Written by Mereat A., Titan of Tutoring for Enhanced Prep
Every high school student preparing for college applications alway wishes they had the secret to improved test scores, writing abilities, and time management to fit in more extracurriculars. It is quite common for these students to look at their peers and think, “how do they do all of that?”
The secret? It has to do with habits.
Charles Duhigg wrote a wonderful book about habits in which he discusses why they are so powerful and how to change them. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains that habits develop because of a cycle: the cue, the routine, and the reward. In order to develop habits that lead you closer to your goal, such as doing well on the SAT or ACT, you need to kick bad habits and develop new ones. To change habits is a great feat; however, it is not impossible, according to Duhigg.
James Clear also develops a useful way to construct healthy habits in his book Atomic Habits by focusing on what he calls the systems. The systems describe how we go about reaching our goals. It is difficult to build the habits we need to succeed on the ACT or SAT, such as effective studying, time management, and stress reduction, without a strategy to achieve this plan. Furthermore, developing a good strategy will still fail us at times. This is because strategy-focused plans wish to strictly change the outcome (i.e., doing well on the ACT/SAT). We forget that we are people who deal with hardships and setbacks that are often out of our control.
Focusing on identity-based habits instead will drive us to build the habits we require to achieve our goals. Identity-based habits involve changing our beliefs. To understand why this is important, James Clear writes: “(for example)… you may want better health, but if you continue to prioritize comfort over accomplishment, you’ll be drawn to relaxing rather than training. It’s hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behavior.” In the context of succeeding on the SAT/ ACT, if you don’t change what you believe about the test’s importance and prioritize studying for it, you will always find it difficult to achieve the scores you want. This ideology carries over to many goals we have for ourselves.
Finally, it is important to identify the cues, the routine, and the reward of bad habits while focusing on changing your mindset and beliefs about a particular goal you would like to achieve. Without the right mindset and strategy, achieving even the smallest goals will come with great difficulty. Breaking old cycles that prevent us from improvement is imperative to your success, and learning how to master habit formation is the key that will lead you to your ultimate goal.
As a high school student preparing for college, applying these principles will actually build the essential framework for succeeding with future goals, such as enrolling in an honors program, graduating on time, or making the most of a study abroad opportunity! Use your preparation for the SAT/ACT and college application process as a means of developing a sustainable system of habits and goals that reflects who you are and who you want to become.