A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
“Life is habit,” says Samuel Beckett. Habits are our most productive and un-productive traits. Luckily, we can change them.
Scholarly studies and self-help clickbait agree that new habits can be formed in a month. For most skills, 30 days of regular practice gives you a very solid base. ‘But a month is 30 days, that’s a lot,’ we all cry. In response, the Mayans invented February. It’s like a month but there are a few bonus days off at the end. What could you learn in 30(ish) day?
1. Getting out of bed:
Setting the bar appropriately low, let’s start by approaching getting out of bed as a habit. For myself, this is a significant challenge. I have a friend who is a morning person. I asked, “How do you do that?” She replied, “I get out of bed.” This revolutionary notion flipped me upside down.
Sleep is inestimably important to your health. The more of the time you spend in bed sleeping, the better for your natural rhythms. That means having sex all around the house and getting out of bed as soon as your alarm goes off. For me this will be challenging because I’m having no sex and sleep in till noon.
2. Getting out of the house:
Similar to getting out of bed is getting out of the house. Spending too much time in the same environment can blur the lines between places when you habitually focus and study, and places where you habitually relax and binge-watch American sit-coms about groups of loveable misfit friends who bond over perfectly comedically-timed life experiences.
While memory skills can benefit from the sameness of surroundings, critical thinking usually requires some empirical stimulus to get moving. There are many libraries and faculty buildings that provide space and equipment for studying. Having a separate environment for your studying can make you workload feel lighter, too.
Students get free entry to Hortus (keep that in mind for the spring), and there are many parks within a short walk of Leiden. Or, for the price of a coffee or tea, cafes provide a change of scene – see Deniz’s post about her favourite spots. Plus, talking to the wait-staff counts as social contact! (Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)
3. Getting out of your head:
Healthy body, healthy mind! Excercise has countless benefits. Besides the well-known benefits exercise has for your sleep, appetite and digestion, creative thinking, critical thinking, and memory, exercise can have the surprising side-effect of enjoyment.
To this end, find an exercise where you can play, be at ease, and express yourself physically. This can be an internal pursuit, like yoga or bodyweight training, a combative sport, like racquet sports or martial arts, or a group sport, like basketball, hockey, football, or rowing. Taking time out from thinking clears your headspace and
Try finding 30 minutes a day to exercise (the same length of one episode of those sit-coms). 30 minutes a day – that’s just the walk around the city – for 30 days has the potential to make a big difference.
In Defense of (a little) Discipline:
For most, studying requires discipline, and so the habit comes through force. However, this can easily lead to banishing all else from our routines because that force is absent. Being as disciplined about things outside our studies and social lives can help us devote our focus better to them when we need to. Trying something new for a month – through the easy days and the hard – will almost certainly make everything seem easier on the other side.
If you end up trying something new, leave a comment below and let us know how it goes. As for me, I want to see the sun rise on February 1st!