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2012 Spring Issue 5 (May 4, 2012)

Suche: On Forming Habits

May 4, 2012
By Zoe Suche

On a typical weekday at Carleton, I wake up at 8:30 or 9. Within half an hour, I have breakfast; every day it’s a smoothie with the same five ingredients, plus some add-ons if I’m feeling creative. I go to class, then come back for lunch; again, every day it’s some slight variation on the exact same meal. The afternoon is normally trickier; the schedule is more fluid and varied throughout the week, but I normally wind up in the dining hall after either class or Frisbee practice, hoping that they do that thing where they put big pieces of real fruit in the yogurt. I have trouble leaving the dining hall without a snack in hand; it’s just something I do.

I read recently that forming a habit takes an average of 66 days. On reflection, this really doesn’t seem right. Certainly, it sometimes takes a while to get yourself to do something you don’t really want to; two months is probably about how long it took me, freshman year, to train myself to write papers ahead of time rather than the night before they were due. However, I can say with confidence that a habit such as taking two cookies and a cup of cereal out of the dining hall takes almost no effort to form. In fact, the transition from home to college life is testament to just how easily we form bad habits; staying up late for no real reason, sleeping too little, eating or drinking too much, and so on. Carleton—or rather, college in general—to some extent facilitates this; things to do and friends to see in close vicinity, along with dining facilities that minimally regulate portions and where the dessert section is as large as the salad bar, make it rather difficult for students to remember or particularly prioritize their health. Creating problematic patterns in our lives is a simple matter; kicking those habits is what really takes time and energy.

Midterms are a stressful time, and when you get too deep into one of those ruts—where you forget about taking care of yourself in light of those two research papers you haven’t started—it’s hard to remember how it feels not to be in a rut. For some of us, we don’t come out of it until we go home for a few days, detox on some home-cooked meals, and then wake up at some point and realize that it’s actually kind of nice to go through a full day without wishing desperately for a nap. Other people seem to have it all figured out, like those people you see happily coming back from a run when you’re just stumbling, bleary-eyed, out of your dorm on a Sunday morning.

I like to hope that getting out of a rut takes less than 66 days—it’s a little depressing to imagine that in forming a good habit or breaking a bad one, there’s a grace period of over two months where we’re significantly more likely to give up. For me, it takes little more than a delicious pumpkin-banana smoothie for breakfast or a really awesome quinoa dish for lunch to remind me that it’s a great feeling to take care of yourself, and that going into the final stretch of the term, it’s something we should all strive for.

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