8 Lessons In 8 Semesters: Lesson 4

8 Lessons In 8 Semesters

Diarmuid Brady


February 5, 2024

To make big improvements, focus on the basics.

💡  Have you ever tried to improve yourself using elaborate or esoteric changes?
       Were you satisfied with the results?
       Have you managed to stick with those changes?

This semester was pivotal. It was the final term before my grades factored into my final mark, and I was determined to be well-prepared. I wanted to avoid reaching my third year without a plan for improving my grades. I aimed to be ready, so I devised a plan: establish a consistent sleep routine, study hard, and train hard.

This plan didn’t work very well. It was hard to stick to. I was trying to improve everything all at once and as a result, I made an initial change but then quickly fell off. I felt tired during workouts, and my study sessions lacked productivity. I needed a better strategy. I hypothesised that making incremental habitual changes in sleep, exercise, nutrition, and study would collectively improve my overall grades. But I lacked the knowledge to implement these changes effectively and I needed help.

Having followed a few online coaches for some years, I got a lot of value from their philosophy and practical guidance on training and life. Consequently, I reached out to a strength coach and a nutritionist, shared my goals and sought their guidance.

Gradually, I introduced various changes. I tracked my sleep using an app, incorporated aids like a sleep mask and earplugs to ensure complete darkness and silence (two vital factors of sleep hygiene), put a wind-down routine in place between 9 pm and 10 pm to fall asleep faster, and began my morning with a walk.

In terms of nutrition, I planned meals weekly, cooked in bulk, tracked calories, ate more fruit and veg, increased my protein intake and drank around 2.8 litres daily (~40ml per kg bodyweight). I practised mindful eating with chocolate several times a week to improve my relationship with food. I prioritised stopping when I felt full instead of bingeing food.

On the exercise front, I structured two upper body, two lower body, and one full body mobility session weekly, and dedicated ten minutes daily to moving each joint.

Regarding study, I planned each week, chose a distraction-free study space, and focused on one topic at a time for two-hour blocks, aiming for three sessions per day (occasionally adjusting to four or two blocks depending on how I felt).

To unwind, I relaxed in the evenings with friends and made the most of the weekends by going on trips to explore new places.

Tackling two or three habits at a time over several weeks made the process less daunting. Seeking advice from my coaches when questions arose significantly eased the process and without them, I would have struggled to make the progress I did.

With the changes in place, I felt great physically, mentally, and emotionally. Notably, my sleep and nutrition improved substantially, boosting my overall energy levels. My training progressed remarkably, and my study sessions became highly productive. Most importantly, my average grade saw a 9% increase, which at the time, meant everything!

It became evident that improving an aspect of my life relied upon the basics. I hadn’t done anything crazy, I had simply adopted several small habit changes and sustained them over time.

If you want to improve your life, focus on making small changes that produce great returns. Often, the most impactful changes are basic and are observed over the long term, such as consistent darkness for your sleep, daily movement for your body or intense focus for your work. The real challenge lies in deciphering what you can adhere to consistency as part of your daily life.

Entering my third year, I felt ready. I had put in the work and it had paid off. While I maintained my class ranking, I believed I could do better. But you know what they say, “Man plans, and God laughs.” Join me next week to discover how my grand plan unfolded and whether I set the right goals in the first place.