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Developing habits as cheat code to university life

For anyone that has played Xbox or some type of PlayStation (I am saddened by the fact that the PS of my childhood years is now considered old), you probably know what cheat codes are. These are a series of commands that you input using your controls to ‘cheat’ in a game, like generating a private jet out of thin air, or jumping 1km high on a Call of Duty map. Well, what if I told you there is a cheat code that you can implement as a university student – and the best part, it’s not even cheating. Habits. You’ve probably heard of them before, but I’m guessing that like me, you have underestimated their power.

Whether we like it or not, most of our actions in the day are determined by habits, otherwise, it would be too tiring to get through anything. At the heart of our minds lies the Basal Ganglia, something that stems back many generations from our ancestors. This is where many of the habit circuits lie, and once ingrained, they are very good at remaining as an autopilot feature – effortless to implement and sometimes hard to remove.

A book I am just about to read is called Atomic Habits and you’ve probably heard of it before, but I am guessing most people haven’t taken the time to read it (again, like me). Well, I propose a challenge that you try and set a very simple habit. As students, we must read through a fair amount and going to bed at 3 am is sometimes a tough reality. But what if you read 5 pages a day, just before you sleep. Doesn’t matter if you don’t absorb anything, just ensure you get through 5 pages, at the same point in the day, just before you sleep. You will find this builds an incredible amount of momentum that turns getting through no books into a very strong flow that will leave you searching for the next one in no time. Also, don’t get too frustrated if you miss a day, just be sure to put all your energy into continuing it the day after.

Atomic Habits (I get no commission for advertising this by the way) is written by James Clear and he has a whole load of wisdom on how to optimise the way we do things. In fact, I highly recommend his newsletter. I’m someone who dislikes newsletters that clutter my inbox, but this is one of the most concise newsletters I have ever come across and one of the most wisdom-dense ones too. It contains 3, ideas, 2 quotes and 1 question, so it’s very easy to digest.

To give you an example, here is my favourite part of this week’s newsletter (within one of the ideas): “Do the most important thing first each day and you’ll never have an unproductive day.”

I can guarantee that if you just implement three habits: one to read more (5 pages a day before you sleep), one to exercise regularly (even if only a 10 minutes’ walk, and eventually a run each morning), and finally one to keep hydrated (drinking a bottle of water each morning), you will begin hungering for more and more habits. These ‘cornerstone habits’ build discipline, strength and resilience and as a student in what can become busy, chaotic lives, these things are paramount to keeping your cool. James Clear goes into a lot of detail about what the requirements are for building a successful habit and which ones to implement, so for all this wisdom packed into one, Atomic Habits is a great book to try out.

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