We have talked a lot about how to do well academically, how to study effectively, how to ace your tests and how to crush those homework assignments even when you have barely any time to do them. But of course, successful students don’t just do well academically, they do well all around.
That begs the question, what separates truly successful students, who have it all together in all areas of their lives, from everyone else? Well that’s what I want to talk about. We’re gonna cover eight habits of successful students and this is definitely a riff of Stephen Covey’s excellent book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I have read and loved. But these eight habits are unique. These come from my own observations of people that I know who are successful and things I’ve tried to cultivate in my own life and I think every single one of them is going to help you in the upcoming semester.
Let’s dive right in. To start things off, successful students are forward thinkers. J.R. Tolken wrote in, The Hobbit that, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” And as a student, you have a lot of live dragons to contend with. Not just on the academic side of things but on all fronts.
You’ve got your career plans. You’ve got relationships. You have your living situation, errands you need to run, there is a lot to keep track of. And when I was in college, I had a lot of friends who always seemed to be scrambling to get these things done at the last second. They were basically letting life sneak up on them but if you can build a forward thinking mind set, this isn’t going to happen to you. And you’ll also position yourself for opportunities that would pass others by. So if you’re not already a natural forward thinker, if you’re not automatically thinking of things that are coming up in the near future, how do you become one? Well I definitely think it is possible, because I didn’t use to be one but now I am.
When I was a kid, I remember my mom would just like look up from whatever she was doing, oftentimes and ask me, “Hey Thomas, have you brushed your teeth today?” And I remember thinking, like, how do you think of stuff like that? I wasn’t talking about brushing my teeth, you weren’t brushing your teeth, it just popped into your mind. And eventually I realized it was because she cared about the health of her sons and she was simply being mindful about it. And I worked to become that kind of a person myself.
If you’re like I was back then, you don’t already have this mental machinery put into place, the first step is to build some structures into your everyday routines, that remind you to think in a forward thinking manner.
One good way to start doing this, is to create a reminder on your task management system or your calendar to sit down once a week and think, what do I have coming up in the near future? Do I need to sign up for classes? Well then I should make a reminder for the exact time that the class scheduler opens so I can get in there and get my classes before everyone else takes the good ones. Or do I need to get an apartment soon?
If you live in a college town like I did, then it’s likely that every apartment complex is gonna have their leases start around the exact same time. And because of that, everyone’s gonna be signing leases all in one big drove. So, do yours early, otherwise, come next semester, you’re gonna be living in
a van down by the river.
While you’re going through this mental exercise, also think about your relationships, maybe you have somebody who has a birthday coming up soon or you have a friend that you haven’t talked to in a while. I find that when you actually think about these things and when you apple a forward thinking mindset to your relationships, you tend to maintain them better. And this is important, because as people get older, they start to get busier and they start to have less time for their friends and it’s only people who are deliberate about maintaining their relationships that actually keep them.
The second habit is that successful students deliberately move towards adulthood. They don’t let adulthood sneak up on them. And by that, I’m not talking about becoming a person who hates fun and tells kids to get out their lawn but every human is going to have skills they need to build and challenges they need to face at some point in their lives. And a lot of people try to push those things off as much as they possibly can. But if you can become the kind of person who is willing to take on those things early, I’m talking about things like having your own bank account, doing your own taxes, your filling out your own financial aid forms or like, learning how to iron shirt or do your own laundry. Then once you have to do those things, you’ve already got that base of skills to apply to them.
Habit number three, successful students strive to become, what I like to call, solution finders. They’re the kind of people, that when faced with a tough problem, that doesn’t have an immediately apparent solution, they are willing to push through and figure out how to solve it. And sadly, a lot of students aren’t like this. A friend of mine named Matt is a web developer at a pretty big company and this company values this solution finding mindset so much that they have a rule for people who get stuck on problems. They call it the 15-Minute Rule. Essentially, if an employee gets stuck on a problem, they have to spend 15 more minutes, working on that problem before they’re allowed to ask for help. And during that time, they have to document everything they do and write down what didn’t work so that way when they do ask for help, they’re able to give context to the person who’s helping them.
Additionally, once they hit that 15 minute mark, they must ask for help. And this rule creates a nice balance. It makes them be independent and solve problems on their own but also ensures that they’re not being so stubborn that they never ask for help and that ensures that they’re not wasting the companies time. And adopting this rule actually proved very useful to you as a student because if you’re willing to solve problems independently, you’re going to solve a lot of them that you would’ve originally asked for help on and if you do have to ask for help, you’re going to show your teacher that you take the problems seriously and that you’re not just crying out for help the moment things get tough.
Habit number four is to start actively building relationships with your teachers, with your professors and with other faculty members at your school or university. When you do this, you start to build a network of people who aren’t just in your immediate age group or at your same level of progression. And it also has a couple of other very good benefits.
Number one, these people are gonna be able to tell you about opportunities that you would’ve otherwise missed and if you ever happen to need a letter of recommendation for a job application or a scholarship, those are gonna be the people who you can go to because now they know you and they trust you and they’re gonna be willing to do it. And you probably shouldn’t ask for recommendation from your roommate Jimmy. So, how do you start building this network? Well a great first step comes at the beginning of a new semester. Go up to the teacher at the end of each class, introduce yourself briefly, shake their hand and just tell them you’re excited to be there. That makes a really great first impression. Additionally in your free time, if you happen to come across like an article, that you think one of your professors would be interested in, email them that article. Just say hey, I read this and I thought of you.
I remember back in 2011, I was taking my first marketing class in college and this was right around the time that Val was getting ready to release Portal Two and they did something really weird with the marketing for Portal Two. They had this weird, convoluted game set-up where people could buy games on the steam and play lots and lots of hours in those games and that would all contribute to making Portal Two release a couple of days early. So essentially, they found a way to let all these other games that weren’t selling all that well, ride the coat tails of this big anticipated game and I thought that was a brilliant marketing strategy. So I found an article about it, I sent it to my marketing professor and said, “I think you’d be interested in this.” and the next week he actually talked about it in class. So doing that definitely helped to build that relationship.
The fifth habit is that successful students are always trying to learn outside of class. They’re trying to learn from a variety of different sources and they are branching out into different areas that aren’t on their narrow major path. And I think this is really important to do. Because once you start getting interested in a variety of different subjects and you start dabbling in different areas, you start to build this diverse web of connections in your brain, that allows you to be more creative in your main work. Plus when you take just a little bit of time to branch out from your major path. You might stumble onto something that actually proves to be a huge boon to your future career prospects.
One great example is my best friend Martin. He’s always been really interested in language learning but he majored in MIS in college but that didn’t stop him from creating a blog all about how to learn new languages and that actually got him some recognition in the language learning community. He was actually on a list of language learning experts pretty recently. Not to mention, the experience he got building that website actually lead directly to him getting hired at a web development agency in our city right after graduating, who usually didn’t like to hire recent graduates. Because he had a lot of experience that most people didn’t have.
Constantly be keeping your ear to the ground for opportunities. Here’s the thing, when your in school or especially when your in college and university, there are a ton of opportunities around you. But you have to be willing to look for them and to know where to look. One great thing to do is to be keeping your eye out for bulletin boards around your campus or in your school because a lot of opportunities are gonna be posted as fliers on those bulletin boards.
Additionally, follow your schools’ social media accounts. And I’m not just talkin about the main social media account. Follow your professors and your teachers. Follow departments that you’re a part of. Because a lot of these departments and professors, they’re gonna post opportunities that they think their students would be good fits for. And this habit is actually directly related to how I got my first internship, because I was following my schools career center on Twitter and they posted a tweet about a big company in our area that was putting on this freshman leadership seminar. So I saw the tweet, I signed up, I got accepted and at that event I met a mentor who was instrumental in getting me hired at that internship.
The seventh habit is that successful students put a lot of effort into keeping themselves both physically and mentally fit. When you’re a student whose ambitious, there’s often this general mindset that you should be spending all of your time studying or pursuing opportunities and when a lot of students do this, they often let their nutrition habits, their exercise habits, and their sleep go by the wayside. And what’s worse, they’ll often work themselves to the point where they mentally burn out or they become depressed or have a lot of anxiety.
And the sad things is, when they’re letting their physical and mental health go by the way side, they aren’t able to perform in the things that they really want to do in the first place and truly successful students know this, which is why they make time for exercise. They make time for making good healthy meals or getting them at the dining center and they also get enough sleep every single night. One little side note that I’ll make here; successful students are willing to ask for help if they need it. If they’re dealing with mental burn out or anxiety or depression. They will go ask a professional if they can’t deal with those issues themselves.
And that brings us to the final habit on the list. Successful students try things before they think they’re ready. I wanna underline this idea with something that Neil Pasricha talks about in his book, The Happiness Equation.
In the book, he talks about how people generally approach new
skills or challenges and how they do it in a linear way. They feel like they have to be able to do it first and then they’ll want to do it and finally they’ll do it. But when you think this way, you never actually get to do the thing, because you never gained the skills to do it in the first place. So, Neil encourages you to take that linear model and make it circular. Do, which leads to can do, because you’re gaining skills through doing. That leads to want to do and the circle repeats and enforces itself. Plus you’re often much more qualified than you think you are.
A lot of students and a lot of people in general deal with Imposter Syndrome, they think, who am I to do this, I don’t have a certification. I don’t have a qualification. But in many cases, you don’t need it. I’ll give ya an example. When I was a freshman in college, I really wanted to join a club on campus called, Business Council. These were basically like the leaders of the business school at the university but they had a rule, they only let people in who were sophomores and above. Very rarely would they make an exception for a freshman.
So what did I think? I didn’t think, I’m just gonna wait. I’m just gonna you know, wait till I’m a sophomore. I thought, I’m going to apply because what’s the worst that’s gonna happen? They’re gonna reject me and I’ll try again next semester. So I applied, I put my best foot forward and I got accepted. And what’s more, during my first semester as a member, I also got elected to the leadership board. So if something seems exciting to you, but it also seems a little scary, try it anyway because that is what successful students do. That brings us to the end of my list.