"I know I need to change my study habits"

Most accounting students I work with are aware that they need to make changes to their study habits, because something just isn’t working anymore. Their old study habits aren’t effective anymore. 
(The reason this happens relates to our mindset, our beliefs about studying, and changing exams, you can check out more about this here)

Here, we’ll talk a little about why it’s just SO tough to actually make those changes. 

"Why is it so hard to change my study habits?"

Highways vs Jungles


I use the analogy of 'highways vs jungles' to explain how your brain works. It's important to understand what's happening in your brain as you do stuff, because THAT'S what's making your decisions for you. It's your brain that decides what you'll do and how!


Your existing habits are like highways. Your brain knows what to do, how to do it, and it requires less mental energy to do. It’s the path of least resistance. 

When you want to change your habits, you need FAR more mental energy. Your new habit is like a jungle. There’s NO path. It’s not easy, it’s not smooth, it’s painful, annoying and stressful… so OBVIOUSLY, your brain will try help you avoid this. “Why can’t we just keep doing what we’ve always done?!”. “This way’s faster, let’s rather use this way!” “We’re tired right now, let’s just do it this way now, and tomorrow we’ll do it differently”.

Your brain doesn't 'wait' for you to decide

Your habit is a habit precisely because it’s what you do without thinking. You do not CHOOSE to do it. It’s already happened by the time you’re consciously thinking about it. 

This is one of the reasons it’s so tough to change habits. You’re not used to thinking so consciously about this, so by the time you DO think about it, you’re probably halfway through your study session already. Your brain automatically follows the old path.

How to fix this?

You have to be more conscious of how you plan to study, BEFORE you start. You have to remind yourself of your new habit REPEATEDLY… I’m talking multiple times a DAY, if not multiple times and HOUR! If you’re studying a lot, your brain is making study decisions CONSTANTLY. The fact that you decided logically that you wanted to make a change ONCE, last week… is SO quickly drowned by your brains desire to remain on automation and not spend more mental energy. 

You have to learn to be far more aware of what’s going on in your brain. Otherwise your brain will happily remain in control and keep you on that highway.

Your brain isn't sabotaging you

It’s frustrating when we WANT to do something differently, but just can’t seem to. I’ve had a lot of students feel as though they’re sabotaging their own studies. 

How to fix this?

First, you need to understand what your brain is doing, and why.

Your brain is trying to protect you. It can sometimes be misguided, but it’s not against you! (I made a video on this a while back… check it out… “Am I procrastinating my studying because I’m just lazy?”

In a world and life that’s stressful, when you have so many obligations, stresses and things to occupy your mind, your brain finds ways to save you mental energy by automating tasks… ie: habits. This frees up mental energy for other things. It’s like a highway. It’s an easy, smooth, big road that’s easy to travel.

New habits require a LOT of mental energy, which now means that you have less energy to deal with everything else. You’re working, studying, have a family, financial stresses, traffic, friends, obligations, chores… there’s a TON of stuff that requires mental energy from you. And now you’re adding something new? Not cool!

Be kind to your brain… it’s trying to help! 

The 21 days rule?

When we decide to change a habit, it’s a logical decision. 

Problem? Your brain is NOT logical. Your daily decisions, actions and habits are not built from pure logic. There’s a ton of emotion, mental energy saving, protection, desire for comfort and avoidance of perceived danger etc going on that’s impacting your actions and decisions. 

We kinda think we can just ‘decide’ to be different, and because we believe it’s a good thing, and have actively decided, that should be enough to make the change. 

How to fix this?

We’ve all probably heard that it takes 21 days to change a habit. This is a reflection of the fact that logic isn’t enough to make a change. 

Based on your understanding of highways vs jungles, you can start to see WHY it takes repetition of a new habit to break through that jungle and create a new path that’s easier to travel. 

Over time, the jungle will become a path, then eventually a highway, and the old highway will start to decay. 

21 days is trying to put a specific count on how long it takes to reprogramme your neural pathways this way. 

The basic idea here is that you have to ACTIVELY take the jungle path many, many times before it starts feeling comfortable. And your brain will RESIST you. EVERY. TIME.

Why does it feel harder?

This is where we often stumble. We do it once perhaps, and the next time, we just ‘can’t’. That’s resistance. Your brain actively resists this change. 

It often takes the form of procrastination, distraction, emotional overwhelm, exhaustion, or other ‘valid’ reasons that pop into your mind that make it ‘feel’ like it would be better to go the old way.

It’s not like your brain sends you a memo that says “I refuse to do the new thing and here’s why”. You just find the end of the day comes and you haven’t done what you planned to. Your brain subtly manipulated your actions to keep you doing the ‘easier’ thing.

How to fix this?

Again, conscious awareness is absolutely key here. 

Until you’re aware of how and why your brain makes decisions for you, you’ll be operating on automation. Most people are ‘reactive’. ie: They ‘react’ to the world and situations, instead of consciously taking control and ACTIVELY deciding how to respond. Because it’s exhausting.

This is one of the reasons I developed the Study Strategy and Mindset mobile app. I had this info in online courses, but students would logically agree and DECIDE to change their habits… and then go back to their old habits again. We need to be CONSTANTLY reminded, constantly ‘nudged’ back to the jungle. We have to be actively aware of this. Which is really tough when you have SO much else going on in your life. So, I send daily notifications with small pieces of content… to keep you actively thinking of your new habits and what you actively CHOOSE to do.

Whether you use the app or not… the same concept applies. You need to find a way to CONSTANTLY keep your new habit top-of-mind, to keep actively making the choice to do it differently. Multiple times a day. 

You won’t always win the inner battle. The important thing is to keep actively fighting. You might lose the battle today, but fight again tomorrow!

If you can relate, or have a query...

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Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

I coach accounting students who are struggling with their study habits and mindset, and want their studies to be as effective as they used to be. See more on my about page

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