New Year is a time to set new resolutions and goals, but what should young people be focussing on?
I would suggest that there are some basic habits that our students should try to develop to help set them up for a successful year. These could include: sleep, diet, electronic devices/social media, enrichment and study.
The key with habits is actually turning them into habits. Once a habit is formed it becomes much easier to stick to. It can take anything from 18 to over 200 days to form a habit, with an average being 66 days, some research suggests.
To help develop a habit it might be useful to think of it in three parts: the cue, the behaviour and the reward. The cue is what triggers the habit. This could be simply walking into your home at the end of a day, it could be a break in a TV programme, meeting a friend, anything. The behaviour is the thing you actually want to do and the reward could simply be the feeling of satisfaction of achieving what you wanted or a treat.
Recognising these stages will help us to make habits or even break bad habits.
As the habit is formed, the reward becomes less necessary and the habit becomes automatic. This is where we want to get to.
Sleep is incredibly important. It allows the brain to transfer short term memory into longer term memory, it allows the body to repair itself and also affects how we function the next day.
A lack of sleep affects the brain’s ability to process information and how we respond to situations. Our emotional responses and empathy towards others deteriorates quickly with a lack of sleep. The impact of lack of sleep on a student’s day at school is significant.
It has been suggested that teenages need nine hours of good quality sleep each night.
Young people should aim to develop evening routines which will help trigger the body to prepare for sleep.
Electronic devices/social media
Social media can have many positive impacts such as the discovery of new ideas, development of social skills, attainment of a sense of identity, etc. However, it also has the potential to impact on mental health with feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. Many sites which are image based potentially give rise to unachievable expectations in terms of “success” and body image.
We should try to encourage young people to gain a sense of perspective and consider how much time they are spending using social media. Turning off social media and electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime will allow them to relax, disengage and reduce the effects of blue light on sleep.
Joining a club, volunteering or developing a new hobby will help to develop new skills and provide a break from study. We often find that our most successful students are also involved in additional activities which develop their character. These activities develop skills such as organisation, planning, time-management and social skills. They also develop dispositions such as resilience, caring, motivation and curiosity, all of which will be highly useful throughout life.