Help Your Student Make Good Study Habits Stick

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

Jim Ryuh

January.  It’s the time of year for resolutions, new habits, and optimism that this year will be better than the last.  Thank goodness we all have an opportunity once each year for a reset.

For most students, the New Year not only provides the usual possibilities, it is often the start of a new semester as well.  This means a fresh start.  Even the best students often have plans to make this new semester even better than the last.

But unfortunately, we all know that most New Year’s resolutions often fall by the wayside a few months, weeks, days, or maybe even hours into the year.  We all have trouble making them stick, and students are no different.

An article on Headspace, an online meditation website, discussed ways to make meditation stick for those who were giving it a try.  Although we think meditation can be wonderful for students (and their parents,) this article is about how students can use the same principles that the Headspace article discussed to help them make new study habits stick.

So with thanks to for inspiration, here are some thoughts to help your student make some new study habits stick.

Get clear on your why

It’s great that your student would like to improve his study habits this year, but if he’s not clear about why he wants to improve, the new habits simply won’t stick.

Talk to your student about the reasons motivating the change.  Is he in it for the career he hopes to pursue? Does he love his major field of study and want to be able to learn more about it? Is he hoping to get into graduate school? Or is he trying to improve his studies to get off of academic probation or avoid being academically dismissed?

The actual reason matters less than your student’s clarity about what is driving him.  Help him find and hang on to that reason; perhaps even write it down and put it where he can see it every day.  It is the why that will drive him.

Pair habits

Sometimes we drop new habits simply because we don’t remember them.  It takes a while for a new habit to become second nature for us.  But we all have habits we already do – everything from brushing our teeth, to driving the car, to eating certain foods, to sitting in a specific chair to watch the game.

If your student can pair a new habit with a current habit, it will help him remember to do it.  Perhaps your student has decided to be more careful about writing down his assignments in a planner and checking it every day.  He might decide to take two minutes to review his planner each time he returns to his room.  Even if he doesn’t plan to do any studying right then, he’ll begin to associate returning to his room with checking to see what needs to be done.

Pairings will depend on your student’s goals for new study habits and his current lifestyle.  It may take some thinking to find habits to pair, but your student may be surprised at how quickly the new habits can become part of his routine.

Make it routine

Part of what makes a habit stick is that it becomes woven into the fabric of your life.  If it becomes routine to review class notes at the end of each day, your student won’t need to think about it.  If your student takes his textbook to the library for an hour after lunch each day, it’s part of the normal routine.

Once your student has identified some study habits that he’d like to adopt, ask him where in his daily routine those habits will fit.  Without a plan to fit the new habits into the routine of everyday life, the habits are not likely to stick.

Track your progress

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that tracking the progress on the scale is a huge motivator.  Your student may be able to track his progress by looking at his grades, but that information may not be available to him for a while.  Your student might make a chart of time spent studying, track number of pages read, or try journaling about his progress; anything that will encourage him to continue on track making his new habits stick.

Cut yourself some slack

Things happen. Your student will forget his new habit, or will decide that he’s too tired or too busy.  It’s important that he let that go and pick up the habit again.  Too often, we give up on ourselves when we let resolutions slip.  Remind your student that obstacles will materialize and that he will need to be flexible.  The trick is finding the balance – don’t beat yourself up when you forget, but don’t make excuses either.

Your student may be energized by the prospects of a new semester and may have plans to step up his game to make it better.  Encourage him to set realistic goals, but also to have a plan to make those new study habits stick. Make sure he is clear about why he wants to make changes and has a plan for how to incorporate them into his daily routines.  Help him plan for the obstacles and how he will handle them.

Changing habits can change lives.  A quote often attributed to Aristotle states, “We are that which we repeatedly do, excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Help your student to make this an excellent semester!

Related posts:

Helping Your Student with Goal Setting – and Action Plans

Is Your College Student Getting in His Own Way?

Helping Your College Student Increase His Chances of Success

Helping Your College Student Jump Start the Second Semester


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