We often think that having a successful college career has to come at a price. A collegiette who performs well and is a top student must be unhappy because she puts everything into her work, right? Wrong! We don’t mean to sound cheesy, but you really can have it all. In fact, happiness in your personal life and your success in school can even be related! So take it from us, you don’t have to choose one over the other.
We caught up with a few collegiettes and got the scoop on habits that keep them on the track to success but also help them find happiness in their personal lives. We also spoke with psychiatrist Dr. Roy Stefanik and certified nutrition specialist Susan Holmberg for some professional tips, so if you want to have a stellar school year, check out these worthwhile pointers.
1. Schedule weekly friend time
When all of your friends have such busy and differing schedules, it’s easy to neglect hanging out on a regular basis. Sit down with your roommates or closest friends and decide on a time each week to meet up and do something fun—even if that means just getting into your pajamas and catching up on Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
University of Ottawa sophomore Sarah Khalid and her roommates dedicate time each week to do one of many fun activities they have up their sleeves. “Once a week we cook dinner together,” she says. “We also get together to go on walks or to just grab a cup of frozen yogurt.”
Once you make a weekly commitment to spend time with one another, make sure you stick to the plan! Since it’s easy to brush off a froyo date, go the extra step to ensure that everyone shows up. Send a group text the day of reminding everyone, or write a note on a Post-it and stick it on the front door of your suite. If you choose an activity that involves tickets, like movies, buy them ahead of time so you’re less likely to back out at the last minute.
2. Give your parents a call once in a while
Many of us are utterly thrilled to be rid of Mom and Dad’s rules when we leave for college, but that doesn’t mean you should cut them out of your life completely! If you haven’t already, make a habit of talking to your parents on a regular basis (and by that we mean more than just a quick text asking them to send you money!).
“I talk to my parents regularly; it can be really helpful and comforting for me at times,” says Judith Eng, a senior at Barnard College. “Whenever I have a dilemma, they give me advice, and even if I don’t take it, I’m glad to hear it.”
Chatting with your parents will not only give them the peace of mind that you’re doing okay, but it can help them help you with what’s going on in your own life. If you’re struggling with a certain professor or you have something else to vent about, your parents can offer good insight and are almost guaranteed to be great listeners.
Even if you don’t tell them if something’s wrong, when you call them instead of just texting, they usually realize something is bothering you and will try to help you. “It’s good for them to hear your voice, because parents will often pick up on stress levels or emotions that can go undetected in electronic contact,” Dr. Stefanik says.
Of course, you shouldn’t only call them when you have a problem—your dad will appreciate when you call to let him know you’ve aced a test, and your mom would probably love to hear about your amazing shopping finds from last weekend. Plus, it’s also an opportunity for you to learn news about how things are going at home!
3. Constantly motivate yourself
Self-motivation is way easier said than done, but luckily, there are various ways to go about it. One way is to print out inspirational quotes and hang them up on your walls. If phrases you find motivational are hung up in your room and you see them every day, they’re going to stick longer than one you briefly saw before scrolling through your Pinterest feed.
Find a quote from your favorite role model and write it on your mirror in lipstick. As you look into it every morning before you leave, you’ll see that Gandhi quote about kindness, and hopefully it’ll be in the back of your mind throughout the day.
If you’re more interested in tangible ways of motivating yourself, consider writing down goals, whether they pertain to school, your career or general habits. You want to create goals that are realistic (like allowing yourself one junk-food day per week or spending one less hour on Facebook each day) so you can actually see results.
If you set really big goals, you may not get results right away, and that may detract you from setting goals in the future. Track your successes on paper so you can look back on your progress. When it comes to more behavioral targets like losing weight or improving sleep habits, “it’s best to set incremental goals,” Dr. Stefanik says. “Making small changes at a time can increase your likelihood of success dramatically.”
4. Allot yourself some “me time”
In an episode of MTV’s The City, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg said: “The most important relationship in your life is the [one] you have with yourself.” Her token of wisdom is so true! And just like the relationships you have with others, your relationship with yourself needs consistent maintenance. Hanging out with your besties has its benefits, but sometimes you need to just do you, whether it’s by trying a new recipe or getting cozy and reading a book.
“Personally, alone time reading a book that’s not required for school helps,” says Claudia Dimuro, a senior at New York University.
Dr. Stefanik says, “Reading for leisure can be an effective use of alone time. It’s better to read books and magazines that support healthier lifestyles than ones that encourage self-loathing.” So instead of picking up a mag whose cover evaluates celebs’ beach bodies, opt for a novel that offers a strong female protagonist.
There are countless activities besides reading that you can pursue that will make you feel productive, whether it’s starting that DIY jewelry project you bookmarked weeks ago, going to your local art museum to check out the new photography exhibit or writing a good, old-fashioned letter to a friend.
Exercise has its obvious benefits relating to your physical well-being, but it will also put you in a good place from a mental standpoint. Like Elle Woods said, “Exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy!”
“[Endorphins] have a calming characteristic that leave you in an awfully good mood post-workout,” Holmberg says.
Morgan Dux, a senior at Juniata College, sticks to a regimen of three workout days per week. “It definitely helps me stay sane and benefits my overall well-being,” she says. “I try to work out primarily outside. I feel much more relaxed and refreshed after an outdoor workout, even if it’s cold outside.”
The best time of day to work out or where you do it depends completely on you, Holmberg says. “For some, the gym can have many negative connotations; you may feel self-conscious or you may feel like you have to compete with others,” she says. “Those who enjoy the gym may feel incentivized by exercising alongside others, and that’s why they may prefer it.”
So, if you have a complete aversion to the gym (you’re not alone if you do!), take a jog or even just a walk on a scenic route through your campus. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore your campus or town all while attaining the same level of accomplishment you might feel exercising indoors.
6. Unplug every once in a while
With your cell phone buzzing every five minutes and your email inbox getting flooded with messages from professors, it’s no wonder you’re on the verge of insanity! Even if it’s just once a week, devote at least half an hour to eliminating the use of all electronic devices from your life. Turn off your cell, take out your earbuds, shut down your iPad. With your newfound free time, find something fun to do, like organizing your shoe collection or taking a bubble bath. In fact, your time to unplug can be channeled into a new weekly activity.
“[A] habit I started in college and carried on into [life after college] was taking an hour on Sunday afternoon, turning off my electronics and doing my nails,” says Chantalle Brown, a Purdue University graduate. “It’s a great way to relax, doesn’t cost a ton of money and guarantees that your nails will look great each week — the only struggle is choosing the right color!”
Aside from giving you time to your nails, you’ll find that occasionally tuning out will improve your life in other ways. Our gadgets become huge distractions. Detaching yourself from them for even a short period of time will better your focus and enable you to think more clearly. Plus, your tired thumbs and otherwise strained eyes will thank you!
7. Use a planner
Since you’re on your own in college, time management becomes a key skill you either learn to refine or struggle with. Don’t underestimate the power of a planner, because it can solve many potential problems before they even happen. Aside from being pretty to look at, a planner will help you prioritize everything on your agenda from that weekly Skype date with your SO to the office hours appointment with your professor. Many of us make the effort of buying a planner but then become flaky when it comes to recording tasks and or checking it regularly, so make it your job to be consistent. Force yourself to write down new commitments the second you become aware of them, and keep tabs on what you have on your plate each morning after waking up.
Sarah Engstrand, a recent graduate of the University of St Andrews, says she survived college thanks to her planner. “Every single thing had to be written down, and if it wasn’t, it didn’t exist [in my mind],” she says. “It helped to have a planner with a monthly and daily view so I could see what was coming up.”
With the school year getting into swing, now is the best time to start looking for a new planner. There are so many out there in different colors, patterns and formats, so you can definitely find one that fits your personality. The coolest ones have cute stickers that you can use to deck out your calendar pages in order to help you keep track of upcoming events or occasions.
At the end of the day, your own happiness is key. Once you find the best ways to reach and optimize it, you may realize that you’re already halfway closer to success, whether it involves your GPA or overall college goals.