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  • Writer's pictureAlex

Finding time to study: How to build positive habits (audio reading included)

Habits are hard to break. What few people tell you is that they can be even harder to develop. If you're like me, at some point, you have tried to make positive permanent changes in areas of your life. Maybe you have tried establishing an exercise routine or a better diet. Maybe you have told yourself "This is the year that I read for 30 minutes every day," or "Today is the day I commit myself to learning the piano."

We all have good intentions when we make these types of in-the-moment commitments. We want to develop habits that will benefit us in some way because we know they are good for us. We want to commit to positive changes in our lives. But almost every time, the same things happen. The same negative patterns.

"Oh, no. I did it again."

If you're reading this, you know what I'm talking about.

You miss one day of reading, one day of practicing the piano, or one day of exercise. And maybe you try again the day after--You should definitely do that!--but eventually, you regress and find yourself at the starting line again.

So, what can you do? How can you develop positive habits? Specifically in regard to this article, how can you develop positive study habits? How can you make sure that you find the time to study English, or any other subject or skill you want to develop? There are a few things to keep in mind.

Before I continue, I want to stress that I have struggled with habit formation as well. I have got better at identifying what's good for me and committing to positive patterns of behaviour, but I still have days (or weeks) when it's harder. The most important thing, as we will learn here, is to make sure we try to get back on the right path as soon as we can.

This article is a reminder of the questions we should ask ourselves, and of the things we should do to turn our good intentions into healthy commitments.

Question: Why am I doing this?

"Why am I studying English?"

Before you commit to any new habit, you need to identify the reason for your commitment.

So, why do you want to study English? Is it because you need it for work or school? Are you planning to immigrate to an English-speaking country? Do you want to enjoy English books, films, or television shows in their original language? Do you want to communicate with your English-speaking family members, or to develop relationships with English-speaking people? Are you simply doing it because of the mental health benefits of studying a second language? Be clear with your answer. Close your eyes and take a breath if you have to, then ask yourself: Why am I studying English?

The clearer your answer is, the better.

For most second language learners, their second language is a key to another area of their life. Which door do you want English to open for you?

Once you have made the commitment to study English, if you're having a hard day when you don't feel like you want to study, one thing you can do to return to the right path is to remind yourself of WHY you made the commitment to study it in the first place.

Question: What are my habit triggers?

"What conditions provoke my behaviours?"

A trigger is something which activates a predictable reaction or pattern of behaviour. For many people, when we open social media on our phones, it's a trigger that causes us to scroll and scroll, making our brains feel relaxed, or in some cases, making us feel angry or judgmental. Whatever the feeling is, we have got used to it and we expect it when we open Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

The truth is, most of us already know what we should be doing, but we have developed other less productive habits that stop us from developing good habits.

When it comes to triggers and finding time to study, you need to do two things:

  1. Know your bad habit triggers

  2. Develop good habit triggers

If you really want to study, put your phone away if you know you can't resist it. Don't sit on the couch in the living room if you know you'll be tempted to turn on the TV. Get out of the kitchen if you know you will be tempted to open the fridge and eat because you're bored or because you want to avoid what you should be doing.

So, how do we develop good habit triggers? Set an alarm with a distinct tone that tells you "It's time to study." Pick a space in your home that you will associate with studying. Pick up your notebook or laptop and create a positive association with it. Tell yourself "When I pick up this book, I'm going to study for 30 minutes" or "When I open YouTube during my lunchtime, that means I'm going to study English training videos."

Whatever you do, try to remove the things that will distract you or that will trigger your unwanted habits, and develop positive triggers that cause you to engage in the habit you want to create.

Question: Am I being honest with myself?

"Am I actually doing what I need to do?"

This is the hardest question for most of us. As I mentioned above, most people know what they have to do, but they still find excuses not to do it.

Let me be clear: This article is not about making you feel bad about yourself. There are people whose lives are full, and who have legitimate reasons for not finding the time to study. If you're a new mother who has a full-time job and who is only sleeping 3 hours per night, it's understandable that studying English isn't the first thing on your mind in the morning or the evening. If you suffer from depression, anemia, grief, or any other condition that affects your mood and energy, it's understandable that studying English is hard for you because you should be focusing on your physical and mental health before trying to open a textbook.

However, for many of us, we can find the time, but we choose to fill that time with other activities. So, be honest with yourself: Do you really not have the time to study, or are you not using your time effectively? Because if you're able to but you're not using your time to study, you need to go back to the first question, and start removing bad triggers, and start developing positive triggers.


"I CAN do this."

Developing habits takes time and commitment. You will fall. The important thing is that you get up again and get on the right path again as soon as possible. Remind yourself WHY you want or need to study, and create the conditions around yourself that will make you more likely to do the things you know you need to do. Because you can do it.

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it informative and motivating. To keep the conversation going, tell me about your study habits in the comments. Share your failures and successes, and let's motivate each other to do better and be better. Good luck with your studies, and let's talk again soon.


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