Helping Students build successful Habits

Being a successful student requires forming the right learning, study & well-being habits. However, this requires knowledge of successful habit forming strategies in the first instance. Below, we’ve provided some useful strategies you may like to share with your students…

Start with identity!

Becoming clear on the person – or identity we want to have – is a critical first step in driving successful habits. For example, if you want to become a high performing student, it’s important to think of the type of student (character-wise) which would help you achieve this outcome.

To begin with, simply ask “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?” An example could be a “conscientious and curious student who is always looking to improve”.

Therefore, when choosing and implementing your actions, simply think of the behaviours which are consistent with that identity. Consider all your supporting actions (e.g. doing your homework) as a vote for the type of person you wish to become, whilst non-supporting actions (e.g. playing computer games for 2 hours) a vote in the opposite direction. Clearly, successfully living your identity requires more votes that are aligned to it.

Consider habits as a system not a goal.

Whilst goals are useful for declaring intent, they do not provide the road map of ‘how’ to achieve your desired outcomes. However, systems provide this roadmap because they clarify the processes that lead to those results. As habit forming expert James Clear says;

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.”

Consider the below as key elements to building a successful system.

  1. Self-awareness – Understand the ‘small things’/actions underpinning success. Consider areas focussing on study, learning, mental & physical well-being. Reflect on and identify existing personal ineffective and effective habits in relation to these areas. Which ones will help you live your identity?


  1. Target – Write down target habits for change/implementation. Include those which you would like to;
  • ‘Start’ – Specifying effective habits you would like to implement. This could include swapping ineffective to effective habits (e.g. swapping watching T.V immediately after school with going for a 15 min walk).
  • ‘Continue’ – effective habits already in your repertoire/ successfully implemented.
  • ‘Stop’ – ineffective or counterproductive habits you would like to stop.
  1. Implement – Aim to make 1-3 target habit changes per week. Try to choose a mix of ‘start’, ‘stop’ ‘continue’ habits. Start with a few simple changes, progressing to more difficult habits over time. This will allow you to get some ‘quick wins’ on the board and build some momentum.
  2. Review – Habits should be ideally viewed as a process as opposed to a destination. Therefore constant refinement and improvement is needed. Without review, subsequent effort is likely to be misguided and misinformed. Putting aside as little as 20 mins ‘review time’ aside per week to assess progress will help you note successes and make refinements as need be.

Guiding Principles

Although not really a direct step in the process, there are some guiding principles to help habit formation easier. These include the following;

  • Start small and easy – make new habits small and too easy NOT to do. (E.g. if you want to start jogging, see if you can jog for 2 minutes and increase in increments of 2 minutes).
  • Swap out bad habits – It is much easier to swap out bad for good habits than to simply stop them. For this you need to be aware of the ‘cue’ causing the habit. (E.g. upon feeling hungry after school, consider replacing chocolate biscuits with fruit or other healthy food options).
  • Consider the environment – Removing distractions and temptations from your environment will make it much easier for you to implement effective, and break ineffective habits. (E.g. removing junk food from your shopping trolley will help you eat healthier).
  • Use existing apps and resources – There are many apps available to help habit formation easier. Habitica is one example of a habit-building and productivity app that treats your real life like a game! In-game rewards and social encouragement help you keep to your habit commitments.

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