As someone who grew up as a chronic nail-biter, I can attest to how difficult breaking a habit is: it took years of being conscious of the problem and applying extremely bitter green medicinal oil on my nails for me to quit.
For better or for worse, the brain is wired to form habits. Performing a task requires a group of neurons to constantly communicate with each other, and, as a task is done more and more frequently, the connection between the neurons in this chunk will strengthen. Eventually, the connection will become so strong and communication so natural that the task is completed almost automatically; thus, a habit is formed.
Because this neural path is so well developed and frequently used, breaking a habit would mean disrupting the usual flow of neural messaging and rewiring the brain, precisely why habits are easier to form than break.
The best way to prevent investing excessive time and effort into breaking a bad habit is to avoid forming them in the first place.
College is truly liberal in terms of deadlines. Asides from tests, essays, and reports, many professors do not hold their students accountable for homework or reading assignments; instead, these are merely “suggested”: something for students to do for their own benefits but are never seen by the professors. Because of these lax policies, students often procrastinate on these assignments, which are crucial to obtain a good grade in the class.
During my first quarter, I took my very first college-level biology class, which had daily reading assignments detailed in the syllabus. I never read. Instead, I replaced that time with other homework assignments with clear due dates, and I would naively put off my reading until I had “free time,” which I later found to be a figment of my imagination. Hence, I had to read three week’s worth of material a day or two before the test, a Sisyphean task.
Even tasks with set due dates are victims to procrastination. Instead of progressively completing my homework for chemistry, I left everything untouched until the week leading up to the due date and rushed to finish everything, leaving the quality of my work and the grade for the assignment subpar. My rush forced me to leave many of the difficult questions incomplete: to my dismay, many of these questions were necessary practice for my midterms and final exams.
To avoid or rectify this habit, tell yourself that there’s not enough time and start on the homework the day or week it is assigned, and finish as much homework as early as possible, allowing you to make time for errors, work out difficult problems, or review material.
Additionally, you should do the homework as if it were a test, meaning nothing should be on the table except the paper, a pen or pencil, and a calculator. If you get stuck after many attempts, introduce your notes. Similarly, introduce your textbook after some more attempts. If you are still stuck, google the answer but not the solution, and try to work the problem yourself based on the answer. Lastly, if all else fails, ask for assistance or look up and study the solution.
Another unforgettable class I had was Calculus 2 at 8 AM. A very boring class very early in the morning is a recipe for disaster; in fact, I skipped a fourth of the quarter, missing out on the information that covered the vast majority of my final.
Of course, you should skip when you’re sick, but you should keep in mind the consequences of that decision, primarily how much you would need to self-study to catch up with your classes. A good rule of thumb is that one lecture in college or university is equivalent to a week’s worth of material in high school. Skipping one day means understanding the material and completing the assignments from the day you missed as well as keeping up with current lectures.
Not Seeking Help
I am very much an introvert, and I will go out of my way to not talk to new people, especially when those people are the ones lecturing me for three hours a week. When I was taking analytical chemistry, which is an infamous “weed-out-class,” I rarely went to office hours even though I was struggling with the material. I opted to study by myself and failed the first assessment.
I knew something had to change. I started going to office hours, which were an incredible help since the teaching assistants (TAs) and professors re-explained the material taught more thoroughly. They also gave me additional practice, which closely resembled the assessments, and a walkthrough of the solution to homework problems.
From that experience, I found that professors and TAs are very understanding; they want to help you succeed, so don’t be intimidated! Professors are more willing to thoroughly assist with homework during office hours. Additionally, asking questions during office hours might give insight to the test since professors often write both homework problems and test questions.
The Downfall of Being Over-Prepared
While studying regularly is a great strategy, overconfidence is also a hubris. Studying too much might give a false sense of preparedness, which might encourage you to not take the last few hours or days to review material you haven’t quite mastered; hence, you should take the time to do some extra reviewing for peace of mind.
Being Over and Under-Involved
When you feel unmotivated, you might feel a natural inclination to excuse yourself from your extracurricular commitments, which might become a bad habit since you start excusing yourself for illegitimate reasons. A lab meeting here or a club activity there might add up, especially when you want a promotion in the extracurricular activity. Of course, a break is definitely important to improve mental health or personal well-being.
In contrast, I often find myself on the opposite side of the spectrum: over-involvement. Even though extracurriculars play an important role in adding flavor to a resume or CV, they are just that: extra; your primary focus should be on school and grades. Additionally, when it comes to activities, opt for quality. For example, it is more important to hold leadership positions for one or two clubs than be a regular member in a plethora of organizations because having leadership positions is usually indicative of the time and effort you dedicate to those activities.
Be proactive in your education, and remember that the foundation you lay will help you achieve your goals. If you want to aim high, fill your foundations with good habits and try to minimize patterns of behavior that eneverates you.