Sleep ScheduleSpring break looms and whether we’re fretting about baring a little skin after the long winter months or preparing to hunker down to get some work done, this time of year often prompts the desire to develop better habits.  For some, the longer days and (slightly) warmer weather may motivate us to kickstart our exercise routine. Others may have decided to eat healthier, spend money more wisely, arrive to appointments on time, or become more disciplined writers. Whatever the case may be, spring break provides a perfect opportunity to dedicate time to the habit we value the most or the one that we most want to improve.

How do we establish good habits that we’ll stick with?  Here are several keys:

Focus: Building habits requires focused energy and attention. Therefore, focus on only one habit per month. Once you’ve developed that practice, then you can layer another habit into your routine.

Motivation: Write out why you want to [eat healthier, exercise, create and follow a writing schedule, etc.] and what you consider the rewards of doing so. Then record both instant and deferred rewards as you experience them to generate positive associations with that habit and to motivate yourself to stick with it.  For instance, those who are beginning an exercise routine may experience increased happiness or energy after working out, or those adhering to writing goals may track the feeling of accomplishment in meeting their word count target or explaining a difficult concept.

Willpower: Researchers have discovered recently that willpower is much like a muscle that can be developed and strengthened over time.  By working on one habit (any habit) people developed better habits in numerous areas of their lives. [1]

Consistency: This one seems obvious, but for something to become a habit, one has to practice it consistently over a period of time – usually at least 30-40 days.

Support: It’s one thing to start a new project, learn a new skill, or begin a routine, but to maintain it, we need the support and encouragement of others. It’s even more helpful if we can find people who are working on the same thing.  If your goal is to develop a running habit, join a local running club. If your goal is to finish your dissertation by writing 500 publishable words a day, find a writing group. You get the idea. Also follow Twitter feeds, such as #phdchat and #GradHacker for encouragement and helpful tips and tools!

Don’t forget – just pick one to focus on for the next month. After that, you can add in another habit to focus on after you’ve gotten the first one down.

What would you like to work on during the month of March? How are you going to do so? What has worked for you in the past?

[1] Jason Shen, “What the Research on Habit Formation Reveals About Willpower (And How You Can Apply it to Your Life),” (November 20, 2012).

[Image by Bic-comics,, used under Creative Commons License]


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2 Responses to Spring into a New Habit

  1. I know you suggest focusing on developing only one habit a time per month but I’ve got two, one ‘habit’ and one major goal. The Goal, is getting my research proposal to my committee for approval. The Habit, set aside one full hour per day to work on writing for my blog. Maybe in doing so I’ll be able to find time to write something here!

  2. […] you’ve heard that old adage, “you are what you eat,” and you’ve resolved to change your graduate eating habits in the coming year. Or maybe you have a locavorian disposition, and you try to find fresh […]

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