By Megan Shinner | Advice Editor
The start of the new semester in the new university year always seems to bring a kind of academic honeymoon phase. Returning or moving to a new city, meeting new people and reminiscing with the old; there is a familiar and welcoming buzz of prosperity. ‘This is my year! I’m going to go to bed early, start my essays two weeks before the deadline, put myself first and I DEFINITELY won’t make the same mistakes as last year!’. Okay, who’s honestly been here and said that? Even I’m guilty! Once we settle into this new term on a high, there always seems to be a low that follows a few weeks later. Deadlines are set, introductory talks are long gone, freshers’ flu is still lingering and it’s no longer socially acceptable to pass off clubbing 6 nights a week as ‘reclaiming the freshers experience’. Instead of you controlling your year, the year starts to control you, and this is not at all what we signed up for.
Even though we may not be able to control the 9am lectures, hundreds of deadlines, or any personal curveballs that get thrown in our paths, we can control how we respond and cope with these situations. Life is consistent with its pleasant, or in some cases, its very unpleasant surprises. When all seems out-of-control and a little overwhelming or confusing, it’s always good to remember what we can take control of – ourselves. We can choose to either be our own best friend or our own worst enemy in the way we treat our minds and bodies. By looking after our physical and mental health and swapping bad habits for good, we can learn how to start listening to the limitations and flexibilities within our ability to cope with the stresses, pleasures, and normalities of everyday life.
Attitudes and Self Belief
I am a firm believer in that our attitude to life is what has the most significant impact on our ability to deal with any situation that creeps up on us, particularly the stressful and unpleasant experiences. Trying to be as positive as possible is always the remedy to having a good day, week, month, you name it! Seeing the good and aiming for it is like a subtle process of manifestation in which we can then start to expect good things to happen for us. Applying a good attitude to everything we do will slowly spill a positive energy into every aspect of your daily life. You felt good about that presentation you just did? That’s because you believed in yourself, and you told yourself you knew your facts inside and out! You just made a new P.B. on your daily jogging route? That’s because you trusted the process and your ability to gain strength in your sport. Heading into absolutely anything with the smallest amount of belief in yourself can seriously go a long way. Attitude changes outcomes and future experiences, generating a new, optimistic approach to daily practices.
Just to be clear, I do mean applying this principle on a realistic scale for yourself. Don’t go crazy and expect yourself to fit in a 2-hour workout, write 3 essays, meal prep for the next month and finish off the book you’ve been reading all in the space of one afternoon. Sometimes simply maintaining a positive mindset is enough for one day. Take the thought, action, and outcome process one activity at a time. Even the little things, they’re super important too! Your daily schedule will flourish into a portfolio of victories and daunting tasks no longer seem so terrifying with your newly developed instinctive positivity.
Swapping Bad Habits for the Good
The key to a productive day is having some idea of a schedule. This doesn’t have to be cemented into specific time slots – just an idea of a few things you’d like to get done. However, we do have these little things called ‘bad habits’ that somehow manage to creep into our lives. Bad habits lead to bad practises which are likely to upset a daily structure quite significantly. You may not even realise some of the things you do have more of a damaging effect than good.
One thing that we can mutually complain about as students is a poor sleep schedule. Staying up until 2am is never really THAT beneficial, is it? You’re tired, you can’t concentrate properly, and the work would be done so much faster and efficiently if you just woke up an hour earlier in the morning. Further to that point, you probably then don’t wake up at the time you wanted to, and the following day is pushed back by a few hours which has completely messed up the routine you so beautifully planned. Your lovely walk around Roath Lake has been cut out and you now quickly inhale a breakfast bar and crack on with the essay plan you were dreading. The day was supposed to start on a high, but it’s now on a low. Your motivation is already deteriorating from the second you woke up. Can you see the knock-on effect of a single bad habit here? Who knew right! Skipping meals and refusing study breaks simply because you “don’t have enough time” are other examples of bad practise.
Hopefully from the above scenarios you can see that both our academic and social life and physical and mental health are all affected by some things that are so simple and sometimes so easily changed. Again, try taking this in small steps and don’t expect yourself to be able to adapt to everything all at the same time. Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier everyday for a week until you find a bedtime that works for you. Dedicate 45 minutes per meal time so you have a designated slot to eat with no pressure against the packed schedule you may have. There are enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do; we just need to work smarter, not harder, whilst also looking after ourselves by not pushing our limits.
At the end of any good presentation there is always a few minutes of reflection to highlight what we can take away from what we have just experienced. Why not apply this practise to your life? Reflect on the little changes you’ve made throughout the week and see if they are aiding or hindering your personal development. This doesn’t need to be anything too serious, perhaps a conversation with yourself, a close friend or simply jotting down a few bullet points in your journal. Reflection allows us to select and maintain the good things we have practised and to get rid of anything that didn’t really benefit our personal growth. Continuing bad practise forms these bad habits that we work so hard to break in the first place. It’s arguable that for most of our lives we are in and out of a trial-and-error process with our time-management and activities, so why not set something so fundamental in stone as soon as possible? The quicker we engage in what works for us in essential terms like sleeping and eating, secondary activities become easier to manage as our foundation is solidified and stable. As you go through life, these things will change. My routines were very different in each year of my GCSEs, A-levels, and still change now during my degree. Things will always be chopped and changed but in your current situation; it is paramount that you find something that suits your capabilities well.
I hope this gives those of you who are struggling to settle into a routine or to get rid of bad habits a peace of mind knowing that this is completely normal. It takes time for all of us to find our feet – we just don’t want to be searching forever! Just focus on the little things and take it one day at a time. You will be okay, trust yourself and trust the process. Always, always remember that you are in control of your own life. It is essential that we take the time to listen to ourselves and work to our strengths.