Sorry Ed, But Not All Habits Are Bad, Some Are Healthy


The Benjamin School

Sophia Liporace, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Spring officially began earlier this week, and if you’ve ever paid attention in English class, you’ll remember your teacher mentioning how the spring is often  a symbol for growth and rebirth. While the end of the school year might seem close– just 64 days away– habits that you build during the next few weeks will play a large part in deciding whether you reach your goals.

As students, we like to think that we have free will and can control our own destiny with the choices that we make; however, most of the actions in which we take part are not controlled directly by ourselves. Instead, they are controlled by our habits. Our bodies are wired to do what we are used to doing, whether the action be good or bad.

Whatever your end-of-year goal is, it will be hard to accomplish without examining your lifestyle and rewriting your habits. You will not be a better athlete by going for a run once a week, and you will not become a better student by studying until 2:00 a.m. one night before a test.

In order to develop strong, positive habits, you must understand how habits work. In The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg analyzed the science of habits, and he broke the habits down into three main components: cue, routine, and reward. A cue is any aspect of one’s daily life that triggers a routine to take place, and by doing the routine, he or she experiences a reward that reinforces the “habit loop.” This simple code is what wires us to do most of our daily activities without even thinking about them. 

When you drive to school, for example, you never need to actively remember the directions because this habit loop exists: 

Cue: See the sign for Grandiflora Road

Routine: Turn west on Grandiflora Road

Reward: Arrive at The Benjamin School

Without having to think about it, we rarely make a wrong turn. However, many habit loops can form to reinforce unproductive activity. Students may be familiar with this one:

Cue: Arrive home from school

Routine: Go on social media for an hour

Reward: Decompress after a long school day because you are relaxed

While scrolling on TikTok is not harmful in small doses, habits like these tend to become stronger and stronger until they are harmfully coded into your brain. All of a sudden, you may have a night activity and need to get homework done right when you get home, but, as soon as you receive the cue of arriving at home, your brain will automatically anticipate the reward of relaxing and draw you to the routine of social media and procrastination.

Habits may be hard to change, but with hard work, it is possible to turn the bad habits into good habits, if you understand how they work. According to Duhigg, habits are not broken; they are changed. The best way to change a habit is to keep the cue and reward constant while changing the routine. If you want to start doing homework when you get home, you can modify your habit loop to be:

Cue: Arrive home from school

Routine: Read your current English book for 30 minutes

Reward: Decompress after a long school day and be done with some of your homework 

Conversely, if you are a night owl, here is another approach:

Cue: Arrive home from school

Routine: Take a 30-minute nap

Reward: Decompress after a long school day and have more energy to do your homework

As this year comes to an end, examine your strengths and weaknesses, and set aside goals that you want to accomplish with the time we have left. If it involves making a new habit, identify what you want your cue, routine, and reward to be. You may need to use your willpower to begin a new habit, but once the habit loop forms, it will be hard to stop. If your goal involves changing an old habit, find a way to introduce a new routine while maintaining the original cue and reward. Once this habit starts, you will be more likely to pick it up again as you need to increase your productivity throughout your high school career.

It does not matter how motivated you are to get better grades, become a better athlete, become a better artist, become a better musician, or become a better person if you do not make it a habit. Without habits, you may only have half-measures.