By Kimberly Wei Kim Ngoh, 2019-2020 SCS Student Advising Leader:
It is no secret that a culmination of good habits will get you through college successfully. There is ample research on the power of habit, and a myriad of books to break it down for us with real-life, relatable examples, yet, we still manage to give in to the temptations of the habit we wish to break away from. We all joke about how college comes down to having to choose between the trifecta of social life, grades, and sleep, but truthfully, positive habits hold us in good stead for achieving the balance we want.
I began college with hopes that I would be able to achieve the above-mentioned balance throughout my four years here. I quickly learned that it would take a lot more work than just a general idea outlined in my head. For starters, I found it difficult to stay away from the dessert section at the dining hall, and it was so much easier to stay curled up in bed on a cold morning, rather than drag myself to the Arc, just a mere five minutes away. Procrastination became a norm, leading to sleep-deprivation and a chain-reaction of unhealthy practices. On top of that, it felt exhausting to keep up with social events while staying on top of my organic chemistry homework. However, I knew I could manage my life better by maintaining and forming good habits, while kicking the bad ones.
Research has shown that our brains run through a loop of cue, craving, response, and reward—of which a successful run ushers in a new habit. The desire to act or change often stems from our pursuit of something, which can be seen as a ‘reward’, thus initiating a ‘cue’ in our brain, leading us to kickstart a behavior. Once a cue is established, we reach a ‘craving’, as we find out that that reward is in fact attainable. The craving is the driving force behind the habit; we are motivated to achieve that feeling or form of satisfaction once we complete the task we have now established as a habit. Following the craving is the ‘response’, i.e. the actual task you carry out to form into a habit. The loop ends with a ‘reward’, whereby feelings of pleasure or disappointment form part of the feedback mechanism that helps your brain decide if the habit is worth keeping.
The four stages may vary depending on person or situation, but the information above describes the gist of cultivating a habit. For example, by knowing that I felt energized and focused with more sleep (craving), I had to ensure I did not do my homework at the last minute (cue). If I could, I would start it on the day it was assigned (response), in order to take my time on it and get help, if necessary. In doing so, I swapped the stressful late nights for relief and restful sleep (reward).
This is just one of many successful and unsuccessful attempts to break out of a negative cycle. We are only human, and this is all part of the learning curve of life. It is completely okay if you end up breaking your streak halfway through, or on day one itself. Just pick yourself back up and try again. After all, small steps lead to big changes. It could be as simple as limiting dessert to lunchtime, or something more extensive such as finding time in the week to dedicate to your hobby. Maybe set aside half an hour every night before bed to practice the new skill you picked up or to review the notes you took in lecture that day. We all have to start somewhere.