There are a million blog posts about the core study habits that will lead to success in school and life, and they're not hard to find. If you do a quick search, you'll find the same recommendations everywhere: things like using a planner to organize your time, creating and following a study plan, and active listening and reading. These recommendations are everywhere. The fact is, you already know most of them. You could probably sit down right now and write a list of twenty things you could do better.
So why aren't you already doing them?
When I ask students this question, I am not surprised to hear answers like:
If you're like most students, these answers are not only wrong; they're also preventing you from solving the problem. Will power and motivation are limited, unreliable resources. If you're depending on them to drive big changes in your study habits, you're going to be disappointed.
What's worse, every time you make a big resolution to improve yourself as a student, and then sooner or later run out of steam (motivation and will power), the disappointment you feel teaches you to look at yourself as a "bad student." Every failure makes you feel more like the kind of person who just can't improve. But that's not true! If you want to be a better student, then you already have it in you to get there. You just need to take a different path.
The best students in the world know that you don't achieve excellence by fighting against yourself. You have to want to do the things that lead to success. You have to make good decisions joyfully. Instead of forcing yourself to eat your academic vegetables, gradually learn to love them. Step by step, become the kind of person that simply wants to do all those things you know you "should" be doing.
How do you do that? To put it simply, stop making resolutions, and start making habits.
The Ultimate Habit
If you wanted to create an evil robot army, obviously the first step would be to design and build an evil robot that can build other evil robots. Why waste your time and energy personally building thousands of robots when you can make the process practically automatic? In much the same way, the most powerful thing you can do to develop better habits is to start by creating a habit that can create other habits.
Unfortunately, it's a difficult one to establish, because you may not even be sure whether you're doing it or not. It's easier to make a habit of something that you can picture yourself doing. You can pretty easily visualize things like eating healthier or exercising. But what does making a habit look like? What are the actual steps involved? If you don't answer those questions, you won't be able to see and celebrate your success.
Here's how I do it: for about twenty to thirty minutes after lunch each day, I grab my journal, and close myself into a quiet room I call my Habit Lab. This physical relocation is an extremely important part of the process. It means that the first step in the action of making habits is something I can visualize, measure, and celebrate. Inside the Lab, I check my progress on the habits I've been working on. I think about what changes I want to make in my life and what habits would support those. I make a specific, measurable plan for how I will establish these habits. Finally, I physically rehearse the plan.
The time I spend in the Lab is blocked off on my calendar every day. It's sacred ground, the one thing that I won't let go. If my house burned down tomorrow morning I would still hit the Habit Lab after lunch. I know that no matter what else happens, I'm actively becoming a more effective, virtuous, happy, and healthy person every day.
Inside the Habit Lab
Making a habit is more than just saying to yourself, "I'm going to do this thing now." And it's more than just doing the thing again and again. Those are both important aspects of the process, but neither of them in themselves guarantees that the action will become a habit. The key to creating a habit is to reward yourself repeatedly for the decision to take the action. To do that, you need to have a definite plan, so that you can observe and celebrate that decision.
Your Habit Lab is the place where you will create that plan.
You have to train yourself to study more effectively the way you would train a dog to roll over. That means that when you're trying to make an action into a habit, you have to rehearse the first step of the action many times a day, and reward yourself each time. To do that consistently, you need to plan ahead. The Habit Lab is your command center for planning the positive changes you're going to make. Keep coming back, and there's truly no limit to what you can accomplish.
Every day, whatever else you do, spend time: