By Erin Caine
Now that we’re several weeks into the Spring semester, you might find that the promises you made to yourself earlier in the year are already starting to slip. Falling back into the same, old, less-than-healthy lifestyle choices can be a burden on your morale. Also, many people buy into the idea that there’s some magical amount of time that it takes to change habits for the better, and get discouraged when the results seem excruciatingly slow to appear. With midterms looming on the horizon, now especially is the time to manage and minimize stress and engage in activities that encourage your mental and physical health. Here are a few tips to help you form and keep healthy habits:
- Get specific. Sociologist Christine Whelan, speaking to the Washington Post, says that trying to make several changes at once (that is, trying to cover a “laundry list” of lifestyle changes) is a “recipe for failure.” Instead, you should try to focus on one thing at a time, and make it as specific, measurable, and “trackable” as possible. For instance, instead of telling yourself you’re going to get in shape, you should set a goal of going to the gym a certain amount of days out of a week. Instead of setting a goal to finish an essay, you should plan your work section by section, following an outline of key ideas you want to touch on.
- Create “behavior chains.” It’s hard to remember to follow through on the goals you set for yourself during the day, so connecting several small habits together can help. For example, if your goal is to read a certain class’s material certain days out of a week, then on those days you can also organize your workspace or closet. Studies have shown that “if-then” thinking is a good way to solidify habits. (So: “If I organize my desk, then I will read class material after that.”) The intent of this “behavior chain” is to create a specific situation, and then develop a specific reaction to that situation. Over time, fulfilling your goal will become automatic.
- Cut superfluous choices. Since it’s difficult as it is to find the willpower to complete the important goals in front of you, paring down any lesser or unproductive options can help you focus your motivation. Research has shown that too much decision-making saps your mental energy, so logically the less decisions you make for yourself, the better. For example, if you find yourself in the middle of studying thinking about watching a show or scrolling through social media, then postpone that kind of decision-making until after you’re done. Of course, taking breaks is important, but be careful not to get too side-tracked so that you forget your work.
- Find a community. Making big changes to your lifestyle requires the support of your friends and people who share your goals. Try to minimize interaction with people who could negatively influence you when you’re trying to follow through on a new objective. Going through it alone can also be draining and boring. In a community of people trying to reach the same results, you can simultaneously be encouraged and encourage others. You can also exchange tips and methods for sticking to your specific goals. Inner motivation is ultimately the key to changing your life for the better, but it doesn’t hurt to have occasional words of inspiration from friends.