10 Habits of a Successful Student

A good friend, who at the time was getting ready to start his second semester of college, asked me for some tips on how to be a better student. So I came up with this list of ten “habits” that I think a successful student might embody. My creating this list by no means warrants me a “successful” student, nor is this list intended to be exhaustive. I can only aspire to one day actualize many of these habits, but its nice to have this list as a reminder.

  1. THINK OF LEARNING LIKE INVESTING MONEY. Lets say you put $10,000 into a mutual fund on Jan. 1 of this year, and I put in only $1,000. Each month after that we both put in $1,000. By the time the year ends, you are not just going to have $9,000 more dollars than me. You are going to have exponentially more money than me because of compounding interest. Think of learning in a similar fashion. The more time you put in up front when it comes to learning a subject, the more knowledge that you will accumulate over time. OR, think of learning as a snowball effect. We are both on the top of a mountain. You have a snowball a foot-wide, I have one 3 inches-wide. We both push them down the snow-covered mountain. By the time they reach the bottom, yours wont just be 9 inches bigger; it will be massive in comparison to mine.
  2. SPEND AS MUCH TIME WITH THE CONTENT UP FRONT AS POSSIBLE. Meticulously read the table of contents of all assigned readings, and the first page of every single chapter before reading any specifics. Think about meta-concepts, such as how the book is organized, why its organized that way, and what the purpose of each chapter is. ALSO, spend a significant amount of time with the syllabus (assuming your teachers use a syllabus). Get in the teacher’s head, think about why he or she structures the class the way they do and what the main take-aways of the course are.
  3. SIT IN THE FRONT ROW OF EVERY CLASS. This will force you to pay more attention than if you were to sit in the back of the class.
  4. ESTABLISH A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TEACHER; VISIT THEM AFTER CLASS. The teacher is the teacher for a reason: she/he knows more than you. The more time you spend in their presence, asking questions, the more you will learn.
  5. TAKE NOTES. This sounds obvious, but let’s be real, humans are fallible creatures. We think our memory is precise, and always accurate. It’s not. We forget. A lot. Taking notes acts as the best counter I know to our forgetful tendencies.
  6. KNOWLEDGE IS WEIGHTLESS. There is no limit to how much you can carry. Don’t be afraid to feel hungry when it comes to learning.
  7. When you are assigned written assignments, DON’T BE AFRAID TO KILL YOUR BABIES. This is just a metaphorical way to say, edit, edit, edit. Your first draft of anything will never be your best. Send your writing to trusted friends, peers or the professor herself to revise, critique, and cut what is unnecessary.
  8. FIND A STUDY BUDDY OR STUDY GROUP. The writings of Epictetus, the father of Stoicism, are incredibly repetitive. Why? Because he believed repetition is essential to learning anything. Having a peer with whom you can discuss what you are studying in the classroom acts as positive reinforcement for your learning.
  9. ACTUALLY READ ALL ASSIGNED READINGS. This is just reinforcement for what you already know to be true. Do not assume that you can skate by without reading what your teacher assigns. Assume that there is a method to his/her madness (because if they are a good teacher, then there probably is a method!)
  10. HUMBLE YOURSELF. Anytime you start a new class, or a new concept, condition your mind to believe that you know absolutely nothing at all in regards to the subject at hand. Think: “I am a novice. I am an infant. All that I know is that I have a burning curiosity to know more.” This might be the most important of all habits.