The start of a new semester is the perfect time to reflect on our habits, good and bad, and make some changes for the better. But making real changes to our routine is more difficult than just writing a list of New Year’s Resolutions and hoping for the best. So, how do things become habits, and how can we change them?
According to psychologists, it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. Which means that doing something for just over two months means you’re stuck with it. Or does it? Just because we have habits doesn’t mean that they must be permanent, or that they have to be bad. When you start small and stay consistent, changing your habits is easier than you think.
So, how can we break our habits and replace them with better ones? The key is to start small. While it’s tempting at this time of year to overwhelm ourselves with long lists of unattainable New Year’s Resolutions and swear that we’ll go to the gym every day or make every 9am lecture. However, often the pressure to stick to our goals is too great, and when we fail just once it’s easy to give up. To start, try picking one goal that’s achievable but still aspirational, such as making dinner on the weekends instead of ordering a takeaway, and try it for a week. If that works, try another week, and another, until you reach that 66-day mark and you have officially replaced a not-so-great habit with a new one – whatever it may be. It will be difficult at first but try to remember that sense of accomplishment you feel when you achieve a goal.
There’s no one rule or formula for making new habits, and different things work for different people. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up, just try, and remember what you’re working towards and figure out how you can keep on track. Maybe it’s holding yourself accountable by journaling – writing down your goals and making checklists – or enlisting a friend to remind you of your goals, or maybe you’re someone who makes your moves in silence – the point is to discover what works for you, and how you can actually make meaningful and long-lasting change in your habits.
That being said, it’s important to remember that new habits take time to form, and that not everything you do needs to be a ‘good habit’. When we’re constantly exposed to TikToks of perfect ‘days in the life’ boasting flawless routines and complete productivity, it’s easy to feel like you’re inadequate or that you need to be doing more. But that’s not entirely the case. Sometimes, just getting through a rainy cold week of lectures and essays is enough, without even thinking about exercise or healthy eating or how we can ‘improve’. But making small changes is a great way to ‘refresh’ for the new year and set up the next semester if you felt you were barely keeping up by the end of 2022. Even breaking one habit you’d like to change, like buying coffees from Starbucks every day, to making your own at home, is a great way to feel positive in the new year and get a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small.