College can be a tricky time. There are always a million things to do between school, work, having a social life, cooking, cleaning, extracurricular activities, and keeping your mental health in check. 

Finding the balance to be able to check all of the things off of your to-do list can be something that most people work on their whole life. 

Something that makes balancing your day to day tasks easier is setting good habits. Setting the habit of making your bed each morning, going to bed at a decent hour, or doing daily physical activity can help. Creating a routine is easier said than done, but making healthy habits will improve every aspect of your life. 

How to Set Healthy Habits

James Clear, a behavioral psychologist, talks extensively about setting good habits and using those habits to improve your quality of life. He has written books on setting habits including his famous book, Atomic Habits. He refers to habits as “tiny changes [that bring] remarkable results.”

James Clear has also done studies about how to set habits and the timeline needed for an action to become a habit. There is a common phrase that it takes a minimum of 21 days to form a habit. James Clear refers to this as the “21-Day Myth” because, in reality, it takes a lot more than 3 weeks to change your behavior. 

A study was done of 96 people trying to build a habit in 12 weeks. In reality, for these people, it took an average of 66 days for a single behavior to become automatic and be considered a habit. In other studies, it took anywhere from 18-254 days for the new behavior to become a habit. 

Having this realization that a habit is not automatic or a 3-day endeavor can help you keep your expectations in check and give yourself grace when it doesn’t feel natural right away. There is no need to feel like a failure if you miss a day. From these studies, we can also learn that changing your life and improving takes time and effort. Doing what you can to become 1% better every day will result in greater results than totally changing your life and not being able to stick to your goals. 

So, how do you set healthy habits? 

1. Create a goal (and make it specific)

The first step to creating a habit is to realize you want to make a change and set a goal. Sometimes when we set goals, we think of things like “Improve my health.” This is a great goal! But when it comes to setting habits, this isn’t specific enough. 

Improving your health can mean so many things. It could mean working out, eating better, focusing on mental health, going on more walks, and so much more. When creating new healthy habits, they need to start with a specific goal in mind. The overarching goal may be to improve your health, but we need goals that can be acted on and measured.

For example, you may change this goal to “Do something active for 30 minutes each day,” which is a lot easier to track and create a habit from. 

2. Create a plan using cues

When setting a habit, you need a cue to help you remember that it is time to do your new action. These cues should come from things you are already doing in your daily life. 

For example:

After you wake up you brush your teeth. 

  • The cue here is waking up. Once you are awake you go straight to the bathroom and brush your teeth.

After your biology class, you head to the library to study your history notes.

  • The cue to studying history is your biology class finishing.

Creating cues for your new habits helps you know when it’s time to follow through and complete the action that you want to become a habit. This reduces thinking and increases the chance that you will follow through on your plan. 

In the example of doing something active for 30 minutes each day, you could set a cue for that depending on your schedule. For some, this may be putting on gym clothes immediately after waking up. The cue here would be waking up. Or, it may be after you finish your last psychology class of the day you go on a 30-minute walk. The cue here would be finishing class for the day. 

If you want even stronger cues you can set an alarm or reminder on your phone to help hold you accountable. Having this plan in place will help you be consistent and create your habits. 

3. Make your goal and plan for enjoyment

No one wants to set a habit of something that isn’t fun. And, if you dislike what you are doing, you are much less likely to stick it out and be consistent. 

For your new action to become a habit, you need to find a way to make it enjoyable. This may mean rewarding yourself after doing fun physical activity, and not just walking on the treadmill, or letting yourself do something you like while you do the new activity. 

For example, if you want to create a habit of cooking your dinners rather than going out to eat, you might turn on your favorite show while you cook. This reward will help keep you motivated to accomplish your goal.

Another idea would be to withhold things you like to do until you have done the action. For example, don’t let yourself play video games until you have studied for 30 minutes after dinner. 

Find ways to make your goal and plan enjoyable and you will find that your action becomes a habit far faster.

4. Give yourself grace

As we mentioned above, a habit does not form overnight. If you miss a day or two, don’t meet your goals, or fail to stick to them after a couple of weeks, give yourself grace. It is okay to mess up.

It can be helpful to use these “failures” as learning opportunities. Take a look at the days you didn’t stick to your new action and assess why you didn’t. 

Did you forget? If you forgot, you may need to reassess your cue. Try setting reminders on your phone or choosing a new cue to help remind you. 

Did you just not want to? Sometimes you just don’t want to and that is okay. If you consistently don’t want to do something, you may need to find ways to reward yourself.

No matter what, it is important to remember that you won’t be perfect, and that is okay while you are trying to create new healthy habits. 

5. Find a support system to keep you accountable

One of the best ways to set and stick to a habit is to have a support system to help hold you accountable. 

If you want to spend 30 minutes a day studying, maybe try to find a study buddy. Someone like this will help hold you accountable to go to the library and study. 

Even if you can’t find someone to do your new action with you every day, simply telling people about your goal can help you feel more accountable.

Ideas for Healthy Habits

There are hundreds of healthy habits that you can set as goals. As a student, there are some actions you can do every day to help avoid burnout, increase motivation, and make your life more enjoyable. 

Some helpful ideas of healthy habits include: 

  • Going to bed at a decent time: Getting more sleep every night will make studying, exercise, social life, and everything else simpler. Going to bed earlier may mean sacrificing time watching TV, playing video games, or scrolling TikTok, but it really can improve your quality of life. 
  • Waking up early: There is something underrated about a morning routine that includes eating breakfast, getting ready, going on a walk, or doing other self-care items rather than rushing out the door to class. 
  • Exercise: Yes, exercise is good for you physically. But, almost more important than the physical benefits are the mental benefits of exercise. Being physically active releases endorphins that can help you manage stress and anxiety. 
  • Studying daily: Doing a little bit of studying every day is a lot easier than trying to cram right before a big test. Finding a way to spend a little time each day studying will make your schooling much easier to digest. 

No matter what habit you want to set, you got this. Setting a goal to create just one new habit could help you in every single area of your life. If you have questions about what to do in Rexburg or need to find a new place for your new habits, contact us today.