This is not directed at the nail biters. (Though, if nail biting is a bad habit of yours which you’re looking to break, this article could be somewhat helpful.) This is for those of us with habits that take up precious time needed for EPPP test prep; habits such as snoozing the alarm clock and procrastination.
Bad habits originate with good intention. They begin with a goal in mind and become a habituated response to a stimulus. For example, your body was tired in the morning and hitting snooze allowed you to sleep more. The more you heard the early morning alarm and responded by hitting snooze, the more habitual the response became and the more frequently you cut into your EPPP test prep time.
Psychology Today, in The Powerful Pull of Repeating Old Routines, explains the way and reason habits form.
“When we first perform an action, it’s ‘goal-oriented.’ That is, we do it to achieve a particular goal. But the part of the brain that controls habits, a deep reptilian structure known as the dorsal striatum, doesn’t care about goals much at all. It just wants to do things that it has done before. It drives our actions in a simple, unconscious stimulus-response way. It doesn’t care about goals, it cares about acting out a certain sequence of actions once it gets the right trigger.”
Alex Korb, Ph.D., the article’s author, uses the example of putting on a seat belt. His seat belt became locked and incapable of being pulled down and, though he had knowledge of this, he continued to reach for his seat belt throughout his car ride. Multiple times, his brain noticed the lack of seat belt which triggered the response of reaching for it. The dorsal striatum wanted to “act out a certain sequence of actions.”
The dorsal striatum could be to blame when it comes to habits that intrude on your designated study time. If hitting snooze or procrastinating are things you have consistently done throughout life, then your brain has been conditioned. Habits such as these are formed so that our brains do not have to continuously choose how to go about a process that was once somehow useful. For instance, perhaps you worked best under pressure in school which made it okay to procrastinate and, further, there was little to no consequence to stop procrastination from continuing. Ultimately, procrastination worked in your favor. Or perhaps you had a parent drag you out of bed every morning. So hitting snooze never made you late for school but, rather, simply allowed you to catch a few more minutes of sleep.
“The dorsal striatum fills an important role, because if we didn’t have habits we’d have to constantly be making complex choices and re-learning things and it would be exhausting. But while the brain circuitry that controls habits is useful, sometimes it can get in the way.”
When you are trying to break a bad habit and create a good one, it’s difficult because your brain is used to something that takes less thinking. With time, though, bad habits can be changed to good ones.
Replacing a bad habit with a good one requires motivation and patience. First know your goal. In this case, know that you want to get a certain EPPP score. Second, know your potential. You can achieve your desired EPPP score with the right mindset and tools. Third, condition your brain to respond in a desired way to certain stimuli. For example, reward yourself when you wake up without hitting snooze. Formulate a study schedule (at TSM we can help you create one suited to your needs and learning style) and reward yourself when you don’t put off studying until the last minute. With patience and persistence your brain will more easily react to the stimuli and a productive habit will be formed.
- Learning from the Habits of Bad Students
- Don’t Delay Your EPPP Prep (Procrastination Part 2)
- Why You Don’t have to be a Genius to Pass the EPPP
- The Psychology of Motivation (Part 1)
- The Psychology of Motivation (Part 2)