The life that you will live is most simply the result of habits you develop — Ray Dalio (See Principles)
How many alarms do you need to wake up? 2? 3? 10?
Since June 28, 2019, I’ve started waking up at 5:30 by using one alarm every day. It has been more than a month now, so I think I’m able to claim that it has become my habit. And I’ve broken the bad habit of oversleeping.
So let me explain how I did it and what good habits you can build too:
- List Of Good Habits For Student
- How To Start A Habit
- How To Maintain A Habit
- Final Thoughts
- TL;DR? Here Is The Takeaway
* Side note: It’s a comparatively long article, so you’re more than welcome to skim through and focus on the habits that interest you.
If you are just curious about how to start and maintain habits, you can start from the 2nd part! There is also a habit-building spreadsheet I created (It’s actually an improved version of Sebastian’s Lights Spreadsheet) to help you.
List Of Good Habits For Students
These are some habits that I have been doing by myself, so they are all possible to achieve. I have labeled these habits with their level of difficulty, so you can start with the easy ones and gradually challenge yourself to the advanced habits. Even if you are not a student, they are good for you, too.
1. Make Your Bed
Difficulty: Low | Benefit: Disciplined, Quick control
Making your bed is a fairly easy thing to do in the morning. It takes less than a minute to get done, but its return is extremely high. By doing this, you impose a self-image that you’re a disciplined and tidy person. It also gives you a quick sense that your life is under control.
Just as when someone is stuck in a problem that they can’t solve, they start cleaning the house to destress themselves. How come doing house-cleaning, which is another form of working, can reduce stress? Because while the problem is so overwhelmed, people clean the house to feel that they still have control over their lives.
Our self-esteem is often tied to our ability to control our environments. — Anthony Robbins (See Awaken The Giant Within).
2. Sleep At Least 7-8 Hours
Difficulty: Low | Benefit: Health, Enhance productivity
What is one of the common things that we all have experienced when being a student? — Pulling an all-nighter to study for exams. I bet you have done that. But it actually leads to memory loss.
When we are sleeping our brain will get into REM cycles, and each cycle takes about 90 minutes to finish. The more REM you have, the better you rest. It reduces fatigue of the next day and your memory will process into a long-term one.
In other words, sleep deprivation stops your cognitive functioning to perform optimally. You do things in a lethargic and slow way like a zombie. You are basically an unpaid Walking Dead actor every day.
3. Do It Now If It Takes Less Than 2 Minutes
Difficulty: Low | Benefit: Enhance productivity
If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined. — By David Allen
This is the rule I picked up when reading his book — Getting Things Done. If let’s say, you have an email or a phone call that will take you a minute to reply, why delegate it? You need to kill the monster while it’s small.
If you accumulate these little 2-minute actions in your to-do list, it will take you more than 2 minutes to deal with them in the future.
4. Plan Your Next Day In The Evening
Difficulty: Low | Benefit: Enhance productivity
Procrastination is usually a symptom of unclear next steps, or insufficiently easy next steps. — By Nat Eliason
The former can be solved when you do some planning. With the next day planned, you won’t have to decide what to do. You know what to do already. Planning helps you review your progress too.
I don’t set a time frame for each thing I need to get done that day, since there will always be some unexpected duties coming at you in the middle. And you may underestimate the time you need to finish a task, which will totally mess up your following schedule.
What I do for evening planning is by listing out 3 tasks I want to finish tomorrow. And for the next day, I will pick a task to do when I’m free based on how much time I have now, that it will make sense to do which task.
5. Read And Speed Reading
Difficulty: Medium | Benefit: Self-improvement, critical thinking
Without reading books, it is like living in a tribe that doesn’t have contact with the outside world. Something like this:
(In our situation, it will be “before you discover paper and scissors”)
Students nowadays don’t enjoy reading that much because it costs more time comparing to consume answers from short articles. We are also reluctant to read because the internet has created a phenomenon of information overload that we need to fight against. It makes us feel like reading is exhausting.
You need the patience to read and complement it with speed reading (a method by Tim Ferriss). If you feel that reading is boring, you haven’t chosen the right books to read. By reading those that solve your current problems, you will be eager to find out the answer rather than losing interest.
6. Exercise On A Regular Basis
Difficulty: Medium | Benefit: Health, Self-improvement, Stress released
Yeah, yeah, I know you have heard it a thousand times, but you just can’t do it. You surely know what are the benefits of exercising, so I will tell you why you always give up — It is because
you only focus on the 1st-order consequence that has outweighed the 2nd- and 3rd-order ones (See Principles by Ray Dalio).
You feel like working out is painful (1st-order consequence), but you forget to focus on the fact that it makes you look better and feel better (2nd-order consequence). In the long run, it improves your health (3rd-order consequence).
Forge yourself to get through the painful phase and trust me, once you get to the latter consequences, you will find pleasure.
7. Manage Your Leisure Time
Difficulty: Medium | Benefit: Self-improvement
What I mean by this is to consciously analyze when you are free and how have you spend the time. As students, we don’t have a 9-5 job, so we have relatively more free time for spare use. Don’t just spend them all on your phone, laptop or sleeping.
I picked up the habit of reading after quitting Instagram. But if you aren’t ready to do this commitment yet, you can simply go for a hike, sharing quality time with your family, etc.
Imagine someone asks you what you have done yesterday and you answer “Oh um… nothing. I was just watching Netflix.” and “I went for a hike yesterday and the view was amazing! Do you wanna see some pictures?” Which one makes you feel better?
8. Wake Up Early With 1 Alarm
Difficulty: High | Benefit: Quick control
Waking up at 5:30 every day may sound crazy to you, but the satisfaction it creates is beyond your imagination. You feel successful when you do it because you are already devoting to your life while everyone is still asleep.
I’m not telling you to wake up at 5:30 like I do, but try to be the first one to wake up in the house and do something meaningful. You will be more focused than ever.
Why most of the people have more than 1 alarm turned on? — They don’t trust themselves, so they need backups. However, by setting up only one alarm, you will be more alert. Your mind will simply alert you that “You need to wake up now! There’s no second alarm to wake you, so you either do it or you are screwed!”
(But please don’t try it for the first time when there is something important for you on that day. If you do, this will probably screw you too…)
(When I look at my old alarm habit, I just feel ridiculous…Why was I sleeping at 6:35pm…)
9. Have Some Quiet Reflection Time
Difficulty: Hard | Benefit: Critical thinking
Solitude Deprivation: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds. — By Cal Newport (See Digital Minimalism)
As students, we have sufficient time, yet we use them insufficiently. Our lives have been filled up so much, either it’s from the online world, reading or people around you, that there is virtually no space left for thinking or reflecting.
Let’s reflect on how you spend a day — you speak to friends; you listen to music; you watch videos; you learn in classes — and when is your time to think by yourself?
10. Question Everything
Difficulty: High | Benefit: Critical thinking
I’m not asking you to question things in an asshole way, such as provoking a Christian by asking “How do you know God exists?” But instead, don’t simply accept every piece of information you receive.
Analyze and question them before absorbing it. It is like assuring something’s believability before believing it. Think more and question more — that’s how you develop critical thinking.
How To Start A Habit
Another thing I have to admit is that starting habits is not as easy as saying it, but it is not as hard as you imagine. You have the habits that we want to start now, but you dread that you might give up at some point like other habits you’ve tried before. Well, what you need is actually a systematic way to start building the habit.
Step 1: Start Small
We all have experienced a situation that there’s something we want to do, but it’s so difficult by just imagining doing it. Then you decide to do it later, and that later never comes. It is the difficulty that makes us don’t want to do it, so we need to break it down.
For instance, you want to start the habit of working out, but you realize you need to find a gym, buy sportswear, look for someone to teach you, find time to go to the gym regularly, maybe even ask a friend to go with you… What if you just define the first physical you can take? — find a nice gym near you on google first.
Step 2: Have Daily Records
When we try to start a new habit, it is extremely easy to forget to do it. The easiest tool I found to help with this is the Light Spreadsheet created by Sebastian Marshall. But I improved it a bit.
You can get the improved habit-building spreadsheet here, and I’ve also defaulted some useful habits onto the sheet. Make a copy and edit them as you want.
It looks like this:
(Excuse me for covering up the habits I am tracking right now)
You simply mark either:
- Yes: If you fully achieve the goal.
- Half: If you didn’t totally fail at doing it. You, for example, want to drink 4 bottles of water a day, but you end up only achieving 3 bottles of you. It is not far from achieving, so you mark it as half (*Note: When calculating the achieving percentages, “Half”s are not counted.)
- No: If you fail at doing it.
And at the end of each row, you will see the achieving percentage calculated for individual habits. As on the top-left corner, you can check the overall success rate. As simple as that!
How To Maintain A Habit
When the habit-building system starts, you need to make sure your effort doesn’t burn in flame in the near future. You have to maintain it. Otherwise, it will be like “another one of those” — those habits that you gave up.
Step 1: Review The Result
You record your habits daily, but you also need to review and analyze them. The principle is to keep it simple — If you make maintaining a habit too complicated, the pressure will push you away from motivation.
After logging for a week, you can see your progress and where to improve. As Sebastian stated, don’t be so harsh on yourself in the beginning. Aiming to achieve 70% is good enough. If you are always expected to hit that 100%, you will create more virtual pressure that resists you from doing it.
(Although my overall achievement rate is 75%, there are 4 habits that didn’t hit the targeted 70%. They will be the focus for my next week.)
I have also made a chart review for monitoring the weekly ratios
Step 2: Become Your Routines
When you actually achieve every daily habit, they become your routines — it’s like “having a chain of habits”. By doing this, you won’t have to decide what to do and when. It will become a reflection.
Most of the people have already had this kind of experience. Back in middle or high school, you needed to wake up at 7am to go to school during weekdays. And somehow when it was weekend, you would still wake up at 7 because your body was used to it already. Then you felt ridiculous, so you fell back to sleep.
To achieve this, you will need to do a lot of experiments to let the new habits perfectly fit into your existing daily routines. I have to admit, the experimenting process can be up to 1-2 weeks and it can be frustrating! But once you find the perfect balance, it will be as good as killing a mosquito that’s sucking your blood — it won’t bother you anymore.
Step 3: Make Them Your Identity
After establishing your good habits for a while, you will identify yourself with them. For instance, “I don’t oversleep anymore.” or “I read every night.” These are the habits that make you feel good about yourself. This is another key point that you will never stop these habits — they’re your identity. If you stop for a few days, you will feel guilty about it. Trust me, you will want to keep a good self-image, even just to yourself.
Failing to maintain a good habit is demotivating. We all know that. But we also know how self-satisfying it is to have good habits and a better life. To restart the process, I urge you to try those habits again. And this time, do it with the spreadsheet.
I personally think students must have a set of good habits built up before getting into the wild society jungle. Once you are out of college, your job will probably take up 80% of your time. Do it while we are relatively free.
Now go make your bed!