How to Develop a New Habit

August 05, 2013 by John Andrew Williams

As an Academic Life Coach, I have had years of experience helping students develop new habits. Below, I describe what I’ve found works best and my understanding of how to help teenagers develop habits that help them succeed and thrive.

The three elements needed to help students create a new habit are:

  1. Awareness of the current pattern
  2. Desire to change a new habit
  3. A clear plan to make the change

The biggest obstacle in the way of creating new habit is the challenge of gaining enough self-awareness to identify the habits in your life that do not serve you. These habits can include what time you go to bed, how much water you drink during the day, the time you spend on social media, procrastination, or attending to your to-do lists.

To show you what I mean, let’s use Sam, who is a student participating in the Academic Life Coaching Program, as an example. He is focusing on going to bed earlier and doing his homework on time.

“I really wanted to get a handle on my life. I knew that I was going sleep too late and but I thought that was what I had to do to get good grades. My first term, I had mostly failing grades. My parents were unhappy with me, my father especially. I had to look at the things I was doing in my life,” said Sam.

By looking closely at his life, a coach helped Sam decide what he wanted to accomplish that week.

“I wanted to go to bed by 10 o’clock every night and not put off my school work until the next day.”

Sam noticed that the hardest part was sticking to the change that first week. He didn’t know if he would be able to follow though with his two new habits or what it would be like to make such a drastic change. Getting to sleep 3 hours earlier with his homework done was a HUGE shift from his routine.

Luckily, the change in bedtime yielded immediate, positive results. Those positive results made it much easier to do the harder work of getting his homework done before bed. Sticking to the hard work of changing habits is a key part of successfully learning this life skill.

Sam worked diligently to maintain these changes and he noticed that in the beginning, he actually felt excited to get up in the morning now that he had so much more energy that he was used to.

“Getting up in the morning when I was exhausted was the worst feeling in the world. This one change helped make my morning much better.”

Sam was lucky because going to bed was not only easy, but it made an immediate improvement in his life. He was able to recall those excruciating mornings when he woke up with no energy and just wanted to sleep more and then compare that with his new experiences of getting up feeling well rested.

“I literally haven’t felt this good since I was a little kid,” said Sam.

It’s important to look at the immediate benefits of changing habits. It can be as simple as recognizing the amazing feeling you have after you exercise or how it feels to accomplish a task immediately and not have to worry about it any more. You can hang onto that good feeling while you continue to master the life skill of choosing your habits.

“The best part is, changing this one habit in my life has made it easier for me to continue to make more changes.”

Also read: Are We Really Out of Our Minds?

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