Right now I’m feeling all discombobulated; the school year is over and my summer schedule is so much less structured. Do you feel the same way?
Surprisingly, transitional spells like this are ideal occasions for implanting healthy new habits or breaking unwanted old ones.This is because when entrenched routines, such as going to school every day, are disrupted, the “triggers” they carry are disconnected.
Most of what we do all day is habitual: The alarm rings and we wake up and immediately launch into our established patterns. We turn on the TV or check our e-mail, and our students leap for their phones or dive into a social media site, literally without thinking about it, because they’ve become trained into these practices.
When our schedule changes, many of the environmental cues that trigger automatic behaviors disappear. We feel unsettled, but our mind is open to developing fresh routines. (It’s said that the best time to quit smoking or go on a diet is when you’re on away on vacation, because you’re separated from the environmental cues at home that trigger you into reaching for a cigarette or a cookie).
So although summer may feel tumultuous, it’s actually a wonderful time to help your student establish a new study habit, such as daily reading, vocabulary study, sentence writing or math practice. (My SAT students are learning this excellent vocabulary list by studying a bit every day; it’s a list all students should know, so why not begin here?)
Here’s what the habit experts recommend to make a habit stick:
- Link the new routine to an existing daily cue, such as a meal. Start the day by studying over breakfast. Or carry flash cards to study after lunch or in the car or train during the daily commute. I study a bit of math or chemistry every night after dinner. Reading right before bedtime is a classic and wonderful life-long habit (and so much healthier than TV or electronics because glowing screens tend to disrupt sleep if used within an hour of lights-out).
- Start small. Do the new routine for only ten minutes, or even five minutes, then increase the time after a week or two (or just stick with ten minutes; maybe that’s enough!)
- Do the new routine every day, and definitely don’t miss two days in a row.
- Allow 20-60 (and sometimes even longer) days for the habit to stick. Be patient and persistent.
If you’d like to learn more, I’ve read and recommend both of these very good books; they’ve given me lots of insight into how to help my students plus be more productive in my own endeavors:
Making Habits, Breaking Habits, by Jeremy Dean
The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg