personal growth
Bad habits are hard to kick, but here's how you can break them and unlock personal growth. Source: Scott Eisen/Getty Images/AFP

Imagine this scenario: it’s a weeknight, and exams are looming. You know that you should tear your eyes away from Netflix and hit the books, but 10 minutes of screen time eventually turns into 30, and 30 minutes of rest eventually turns into an hour. The next thing you know, the day has gone by and no studying has been done. 

It’s easier to repeat habits that bring immediate joy (i.e. watching Netflix) than to practice delayed gratification (i.e. studying for an exam where the rewards will only come later). That’s where personal growth comes in. To put it simply, personal growth is an ongoing process to help you learn and develop yourself to reach your full potential. It’s a process that leads to your success in university and beyond. 

So, whether you’re looking to get over your shyness and be more participative in class, secure a coveted internship at a company you’ve been eyeing, graduate with honours in university or improve your social skills and expand your network of friends, good habits will help you to achieve this.

Personal growth: Good habits are the bedrock of success

Author and speaker James Clear sums up the importance of forming good habits perfectly when he said, “We live in a very outcome-focused society; even if you are talented you can’t succeed without having great habits. We think the thing that needs to change is the bank account or the test score or the number on the scale, but actually, the thing that needs to change is the habits that precede those outcomes.”

Clear is the author of the best-selling book called “Atomic Habits”, which offers guides on creating good habits, breaking bad ones, and how to get one percent better each day. So, whether you’re looking for ways to pull your grades up or are hoping to break free of stress eating, here are some lessons from the author that you can apply to your life. 

personal growth

Slowly but surely, you’ll be able to replace bad habits with good ones that contribute to your personal growth.
Source: Cindy Ord/Getty Images/AFP

Small changes in your daily routine can lead to big things

According to Clear, there are four stages of habit formation: noticing, wanting, doing and liking. 

Stage 1: Noticing

Clear said: “Many people think that they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. They think that they need to get more motivated, that they need willpower in order to execute on a habit.” Instead, Clear’s advice is to take the decision-making out of it by explicitly stating when, where and how you want to implement the habit. His strategy for creating a better plan of action is called “The Failure Premortem”. 

Before embarking on a goal or a project, imagine that you have failed, and list down every possible cause of failure, including issues, challenges or reasons that have taken you off course from achieving your goals or from completing your project. This allows you to brainstorm and create realistic and specific solutions based on the causes of failure so you have a better understanding of what it will take to succeed.

So, what took you off course from studying? Did you get swayed by Netflix? We’re you distracted by a roommate or your pet dog? Once you’re aware of the issues that are preventing you from having a good study period, you can formulate a plan that would help you counter this problem.

Stage 2: Wanting

“One of the most overlooked drivers of habits and human behaviour is our physical environment,” said Clear. Our environment influences more than we can care to admit. So, if you’re looking to lose your “freshman 15”, having unhealthy snacks at home — or on your table — isn’t likely going to help you achieve your goal of losing weight.

His advice? Design an environment that will make your good behaviours easier, and your bad ones harder. This could be something as simple as putting a book that you need to study on your pillow to prompt you to read a few pages before going to bed, stop filling your kitchen cupboards with unhealthy snacks, or leaving your workout gear in the living room where you might cross it several times in a day to remind yourself to exercise. 

personal growth

Personal growth doesn’t have to be radical. Strive for a one percent improvement each day. Source: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Stage 3: Doing 

The thinking part is over — now comes the part where you begin to do the things that need to be done that bring a positive outcome. 

“Any outcome that you’d like to achieve is just a point along the spectrum of repetitions,” said Clear, adding that the more reps you put in, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.

In other words, habits are created based on repetition and frequency.

Clear also believes that you should “optimise for the starting line” rather than the finish line. So, don’t just focus on the outcome (for example, getting an A on a paper or how much weight you plan on losing). Instead, make it as easy as possible to get started on your “reps in” — the outcome will come as a natural result of your actions. 

Stage 4: Liking

Rewards are an important motivator in making good habits stick. “The only reason that we repeat behaviours is because we enjoy them, because we like the reward. If we don’t enjoy the experience along the way we’re unlikely to stick with it,” said Clear. 

Whether you get the satisfaction of marking an X on your calendar for each day you learned Spanish or ticking off things on your to do list each day, think of ways to bring a reward into the present moment. 

Slowly but surely, you’ll be able to replace bad habits with good ones that contribute to your personal growth.