Back to School: How to Be Prepared

It’s that time of year already! Whether you’re ready or not, summer break is over and school has started. Since going back to school is often a bit scary, we want to help prepare you to crush this school year!

How to prepare for going back to school?

So, how can you ready yourself mentally and physically for a new, successful school year?

Get enough sleep.

Sometimes we underestimate the value of sleep but sleep has effects on performance. It involves a range of complex functions associated with memory, the ability to learn, brain development, immune functioning, etc. So try to sleep at least eight to nine hours every night. While this might not always be realistic, do try to respect your sleep schedule!

Prepare everything you need the day before.

Pack your bag and choose your clothes the day before, so you don’t have to worry about it next morning and won’t have to rush. You’ll have time to think about the things you want to do that day, have breakfast, and get ready on time.

Be there 15 minutes early.

And while we’re talking about time… Don’t be late! It’s an annoying habit and you know that. The best way not to be late is to get to school 15 minutes early every day.

Study routine.

Establish your studying/homework routine. This will help you concentrate, memorize, and recall information faster and more effectively.

Be organized.

Write down all your due dates on a calendar template and review it daily as a study guide. Make a plan for how you’ll achieve everything you want to and stick to it. This helps with focusing time and energy on tasks you need to complete, and you can track your progress and make adjustments as necessary.

Planner and a yellow marker pen

It’s okay to be afraid

Have you had negative thoughts – for example, of having a test you didn’t study for that are coming back all over again? Do you have trouble falling asleep or you’re waking up frequently during the night? What about nightmares? Maybe you have none of these symptoms, but you still feel school-related nervousness.  However, there are ways to beat it!

Remember you’re not alone.

Many students feel that way and have the same worries that you do. It’s not unusual to experience some anxiety facing the new school year, even more so if you’re moving up to middle school, high school, or college. These “big changes”can be really difficult, but certainly manageable.

Don’t forget to breathe.

If you feel very anxious and don’t know what to do or how to stop it, just breathe. Try to find a place where you can be alone, close your eyes, and breathe slowly. Here’s a good exercise that is called 4 7 8 breathing:

  1. For 4 seconds inhale silently through your nose.
  2. Then, count to seven as you hold your breath.
  3. Next, exhale completely through your mouth for eight seconds.

You can also use this exercise if you have trouble falling asleep.

Talk about it.

Sometimes the best way to face a fear is to say it out loud. So if you have any fear, or you feel nervous, anxious, and/or sad, share it. Share your feelings and your fears with someone you’re close to. For example, a friend is a good choice – they might be feeling the same way and you can talk it through together.

However, if you have trouble adapting to school for more than the first week or two and it’s affecting your everyday life, talk with your family and friends and consider asking for help.

School is cool

Even though you’re a bit nervous and a little bit fearful facing a new school year, you can also look forward to some great new experiences. These are a few reasons why School is Cool.

  1.      New people.

The new school year is a good chance to meet new people! Why is that so good? Those people may become your friends (or a crush, right?).

  1.      Friends.

Seeing classmates after a few months is great, isn’t it? You can finally hug them and talk about how you spent your summer break and what’s new. Friends are also a great support that all of us need from time to time. Even if you experience some anxiety in social situations, you now have a fresh chance to make connections and to work on maintaining a sense of calm while joining in new experiences.

  1.      New, interesting things to learn.

There’s plenty of new things to learn and you may be surprised by what you’ll find to interest you! Also, there’s a wide variety of opportunities available for you at school which may be beneficial in your future career. Leadership in a student organization is a good example of that.

  1.      Extracurricular activities.

Have you already found your favorite one? If you did, congratulations! Keep doing a great job! However, if you didn’t, here’s a chance to try different extracurricular activities and find out what you like and what your passion is. There are many benefits to joining a choir or a basketball team. Also, you can meet new people and learn many interesting things there!

Is Playing Video Games Good or Bad for Children?

“You know what’s really exciting about video games is you don’t just interact with the game physically—you’re not just moving your hand on a joystick, but you’re asked to interact with the game psychologically and emotionally as well. You’re not just watching the characters on screen; you’re becoming those characters.” – Nina Huntemann, Game Over

Video games have become an integral part of popular culture, as well as one of the largest industries in the United States. They are a topic of extensive discussion, especially in the media. For more than a decade now, a vast majority of children in the United States engage in playing video games during childhood. Results of a nationally representative study of U.S. teenagers show us that 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games [1].

Most young kids see video games as a social activity, rather than an isolating one, and they believe video games are a great way to spend time with their peers or even make new friends. While children often don’t see anything wrong with their engagement in video games, and like them because they are fun, exciting, and challenging, parents may worry about the potential negative effects they may have. Some parents may prefer that their children invest their time in other activities out of concern that video games could encourage violence and procrastination, which in turn could lead to neglect of school commitments, and even the development of addiction. In the aftermath of a violent incident or a display of antisocial behavior, the media often links the behavior to video-game use, and paints them as the cause, sometimes regardless of any correlation, which is why parents in turn focus more attention on the potential dangers of video games rather than their benefits. In this way, media can add fuel to the fire without really tackling the issue, leading parents to forget that games are today a normal part of modern childhood and to start believing their children shouldn’t be playing games at all, which can create conflict between them.

On the flip side, some psychologists suggest that video games can actually have many benefits, especially bearing in mind that “the nature of these games has changed dramatically in the last decade, becoming increasingly complex, diverse, realistic, and social in nature” [1, 2]. So, in order to understand the impact video games have on children’s development, we need to look at both the positive and the negative effects of these games.

Benefits of Video Games

Problem solving and decision-making skills

Games usually include some puzzles or other problem situations that players need to solve in order to get to the next level. Playing a game such as The Incredible Machine, Machinarium, Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, makes for an excellent workout for children’s minds as they have to use their logic skills and creativity in order to achieve a goal; they have to search, plan, and experiment with different approaches in order to solve puzzles and deal with other problems. Some scientists believe that video games could be used as training tools to develop quicker decision-making. They showed that video-games players had heightened sensitivity towards their environment and were able to make correct decisions more quickly than people who didn’t play games [3].

Hand-eye coordination, fine motor and spatial skills

Some games require the real-world players to keep track of the position of a character, where they are heading and at what speed, at the same time as they must keep an eye on diverse stimuli. The player has to take into account all these factors and then coordinate the brain’s interpretation with the movement of his hands. In order to accomplish all of this, the player requires a great deal of eye-hand coordination and the utilization of visual-spatial ability. Research suggests that people who play video games have better visual-spatial attention skills and are more successful in visual processing of images than non-gamers [5,6]. Meta-analysis studies show that, by playing video games, spatial skills can be acquired in a relatively short time, and that the results are often comparable to formal training designed to enhance the same skills [7]. This effect is well-known, as, nowadays, pilots and surgeons are being trained on video games (you can check out the game which is a validated training tool for laparoscopic motor skills, right here).

Multitasking skills

Being able to effectively and quickly switch between two or more tasks is an important skill in life. It’s been suggested that video games may enhance one’s ability to apprehend and track many shifting variables and manage multiple objectives. Some researchers report that children who played video games performed significantly better compared to other children on a version of the multiple-object tracking task [4]. This multitasking ability can especially be seen in strategy games where a player must take care of lots of different buildings and units and can encounter many unexpected surprises, which forces them to be flexible and change tactics quickly and accordingly.

Negative Effects of Video Games on Children

Aggression in Children

It’s a widespread concern that violent video games promote aggression, reduce prosocial behavior, increase impulsivity, and have a negative effect on children’s mood. Parents are afraid that this is yet another form of media, besides TV shows, movies, comics, etc., where children can encounter violence daily and become desensitized to it. By now, much research has been conducted showing that playing violent video games increases aggression in children, leading to a lack of empathy and prosocial behavior [8]. These studies are usually conducted by having children play an aggressive game (e.g. Grand Theft Auto) and assessing their aggression afterwards. On the other hand, there is also a lot of research that provided evidence of video games having only immediate and short-term effects on aggression, or even that they have the opposite effect – they make children less aggressive, and that, in the long term, video games are not promoting or causing aggression in players in their offline lives [9].

It is still unclear if playing aggressive games really does cause the player to become aggressive. Some would argue that it’s not that games that are making people aggressive, it’s just that gamers who already have aggressive tendencies are more attracted to these kinds of games. If you’re a parent and you have a concern that your child is showing aggressive behavior and is unwilling to talk to you about it, you might want to consider talking with a parent with a similar problem, or even try to find someone who has expertise in the subject.

Gaming Addiction

There is no doubt that video games can indeed be highly addictive, as they can lead to behavioral dependency characterized by an excessive or compulsive use of computer or video games, which can interfere with one’s everyday life.

While it may be controversial, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” as a disorder in June, 2018. In order for a diagnosis to be assigned, the behavioral pattern should be evident over a period of at least 12 months, and should result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other areas of functioning. Gaming Disorder is manifested by [10]:

  1. Impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
  2. Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
  3. Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences

On the other hand, the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to determine whether the condition is a unique mental disorder, but they are subjecting gaming to further research (along with caffeine-use disorder and several others) [11].

We can also talk about the consequences that investing too much time in playing games can have on some of the important aspects of children’s lives.

Poor academic performance. This is one of the negative consequences of extended and reckless engagement in video games. As with any activity, if children are devoting a lot of their time to playing video games, their school performance can be affected as they’ll have less time for their school obligations. There’s an obvious correlation between these two.

Adverse effects on health. Video games also have an indirect effect on physical health, if children are choosing video games over physical activity (here you can read our take on why children should take up sports). Children who are too invested in games can easily skip meals or even sleep in order to play the games they like.

What’s the Verdict? Are Video Games Good or Bad?

Video games are neither good nor bad. Technically, video games are just games with a visual component, and can be more social and distracting due to constant availability. They can be used as powerful teaching and skill-honing tools but can also be over-used and have an overwhelming effect on a child’s life if they frequently get angry and frustrated while playing games. It all comes down to appropriate and moderate use. Video games are fun and can sometimes enrich a person’s life and create happiness, but they shouldn’t be used as a substitute for living your own life outside a video game.

Young children especially have problems with this line, so parents need to help them by providing understanding, support, and guidance while also imposing rules when necessary. We’ll now take a look at just how parents can help children maximize the benefits of video games while minimizing their potential harm.

Parents as Mediators in Children’s Gaming Life

– Take the time to get to know your children’s habits around video games, but also do the research and know about the content and rating of the video games they play. Try talking with them about their feelings and observations about the games they play in order to understand what drives them to play them.

– Set limits on how long and how often your children can play games, and make sure they do it in their spare time, after finishing their homework or chores around the house. Monitor your child’s video game consumption while also showing respect and a willingness to understand their playing time. Modern online games often don’t have a pause button, and currently many popular games are matches played with other people, in real time. So try talking with your child to set up more appropriate restrictions; for example, it might be more appropriate to make a deal and say “1 game” instead of “30 minutes”.

– Find a game you can play together, as this can be a good bonding activity for the whole family. If they know more about a particular game than you, you can act as their pupil and see how good they are in the role of teacher. Here you can find some games to play with children of different ages.

– Try to use video games to increase children’s school engagement by motivating them to learn through games. There is a large number of educational games to choose from which can help with learning, math, history, etc. Having fun while studying makes children persistent and less likely to quit, as some video games are capable of making difficult subjects fun and easy to understand. If you’re unsure about mixing technology and education, you should definitely read our article on this subject.

– If you’re afraid that your child is addicted to playing video games, try to help them recognize their compulsive behavior. Encourage them not to feel guilty or ashamed and be patient with them. If you have trouble communicating how you feel about them excessively playing games, don’t be embarrassed or scared to ask for help. Here on Nobel Coaching & Tutoring, we have amazing Coaches who can help you with this.

References:

  1. Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66.
  2. Ferguson, C. J., & Olson, C. K. (2013). Friends, fun, frustration and fantasy: Child motivations for video game play. Motivation and Emotion, 37(1), 154-164.
  3. Green, C. S., Pouget, A., & Bavelier, D. (2010). Improved probabilistic inference as a general learning mechanism with action video games. Current Biology, 20(17), 1573-1579.
  4. Trick, L. M., Jaspers-Fayer, F., & Sethi, N. (2005). Multiple-object tracking in children: The “Catch the Spies” task. Cognitive Development, 20(3), 373-387.
  5. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2006). Effect of action video games on the spatial distribution of visuospatial attention. Journal of experimental psychology: Human perception and performance, 32(6), 1465.
  6. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2007). Action-video-game experience alters the spatial resolution of vision. Psychological science, 18(1), 88-94.
  7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201402/are-there-benefits-in-playing-video-games
  8. Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., … & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151.
  9. Kühn, S., Kugler, D. T., Schmalen, K., Weichenberger, M., Witt, C., & Gallinat, J. (2018). Does playing violent video games cause aggression? A longitudinal intervention study. Molecular psychiatry, 1.
  10. https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/1448597234
  11. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/internet-gaming

Mindfulness While Studying

As we have written before, there are plenty of proven benefits to mindfulness – that state of active consciousness and open attention, reached through the process of meditation – especially for students and learners.  Not only can meditation and meditative thinking help with stress reduction, but practicing being in the moment can greatly improve focus and productivity.

However, mindfulness is not just meditation – it’s a process to reach a state of present mind through an entire mindset that can include meditation, breathing practices, mind exercises, and habit-releasers (everyday tasks “meant to reveal and break open some of our most unaware life patterns of thought and behaviour” [1]).

Because of this complexity, you should not expect instant benefits from just a few mindfulness practices. In their book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Danny Penman and Mark Williams suggest an eight-week program through which you change your day-to-day life and thoughts gradually over a course of two months for best mindfulness effect.

However, if this seems too much for you, if you’re not really sure it can help you, or you need an “instant fix” because your exams are almost upon you, we’ve chosen a few practices that will help you during studying itself. These small exercises, meditations, and habit-releasers are meant to improve focus, stop negative thoughts that interrupt your work, and help you stay in the moment, consciously going through the study material.

So, who knows – after these, maybe you’ll be convinced that the eight-week program is worth it!

Cutting down the frustration and impatience

We all have those moments when we can’t seem to concentrate and our study progress seems minimal. The usual reaction is to get frustrated and get caught in a thought loop – being frustrated by lack of productivity, then being frustrated because we’re frustrated by it, therefore wasting more time and…. well, you get the point.

That’s why the point of this exercise is to let go of that anger and frustration and gain control over your emotions simply by realizing they are there and that they are normal. If you rationalize your emotions, chances are they aren’t going to stand in your way that much while studying, so you can concentrate better on the mental process.

When you find yourself tangled up in anger, do a quick check-up and ask yourself

  • What is going through my mind?
  • What sensations are there in my body?
  • What emotional reactions and impulses am I aware of?

Then, try to allow frustration to be present without trying to make it go away. Stand tall. Breathe. Allow yourself to feel. Accept that this, too, is a moment in your life.

You might not instantly stop being frustrated, but the point of mindfulness is not to ignore unpleasant feelings, rather to accept them. This way, you can stop obsessing over trying to change them and focus more on why you’re feeling that way, and getting on with the task at hand.

Body and brain connection

If you find your body restless and fidgety, showing signs of nervousness (twitching, legs jumping, heart racing…) it might be an indication that your mind’s stress is showing up physically and you need to concentrate on calming the body-brain connection.

With these few tricks you can focus on your physical processes, soothe your nervousness, and prepare your body for studying, by connecting it fully to the brain and mind processes, while being in the best possible physical position for concentrating.

There’s no point in continuing to study while you’re not focused, so take a short break. Before you say that you have no time for breaks, think if it’s more beneficial to do unproductive work and waste time, or to take a short 15-minute break, and then continue working with full focus.

The first thing you can do is “ground” yourself. This means doing a meditation that is designed to settle your body as well as your brain. One useful method is body-scan meditation, which pays attention to all the parts of your body, relaxing them and learning to let go. If your body relaxes, you’ll be in better posture to study and focus, relaxing your brain as well.

You can also try grounding yourself by changing your position to a more meditative one. Perhaps you can try moving into a yoga position and doing a short breathing exercise. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you, and then, slowly, move your right foot to the left thigh. Do the same with the left foot. Try to move your feet as close to the base of the thighs as you can and do everything very slowly, thinking about each move [2]. When you’re in this posture, breathe slowly and focus on movements of the body. If it’s comfortable, you can even try reading in this position.

The second thing you can do is go for a meditative walk, lasting somewhere between fifteen and thirty minutes. You don’t have to go anywhere special, just walk around your neighborhood, paying extra attention to details you haven’t noticed before – small things, like the birds or leaves on the trees. The walk doesn’t even have to take place in nature – you can go out in the city to walk and just look up at the facades of the buildings you’ve never noticed before. The point is to be mindful of your surroundings, to focus on details and to see new things, or even familiar ones in a different light. Stop by that tree you always pass by and think about its texture, its colors and its scent. Are there any birds in it? Inwardly name every color you see on it, touch the texture of the wood and tell yourself how it feels. While you’re walking, pay attention to your whole body – how it moves whenever you take a step, what muscles do the work, and which stay still, what sensations you feel, how the floor feels, what your legs do, etc.

This whole exercise will help you move your muscles while walking, but also transfer your focus onto  your surroundings and away from your physical nervousness. The huge thing is that it is also good for practicing focus, so once you’re back at your books, you might notice that you look at the information in front of you in a new light.

Finally, doing a simple yoga routine can also help. There are plenty of videos with practices online, so you can try them out.

And remember…

Don’t be too harsh with yourself and accept your limits. Take a break if things are not working and exercise your focus whenever you can.

The key to meditation as well as the whole mindfulness program is not “not thinking” – it is simply being aware of your thoughts and channeling them properly. Guided meditation says that if you notice your thoughts flying away, don’t scold yourself; that is what minds do.

 

[1]   Penman, D. and Williams, M. 2011. Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Pennsylvania: Rodale Books.

[2] Wills, P. and Gimbel, T. 1992. 16 Steps to Health and Energy: A Program of Color and Visual Meditation, Movement and Chakra Balance. Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications.

Jon Kabat-Zinn. 2005. Wherever You Go, There You Are. New York: Hachette Book.

 

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The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: You Create Your Future

If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right. – Henry Ford

Have you ever studied for a test and thought to yourself: This is too difficult, I’m not going to pass this test and exactly that happened – you failed? In that moment, you probably concluded you were right. But why was it that your prediction was proven correct? The answer to that question is the self-fulfilling prophecy.

What is the self-fulfilling prophecy?

A self-fulfilling prophecy is simply the physical outcome of a situation being influenced by our thinking. It can be both positive and negative [2, 3]. This phenomenon describes how our identity shapes how we act and communicate. We’ll explain it this way…

Studying for the test

Let’s say a student is facing that test we mentioned. He’s anxious and is convinced he’s destined to fail. So he spends more time worrying than studying. He may also procrastinate – hang out, watch movies, text, etc. Yet he probably thinks he studied the whole day. He does poorly in the exam, a consequence of the negative thinking that interfered with his studying – thus, a self-fulfilling prophecy..

So, now let’s imagine the same test scenario, but this time the student predicts he’s going to pass the test with flying colors. He’s really focused on studying, puts in the necessary effort, and doesn’t procrastinate.  He may even ask a friend for help if he needs it. He passes the test and gets an A!  Here we have a different thinking pattern, with consequent actions and a positive outcome.

These may be extreme examples, but each reflects the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy. So now we can see that a self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction or expectation that comes true simply because one acts as if it were true [1]. However, not only do we ourselves buy into the expectation that makes us act in a certain way, so do the people with whom we communicate.

The self-fulfilling-prophecy cycle

Have you ever been invited to a party you didn’t want to go to because you expected to have a terrible time? If you were, is it possible that your prediction of having a very bad time increased the likelihood of its occurrence?

Imagine this prophecy as a cycle with five basic steps [1]:

  1. You form expectations of yourself, others, or events – for example, you may think – Emma won’t like me.
  2. You express those expectations verbally or nonverbally – so I`ll keep my distance from her.
  3. Others adjust their behavior and communication to match your messages – Emma thinks you’re convinced that you`re superior and decided not to talk to you.
  4. Your expectations become reality – you may conclude that Emma actually doesn’t like you.
  5. The confirmation strengthens your belief – every time you see Emma, you’re reminded that she doesn’t like you.

Feeling bad and unlikable is an unwelcome outcome, but it doesn’t have to be like this! More positive beliefs that lead to different behaviors could bring about the desired outcome.

Now, let’s imagine a positive self-fulfilling-prophecy cycle. You can’t wait to go to a friend’s party. There is Emma and you hope she’ll like you. When you see her, you approach her and make small talk. Emma is having fun and thinks that you’re interesting. You see that she likes you and you’ll be happy to meet up with her again.

How to break the cycle of the negative self-fulfilling prophecy

The cycle of the self-fulfilling prophecy frequently has an unfavorable outcome, but that isn’t always the case. Some people use it to their own advantage [2, 3]. Here are some ways to break a negative, vicious cycle and create a positive one.

Be aware of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now that you know how our expectations can impact our behavior and that of those around us, you should keep that in mind in both your self-talk and when you talk to others.

Change your beliefs.

You are your own ego breaker or maker. Break with old ways of thinking and update the way you think about yourself. Replace negative self-talk and upsetting mental pictures with objectively more accurate expectations. Practice your positive self-talk, be optimistic about yourself and your performance!

Work on your self-esteem.

When we have low self-esteem we may have lower expectations than what is reasonable. If we think we’ll fail, it might seem outlandish to believe we could pass a test, but that’s exactly why we need to adjust our thinking. Focus on who you want to be/what you want to do, and not on your current expectations.

Fake it.

In the beginning, if you’re struggling with negative thoughts, just fake it – fake it until you make it. As you practice positive thinking, your behavior will change as well. Remember that making this change may be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean you’re being less yourself. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing –  you’re just adjusting your behavior to match your values.

Change your language.

Try to avoid using absolute words such as never, always, I can`t, and hate. Vicious cycles usually include those words. Instead, replace them with neutral or positive words and phrases, such as I`ll give it my best. Thus, instead of thinking negative thoughts, say to yourself I can do this.

Surround yourself with people who believe in you.

How others treat us influences the person we think we are. Choose the people you surround yourself with. Over time, they will convince you and a magical process of fulfilling these expectations will be launched.

Take your time.

Changing your thought patterns is a process which takes a lot of time, consistency, and persistence. Be patient with yourself! When you recognize an unproductive thought pattern, stop, re-group, and begin again.

References:

[1] Gamble, T. K., & Gamble, M. W. (2013). Interpersonal communication: Building connections together. Sage Publications.

[2] Merton, R. K. (1948). The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. The Antioch Review,8(2), 193-208. doi:10.2307/4609267

[3] Merton, R. K (1968). Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.

 

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Choosing Your Future Self: How to Decide which Career is Right for You

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We all heard this question when we were kids. Back then, we’d say things like – Astronaut! or Dinosaur finder! or Pilot! When we’re that young, we don’t think about any obstacles we might face, such as student loans, the effort it will take, or the kind of money we’ll make. We simply follow our passion and believe nothing will stop us from succeeding.

Then, as we move through adolescence, we start questioning everything, including ourselves. “What am I good at?” “What do I value?” and, finally, the big question: “What do I want to do for the rest of my life?”

This article is here to guide you towards choosing the best path for yourself, whether you’re approaching college, you’re still a few years from it, or if you’re wondering about your true calling.

We’ll start with a couple of stumbling blocks people tend to come up against as they try to figure out what it is they want to do in life. After listing each, we’ll offer some tips to help you get past them.

Gender Stereotypes

If you’re a boy, you might be dreaming of playing soccer professionally, or being a programmer. If you are a girl, though, the picture is very different – you might want to become a nurse or a teacher. Although we’re living in the 21st century, there’s still a lot of imbalance when it comes to gender. Certain jobs are still looked upon as masculine – programming being the clearest example, while many jobs involving direct communication with people (and especially children) are considered feminine [1]. So from a very early age, grownups tend to tell us that males are naturally inclined towards sports and math, while girls are more attuned to taking care of others. Due to this imbalance, if you’re a girl but feel that programming is your passion, the people around you might not be understanding of it. Similarly, if your dream is to become a teacher but you’re a boy, the adults in your life (and even your peers) might poke fun at you instead of supporting you.

What’s the solution here? Ask yourself – “What’s more important to me, following my heart and my passion or letting others put obstacles in my way?”  To help inspire you, here’s a list of five brilliant female programmers. We need to be aware of stereotypes in order to break them. So the next time someone mentions that coding isn’t for girls, show them this list – they might realize they’re being foolish.  And, guys, if you’re told dancing is for girls, draw their attention to one of these men – it might change their minds!

Passion vs. Ability – I Want vs. I Can

Some of you might be really passionate about something, but feel like you’re lacking the ability necessary to master it and work in that field. The harsh truth is that just because we’re interested in something doesn’t mean learning it will come easily. It will, however, mean that you’ll have a lot more motivation to study it until you perfect it. Take me for example: I really, really wanted to major in psychology. Despite that, it took me six months to prepare 250 pages for the test. Meanwhile, my friend studied it for two weeks and managed to get a better result than me! But fast forward five years, I graduated with an average grade of 3.56 – and all because I was so passionate about it that I decided I would study as much as necessary to graduate.

Some other (research-based) good news is – you’ll do as well as you believe you will do. In psychology, there’s something called self-efficacy beliefs [1]. Those are the beliefs you have about your own ability to succeed in a certain area, and studies show that those beliefs do not have to correspond to your actual abilities! It means that your C’s in science might be the result of test anxiety or low self-esteem more than your actual ability. If you make yourself believe that you won’t get a good grade, you’re blocking yourself from giving 100% effort.

But there’s even better news! People whose self-efficacy beliefs are higher than their actual efficacy tend to perform better than we’d expect based on their abilities only. So, as cheesy as it sounds, science says that if you believe in yourself, your results will be better than if you doubt yourself all the time. The conclusion here is: follow your passion and believe in yourself, because it will give you a lot of motivation to put in the necessary effort. And never forget – effort is what counts in the end!

I Haven’t The Slightest Idea What I Want To Do

Explore! [3][4]. There are jobs out there that you wouldn’t believe are real. We tend to think in terms of what we’re most familiar with, so you might be thinking: I don’t want to be a businessman, an engineer, or a doctor, so what can I be? For starters, here’s a list of a huge number of professions you can choose from. You can also talk to your school counselor. They can point you in the right direction to help you discover what kind of job would best fit you.

If that helps narrow it down, great! But if you still have some doubts, try picturing your ideal self 20 years from now. Imagine your average day. You’re waking up. What does your bedroom look like? What do you eat for breakfast? Do you have a family? How many people are there? As you’re preparing to go to work, what are you wearing and where are you going? Are you sitting at home, preparing to open a laptop, or are you going towards your car to drive to your personal office on the 20th floor? Imagining your future helps you discover thoughts, ideas, and wishes you didn’t know you had, because you were too busy worrying and wondering.

The final step is to put it all together. What kind of job are you doing in the future to allow you to have the life you just imagined? The answer to this question – or something similar (check out the list again), might be the best possible profession for you.

I Have More Than One Passion

Quite the opposite from the last issue we discussed, in this scenario the problem is having too many options. We wouldn’t say it’s a problem so much as a blessing! You’re a lively, interested person and you want to live life to the fullest. The good thing is, you can – without needing to have three majors. We live in a time when everything is easily accessible to everyone. Follow the advice from the last section to choose which profession interests you the most. And now that you have your major, there’s no reason to focus on that alone. You can always find a course (physical or online), read books, or find apps that can help you learn a lot about your second (or even third) choice. When I was 17, I wanted to major in psychology – but then again, I always wanted to study languages, too! After a month or so of going back and forth, I decided to major in psychology while studying languages in my free time. Today, I want to thank Duolingo for teaching me Spanish, German, and a couple of greetings in Scandinavian languages.

The Most Important Advice

We’ve mentioned this already, but the best thing you can do to decide on your future is explore! Find books about professions that interest you, attend lectures, find Youtube videos, ask people around you who are happy with their professions what helped them choose. It’s a difficult thing – suddenly deciding what you want to be in a couple of years. Just keep these things in mind: explore, follow your passion, think about your values and what kind of job fits them best. And if you have an issue that we haven’t mentioned here, feel free to book a free consultation with one of our Coaches – they’ll be sure to help put your mind at ease!

 

References:

  1. Brown, D. (2002). Career Choice and Development. Published By Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Company, 989 Market Street, San Francisco.
  2. Dick, T. & Rallis, S. (1991). Factors and Influences on High School Students’ Career Choices. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education,  Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 281-292
  3. Gati, I. & Saka, N. (2001). High-School Students’ Career-Related Decision Making  Difficulties. Journal of Counseling and Development, Vol. 79, pp. 331-340.
  4. Hirschi, A., & Läge, D. (2007). The Relation of Secondary Student’s Career Choice Readiness to a Six-Phase Model of Career Decision-Making. Journal of Career Development, Vol. 34, No.2, pp.164-191

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Where’s My Motivation? How to Motivate Yourself to Study

Motivation used to be easier to find when there was no internet to abet our procrastination, don’t you think?  We Millennials and Generation Zs have been dealing with two big issues for quite some time now. And through no fault of our own! How are we supposed to resist the perks of modern times? These two very related issues are, as you might have guessed already, beating procrastination and finding motivation. These terms might sound like synonyms, but the truth is you can beat procrastination by forcing yourself to do something without necessarily seeing the point of it. Finding the motivation for it, however, will make you into a much better learner. A person who’s motivated will learn more and understand the material much better than someone who has no idea why they’re studying, but is convincing themselves they should.

Let’s define procrastination as “the lack or absence of self-regulated performance and the tendency to put off or completely avoid an activity under one’s control” [4]. In other words – you’re able to do something – finish your homework, prepare for an exam, or simply clean your room. You know you should definitely do it – but you’re avoiding doing it for different reasons that we’ll talk about later. On the other hand, motivation is “the force that drives a person to engage in activities” [2] – aka, your strongest weapon when it comes to overcoming procrastination.

Now, an article titled “How to Motivate Yourself to Study” might sound like the magic solution to procrastination: (“You mean, I’m finally going to stop checking Instagram instead of writing that essay?!”)

Alas, there aren’t any magic solutions, but what I can offer you here are some tips to first recognize what exactly is making your motivation so low and then how you can try to best solve the problem according to your own individual personality.

So, if you’re determined to overcome your procrastination through some reading and planning, you’ve come to the right place.

Why, Oh Why, Am I Procrastinating?

In order to answer this all-important question, let’s first discuss why people study to begin with.

There are a couple of different goals that people hope to achieve through studying. Some have a mastery-approach goal orientation [1]. This means that they study because they find the topic interesting and they want to learn as much as possible about it. These people often experience the state of flow – the feeling of being so interested in an activity that you lose track of time, space, and your mother calling you to dinner for the third time in the last five minutes.

Others have a different idea and thus foster a performance-approach goal orientation [8]. They may not be interested in the topic itself, but they like to shine in front of others – they want to show off their ability and results.

Now, both of these approaches are positive as they’ll ensure that you’ll have the necessary motivation to study. However, with the first one, people tend to enjoy the process of studying, while the second one may produce anxiety [5]. We’ll come back to that later, but first, let’s talk about some of the more negative approaches to studying.

Where The Dark Approaches Dwell

Some students nurture avoidance orientation, and that’s where procrastination comes knocking. Whether it’s about mastery-avoidance or performance-avoidance, the idea is similar: avoid accomplishing too little – failing (which can sometimes be avoided in ways other than studying extensively), or avoid spending a lot of time studying only to realize you haven’t learned as much as you wanted to [8]. These students have a fear of failure that can produce two different (both negative) outcomes – anxiety and self-handicapping.

Some will try their best not to fail, being anxious and fearful all the time, checking their notebook in the middle of the night because they believe they’ve skipped over something and they won’t succeed on their test.

Others will fear failure so much that they’ll resort to self-handicapping [8]. They set up external barriers for themselves as justifications for failing. If you’re this kind of student, your thought process will go something along the lines of: “I’ll definitely fail. But if I fail due to the lack of ability or effort, I’ll be so ashamed and everyone will be disappointed in me. However, if I fail because the tasks were too difficult or because the teacher just doesn’t like me, or because I’m bothered by the constant chatter in the library when I try to study, it’s not up to me, right? And if it’s not my fault, I’ll feel much better about it.”

Now that we understand motivation and procrastination a little bit better, let’s go to everyone’s favorite part: tips on how to overcome it!

Finding Your Ideal Approach

In order to increase our motivation, it’s sometimes necessary to take a look at our reasons for procrastinating.  We’re going to list a couple of common reasons for the lack of motivation, and after each, some questions you can ask yourself in order to determine whether that’s the cause of your procrastination. Next will be some tips on how to overcome those specific issues. Buckle up, procrastinators, here we go!

  1. My fear of failure gives me anxiety. (Am I afraid of failing?  Do I get anxious when I study?)

Being anxious is no walk in the park. However, to a certain degree, anxiety can be motivational; we call this type facilitating anxiety [3]. If you think “I don’t want to fail, I’d better start studying!”, that’s not a bad start to having healthy motivation. But the other type – debilitating anxiety – is the one that troubles many students [3]. The thought process here is different: “I’m going to fail. I don’t understand anything, I don’t know anything, I’m a good-for-nothing failure!” Such thinking makes it difficult to focus on the human anatomy or Einstein’s laws of physics, doesn’t it?

The root of these thoughts are the avoidance approaches we mentioned before. Instead of trying not to fail, you should decide to try to achieve something. The stakes are higher, sure, but the results – and the process itself – are going to make your life a lot easier. So the next time you recognize those debilitating thoughts, get out a piece of paper right there and then and write down three goals for your study sessions. Make them both short-term and long-term, and, most importantly, make them sound positive. For example, write down: “Read 20 pages by 8pm today, finish chapter 3 by 7pm tomorrow, go over it once more by Wednesday at 7pm.” Then get some rest the day before the exam – go for coffee with friends or finish that comic book you never have time for. The important thing is: make your goals as measurable and clear as possible [4]. Focusing on your goals instead of the outcomes may make your life a bit easier.

If you do suffer from debilitating anxiety and don’t think you can deal with it alone, talk to someone. You can even schedule a free consultation with one of our Coaches.

  1. “I just don’t have it in me. I’ll never understand math.” (Do I believe that I’m not capable of understanding this subject no matter how much I study?)

This was me in high school (guilty as charged!) until I came to the quite reasonable realization that different people are talented in different things. As for me, I always did well in physics, but simply couldn’t understand the logic of math. How did I get through it? By understanding that just because I’ll need three weeks to prepare for my math exam and that other kid from class will only need three days doesn’t make me stupid or a failure – it simply proves that we’re not all built the same.

Most people have a certain self-serving bias wherein they believe that successes come from inside them, while something outside of them is to blame for their failures [2]. This is why we tend to say that we got an A in history because we studied, but got an F in math because the exam was too difficult [1] [6]. This way we protect the positive image we have about ourselves, but we lose any and all motivation to study certain subjects.

Now let’s imagine you spend the next three weeks preparing for that test instead of giving up right away. Two things could happen: you could succeed, or you could fail. If you succeed, imagine the pride you’ll feel for, essentially, being better than your past self. And if you fail, you’ll know you gave it your all, and you can’t really blame yourself for not being talented in everything, right?

But to be fair, whenever I spent that much time preparing for math exams that I “just didn’t get”, I never once failed them – not because I discovered some hidden talent for math, but because effort is what counts in the end. And there’s also something called self-efficacy beliefs: it turns out that we can do much more if we believe we’re capable of doing it [6].

  1. Nothing interests me. (Do I find anything interesting at all when it comes to this subject?)

This is a tough one. As we mentioned before, having an interest in something makes it a lot easier to sit down and study. But all is not lost! If you lack interest inside yourself, you need to find it outside of yourself. Do you like to brag and be the best? Use that to make the subject more interesting for yourself. If that doesn’t interest you either, we have something else in mind for you, which is:

Find your routine.

Nothing kills motivation faster than having no plan whatsoever [3]. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll study as soon as you finish watching that video, isn’t it? But if you have a whole day planned: what time you get up, what time you exercise, what time you study – postponing things becomes a little bit more difficult. To make the plan even more bulletproof, use one of our previous tips: set clear and measurable goals. That way, if you’ve been on Facebook for 15 minutes while your “read 20 pages” time is getting shorter, you might start feeling a little bit guilty. If you don’t believe you’ve got that much self-discipline, ask someone to help you – like a motivation-buddy of sorts. Make sure they know your schedule and remind you to study. Better yet, you can study together: just make sure they’re not the procrastinating type! And while we’re on group sessions…

  1. I don’t have the discipline.”  (Do I believe that I can’t, for the life of me, convince myself to study for more than X minutes at a time?)

Good job on recognizing that – you’re on the right track! Now I’ll let you in on a secret not many people will tell you: having group study sessions doesn’t mean you’ll just be gossiping and wasting your time! Of course, you’ll need to find someone who’s not a procrastinator, and you’ll need to have a clear plan for studying, such as: finish 30 questions, have a 15-minute break. The thing is, some people find it easier to motivate themselves to study (alone), but others thrive in groups [7]. They find it easier to study if they can talk to people while they’re doing so; the sense of togetherness gives them motivation. It’s all about the learning style that fits you best.

I hope you found these tips useful! Once you discover how to motivate yourself, you’ll find many things much easier to tackle and will procrastinate less. And if you came to this article procrastinating, then I also hope you could recognize yourself in some of these thoughts and will be on your way to preparing for that exam. Good luck!

 

References:

 

  1.      Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement Goals in the Classroom: Students’ Learning Strategies and Motivation Processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 80, No.3, pp. 260-267.
  2.   Brownlow, S., & Reasinger, R.D. (2000). Putting off  Until Tomorrow What is Better Done Today: Academic Procrastination as a Function of Motivation Toward College Work. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, Vol. 15, No. 5, pp. 15-34.
  3.   Entwistle, N.J., Thompson, J. & Wilson, J.D. (1974). Motivation and Study Habits. Higher Education, Vol. 3, pp. 379-396.
  4.      Lee, E. (2005). The Relationship of Motivation and Flow Experience to Academic Procrastination in University Students. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, Vol. 166, No.1, pp. 5-14.
  5.      Linnenbrinck, E. (2005). The Dilemma of Performance-Approach Goals: The Use of Multiple Goal Contexts to Promote Students’ Motivation and Learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 97, No. 2, pp. 197-213.
  6.   Pajares, F. (1995). Self-Efficacy in Academic Settings. Paper presented at a symposium held during the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.
  7.   Weiler, A. (2004). Information-Seeking Behavior in Generation Y Students: Motivation, Critical Thinking, and Learning Theory. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp 46–53
  8.      Wolters, C. (2004). Advancing Achievement Goal Theory: Using Goal Structures and Goal Orientations to Predict Students’ Motivation, Cognition, and Achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 96, No. 2, pp. 236-250.

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When More Help is Needed

If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. – Mary Engelbreit

We all want to feel calm, contented, and joyful as much as possible in our daily lives, and most of us strive to capture those feelings by making choices that enhance our lives. There are times, though, when every one of us feels down, unhappy, sad, angry, anxious… These unwelcome feelings may last for hours, days, or even months.

Duration is not the only important criterion for seeking support. Another important factor is effort; some episodes are easier to overcome than others, which require more effort and energy. We manage to solve some situations ourselves, but there are some for which we may seek help from a close friend or a loved one. And then there are those particularly difficult times when we feel like we’ve tried everything we know how to do and the problem is not yet resolved, even with the help of people close to us.

So what then? Begin by answering these two questions:

Has something been bothering you for too long?

Does the feeling interfere with your daily life?

If the answer to at least one question is yes and if you’re struggling, seek additional help.

Although there are many ways we can help ourselves increase our own happiness and well being, sometimes it’s best to seek mental-health support from a trained professional.

Professional counseling

What is professional counseling?

It is a collaborative effort between the counselor and client [6]. Counselors work with clients on strategies to overcome the obstacles and personal challenges they’re facing. A counselor may help clients reach their mental health, wellness, education, and career goals. For example, they can help clients with making school choices, getting a relationship on the right track, recovering from trauma, reaching their full potential, and so much more [2].

What are the benefits of counseling?

A counselor may help clients deal with the specific problems that are bothering them. Also, a counselor may help clients work to achieve goals in school or college. Furthermore, clients may learn how to become aware of their decision-making tendencies and avoid making bad choices to prevent future problems. Another goal of counseling is to encourage wellness – the state of being in good health and well being, so you can find meaning and fulfillment in life [4].

Should you choose to seek help from a professional counselor, do not expect things to change too fast or too easily – counseling requires fairly intense desire, time, and effort commitments. The return on this commitment is worthwhile, though, and you should know that even the smallest step forward is getting you closer toward achieving your goal!

How can a counselor help?

Well, while it might seem “nice” for a counselor to give you advice on what to do, that answer might not be one that works for you [3]. And, let’s be real – how do we react when someone tells us what to do? Often, we react adversely immediately. A counselor helps you sort out your thoughts through active listening and specialized therapeutic techniques. Clients often find their own answers buried beneath the chatter in their brain.

Logically, the first step toward counseling is deciding to see a counselor. Still, many individuals who could benefit from counseling never seek the help they need [1]. So counseling suffers from one serious limitation: It can only help those who seek it out.

Barriers to seeking help

What prevents people from seeking help? Some of the key themes in the barriers young people identified were [5]:

  1.      Stigma

This is the most frequently reported of all the barriers. It includes public, perceived, and self-stigmatizing attitudes to mental issues. These create embarrassment and fear of being identified with a mental-health problem or seeking help for it. Also, young people are usually concerned about what others, including the counselor, might think of them if they were to seek help.

  1.      Difficulty identifying the extent of their distress or depression

Young people often don’t know how to identify when the difficulties they’re facing are beyond the “normal” response to stress. Also, some people are aware of their distress, but continuously alter their definition of “normal” distress to avoid seeking help.

  1.     Confidentiality and trust

A major concern for youth is a lack of trust with respect to the potential source of help. Concern about confidentiality and trust may also relate to stigma, where fear of a breach in confidentiality stems from the fear of stigma and embarrassment should peers and family find out that the young person had sought help.

  1.    Self-reliance

Studies show that adolescents and young adults prefer to rely on themselves rather than seek outside help for their problems. The act of asking for help from someone else is often seen as an indicator of weakness or incapability of dealing with problems in life.

Looking for a way to overcome these barriers and get the support you need? Nobel Coaching & Tutoring is a confidential, online coaching service that can help you find your own answers and teach the skills you need to become even more self-reliant. What is really good is that our coaches insist on a highly individualized approach. We all differ from one another and something that would be helpful for one person wouldn’t be for someone else. Find out what our coaches do and what our coaches can help you with at Nobel Coaching.

Resources:

[1] Andrews, G., Issakidis, C., & Carter, G. (2001). Shortfall in mental health service utilization. British Journal of Psychiatry, 179, 417–425.

[2] Counseling Awareness Month. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

https://www.counseling.org/counselorshelp

[3] Get help if you’re struggling. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from

http://www.actionforhappiness.org/take-action/get-help-if-youre-struggling

[4]  Gladding, S. T. (2012). Counseling: A comprehensive profession. Pearson Higher Ed.

[5] Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., & Christensen, H. (2010). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: A systematic review. BMC Psychiatry,10(1). doi:10.1186/1471-244x-10-113

[6] What is Professional Counseling? (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

https://www.counseling.org/aca-community/learn-about-counseling/what-is-counseling/overview

 

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How Do We Gain From Being Kind?

Kindness is one of those paradoxes – we become happier by making other people happier.

This sounds a little weird, right? Usually, when we think of being kind to someone, for example to a friend, we think how that friend can benefit from our actions. But we may also gain from being nice to others, too!

This article will show you the benefits of being kind and suggest some acts of kindness you can add to your daily life.

Benefits of being kind to others

There are many ways of being kind – you can donate, help, volunteer, or anything else that comes to your mind, but each one has benefits for you.

More happiness.

Acting kindly helps you relax and makes you feel good. It is shown that giving to others makes us happier [2]. We’re even happier when we’re buying things for others rather than buying things for ourselves. However, buying things for others is just one way to be kind – you can smile, pay a compliment, and much more.  For example, helping others elevates our mood, makes us happier and more optimistic. These feelings may last for days!

Fewer negative emotions.

In the same way that kindness elicits positive emotions, it reduces negative emotions [5]. If you are kind, you’ll feel less stress – you’re less likely to feel anger, sadness, or fear.

Better health.

Did you know that negative emotions are often harmful to health? Conversely, positive emotions are linked to better health. So kindness has its positive side effects on your health and well-being. It strengthens the immune system and enhances psychological and physical resilience. [5].

Better relationships.

People are drawn to others who are kind and look for this attribute in their romantic relationships and friendships [6]. If we think about this in a school context, it’s good to know that prosocial behavior boosts peer acceptance and popularity [3]. It also reduces the likelihood of being bullied.

Kindness is contagious.

Did you know that observers of a kind act may benefit, too? While witnessing a kind act, the watcher experiences a warm feeling, called elevation, which motivates them to behave positively and helpfully [1]. When you’re being nice to someone, you benefit not just the two of you; you help spread kindness. This way you influence the world for good! 

How to be kind to others?

Kindness doesn’t have to be about money – you can give your time or things you don’t use anymore, help someone, call or text others, etc. Think about what you’re comfortable doing, what is okay for you. Every smile, every thoughtful act counts!

Yet, sometimes it’s hard to start. It helps if you think about small kind acts and write down ideas that cross your mind. Think what could you do today, tomorrow, or on some special day. That way, you’ll more likely spot opportunities when they come up. You could also set out with the intention to perform a kind of act, like, “I’m not coming home until I’ve done something nice for someone else.” Intentional acts set the habit to see other opportunities in the future. Also, you can ask your friends or family members to join you. This way you can exchange ideas, do some things together, and support each other.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Hold a door open at a store for someone.

Share your lunch with a friend who forgot theirs.

Offer to help your younger siblings with their homework.

Tell your parents how much you love them.

Do a chore you usually don’t do.

Let somebody know you appreciate their help. Show appreciation of others in general.

Give an authentic compliment.

Say please, thank you, and sorry and really mean it.

Volunteer your time for a charity.

Be kind to yourself

Authentic kindness matters. Think about what you appreciate in others. Of course, don’t feel like you need to do more than you can do. Be kind to yourself too!

Being kind to yourself is equally important as being kind to others, sometimes even more so. However, experience suggests people are often much harsher and unkind toward themselves than they would ever be to others they cared about, or even to strangers [4]. But we all should be treated with kindness and caring and you need to treat yourself with the same compassion you extend to everyone else.
So, don’t forget – build a relationship with yourself, befriend yourself. Show kindness and understanding to yourself rather than harsh judgment and self-criticism, especially in instances of pain or failure.

References:

[1] Algoe, S. B., & Haidt, J. (2009). Witnessing excellence in action: The ‘other-praising’ emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration. The journal of positive psychology, 4(2), 105-127.

[2]  Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688.

[3]  Layous, K., Nelson, S. K., Oberle, E., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). Kindness counts: Prompting prosocial behavior in preadolescents boosts peer acceptance and well-being. PloS one, 7(12), e51380.

[4] Neff, K. (2003). Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself. Self & Identity, 2(2), 85.

[5] Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good. International Journal Of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.

[6] Sprecher, S., & Regan, P. C. (2002). Liking some things (in some people) more than others: Partner preferences in romantic relationships and friendships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19(4), 463-481.

 

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Why Teens and Alcohol Don’t Mix

Alcohol is cool!

People drink, it’s not a big deal.

Adults (my parents, siblings, coworkers, etc.) are drinking, so why shouldn’t I?

I only drink sometimes…

I only drink beer and wine.

Do you recognize some of these thoughts as yours? What do you think about drinking alcohol?

You’ve probably heard a lot about it from your friends, parents, favorite TV show, and on the internet. But that’s not enough when it comes to deciding what role alcohol should have in your life. It’s important to fully recognize its effects on your health and behavior. For that reason, we’re providing you with facts about underage drinking in this article, so you can decide to be healthy and happy.

Adolescent alcohol abuse in numbers

Drinking is illegal for youth under 21 in the United States. However, people aged 12-20 drink almost 20% of alcohol consumed in the United States and there are over 10.8 million underage drinkers! Further, when young people drink, they tend to drink heavily – underage drinkers consume on average four to five drinks per occasion about five times a month [2, 4].

Drinking too much and at too early an age, creates problems for teens, for the people around them, and for society as a whole.

Eight reasons why underage drinking is dangerous

The negative consequences of underage drinking include a range of physical, academic, and social problems [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

  1. Underage drinking is the number one cause of death among youth under 21 years.
  2. Drinking causes many injuries – there are more than 150,000 emergency-room visits each year by youth under the age of 21 for alcohol-related injuries.
  3. Alcohol abuse can have serious consequences on your health. It damages the heart, liver, pancreas, and other organs and leads to numerous problems with them. It increases the risk of developing cancer and dementia.
  4. Drinking alcohol is particularly harmful to teen development because it can cause significant cognitive or learning problems and make the brain more prone to alcohol dependence. This is especially a risk when people start drinking young and drink heavily.
  5. Drinking may cause students to have trouble in school. For example, kids who drink are more likely to get poor grades and often have problems with social integration.
  6. Persons under the effect of alcohol are more likely to engage in risky behavior and illegal activities. Drinking makes it harder to keep your wits about you and to avoid or react appropriately in “dangerous” situations.
  7. Underage youth who drink are more likely to carry out or be the victim of a physical or sexual assault after drinking than others their age who do not drink.
  8. People who start drinking in adolescence are at increased risk of having alcohol-related problems later in life.

Some people think that only drinking too much over a long period of time leads to these complications, but that’s not true. Sometimes drinking too much on a single occasion is enough to lead to serious consequences [1].

How to avoid drinking?

Okay, now you know reasons why you shouldn’t drink, but how to say no? Sometimes it’s not easy not to drink, especially at parties where your friends might pressure you to join them. There’s the fear that you might be left out. However, although you may feel pressure to drink, it’s your decision to drink or not. Make your choice and don’t let yourself be a victim of someone else’s behavior. Surround yourself with true friends. Would true friends make you do something that’s bad for you?

Here are some other ways to avoid drinking alcohol.

Prepare yourself.

Think about how you want to respond and behave. It’ll raise your confidence. It would also be helpful to share your thoughts with someone you trust.

Say no and let the person know you mean it.

Say it firmly and don’t make a big deal about it. Try to stand up straight and make eye contact. Keep your response short, clear, and simple – no, thank you. 

What should you do if the person persists?

If they’re pressuring you, repeat the same short response each time the person does this. If that doesn’t help, simply walk away.

Practice your “no”.

The first few times it may be difficult to say no. Because of that, try to imagine a situation where someone is offering you a drink. Think what that person might say and how you’d respond. Practice it out loud – for example, in front of a mirror. Another way is to ask someone you trust to role-play with you. That way you could experience real pressure and get feedback about your response.

Although there are many underage drinkers, remember most young people don’t drink alcohol and don’t support it. You are not alone in making this decision.

Why is this article written in April?

Did you know that April is Alcohol Awareness Month? Talk with your friends and family about drinking alcohol and its side effects. Help spread awareness. Also, Do you think that you or your friend has an alcohol problem? If that’s the case, don’t wait – get help. Reach out to a trusted adult!

Resources:

[1] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (U.S.). (2011). Beyond hangovers: Understanding alcohol’s impact your health. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

[2] Sommers, A. R., & Sundararaman, R. (2010). Alcohol use among youth. In Underage Drinking: Examining and Preventing Youth Use of Alcohol(pp. 9-22). New York: Nova Science.

[3] Taite, R., & Schraff, C. (2016, September 16). Here’s Why Your Brain Makes Quitting Drugs/Alcohol So Hard. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ending-addiction-good/201609/here-s-why-your-brain-makes-quitting-drugsalcohol-so-hard

[4] The Scope of the Problem. (2004). Alcohol Research & Health, 28(3), 111-120.

[5] Underage Drinking [Brochure]. (2017). Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/UnderageDrinking/Underage_Fact.pdf

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Body Image and Media Pressure

All of us feel insecure at times. And if you’re a teenager, witnessing your body changing seemingly overnight makes things even more difficult. You’re constantly bombarded by various media telling you what you should and shouldn’t look like, and making it seem as though attaining what they consider the ideal body is both easy and the most important thing you could do in your life.

By the end of this article, I hope to show you none of that is true.

What Is an Ideal Body, Anyway?

If you’re on Instagram, chances are you’ve come across InstaModels. They all have the same formula for success: an impossibly thin waist, a noticeable thigh gap, and a flat belly. When it comes to guys, they’re both thin and muscular – achieving even one of those is difficult, let alone both. And even if you aren’t on Instagram, you can see this type of vaunted body whenever you turn on TV. But that’s all for show – what happens behind the curtain?

First of all, most of the women you see in such media are more than 20% underweight, and the diagnostic criteria for anorexia is 15%. [1] You might have heard stories of models fasting for days before their shows, passing out, and some even dying. But despite all that, when asked about the perfect body, young girls tend to describe it as 5ft 7in., 100lbs. [1] Such a girl would be dangerously undernourished with serious risks to her health. So, why does it happen? Why does society teach us that we need to be unhealthy in order to be pretty?

It’s All about Money, Really

If you open up any women’s magazine, chances are this is what you’ll find:

  • A picture of a thin model/famous actress caught on the beach in her bikini
  • 10 ways to lose weight easily
  • 5 recipes for the best chocolate cake – in the whole universe!

Can you notice there’s something strange going on here?

The idea is, of course, to have everyone profit, everyone but women and young girls. Ideally, you’ll make this recipe, or at least get hungry looking at the photos; next, you’ll crave sweets and a few pounds will, naturally, follow; then, you’ll see images of underweight models and start feeling inadequate; finally, you’ll go on a diet, pay a gym membership, and/or start buying products aimed at helping you lose your perfectly normal weight in a matter of days.

This might sound like some anti-capitalist/feminist mumbo-jumbo, if it weren’t for the numbers. And the numbers say that models used to weigh 8% less than the average woman. And why not? They were putting a lot of thought into their looks, so that makes sense. But nowadays, models weigh 23% less than the average woman – most of them fulfilling the diagnostic criteria we cited for anorexia. [2]

But let’s not forget boys. There might not be as many magazines aimed at making them lose weight, but there are still publications like Men’s Health. Even though they talk about health, the stars on their covers almost always seem to have a perfect six pack, promoting equally unrealistic expectations. The message for readers here is that unless you’re all muscle, you’re not really healthy. That’s why boys who don’t match that unrealistic image might start feeling inadequate. [3]

So, if we’re aware of all that, why do we still let this happen?

Peers, Expectations, and the SuperPeer

Have you ever talked about appearance with your friends before? It doesn’t have to be weight – it could be makeup, clothes, or muscles. Have you ever bought a fashion or fitness magazine, or read an article online?  If so, it likely made it that much easier for you to internalize the societal norms and expectations of what you should look like. [3] [1] By continuously talking about it, looking at Instagram models and watching TV shows that depict only the fittest of characters, it’s easier to make ourselves believe that that is truly what we should look like, that it is the only way to feel and be perceived as beautiful!

Media, collectively, is the main culprit of all this, and that’s why we often refer to it as SuperPeer – it acts as a friend while feeding you these beliefs you start believing are your own. [2] For decades, it has made us compare ourselves with photoshopped images and makeup, believing it’s all natural. Unfortunately, we still do that today, and it’s getting more and more serious, especially for younger people.  Take Fijian girls for example. Prior to the introduction of American television, only 3% of them reported being dissatisfied with their bodies. Only two years after watching shows such as Beverly Hills 90210, 15% of them reported vomiting to control weight – clearly, a worrying outcome.  [2]

Is anything being done to counter these negative media effects?

Fortunately, things are already happening to raise awareness about these issues. For one, Dove is already renowned for its Real Beauty campaign, and there are many others that depict average bodies and present them as a source of confidence and uniqueness, rather than something to be ashamed of. Spain, France, Israel, and Italy all started banning models with a BMI under 18.5 from fashion shows, and require doctor’s certificates confirming their health. [4]

There’s a reason countries have begun to ban models with a BMI under 18.5, as medical experts agree that the BMI of a healthy body should be between 18.5 and 24.9. [5] If you would like to calculate yours, here’s how you do it.

Additionally, France recently introduced a new law forbidding digitally altered images to be presented as a natural look. This means that we’ll no longer be seeing perfectly photoshopped faces with no pores and acne in French magazines, and we’ll be getting used to seeing more bags under the eyes of their models. [4]  And, if we’re into comparing our bodies to those in media images, we’ll see average, healthy bodies (Dove) and unretouched faces with nothing but makeup on them (French publications).  How amazing is that?

How Can We Be Part of the Change?

It’s clear that Dove and also several countries are aware of these issues and are taking action to improve things. Given that media relies on its consumers (us), there is something each one of us can do to help change existing expectations. You probably have at least one social media account, so why not encourage and show support to your peers? Leave a nice comment on the photo of someone you think might be having issues with their body image and make their day! You get bonus points if you notice their photo is more about natural beauty and a healthy body, rather than filters and angles. We can change the world around us only if we act.

So instead of looking up to those who make us feel bad in our own skin, we should look for new role models who exhibit the character strengths and realistic and healthy body shapes that we most relate to. One of my personal favorites is the Netflix TV Show Drop Dead Diva. It stars the wonderful Brooke Elliott in the role of Jane, a plus-size lawyer, housing the soul of a deceased model. Long story short, one of the angels messed up, and now a previously weight-obsessed diva is resurrected in a body she used to see as ugly. But as her newly acquired time on Earth progresses, she (and her very thin friend) start to see things differently. Jane is eventually not ashamed anymore of eating doughnuts in front of people or wearing lovely dresses.  In some episodes, she even fights in court for women’s right to feel beautiful in their own bodies.

Surely there are more examples out there which provide more realistic role models. Is there a TV show or a movie you’d like to share with us? If so, we would appreciate it very much, as would anyone fighting their own insecurities!

We hope this has inspired you to talk about health, instead of looks, and to strive for being healthy and living a full life! And if you feel like you could use a talk about these kinds of issues, don’t hesitate to book a free consultation with one of our Coaches.

References:

 

  1. Clay, D., Vignoles, V., & Dittmar, H. (2005). Body Image and Self-Esteem Among Adolescent Girls: Testing the Influence of Sociocultural Factors. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 15(4), 451-477
  2. Hogan, M., & Strasburger, V. (2008). Body Image, Eating Disorders, and the Media. Adolescent Medicine, 19.
  3. Jones, D., Vigfusdottir, F., & Lee, Y. (2004). Body Image and the Appearance Culture Among Adolescent Girls and Boys: An Examination of Friend Conversations, Peer Criticism, Appearance Magazines, and the Internalization of Appearance Ideals. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 323-339
  4. http://www.euronews.com/2017/09/06/counties-fighting-underweight-modelling
  5. http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/nutrition/a-healthy-lifestyle/body-mass-index-bmi

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