The start of this new academic year is a great moment to turn over a new leaf. Like New Year’s Day and milestone birthdays, a new academic year offers a great incentive to break old habits and implement new strategies for success. With the smell of freshly printed class schedules and the allure of academic planners daring you to imagine how great you could be, there are a few things that you could keep in mind to make this year your best year yet.

First, take stock. Were you constantly pressed for time? Forgetting important dates? Could you have improved your marks if you took advantage of study groups and help from teachers and tutors earlier? Did you overcommit to extra-curricular activities? It is safe to say that a large chunk of your academic and personal struggles can be traced back to a few suspect habits. Take an honest look at last year’s performance and note the areas where you struggled the most and the habits that effectively held you back.

Secondly, remember that every habit has a trigger, inevitably an event or a feeling that sets you off. For some, the beginning of the end was the purchase of a Netflix subscription. For others, failing to compose a clear and detailed plan of action for the forthcoming weeks and months. Whatever the case, the result is often hours wasted with little accountability.

Take a look at your routines and find the triggers that result in you waking up late, failing to complete assignments on time, or always feeling like you are running just to stand still. Then switch the triggers. If you spend hours watching television at night before falling asleep late, move the television out of the bedroom and set yourself a bedtime. If you have a hard time telling your friends that you need or want to spend more time studying and less ‘chewing the fat’, change friends; I know, often easier said than done but at times necessary. If they are your friends, they will understand and support you.

Thirdly, as the old saying goes, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. The “new you” that you are looking for will not just magically manifest itself. You need a plan of action. Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). You know that academic calendar that you get every term but never use? Use it. If you are not really a paper calendar person, use the one on your phone to mark down important dates and set reminders for upcoming commitments.

Get in the habit of dedicating blocks of time to certain habits and make them sacrosanct. For example; the first fifteen minutes after you wake up could be dedicated to some physical fitness and meditation; the last half hour before bed could be reserved for getting ready for the next day. These blocks of time will become your new routine, will help you to create a productive lifestyle.

Finally, attaining and maintaining a positive mental state is a key component of success. If you are struggling, and not just with subjects, do not be afraid to reach out to members of your family, teachers, lecturers, tutors. You will probably be positively surprised – they could understand and be helpful. Remember, choosing to give the impression that all is well is akin to the myth that ostriches hide their heads in bushes or sand to make themselves inconspicuous. More often than not, challenges can only really be bested by confronting then head-on. This new academic year is your challenge. What are you going to do about it?

  • Dr Ambroz Neil is a coach and managing principal consultant at Alexander Partners,,