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The Reality of Studying

Well, we’re already rounding the corner into week three of a sixteen week semester. Are our study habits up to par yet?

I’ll give you my answer: no. I started the semester with all the ambition and desire I could have ever dreamed of. I would study every single day and earn 5s in all of my classes by the end of the semester! I would follow through on all the suggestions I threw into that blog post I made at the beginning of the semester! I would study like nobody else’s business!

For the first week, that seemed to be true. Maybe even into the second week. By the end of last week though, I was turning my head in my classes wondering, “When did this not make sense all of a sudden?” The answer came to me in James Clear’s “Atomic Habits”. It was one of the reasons I picked up the book in the first place. The very summary on the book gets right to the heart of the matter:

It felt like I was being slapped in the face. All of those self-help books I had read telling me to simply be more disciplined or to “want it” bad enough were toppled over on its side. Clear elaborates, “The idea that a little bit of discipline would solve all our problems is deeply embedded in our culture… ‘disciplined’ people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control,” (92).

I was hooked. How could I build a system that would magically make my homework complete? The execution of a habit happens in four steps: cue, craving, response, reward. Any habit that is engrained in your day-to-day life follows this pattern, with some processes taking less than a second to play out. Let’s consider the habit of turning a light on in a room. You don’t need to flip a switch until you have been alerted to do so. The cue in this scenario would be to walk into a dark room. The cue establishes a craving; you crave the ability to see. Your response to this craving is to turn on the light. The reward is being able to see. Because this positively satisfies your craving, you repeat this process time and time again because you know it works. It will deliver the results you desire.

Now that we understand how a habit is executed, we need to be able to understand how to tailor it towards good habits we’d like to implement in our lives. Clear’s suggestion is to make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and to make it satisfying.


The cue to start a habit needs to be obvious. If we want to study, we need to make it obvious mentally and physically. If all of our study items are lying out in the space we frequent, we’re more likely to be reminded to do the studying. This doesn’t mean we’re mentally prepared to begin that work, though. In his book, Clear mentions that habits are piled on top of each other. The caffeine-addict associates waking up with drinking coffee, and drinking coffee with running to the bathroom. Mentally sandwich your work in between things you normally execute. Just today, I moved my desk right behind my front door and piled it with my study materials. I said out loud to the dust bunnies in my apartment, “After I go to the gym, I will sit down and write this article.” Lo and behold, the first thing I saw when I came back from the gym were all of my study materials. I couldn’t really move around it, and I already said I would do it, so sit down and write this article I did.


Our monkey brain is wired to do only what we want to do. You’re familiar with this idea if you’ve spent too much time on TikTok, eating junk food, or playing video games. We’ve discussed stacking our habits on top of each other, but what if we sandwiched the pains with the pleasures? I love snacks. I also love to read. I wish I could say the same for reading up on microeconomics and inflation. So guess what I did last night? I made a snack, did some previewing for my Microeconomics class, then read “Six of Crows,” by Leigh Bardugo. We can make our work attractive by surrounding it with rewards.


I can’t do a push-up and I’m not afraid to admit it. How dumb would it be if I made a goal of doing ten push-ups everyday when I can’t even do one? That would be over sooner than it started. Instead, we must make our desired habit easy. We’ve already made studying much easier by making it obvious, and making it attractive. If you’re really having a hard time getting started, Clear suggests the Two-Minute Rule. Set a timer for two minutes and begin your work. Immediately stop your work when the timer goes off. It’s easy to want to keep going when you just got started, but it’s imperative to stop after just two-minutes. Your brain will begin to notice, “that wasn’t so hard”, after a couple rounds of this, and then be primed to actually execute the work after a few false alarms. My understanding is that this is meant to be spread over many days, but since we are in the thick of the semester, try this rule a couple times a day and see how far you get.


What’s the point of working our butts off if it was no fun? Our thought process has been wired for thousands of years to say, “Wow, that wasn’t fun. Guess I’m never doing that again!” We talked about the sandwiching method earlier. When your work is done, immediately reward yourself with something! You’re tricking your brain into wanting to study in the future, so that you can earn a bowl of ice cream (or whatever your satisfaction-of-choice is).

Make studying easier for yourself this semester and make your system easy! If it’s easy to execute your work, it’s that much more likely to get done. Godspeed, TalTech!


Clear, James. (2018). Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House.



TalTech is Estonia’s most innovative university and especially known for its innovation in the field of digital technologies and engineering.

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