4 Ways to Break Your Bad College Habits

Switching gears from college life – full of late nights, questionable eating habits, and procrastination – to the “real world” of postgrad life isn’t a seamless transition. In fact, it’s easy to carry all the bad habits that started in college with you into adulthood – I know I have. I’m embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve found myself camped out on the couch watching “The X-Files,” eating Nutella straight from the jar with a spoon, and looked up to realize it’s almost three in the morning.

If you’ve got early-morning obligations, this kind of lifestyle is going to leave you exhausted, lethargic, and feeling like you’re always playing catch-up. Here are a few ways to kick bad college habits and transition into something healthier.

1. Set a schedule

Honestly, the easiest way to fall out of bad habits is to fall into better ones. Getting a full-time job will mean that you have to adjust your sleep schedule – even if you’re prone to staying up late, your exhaustion will soon shift that schedule earlier. For those of you who work part-time or freelance (like me), this can be a little tougher. I’ve found that setting a “work” schedule anyway can really help. Get out of your apartment at a certain time to go work at the library or in a coffee shop, take walks, keep your calendar up-to-date, and use a note-taking system (I use OneNote) to stay on top of things like pitching or applying for jobs.

2. Learn how to cook

This is probably the biggest learning curve that I had to deal with after graduation. If you’ve been surviving off the school cafeteria – or containers of Easy Mac and grilled cheese sandwiches – it’s easy to just keep buying ramen, especially if you’ve got a busy job. Here’s what finally worked for me – planning my meals. It saves money, too (since you aren’t throwing away veggies you forgot you put in the crisper). Track down recipes that are simple to make – I use my stovetop and crock pot way more often than my oven – and make a list of ingredients you’ll need for the week’s recipes. You can even use the weekend to cook a huge bulk meal, then eat the leftovers throughout the week.

3. Get dressed

If you’ve got a full-time job, make sure you’re imitating the way the higher-ups in your workplace dress – you probably shouldn’t wear a three piece suit to a jeans-wearing startup, but dress professionally (or like they say, “dress for the job you want”). In every other situation, don’t let yourself lounge around in your pajamas. Follow through on your self care. Shower, make sure your hair isn’t a mess, and put on real clothes for the day – even just jeans and a T-shirt – and you’ll feel more productive.

4. Hold yourself accountable

Breaking habits is really hard, so sometimes it helps to get a friend involved, real-life or virtual. I have a friend who has to pay two of his friends if he hasn’t accomplished his weekly goals. There are plenty of software options you can install on your computer, too, to make sure you go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Leave yourself reminders on post-its or as calendar alerts – it might feel silly, but I’ve got periodic alerts for things like “take your medicine” and “go over your financials.” No one comes out of college being instantly able to remember every item on their to-do list, so give yourself some grace – and some help.

And if you still have nights you need to order takeout, and you still have days you just want to wear pajamas, that’s okay, too. You’ve just embarked upon an entirely new stage of life, which is exciting, a little scary, and wide-open to possibilities. So, be gentle with yourself – it’s a process.

Originally published on May 16, 2018.

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Kristen O'Neal is an NYC-based writer, believer, and crow-lover. She's written for publications like NYCgo, LitHub, Relevant Magazine, and Birth.Movies.Death - you can find her at Kristenonealwrites.com.