Adopting Healthier Study Habits

We can all make improvements when it comes to our study habits. We provide guidance to overcome the obstacles to learning and help you adopt healthier study habits. 

By Riley Stoltenburg, Masters Degree in Public Health

There is an old saying that goes, “how we do one thing is how we do everything.” This means that if you live in a cluttered environment, you may be disorganized when it comes to paying your bills, and your car may be messy too. If you are out of shape, your eating habits may be less than desirable as well. The reason for this is because of how we view ourselves and our belief in abilities. We then settle into our comfort zone, develop poor habits, and our negative thoughts become self-fulfilling prophesies. We can break this negative cycle by creating better habits.

If you are going to improve your grades and study habits, you can do so by improving other areas of your life. Of course, if this were easy, everyone would be an A student. Why is it so hard to make changes that we know will contribute to our well- being? Our brains are very complex, yet we have the power to develop poor or good habits if we understand what we are facing.

Below we will examine five challenges for changing our poor habits and provide you with solutions for mastering your ability to learn and translate these skills into excelling at test taking.

What you tell yourself drives your actions

If you tell yourself that studying for a test is going to be boring and difficult, then it will be. If you tell yourself that by putting in the necessary time needed to succeed, then you will meet your goals, you are much more likely to get started with enthusiasm and follow through. “Your brain is like a powerful computer, and it believes what you tell it.” Marissa Peer, Certified Hypnotherapist.

Be aware of our need for immediate gratification

If your buddies invite you out for a few beers on the night you had planned to finish a term paper or study for an exam, you may be tempted to blow off your study time because going out now is a lot more fun. If you have been putting in a lot of study time, and your friends tell you this is going to be an especially fun evening, your brain is hard wired to drive you to take advantage of the more pleasurable time now rather than waiting, even if you know the negative consequences of failing the test may be great. It takes great awareness, planning and dedication to follow through on your plan when faced with temptation. If you allow yourself study breaks, get some fresh air, exercise and have fun with friends in a balanced way during the semester, and know why your goals are important to you, then you will be more able to say no to last minute tempting offers.

Chronic stress leads us to make poor choices

When we feel stressed out all the time, worried about school, finances, relationship and other problems, our minds and bodies stay on high alert. The more stressed we are, the worse are decisions. For example, we are worried about not passing a test or failing because we haven’t spent the necessary time on a project, so we over eat junk food. If we don’t want to face ourselves, we go out drinking, and stay out too late. Our brains are fueled by nutritious food, lots of water, 7-8 hours of deep sleep and other healthful habits. But by getting on the downward spiral of eating junk food, drinking too much alcohol and staying up too late, our brains are not only fuzzy, we can hardly think clearly. The answer is to make a decision to take care of your body and do what is necessary to succeed. These changes do not have to be overwhelming, just start with small steps, like going to bed a little earlier, commit to no drinking alcohol during the week, learn how to eat healthier. Your brain will adopt new habits in three to four weeks. You will not only be happier; you will be ahead of the class if you commit to living a healthier lifestyle.

Bad habits become hard wired in your brain

Your brain develops pathways that are well worn with the way you do things over and over. In order to change, you must make a conscious effort. For example, if you want to start a running or walking program, you will be much more likely to follow through if you keep a log of your miles, or minutes of activity, or if you have a buddy or coach to report to. If you do this for 28 days, this good habit will be wired and you will become used to it. Exercise is a positive addiction that will help you think more clearly, will increase blood flow to your brain, boost your immune system and benefit you in many ways. What you choose each day becomes a habit. Your habits become your life.

 

Making quick decisions or being unprepared for life’s challenges

Often times we just don’t want to think about the bad things that could happen. While it is important to remain positive, it is also important to have a vision for the future and try to foresee things that could go wrong. If we are prepared, we are much more likely to be calm when faced with problem solving and be able to brainstorm solutions instead of tricking ourselves into quick fixes. For example, planning out a study schedule well in advance of finals time and projects that are do will help you say no when invited out instead of studying. And if you have already put the time into your projects, papers and studies, then if you do get sick or something goes wrong when things are due, you will be ahead of the game. You will also be less stressed and more able to cope with challenges.

When you take good care of your overall health, sleep well each night, eat well, get exercise, drink plenty of water, and avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs you give your mind and body what you need to succeed. You will train your brain to reduce the tendency to make impulsive and self-destructive decisions.

Learning new information about health alone, is rarely enough to help you change poor habits. Getting support from a mentor, buddy, coach or group will help you stay on track.

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