How to Create a Study Habit/Routine
A habit is a type of behavior that requires little thinking and energy to start, you’ve done it so many, it almost seems natural.
Of course, not all habits are good. They’re not all bad either. But we need to take them as being positive so we can utilise them best. Creating a habit takes time, no doubt. You won’t be a successful student if you study for 3 hours on one day and don’t study for the rest of the week . However, studying 3 hours everyday, for a whole week- that’s a habit and that’s gonna get you much further in academics and life.
We need to understand that success comes from the things that we do consistently everyday rather than completing a great task on one particular day.
Studying everyday is a habit. Once you figure out how you can setup a habit, you will be able to perform this habit over and over again, until you are consistent in performing it.
Read on to find out how habits work, how we can create a study routine and more tips we can implement to keep a consistent study habit.
Throughout the article, I’ll be referring to application and website software quite often because I believe that these tools are extremely useful for controlling our routines and habits.
How does a habit work? 3 simple steps
A habit follows this order: trigger, routine, reward.
A habit all starts off with something called a trigger. For example, when we hear a ringtone, we check our mobile phones. Whenever we feel bored, we check through our social media. Whenever we feel hungry, we turn to a pack of crisps in our kitchen.
After the trigger, you follow something called a routine. This is basically the action or the steps that you actually do (like eating the crisps, scrolling through your device, brushing your teeth, physically performing that exercise).
And finally, we have the reward. Your brain recognises what you’ve just done as being satisfying. The reward could be the flavour of the food you eat or the dopamine you receive from social media or exercise (yes exercise can release dopamine).
Habits go on without us even noticing. However, if you can pay close attention to what the ‘cue’ is that triggers a habit, you can use that to change your habit.
But why do we perform a certain habit? It’s because we get some kind of gratification. A habit will have some kind great feeling that comes with it. We only perform habits if we know that we get something great out of it.
However, there’s something pretty interesting. When you’ve had a habit for quite a bit of time, you can actually get a sense of satisfaction even before going through your routine. This is, in other words, the ‘craving’ you get for doing certain tasks. You actually foresee a reward before it comes.
Now these ‘cravings’ are what create a strong habit. Good and bad ones.
Why a study routine can be difficult
We as humans are living in a ‘delayed-return’ environment. This means that we don’t reap the rewards from actions we do immediately.
For example, you study now but get a degree (the reward) in a few years. Or maybe you workout now to be in better shape a few months later.
The opposite to the ‘delayed-return’ environment is an ‘immediate-return’ environment. This is where we gain benefits in the short-run. Creating a habit can be difficult because you aren’t seeing any positive changes in the short-run. It’s hard to keep going when you don’t see any results.
Furthermore, I don’t know anyone who ‘craves’ studying. I do believe these people exist??? But the truth is, we don’t need to crave the actual studying, we need to crave the rewards we get when we finish studying.
How to create a study habit/routine
Knowing a little bit about how habits work, it’s time to use this information to help us create a study routine.
First off all, we need to set ourself a ‘cue’ or ‘trigger’ that initiates our habit. It’s kind of like saying ‘When this happens…..do this’. But we need to address the ‘when this happens part’. To do this, think about what is it that gets you to go study?
A trigger can come from an action you just did, a location, your feelings and the time. The easiest of the lot would probably be time because you can have an alarm that goes off at a certain time of the day that signifies that it’s time to study. You can choose to study at the same time everyday, just to keep the habit going.
However, if you already have a habit (like working out regularly) then you can use that action to trigger a cue for your study habit to begin. So after you workout, go to the library and study.
For the routine, you should know exactly what you need to do. When it comes to studying, it should be an active process. The routine you follow however should be the same. Your routine may change depending on what you study and how well you know the information.
Your study routine could be to spend 30 minutes doing practice questions then reviewing notes and testing yourself (especially the latter). It’s so important to test yourself constantly in your study routine and you can find out why here.
Identifying our trigger and our routine give us a solid foundation to building a habit but we want something that will withstand for a long time. As mentioned previously, habits are driven by the reward we get from them. The more we crave a reward, the more likely we are to perform a habit.
You may be asking, are you going to convince me to crave studying? Which my immediate answer would be not really. But I am going to ask you, what do you crave?
Let’s say you really want to watch Netflix- you crave watching a particular show. We can use this craving to fuel our very own study habit. Now, it may be difficult to find a way around to this but I’ve got a pretty good idea.
This reminds me of that person who connected their exercise bike to their television. Whenever, they stopped cycling, their television would turn off. This is a perfect example of using a craving (watching television) to power a habit (working out on an exercise bike in this case).
Now you don’t have to get extremely technical here but you can always use an application blocker to block out an application or a website for a certain time. Within this time, you can’t watch Netflix for example. So you use this time to study.
If you have the willpower then you say “I will only watch Netflix after I complete 2 hours worth of work today”. Using an application blocker will definitely help to make sure these two hours are spent studying and not watching movies and television series.
Similarly, you can ask a friend to help you out and only offer you your craving (the device you watch Netflix on) after you’ve done your daily routine.
Through using the loop of ‘trigger’, ‘routine’ and ‘reward’, we can solidify our study habits in order to make sure we complete those hours everyday. Remember, the most difficult part is getting started.
But how long does it take to form a new habit?
First off, what is a ‘formed’ habit? There isn’t really a way to tell whether a habit is formed or not, however you may say that a ‘formed’ habit is something that takes little energy and willpower to start. Or a ‘formed’ habit is something you’ve done consecutively for a certain number of day and it feels really natural.
It was generally accepted that it took 21 days for habit to form. However, a study showed that it took anywhere between “18 to 254 days” to form a new habit.
Now I would look past the numbers and say that regardless of how long you spend on habit, just make sure you do what you do everyday. Keep as consistent as you possibly can. Creating a habit takes time and no doubt, some effort as well. One very important thing is that, you don’t need to worry if you missed a day or two.
Your studying routine and habit will not be destroyed by missing one day. However, if you let one day slip away from you, this could lead to a snowball effect. A negative snowball effect. That’s why it’s important to start the study routine with a small habit, something that’s easy to get done and won’t take much time.
Bad habits that stop you from studying
We’ve talked a lot about forming habits in a good way. But unfortunately not all habits are good for us. On the bright side, your knowledge on habits should help you destroy your bad habits in order to keep your study routine productive.
Now, ending a long, bad habit is difficult because of the craving we get from these activites- even before we do them. That’s why, when you cut off your bad habit for just a single day (like not spending a single second on social media for the day) you can actually feel the frustration and get pretty moody because your brain is already expecting the reward from the habit, but it’s just not coming.
When you want to break a bad habit, you only need to change one thing: the routine. Let’s say you have a bad habit for watching YouTube just before you go to sleep (it’s bad because you shouldn’t be on your device before bed).
The trigger for habit is getting into your bed- if you want to change this habit, you don’t have to change the trigger. All you need to do is, swap out watching YouTube for any other activity, such as reading, journaling, stretching. These activities should give you a similar sense of reward to watching YouTube and that basically subsitures your bad habit into a good one.
Another way to remove a bad habit is to diminish it’s use every day. If you spend 3 hours a day on social media, try cutting it down to 2 then 1 then 30 minutes then 15 minutes. A gradual decrease in a habit works for people because your brain doesn’t get super frustrated because of no rewards. You can cut down the duration of social media used through a application blocker (which I’ve mentioned consistently through this article).
The opposite of gradually decreasing a bad habit over time is to completely rule out a bad habit. You may have heard of the term “going cold turkey” which is basically defined as quitting an activity suddenly. Essentially, you completely wipe out your bad habit from existence. If you have a bad habit of playing too much video games- a “cold turkey” approach is to completely delete the application.
Going “cold turkey” is difficult at first because as mentioned above, our brain really wants that reward but we never really get it- this can really test your emotions but we want to look for an alternative for that particular bad habit.
Finally, you can remove a bad habit through just thinking a step ahead. Imagine you have a bad habit for eating junk food. Now think back to how you actually obtained this junk food, where did you buy it? Oh yes, when you go grocery shopping, you but a bag of crisps every week.
All you need to do remove this habit is to stop buying crisps every week and buy something else. If there are no crisps at home to eat, you can’t snack on junk food. Similarly, if you stop by a snack shop everyday, then you could easily switch your route back home to completely avoid the trigger that causes the bad habit of buying junk food.
Make starting really easy or really difficult
If you want to get into a good study routine, you need to make starting your studying as easy as you can. Think about it, you will be able to create a good study habit or routine when it’s really easy to do so.
If you studied Chemistry, you may be familiar with the concept of ‘activation energy’. If not, it’s basically the minimum energy required to start a reaction. We can use this principle to help us with our study habits.
Before we get any work done, we think about the task first. Then there is a barrier, we start thinking “do I really want to do this”, “this seems pretty difficult” or “I have time to do that later”. However, it’s just this small hurdle we need to jump over in order to actually study.
You can use something like the ’10 second rule’ which states that when you think about doing a task, count to 10. When you reach 10, go and start that task immediately.
So how do we get over this initial barrier? I’ve already mentioned the ’10 second’ rule. But in addition to this, we want to reduce the time taken from thinking about a task to actually start doing it. How do we do this?
Well we basically reduce the ‘friction’ between thinking about a task and actually doing it. This ‘friction’ is caused due to the time it takes to take your books out, walk over to your study desk, find the task that was actually set and so forth. This all needs to be carefully observed in order to make sure that transitioning to a task is super easy (or it has a lower activation energy). You need to reduce the amount of steps required to start a task in order to make it easier to perform over and over again.
You may have heard of the advice of ‘sleeping in your gym clothes’. This is exactly the same principle here. When you wake up, you don’t have to change your clothes. This reduces the number of steps taken in order to hit the gym so you are therefore more likely to do it.
One obvious way to reduce this ‘friction’ is to get more organised and plan for the day ahead. For example, before you sleep, set out all your books and stationary so that it’s ready for you to study early in the morning.
Moreover, try to increase the ‘friction’ between you and distractions. For example, put your phone further away from you (energy is required to walk over and grab it). You can shut your phone down (it will take time to reboot) or just use an app/website blocker to block you out of your phone completely (that’s infinite ‘friction’ really).
Study in an encouraging environment
If you find that you can’t study in your room or at home then you need to try to change things up. Some people prefer going to quieter place to study- like the library.
If you want to create a study habit, you can commit to going to the library every single day for an hour or two. The important part is to surround yourself in an environment where studying is promoted (i.e other people around you are queit and studying).
If you go to a cafe or place where people hang out, you’ll find it difficult to consistently get work done everyday.
This also goes back to what was mentioned previously about habits. If you can change your environment then you can get rid of your ‘cues’ or ‘triggers’ that will cause a certain habit to come into place.
I use an application and website blocker called FocusMe. This amazing productivity tool helps me to block websites at certain times of a day, in order to keep me focused on my task.
For example, I can set FocusMe so it doesn’t allow me to watch YouTube between 7 AM and 12 PM. This gives me the whole 5 hours to not worry about procrastinating on YouTube (and other websites I choose to block). When you eliminate distractions, it’s easy to sit down and study everyday.
I choose FocusMe as opposed to some alternative website blockers because it has daily scheduling and application blocking features as well. If you want to check out more on how website/application blockers can add hours of productivity to you then check out the full page here.