You might like: How To Study Happier

Learning to live in the moment may be awesome but it’s not always practical.

“Live in the moment!”

I’m sure you’ve heard that suggestion at least a few times in your life.

People say that living in the moment can help you worry less about the future and past.

Most fixations on the past or the future relate to problems.

This strategy is supposed to help you stay more happy.

I don’t know if this strategy works or not.

I do know this though:

Living in the moment isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.

Most people are set on autopilot for the vast majority of their day.

According to some studies, as much as 45% of what people do daily is done without even thinking about it.

They’re just following some pre-established pattern of behaviors that they have done a thousand times before.

I mention this because it introduces an interesting observation I’ve made over the years.

It started with myself.

I’ve worked with students for years. Students that excel tend to have one thing in common.

Students that get awesome grades in school aren’t always the smartest people in the room.

In fact, there isn’t all that much in common with most of these students.

Some are geeks.

Some are athletes.

Some are strange.

Some are boring.

Some are fascinating.

There are very few patterns in their behavior.

That’s what makes the pattern I noticed stand out.

Good students tend to have smart habits.

What’s A Smart Habit

Getting yourself into smart habits can become a major boost for your life. 

Habits often have a negative connotation to them.

Habits are often associated with vices like smoking, drinking, or biting nails.

They’re often slightly unsightly things in the minds of most people.

Habits are a whole lot more than that though.

They’re a huge chunk of what you do throughout your day.

Habits are brushing you brushing your teeth. They’re going to lunch. Turning on your computer is a habit.

All these things you do but no longer even think about are habits.

You might notice that some of these habits have an obvious positive impact on your life.

Brushing your teeth would probably be considered one of these. Taking a shower before you go out is usually a good one (particularly for the people around you.)

I’m using the term smart habits to describe habits that have a positive impact on your life.

For your average student, a set of smart habits would include:

For a more thorough list of habits that you might want to incorporate you should read this article.

Good habits go well beyond school.

Students with high grades may be different from one another.

Despite that, they almost always have an awesome set of habits.

Those habits make a chunk of their life automatic.

Take note that they’re rarely living in the moment with this strategy.

Habits Are Easy

Life is more relaxing when you stop worrying about the moment and let your habits take over (sometimes.)

It’s difficult to live in the moment and focus on what you’re doing.

I’ve given advice on how to focus better but everytime I give that kind of advice I’m left with an uncomfortable feeling in my gut.

I know there is no way to bring focus down to a few pieces of advice.

If a person’s brain is truly committed to not focusing then they’re not going to focus.

There are times when there is just no way around it.

Advice may be able to help most of the time but there is only so much that anyone can do.

Habits, on the other hand, are automatic.

The person has already done the thinking.

They did it when they established the habit.

Once that habit is developed, there is almost no thinking involved.

For a few reasons, habits are awesome:

They Prevent Procrastination

Procrastination usually happens because a person has too much time to think about whether or not they’re going to do something.

I don’t procrastinate because I don’t even think about it before I start studying.

When the time comes to study I’m already picking up the stuff I need and rocking it out.

They Help With Consistency

The human brain adapts to a schedule.

If you study at the same time regularly then your brain is going to get used to that.

It’s going to learn how to make that process as painless as possible.

That means you’re going to be able to get into deeper levels of focus with less effort.

They Make Life Less Stressful

Deciding stuff is stressful.

It’s called decision fatigue and it’s a major reason people tend to do irrational things.

Deciding stuff requires a concentrated effort in your brain and you only have so much of that to go around.

Save your decision making for important decisions like what to study.

Don’t waste it on silly and inevitable questions like when (now… no an hour from now… no maybe tomorrow.)

Maybe you can go out of your way to fight habits and live in the moment but, before you do that, try this.

Instead of fighting your habits, make your habits into something that improve your life instead of hurt it.

By developing smart habits you can see massive improvements in your life without even having to think about it (beyond the short habit development period.)

How To Develop Smart Habits

“I wouldn’t be sitting on your homework if you were doing it.” 

Short answer: Painlessly.

Long Answer: Developing a habit is about having a cue, a habit, and a reward for that habit.

The cue is what triggers you to think about starting your habit.

Even people with long developed habits can lose track of the time and miss their habit when they’re absorbed in something.

The habit is, naturally, what you want to do.

The more unpleasant (high investment) this habit, the more you’ll need for a reward and trigger.

The reward is something that makes doing the habit make you feel good.

It can be a cookie, a million dollars, or just a happy feeling you decide to feel.

You want to think about developing these three things for your habit.

The Cue:

I usually recommend studying based on something in your schedule.

For the average student, one of the best times to study is directly when they get home.

The cue is walking into their dorm, apartment, or home.

This will usually be a consistent time that never gets interrupted.

When you first wake up is another option. It comes with the challenge of having to wake up at the same time every day or you’ll just want to oversleep your study session.

If waking up at the same time is already a habit then it may be practical.

Before you go to bed is another option but it is a good introduction to a potential hiccup. How are you going to trigger yourself to start studying?

Don’t count on watching the clock and catching when it’s the correct time.

If you’re doing anything interesting then you’ll probably miss your time. If you don’t you’ll be distracted all night until that time comes. Set an obvious trigger to start your studying.

Use a daily alarm if you must.

You need something to break your mind from whatever you’re doing and get yourself to start.

The Habit:

I’ll keep this simple because this is the most personal and complicated part.

What you want to remember while you’re developing a habit is that painful habits are harder to start. It’s easier to develop a simple quick and painless habit and then adjust that habit to what you want it to be in the future.

So… you might want to try starting a 5 minute study routine. Give yourself just enough time to get out your stuff and read about the subject. You’ll hardly have to learn a thing!

Naturally, you won’t get too far with that study habit but it will give you a base to increase off of.

After the habit becomes nearly automatic (a few weeks usually,) you can double the session length and it will still be virtually automatic. In a few months you won’t even have to think about it.

This is the kind of reward that will give you one positive new habit at the expense of one negative one.

The Reward:

The reward doesn’t have to be something grand.

Even a simple reward is enough to develop a relatively painless habit.

After you complete the routine you should reward yourself.

Ideally, you want that reward to come soon after the routine.

That means it shouldn’t be something obscure like two weeks from now you’ll buy extra sprinkles on your ice cream.

It might be getting those sprinkles now.

In the long term this reward can just be a positive feeling about what you did.

For example, you might think, “I’m really improving my future by doing this.”

Then you feel good.

Reward: Done.

Smart habit development can be a painless process if you’re willing to slowly increase the intensity of the habits in the future.

By making the process painless you drastically increase the chances you’ll actually follow through with the cue, routine, and reward.

That’s usually worth the extra efforts.

The difference between good students and bad students often comes down to the habits they develop.

Anyone can do well in virtually anything if they develop the right habits.

Those habits just need enough time to produce a result.

Living a life of habitual positive habits can help you appreciate the benefits of doing what you know you should do, without having to go through the stress of making yourself do them.

That leaves you more happy, more successful, and a whole lot more likely to follow through.

What are some smart habits you’ve developed and how did you develop them?

Image Sources: zbellink, 25798768@N05, joaosemmedo, tachyondecay, doyland

Smart Habits Or Smart People

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7 thoughts on “Smart Habits Or Smart People

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  • August 9, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    I think this is great advice, but in my experience, habits take a long time to develop. If you can start small and check them off every day (in a notebook for example) then you’ll have a much better chance of sticking with them.

    When you’re looking to beat a deep habit like procrastination, you need to commit if you’re going to be successful. One of the best things you can do is cut out distractions (like social media, Youtube, etc.) from study time.

    Other habits: Every morning I wake up, drink a glass of water (that I put on my bedside table the previous night), and make my bed. It’s a way to start the day on a productive note. And, whenever I go into my room, it doesn’t look a mess.

    • August 12, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks for the comment.

      I like the idea of checking it off in a notebook or something. Simple acts like that are a reward in themselves as you watch your own progress being made.

  • July 25, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Writing in a journal has done amazing things for me.

    It’s so cathartic. At the end of the day it helps me relax more and sleep better.

    I keep my notebook on my pillow so it’s impossible to miss it!


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