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Use the Force: Making the Study-Habit Stick

March 13, 2020

Use the Force: Making the Study-Habit Stick

So, you’ve decided to go after a certification. Good for you! You’ve made the commitment. You’ve pulled up the exam blueprint and made your plan. You’ve got your own personal Team Awesome assembled.

Now what?

Let’s talk brass tacks about making your certification plan stick.

Harnessing the Force… of Habit

The best way to get to success is to make preparing for success a habit. There’s a reason for the saying “the force of habit.” It’s something repeated often enough that it becomes automatic[i]. Here are some tips I recommend for successful studying:

Make it singular, simple, and small. [ii] The human brain only has so much willpower. Commit to ONE thing at a time. Start your commitment simple and start small. For example, “I’ll read for 10 minutes to start.” After all, no one starts training for a marathon by running the marathon in the first week of training.

Anchor your new habit to an old habit. [iii] Linking your new study habit to an established habit gives the new habit a better chance of success. Studying your notes on the bus to and from work is a great example of anchoring a new habit to an established habit. You already take the bus every day, twice a day. Now you’re studying every day, twice a day.

More reps, folks. More reps. [iv] In the dojo, it’s all about the reps. You need reps to build muscle memory. Think of your brain as a big muscle. You need to repeat your study routine for at least thirty days to make it a habit. And in those thirty days, you should be repeating every day.

Be accountable. [v] Even if you don’t find a study group, get yourself a study buddy. If you can’t be accountable to yourself (and some people aren’t very disciplined), you need someone to hold you accountable for studying every day. It could be your partner, a co-worker, friend, or even your kiddo.

Gamify yourself. [vi] Not joking. Everything is gamified these days. Even my meditation app has gamification elements. Gamify your study with an app (there are tons out there) or even a simple chart and a pack of gold stars to visualize your progress, celebrate your small victories, and keep your eyes on the prize.

It’s OK to be imperfect. [vii] No one is perfect. There will be times when you just can’t. Maybe the real world blows up on your desk and now you’re riding the bus home dead tired at two in the morning. Or, maybe you have travel coming up and you won’t be riding that bus. That’s OK. Make plans for obstacles that you foresee and forgive yourself for the obstacles that you can’t control.

Reward yourself. [viii] Seriously. If you stick to your study schedule for a week, give yourself a pat on the back. If you got it for the whole thirty days, celebrate it. It might seem like a petty thing, but think about the last time your boss didn’t recognize you for a great thing you did. Don’t be a jerk to yourself.

Now that you’ve got some great strategies and tactics to use, it’s time to get cracking.

[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/force%20of%20habit

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ego_depletion

[iii] https://www.developgoodhabits.com/how-to-form-a-habit-in-8-easy-steps/

[iv] See note iii.

[v] See note iii.

[vi] https://www.bitcatcha.com/blog/gamify-website-increase-engagement/

[vii] See note v.

[viii] See note iii.


A lawyer and a network engineer walk into a bar… No, really. Micheline Murphy retired from the law in 2016 after a nearly two-decade career practicing criminal defense. In 2019, her technical works had over 10,000 views. She also writes for the CLN Women in Networking space on topics of importance to the everyday engineer, both men and women. Micheline covers topics such as the difference between diversity and inclusion, how to become a better public speaker, and Imposter Syndrome.