The Power of Small Habits

The Power of Small Habits

By: Kaleigh McCarron

March 20th, 2023

It’s finally Friday night after a seemingly never ending week of classes and essays and projects at college. Students have clocked out of their last shift of their part time job and savored the last sip of coffee. Exhausted from the extra two and a half hours they spent on TikTok late last night, they hope for a nap on the way home, only to be interrupted by friends excited for a night out of quality time together that would be unthinkable to miss. As the neglected assignments pile up by Sunday evening, students often find themselves repeatedly unfulfilled with their short and long term goals–an indication they may be lacking the strong function of small habits.. 

With college comes the addition of increased responsibilities, the need for high-level time management skills, adjusted sleeping and eating schedules, heightened necessity for self care breaks and all the alike. On top of this, the absolute ruler of self accountability comes into play in the spontaneous life that college can be. But, it doesn’t end there. The hindrance of procrastination inevitably interrupts achievements. Procrastination hinders achievement, and it is what causes students to fall into the repeated pattern of unfulfilled aspirations and feeling like they’ve lost track. In a carefully considered meta-analysis on the effect of procrastination on academic achievement, a research article from the International Journal of Educational Methodology concludes that procrastination corresponds “negatively” with academic achievement. Fortunately, small habits can empower students to fight this.

If one takes a certain task or behavior that is continually repeated and occurs within one’s subliminal self, they’ve formed a habit. Habits are daily small decisions and actions. According to a guide written by James Clear, author of the best-seller, “Atomic Habits,” researchers at Duke University reported habits as 40% of daily behavior. With students performing habits every day for almost half of the day, they can start implementing good ones to promote growth and achieve the best version of themselves. Basically, Clear indicates that “your life today is essentially the sum of your habits.” 

When Michigan State junior Hannah Half was asked about her experience developing habits as a college student, she said, “Especially after coming out of a whirlwind of online school, I have found it increasingly hard to find a positive habitual routine that works for me each semester.” However, when confronted on the efforts she made to implement habits into her daily college life, she paused: “I make lists to help myself keep track of the things I need to do, but I guess I haven’t worked at developing habits each day. If I do, I must lose them fast.” 

A small habit for a college student might look like repeatedly dedicating a time on a pattern of days to online schoolwork, placing their phone down at a certain time every night to prioritize their sleep schedule or designating a day each week to catch up with friends or family on the phone. Each student can personalize their desired small habits toward their own beliefs and values, whether it be praying for five minutes five times a week or eating 80% healthy during the seven days of the college lifestyle. 

Clear provides an in depth guide on how to build a new habit. In short, he says to start with something easy and small, increase it in small ways, maintain momentum by breaking habits into chunks, try to stay consistent if slip ups happen and pick a manageable pace. For example, Tommy Sullivan, a junior and Michigan State Golf team student-athlete, said, “Habits help keep stress to a minimum with a fully packed day in my routine.” He went on to describe how small habits help him take the day one step at a time so he can keep calm when he has a whole day of responsibilities ahead of him while balancing being a full time student and athlete.

Specifically, he said, “I have 6 a.m. workouts every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday so I’ve integrated the habit of having a cold water on my bedside table each night to chug in the morning to help wake me up. I also don’t let myself go on any apps on my phone until after the workout to start my day off right and keep my stress levels low.”  

Stress is a major factor that disrupts a college student’s quality of life and has a heavy impression on their overall health. Students that wake up each Sunday morning groggy and unfulfilled with themselves can improve the quality of their life and satisfy their ambition by accumulating small habits into their day to day lives. It takes effort and accountability to make the habits stick, so it’s important not to lose sight of the aspirational version of one’s self. There are a number of ways to become more informed on the power of small habits–James Clear’s book being one of many. At the end of the day, it is up to students to make the changes in their lives and to discover that habits change their brains more potently than thought. 

Kaleigh McCarron is a junior majoring in Public and Professional Writing. She dreams of becoming a key publicist for a fortune 500 company that specializes in health and wellness. She loves to create artisan pastas and salads, and play Rummikub with her friends.