Balance, General

Old Habits Really Do Die Hard

Do you ever catch yourself doing something that you 100% know you shouldn’t be doing? Yup… That’s me right now. Before you ask questions, let me explain.

A picture of me wearing a onesie, watching shows on my bed.

This is usually how I watch shows/movies (when I shouldn’t be watching)

This August, I had to present a business pitch to an entrepreneurial community. However, the night before the presentation, I decided to watch a movie. And then another one. Then suddenly, the unusual brightness of my room caught my attention. It was the sun. It was 6am and I had to leave my house within the next hour in order to make it to the presentation in time. It quickly dawned on me that I accidentally pulled an all-nighter before my presentation – and in that moment, all I could do was silently mouth “help me” at the sky, hoping that the universe would give me a break. That day, a very sleep deprived Slesha learned the consequences of staying up too late.

After recognizing the importance of a good night’s sleep, I took a vow to sleep earlier this school year – no later than 1am! Little did I know that “taking a vow” meant nothing without setting appropriate behaviour changing strategies in place. So I should not have been surprised when things didn’t go as I had vowed. Right now, it’s 3am as I’m writing this blog post… and I know I should have gone to sleep two hours ago. So, what went wrong?

One word: habits.

This is something that most “goal-setting” manuals neglect. In theory, setting goals is straightforward – you just have to define what you want to achieve and then ensure your goal is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timed). Devising plans to reach your goals is also doable – with adequate scheduling and prioritization, you can create an idealistic routine to help you succeed. But if this idealistic routine requires a major behavioural change, which often times it does, things get a lot more complicated. Sticking to that routine becomes emotionally challenging, and it’s up to you to use behaviour changing strategies to help you gather the motivation to keep on going.

Without using behaviour changing strategies, motivating yourself becomes very difficult. This is because your behaviour consists of habits, which are hard to break because they are strongly integrated within your daily routine. Personally, I am trying to improve my sleep hygiene to help myself escape the land of untimely naps, all-nighters, and permanent eye bags – but my last attempt didn’t turn out as successfully as I had hoped because of my lack of motivation, lack of a system to monitor my progress, and lack of rewards to look forward to. In fact, there were no direct consequences to breaking my idealistic vow at all. Instead, I received the instant gratification of indulging in my bad habit of untimely sleeping.

A picture of a sunrise

An example of poor sleep hygiene is going to sleep after seeing the sunrise

One of the biggest obstacles in reaching goals is the notion of “instant gratification”. Whether you have academic goals such as “I want to raise my G.P.A by 0.5 by taking good notes in every lecture,” or personal goals such as “I will go to the gym every Friday after class for an hour,” staying on task for a prolonged period of time becomes increasingly challenging in the face of other instantly gratifying distractors. Missing one lecture and having that one hour of “free” time may feel good in the moment, but it hinders your progress toward your goal. Skipping that one day of gym may bring you joy, but the next time you go, you’ll feel more out of shape. Therefore, if you truly want to reach your goals without hindering your progress, you have to be mindful throughout the decision making process. Here’s how to do so:

  • Create a system that monitors your progress and keeps you from straying away from your routine. For example, getting an accountability partner at the gym or in class increases your chances of going to the gym or taking good notes in class.
 A screenshot of my texting conversation with my mom, where I tell her goodnight

My new progress monitoring system is to text my mom (AKA my accountability partner) goodnight and good morning every day to ensure that I stay on track.

  • Reward yourself occasionally for sticking to your routine with something valuable to you, such as an edible treat, movie, etc…

With that said, its crucial to remember that until the new routine manifests itself as new habits, there will be challenges, and that’s okay. The final result is always worth the fight. And remember, if you ever need help, you can always book an appointment at the Academic Success Center, where you can receive one-on-one feedback and advice to help you succeed with reaching your goals. See you next week!

Slesha