Start a habit

how to be successful how to learn human anatomy medical school nursing student physiotherapy Oct 12, 2020

Start a Habit

A habit is a behaviour that you have repeated so many times that it becomes automatic. 

Habits can be actions such as brushing your teeth. There are several complex steps involved in this activity that you probably have not thought about in several years. In order to brush your teeth, you need a toothbrush and you need toothpaste. You then apply the toothpaste to the toothbrush and then you need to put the brush on your teeth and move your hand up and down so that the toothbrush actually cleans your teeth. This is an action that you have repeated so many times that you do not even need to think about each individual step, your brain knows what to do and it  just happens automatically. (which is probably a good thing because if you are anything like me, you will still be half asleep when you brush your teeth 😂) 

But habits can also be thoughts. For example the decision to brush your teeth in the first place is not one you think about – you just do it because you have done this so many times before.

Once you know this about a habit, just imagine how powerful this can be if you actively try and develop a positive habit that will improve your life in some way? Is there something that if you did automatically every day, would make you better?

Most people want to improve their lives in some way, such as lose weight, get fit or pass an exam. But so often they set themselves goals that are so different to their current way of living that it soon becomes a burden and is very difficult to stick to, so they give up. Instead, a different way of achieving a more realistic goal is to make one small change at a time. In his book ‘Atomic Habits’ James Clear, explains that if you changed 1% of something every day, then at the end of one year you would be 35 times better at it than you were at the start. That is a phenomenal improvement if you think about it.

I thought I would try this in my own life recently…. I have never been much good at waking up early, in fact I am totally hopeless at it. I would always stay up really late at night to study – often into the very early hours of the morning. This would mean that often in the morning I was in a rush to get ready for the day.

Since I had children, my morning routine was total chaos, as not only did I have to get myself ready but I had to get the kids ready and I often found that I was running round the house shouting at everyone – seriously I was like a mad yapping dog! The kids were upset that I was shouting at them and I would go to work feeling like the worst mother in the world.  It was not a great start to the day.

So, about 6 weeks ago I decided that I needed to make some changes. The first change I made was that I would get up one hour earlier at 6 o’clock. This might not sound a big deal to you, but for me this was monumental! The first few days were really tough, but I kept telling myself that I was doing this to be a better mum and that kept me going.  The following week I decided to make one more change – I would not look at my phone until we were all ready.

The result was unbelievable. I was much calmer as I had more time to get ready and I had not looked at any emails to distract me, so my full attention was on being more playful and fun. It also had a positive effect on the kids. They are much happier and I even get time to play a game with them before school – all because I made one tiny change to my routine. It has made me a much better mum and this is now a habit that I do not want to change. I am now a 'morning person!' (my parents would be laughing if they read this after all those years they spent trying to get me out of bed!)

It also made me wonder why on earth I had not made this decision years ago when I was at university. If I had made some small changes to my morning routine, my learning would have been more effective and I would have not have been in such a panic at exam time.

So now it’s your turn – how can you gear up for success? What habits can you develop to make sure you pass your exams? Let's start with 'what one small thing could you change in your morning routine'?

If you cannot think of anything – how about trying this 4-week plan? – See if you can  implement these changes to improve your learning.


  1. Week 1 – Wake up a little bit earlier than normal (whatever time that may be) and do not look at your phone or any social media for 1 hour when you get up. Once you look at your phone, your mind becomes distracted and involved in things other than yourself. I was amazed at just how much of a difference this made to my life when I just focussed on what I needed to do in the morning.


  1. Week 2 - Try and do some stretches (yoga really improves your mental wellbeing and concentration skills) or a brief meditation. To begin, just try it for 5 minutes. If you start with 20 minutes, and you are not used to it, this can be hard and you may give up – 5 minutes is very little time and more realistic, but it can still make a huge difference. This prepares your body and calms your brain so that you are prepared for the day. You can always increase your meditation time as you get better at it.


  1. Week 3 - Start planning your day. Most of us tend to go from one activity to the next without giving it too much thought, but if you prepare your brain for the day, you will be more productive. Read your end-goal of why you are studying anatomy and your manifesto to remind yourself of what you want to achieve and what is important to you, as this will keep you motivated. It is so important to have the long-term goal in sight and then focus on all the small steps you need to take to get yourself there


  1. Week 4 – To learn anatomy, spend 30 minutes reading some notes that you have made the day before so that your brain reinforces the knowledge. Just read through the bullet points and don’t get stuck in the details. Get used to seeing the words and look at the pictures.


Start each habit and keep repeating it so that just becomes part of who you are. This may seem like a lot to take on, but trust me, if you make one change at a time and stick with it, your learning will accelerate to another level. You will accomplish more than you normally would even before your usual day starts – and that will feel brilliant.

 The best sporting teams in the world have used this approach of marginal gains to achieve phenomenal success at the highest standards, so just imagine what this could do for you!

I would love to hear your experiences. Please get in touch and let me know which small change you are going to make in your routine and what impact it makes to your life.

Remember that small changes result in huge success!