What is a Habit?
Relatively straightforward but here is how The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “habit”:
1: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior
-her habit of taking a morning walk
2a: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary
-got up early from force of habit
-a drug habit
c: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance
-the daily bowel habit
I found an example in an article on habit breaking that I think is relevant. In a book calling The Power of Habit, the author describes a habit as an “an ingrained pattern of behavior”. In his view, habits come in three overarching stages.
- The cue
- The routine
- The reward
So, the cue there is the trigger. For instance, if you’re addicted to caffeine, the first thing you do in the morning is wake up and go get a cup of coffee. Your trigger here is “first thing in the morning.” You could also be triggered by other things that are harder to fight — like friends offering you more drinks at a party than you wanted to have on that night. Triggers can be feelings as much as they can be objects, people and/or your environment in general.
The second stage, routine, is the action you take in response to your trigger. Chugging an energy drink, or accepting yet another beverage at a party and the like are routine. The third stage, or the reward stage, is not like a good reward, necessarily. It is the instant gratification you get when you give into your habit. This acts like a “reward” in such cases. And of course, with some habits, craving is another critical element that is really hard to keep under control.
Habits and College
While college can be the most rewarding and exciting time of your life, it can also be the unhealthiest. College is hard, way harder than school at least. Classes are more intense, expectations are higher, there is a lot you have to balance. This is also a time when you have full independence, a time when you are away from home.
As such, it is not surprising that there are several temptations calling your name to blow off steam. But it’s not just temptations, there are other bad habits that could also develop during college — staying up all night to study, for instance.
While there is nothing wrong with blowing off steam or pulling the occasional all-nighter, one ought to be aware of any habit forming tendencies that may result.
Habits seem easy to form yet extremely hard to break. Or it seems at least when it comes to bad habits. Usually college students take to unhealthy diets and no exercise, both of which are super important to long-term well being. Add no-sleep to the equation, staying up late all the time, and you have a pretty bad combination.
Procrastination is another bad habit that is usually cause by the overwhelming feeling of having too much work. Anyway, let’s address some of the usual habits that college students pick up. Some of these habits, if not recognised and changed, can lead to some serious long term issues — mostly health related.
Habits College Students Pick Up
- Late-night partying
- Binge drinking
- Unhealthy diets (a study conducted out of Northwestern University found 95 percent of college students don’t eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables)
- Drinking tons of energy drinks and coffee
- Pulling all-nighters consistently
- Skipping meals because you’re too busy
- Not exercising because you’re too busy
- Poor Hygiene
Tips on How to Get Started
1) Figure Out Why You Want to Break a Certain Habit
The first step is to recognise that you have formed a bad habit and find a reason as to why you think you should break said habit. Consider an example, smoking. Your reason for wanting to quit smoking could be multifold but it can be summarised generally as follows — for a healthier life. If you don’t have a strong reason to break a habit, then you might find it hard to take the necessary steps.
Some of the habits I developed in college included waking up too late and staying up all night to study. I recognised that this was not good for my health and that I was not being as productive as I would have liked. As a result, I decided to start waking up earlier in order to get more done during the day and to for the betterment of my health. These were my two primary reasons. An unexpected consequence of this change was that I became less irritable, more social and productive throughout the day.
So, all you have to is find your reason, your motivation for wanting to quit a bad habit. Is it better grades or perhaps to drink less so that you can do more with your weekends? If your reason is strong, it should serve as decent incentive to go ahead and take action.
4) What’s Your Craving?
Another way to break a habit is to figure out what it is that you are actually craving. When to comes to things like nicotine, or substances in general, what you are craving can be pretty straightforward. But if there are other things that you notice you want to change, like maybe drinking a coke with every lunch, then figure out why you actually crave the coke. Is it for the sake of the coke itself? Is it because you crave sugar? Whatever it is, in some cases you might find that what you’re really craving is different from the thing that satisfies your craving. Basically you can then set up a healthier reward system for yourself and break a bad habit in the mean time.
3) Replace It
You now want to find something to replace the habit, the routine. So, for instance, let’s say your habit is procrastination. Whenever you catch yourself procrastinating by doing something you know is not productive, switch that activity into something productive. Exercising is a good example here. Or let’s say you have a habit of drinking unhealthy aerated drinks, as one of my college friends does. Switch the drink out for something aerated but not unhealthy. So you see, the change you make does not necessarily have to grand in any sense. Small changes are really effective too.
I suppose this is also straightforward. You have to decide beforehand that you want to break a bad habit. Think about your future self and prepare your mind to take the actions necessary for you to break it. For instance, when I was in college, I used to reward finishing work with a beer. But this leads to drinking at least two beers everyday. So I decided that I was going to go swimming as a reward instead. The next day, when I finished work, instead of drinking a beer I went for a swim. And I continued with this new, healthy, habit. Plus, this new habit became my exercise routine. The key point is to decide that you are going to do something differently, and then go ahead and do it.
How to Break Bad Habits
Let’s say you’re really having trouble with the steps above. No worries because apparently, it takes at least 21 days to break a habit and reshape your perspective. However, some argue that it takes longer. I suppose it depends on the habit but a safe bet would be a minimum of 30 days. So it is perhaps advisable to stick with your plan to break a bad habit for at least 21-30 days. You can even make a little challenge, maybe bet a friend who cares. This way you have to stick to your plan for the duration you assign yourself. In any case, here are a few more tips on how to break specific bad habits.
1) Drinking Too Many Energy Drinks/Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine is a drug and you can form a dependency on it. However, you do not necessarily have to cut out, cold turkey. Start by taking small steps towards cutting down. Maybe drink one or two less caffeinated drinks per day. By gradually reducing the amount of caffeine you consume, your body will starting needing less and less over time. This in turn will make it easier for you to get through your day without needing eight cups of coffee, or six energy drinks.
To do so, you can find alternative beverages to replace your one or two caffeinated drinks everyday. Try and find something healthy. You could even try relatively healthier caffeinated options like, Yerba Mate or Kombucha. Another replacement to your daily energy boost could be walking or yoga, or perhaps some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing.
As mentioned above, try to figure out why you consume too much caffeine. If it’s because you’re not getting enough sleep, then you have one more way to break your habit.
2) Drinking Too Much at Parties
This one can be a real slippery slope, especially in college. If it’s reached a point of becoming too regular and is interfering with your education then please make a change. It is very important to know your limits. You must understand that drinking more than you can handle is not “cool” and will only land you more trouble later. Have fun but recognize any patterns you might be forming. There two main things to remember:
- Know your limits
- Know your spirits (how much alcohol is in your drink)
- Understand blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
Recall, deciding before hand that you want to break the habit. So before you head out on any particular night, decide that you will not have more than X amount and commit to that number. Don’t try to keep up with anyone else. If you’re really worried about how much alcohol you’ve been consuming, seek trusted help and find out if the problem is severe enough to take more serious action.
It’s okay to want to stay in and take a break from drinking. Do something else you really enjoy, like watching your favourite movies or you could even try being the designated driver for your friends. Although you think you might get triggered, maybe you should try on your first.
Here are a few apps you can use to help you out some more:
- Habitica: Gamify Your Tasks
- Strides: Habit Tracker for Daily & Life Goals
- Fabulous: Motivate Me!
- Loop – Habit Tracker
- HabitHub – Habit and Goal Tracker
- Productive – Habit Tracker & Goals Reminder
- Go fucking do it!
That last one there, Go fucking do it!, actually charges you if you don’t adhere to your commitment. I suppose if you really did need a helping hand, get that app. In order to not lose money, you’ll have to make the change you decided upon.
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Tags- How to Break Bad Habits in College, How to actually break bad habits in colleges, How to fix bad habits, How to fix bad study habits