no one is breathing down your neck
Habits can be very easy to get into while you’re in school. From elementary school forwards, you have a large chunk of your day devoted to classes. Then sports, clubs, church activities, and other extracurriculars all take a slice out of your days and weeks.
Even if you were homeschooled, like me, you had a lot of things taking up your time. Many of them were set during specific times on specific days, and you structured the rest of your time around those.
It can be quite a relief to think about college, where you choose when your classes are, your work availability, what activities to keep and what to drop. It can be easy to think all of that is behind you. You’re an adult now, and no one sets the rules but you.
Which is a nice thought, except that it’s completely false.
I’m not here to talk about how to set up your class or work schedule, although that might happen another time. I’m here to talk about habits.
The habits that sneak in
You see, when you make a schedule, you’ll inevitably have gaps. They might be as short as ten minutes or as long as an entire morning, but they’ll be there. If you’re not careful about how you use that time, you’ll find yourself scrolling through your phone or otherwise letting time slip down the drain. There’s nothing wrong with that, until you’re graduating and realize you never did half the things you meant to do. It’s a much better feeling to know you spent your time wisely.
Other habits might sneak in besides looking at your phone. You might get into the habit of sleeping in until noon, even though you’re pursuing a teaching degree. You might get comfortable with skipping classes, even though in the back of your head you know that won’t fly with work shifts. Maybe you claim you want to start making healthy choices, but take advantage of your comfort foods whenever they’re available and your recreation center not at all.
If you’re not careful, you’ll develop all the habits you don’t want to keep after graduation, and none of the ones you do. When you’re the one making the rules, though, it can be hard to motivate yourself to work at developing the right habits. How do you make sure the good ones get in, and the bad ones stay out?
You want to get in the habit of being up at 7am? Set your alarm for 7am every day. Put it somewhere you’ll have to get up to turn it off. Apologize to your roommates if you have roommates, but it’s important that it gets you out of bed. The number of times I’ve tried to develop this habit with an alarm right next to my pillow isn’t worth mentioning. Suffice it to say I only see results when I have to get up to achieve them.
Consistency isn’t just for your sleep schedule. You want to cut a certain food out of your diet? If you let yourself break it, ‘just this once’ turns into ‘just one more time’ which turns into ‘ah, who really cares’. You want to exercise every morning? If you let yourself sleep in or ‘forget’ it, it’s very easy to let that idea slide to the side altogether.
I’m not advocating for slavery to these habits. I think it’s important to realize when you’re taking something too far. I think moderation is important. But consistency is key for building actual habits.
Habits are tricky things to build and even trickier to break. You probably won’t be able to change everything about your lifestyle at once (and if you do manage it, please share your secrets!)
Reasonableness involves several things. It means setting goals to work towards that you know you can achieve. Maybe it means only changing one or two things, or changing something slowly rather than quickly. It means remembering not to give up just because you had a bad day, but also recognizing when something just isn’t going to work for you.
So be reasonable about the habits you’re trying to start. If you’re in early morning classes, it probably isn’t the time to force yourself to work on homework after 10 pm. If you work night shifts, it probably isn’t the best time to make getting up by 6 your primary goal. Figure out what will actually work for you, and work towards that.
I read somewhere that habits take at least 21 days of consistency to form. I have no idea if that’s true, but what I do know is that it doesn’t happen overnight. While some things just won’t work for you, there are many areas that certainly won’t be comfortable for you, but will be rewarding once you get there.
So go ahead, push towards those goals. Make those habits your own. If you fall, it’s not the same as failing. Give yourself grace and keep trying. Eventually, you will get there – or you’ll realize that it falls under the section above. You’re the only one who can say for sure.
Just because your parents and teachers aren’t holding you to certain standards doesn’t mean you can’t have accountability. Roommates and friends can be great for keeping you accountable to your goals and habits.
I don’t know about you, but I’m always more likely to do something when I have someone I’m reporting to. I hate disappointing people, so I want to have a good report to give them – even if they won’t actually be disappointed in me.
What are some habits you’re trying to start up? How are you going to ensure you keep to them? If you can be consistent, reasonable, persistent, and accountable in striving to make these habits your own, you’ll have a much better chance at achieving that goal. I wish you the best!