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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Are You a Visual or a Verbal Learner?

The presentation of information can often be more impactful than the content itself and is directly instrumental in its retention. During instruction and practice, students employ various learning styles. The term “learning styles” refers to the idea that different modes of instruction are more effective for different people. There are several different learning styles. If we take the way people receive information as a criterion, we have three common categories of learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. However, the most frequently used distinction is between visual and auditory (verbal), as those are the modes of instruction most commonly employed in schools. We shall address kinesthetic learning in future articles. The goal of this current article is to help you find out if you are a visual or a verbal learner.

What would you say if somebody asked you, Which presentation style do you prefer – pictures or words? By understanding what kind of learner (visual or a verbal learner) you are, you can gain a better perspective on how to implement these learning styles into your study techniques [1, 7].

Visual learners

I often think in mental pictures or images.

My powers of imagination are higher than average.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

If you agree with these statements, there’s a good chance you’re a visual learner [6].

Some students remember best what they see, so they prefer pictures, diagrams, flow charts, time lines, films, and demonstrations to access and understand new information. Sometimes they have trouble learning information presented through words. It is more effective for everyone to absorb information when it is presented both visually and verbally, but what if the lectures consist of speech only [3]?

Here are a few ways to help yourself if you are a visual learner:

  1. If the course material is predominantly verbal, try to find diagrams, schematics, photographs, flow charts, or any other visual representation. If you can’t find anything, try to make your own.
  2. Find videotapes, CDs, Youtube videos, or video podcasts about course material. You can ask your teacher to help you or consult a reference book.
  3. Make a concept map where you’ll list key points, enclose them in boxes or circles, and draw lines with arrows between concepts to show connections.
  4. Color-code your notes with a highlighter. You can choose different criteria for this – for example, everything related to one topic could be yellow. Stickers in different colors are also a great way to present the material so it suits you better.

Verbal learners

I can`t imagine thinking in terms of mental pictures.

I prefer to read instructions on how to do something rather than have someone show me.

I have better than average fluency in using words.

Do you think like this? Do you consider yourself a verbal learner [6]?

It seems that there are people who study better when the information is presented through words, by reading or listening. They prefer written or spoken explanations [3]. If this describes you and you’re struggling with learning or recalling the material, try these tips to make it easier for yourself:

  1. Write summaries or outlines of course material in your own words. By adapting the material, you will understand it better and could save yourself some time in the long run.
  2. Working in groups can be effective: you gain understanding of material by hearing classmates’ explanations and you learn even more when you do the explaining. Also, you don’t have to choose between friends and studying. You can have both!

If you are interested in knowing more about balancing between these two, read our article Balancing Homework And Friends After School [5].

  1. Use repetition as a study technique. It is most effective when there’s a short time interval between repetitions at the beginning and then you prolong it every time you successfully remember the lesson.
  2. Make associations of words or information that are hard to remember. For example, you can use some song lyrics as a memorization tool and link them with that information. This could be fun!

Why is it important?

Students who recognize their learning strengths (and limitations) have an advantage over those who don’t. They know how to help themselves, and when and how to seek help. Learning styles may affect learning and eventual outcomes [6]. Since teachers can`t take care of every individual’s needs and preferences, it helps if you know your own strengths. For example, although most students are visual learners, students in most college classes mainly listen to lectures and read material written on chalkboards and in textbooks and handouts. In that case, you can study the content using your preferred learning style, so that it is easier for you to understand and remember [3, 4].

Learning styles continuum

People sometimes think that you are either a visual or a verbal learner, but it’s more of a spectrum. The best way to understand this is to imagine it as a continuum, a line where on the left is 100% verbal learner and on the right is 100% visual learner. The trick is that neither one of them exist in real life – everyone is a combination of not only those two but many different learning styles [2].

What characterizes good learners is that they are capable of processing information presented either visually or verbally. This means you can enhance all your skills, not only your strengths!

As already mentioned, visual and verbal are not the only learning modes. People usually think in terms of visual and verbal learning styles only, so kinesthetic learners can be unfairly neglected. If you want to learn about kinesthetic and other types of learning styles, stay tuned – some of the following articles will deal with them.

Actively engaging in your education by understanding your learning preferences and supplementing material not presented in your preferred learning style will help you attain and retain the information you need to remember. If this is difficult for you, we have coaches and tutors who can help you assess and enhance your strengths, so you can be successful in any learning environment.

References:

[1] Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice., Learning and Skills Research Centre, London.

[2] Felder, R. (2011, March 25). Richard Felder on learning styles [Audio blog post]. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from http://onteachingonline.com/oto-4-richard-felder-on-learning-styles/

[3] Felder, R. M., & Soloman, B. A. (n.d.). Learning Styles and Strategies. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/ILSdir/styles.htm

[4] Franzoni, A. L., Assar, S., Defude, B., & Rojas, J. (2008, July). Student learning styles adaptation method based on teaching strategies and electronic media. In Advanced Learning Technologies, 2008. ICALT’08. Eighth IEEE International Conference on (pp. 778-782). IEEE.

[5] Jegdic, J. (2017, September 25). Retrieved from https://nobelcoaching.com/balance-homework-friends/

[6] Kirby, J. R., Moore, P. J., & Schofield, N. J. (1988). Verbal and visual learning styles. Contemporary Educational Psychology,13(2), 169-184. doi:10.1016/0361-476x(88)90017-3

[7] Pashler, H., Mcdaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning Styles. Psychological Science in the Public Interest,9(3), 105-119. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

 

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Healthy Self-Esteem – How to Build It?

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”Michel de Montaigne

Self-esteem is “how a person feels about him or herself, good or bad, and as manifested in a variety of ways, for example, in pride or shame, but especially in self-confidence” [6]. This feeling is related to a person’s judgments about their intellectual competence, social skills, appearance, physical coordination, etc [5].

How high is your self-esteem?

How people feel about themselves is on a fluid continuum that can range from low to high based on varying circumstances. Having low self-esteem means you may feel not good enough, as if no one likes you. Low self-esteem individuals are very self-critical. They often blame themselves for things that aren’t their fault. If someone compliments them for something they’ve done well, they don’t see the praise as reflective of any personal ability. They make things harder than they need to be. They’re usually shy and may have a fear of public speaking [4, 7, 8]. The anxiety that they won’t perform well leads them to avoid challenges and miss opportunities otherwise open to them, which only reinforces their negative feelings [2, 6].

Feelings of low self-esteem are rooted in a person’s own judgments of themselves. People’s beliefs about themselves, others, and the world around them are shaped during childhood, with parents clearly a vital influence (e.g. child-abusive parents) [5]. These beliefs can also be impacted by being treated poorly by meaningful others at any age.

If you tend to have lower self-esteem, these feelings might make it harder for you to live a fulfilled life. But low self-esteem isn’t something that you’re powerless to change. There are ways to help you build self-acceptance, self-love, and self-confidence, which will lead you to an easier, happier, and most importantly, a healthier life.

While people with low self-esteem are dissatisfied with themselves, suffer self-rejection, or even self-contempt, high self-esteem individuals consider themselves valuable and important. They are comfortable with themselves. When in the company of others, they socialize more easily and are resistant to peer pressure. Under stress, they’re able to handle negative emotions and overcome a problematic situation. They tend to surmount difficulties because they’re willing to attempt new tasks and challenges. Generally, high self-esteem contributes to feeling good and leads to greater happiness [2, 6, 9].

Is high self-esteem always beneficial?

One must take care not to go overboard on self importance. We should rather focus on the importance of balance. A healthy self-esteem is a balanced sense of self-esteem – judging that you are worthwhile and valuable.

High self-esteem is a heterogeneous category. It encompasses people who frankly accept their good qualities as well as narcissistic, defensive, and conceited individuals [2]. Persons with very high self-esteem may overly inflate the positive side of themselves. For example, when their ego is threatened, they risk making commitments that exceed their capabilities and preclude success [1]. It can also lead to increased sensitivity to negative feedback and make self-improvement difficult [3].

When we talk about high or low self-esteem, it sounds as though we have to choose which of these two categories we belong to. But you can have higher self-esteem in one area of your life and lower in another – one alone doesn’t define your whole character. Also, your goal shouldn’t be to be perfect, but healthier. Because of that, it’s much better to think about healthy self-esteem.

Six ways to improve your self-esteem

It can be difficult to break habits, so improving self-esteem takes time and persistence. But don’t give up! You deserve to accept and be comfortable with who you are. No person should be held back from reaching their full potential.

Use positive affirmations.

Positive affirmations may contribute to self-worth because they can gradually become true for you. Describe the way you would like to feel all the time. Say it out loud and frequently. However, in order for these affirmations to work, make sure you choose ones that are not too contrary to your beliefs!

Perfectionism is no good.

No one is perfect. Although it sounds weird, perfection couldn’t get you to where you really want to be. Embrace your imperfections. Stop being dissatisfied with what you’ve accomplished and your own performance. Instead of perfect, go with good enough. And let yourself make mistakes and fail. Sometimes you can learn more from failure than success. So be proud of what you’ve achieved, regardless of whether it looks small or big to you.

Recognize your strengths.

No one is good at everything and we’re all good at something (math, singing, or being a friend). Identify your strength and practice it more. You’ll demonstrate real ability and achievement to yourself. And because we tend to enjoy doing the things we’re good at, you’ll feel happier.

Set yourself a challenge.

Don’t let fear of failing make you stop trying new things. Go outside your comfort zone. Set yourself small goals like eat more veggies. Achieving them will help you feel better about yourself and motivate you to set even more goals.

Connect with people who love you.

If you spend time with people who treat you badly it’s easy to feel bad about yourself. Choose to spend less time with them and more time with people who love you and appreciate you, because they can help you challenge negative thinking. Ask them what they love about you and what are the things you’ve done right so you have a different, more positive view of yourself. Also, be willing to meet new people so that you can make new friends, even if it means trying new hobbies and stepping outside your comfort zone.

Be more compassionate towards yourself.

When frustration and embarrassment overwhelm you because you`ve failed to achieve a goal you set, don’t be too harsh on yourself. It’s a process, and you’ll need to adjust your goals along the way (and the goals should be about measurable things you can do, not outcomes). Imagine that a friend is in your situation and ask yourself What would I say to a dear friend? We often give far better advice to others than we do to ourselves. Direct those thoughts to yourself and change critical thoughts with self-compassion.

Remember, your self-esteem is fluid, so continue working to improve in these areas so that you can develop and maintain the healthy self-esteem you’re seeking. If you find it difficult, do not hesitate to contact us for more information about our coaching services.

References:

[1] Baumeister, R. F., Heatherton, T. F., & Tice, D. M. (1993). When ego threats lead to self-regulation failure: Negative consequences of high self-esteem. Journal of personality and social psychology, 64(1), 141.

[2] Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles?. Psychological science in the public interest, 4(1), 1-44.

[3] Brown, J. D. (2010). High self-esteem buffers negative feedback: Once more with feeling. Cognition and Emotion, 24(8), 1389-1404.

[4] Daly, J. A., Vangelisti, A. L., & Lawrence, S. G. (1989). Self-focused attention and public speaking anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences, 10(8), 903-913.

[5] Emler, N. (2002). The costs and causes of low self-esteem. Youth Studies Australia, 21(3), 45-48.

[6] Ferkany, M. (2008). The Educational Importance of Self‐Esteem. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 42(1), 119-132.

[7] Jovanovic, A. (2017, July 27) Retrieved from https://nobelcoaching.com/shyness-in-child-development/

[8] Nedeljković, J. (2018, January 29). Retrieved from https://nobelcoaching.com/public-speaking/

[9] Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. H. (2013). Know thyself and become what you are: A eudaimonic approach to psychological well-being. In The exploration of happiness (pp. 97-116). Springer, Dordrecht.

 

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Benefits and Risks of Social Media

Children nowadays have a way of connecting and interacting continuously with friends. They use various electronic gadgets, play games with people from other countries, have live face-to-face conversations via Skype, etc. It’s hard to even imagine a childhood without the internet and social media.

In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, 89% of teenagers reported using at least one social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. At that time, the most popular was Facebook, with 71% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 reported using it [1]. In a more recent study conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in December of 2016, Instagram and Snapchat led, with about 75% of teens reported using them, while Facebook usage declined slightly to 66%. However, the use of social media in general was on the rise, as 94% of teens age 13-17 reported using them [2].

 

Benefits of Social Media

1. Making Social Connections

Social media provide a convenient way for children to connect with their peers and keep in touch with friends they already spend time within the offline world. This mutual, constant availability can lead to the strengthening of these relationships – they have someone they can share their problems with and ask for advice, or just chat with if they’re feeling bored. Furthermore, they use social media to explore their interests and connect with their community, which helps them further develop existing relationships with like-minded peers. Researchers from the Netherlands found that children between the ages of 11 and 14 who use social media report a higher level of friendship quality. Even though this study focused on their version of Facebook, authors believe their findings can be generalized to users of other social media beyond the Netherlands [3].

Social media also makes it easier for children to make new friends, as they don’t have to deal with the stress that comes from meeting new people face-to-face. For example, they don’t have to worry about being faced with an awkward silence when they feel pressure to speak but aren’t quite sure what they should say next. Texting doesn’t always require an immediate response, so children with less confidence in their social skills can take the time to come up with an adequate answer and reply with less pressure than in a face-to-face situation. In a longitudinal study, researchers concluded that instant messaging increases the quality of existing friendships because adolescents feel less inhibited and disclose their inner thoughts and feelings to one another earlier on, which enhances the relationship [4].

One of the undisputable benefits of social media is the ability to overcome geographical barriers. Using social media to keep in touch with friends who live in a different city, state, or country is a great way of ensuring a relationship doesn’t suffer because of distance. Two kids from Argentina and Iceland can communicate online just as easily as two kids who live in the same neighborhood. And, social media can help bring together diverse groups of children. Having contact and communicating with children of a diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious background can be the key to developing tolerance and respect for different groups of people.

2. A Helpful Tool for Dealing with Problems

There are many ways in which children can communicate online while staying anonymous, i.e. joining Reddit. Shy children, who often feel socially awkward, might use this controlled environment to express themselves and speak their mind without the fear of negative offline consequences or of being stigmatized. This gradually leads to the development of higher self-esteem. On social media, it’s easier to find someone who’s got the same problems and with whom one can talk and be listened to. Reading about the experiences of children who are dealing with the same issues as you are is an invaluable basis for evaluating your own problems.

The internet in general is a place where children can easily access online information about their health concerns, or, for example, a proper diet. Health resources are increasingly available to youth online, but social media can provide even more health information, as users share medical information online with each other [5, 6]. Also, children with chronic illnesses can join supportive networks of people with similar conditions. People with diabetes, for example, often create online communities, which allows them to connect to one another and to members of the healthcare community [7].

3. A Useful Resource in Education

Students often use social media to share information about school assignments, as well as to organize their time in accordance with their homework. Facebook groups, for example, present a common mode of communication and for the exchange of ideas. There are even schools that embrace social media as a teaching tool and find that it’s a necessary resource in education. However, there are some disadvantages when it comes to using technology and social media in the context of education. If you want to learn more about that as well as how children can best use the internet for their educational benefit, you should take a look at our article on this topic.

 

Potential Risks of Social Media

1. Social Media Addiction

All those likes, comments, pictures, texts, etc. can be overwhelming for children. As previously noted, children can reap many benefits from social media, especially in the area of socialization. On the other hand, constantly being online and on-call for friends can inevitably lead to sleep deprivation, which can cause further problems. It’s important not to become dependent on quick replies and a blizzard of instant messaging. If children are spending all that time on social media they’re probably neglecting other commitments at home and school. This also leaves them with less time for those necessary and irreplaceable face-to-face interactions with others.

2. The Burden of Comparisons with  Idealized Depictions of Others

Despite the upside of having a large amount of information available online regarding health and other issues, there’s clearly a downside. Much of what children might see on social media is a calculated and idealized picture someone is trying to present. Most people don’t post photos of themselves on Instagram when they’re sad or angry. You usually only see happy moments, such as them enjoying a party, or going to the movies with lots of friends, which seems to suggest they have a perfect, worry-free life. When children see the idealized life someone they follow on social media appears to be leading, they might ask, “What am I doing wrong?” and “Why is my life not like that?”, and feel like failures.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not hard to stumble upon complete disinformation online regarding an issue that’s important to children. Sometimes it’s challenging for even the most experienced users to tell if a source is accurate or if there’s a hidden agenda behind the information.

3. The Dangers of Disinhibition and Cyberbullying

Improper use of social media and a lack of restraint in online interactions can lead to the development of behavior patterns that aren’t commonly a part of life in the offline world. Anonymity is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it can help children overcome shyness and social anxiety, but it can also stimulate unwanted reactions, such as hostile or aggressive online behavior, potentially lead to cyberbullying. Bullying and cyberbullying have some elements in common, such as aggression, power imbalance, and the repetition of this type of behavior [8]. Researchers believe we should look at these two as distinct phenomena. Someone who is cyberbullying doesn’t have to be physically stronger than the victim, and usually doesn’t get to see the effect his or her behavior had on the victim. Another difference is in accessibility of the victim. Whereas bullying mostly happens at school, cyberbullying can be engaged in at any time and reach a much wider audience, which makes it potentially even more dangerous [8].

4. Invasion of Privacy

From the moment children start using social media and spending time on the internet, they start making a digital footprint. This can have ramifications for their future personal or professional life. One part of the problem is sharing too much information, which can be used by advertisers or third parties. About 90% of boys and girls share their real names and photos of themselves on social media. Most of them also share their birthdate, interests, city where they live, school name, etc. [9] We’re also witnessing people revealing personal information on Facebook posts, sharing their personal photos on Instagram daily, or indicating their political views on Twitter.

Besides the negative consequences of posting too much information about themselves online, potential threats for children also include security attacks such as hacking, malware, or even identity theft. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that internet users are able to answer fewer than half of the questions when asked about their knowledge of cybersecurity [10]. Although this research was conducted on adults, we have no reason to believe children would be any more informed. This makes children vulnerable to scams and invasions of privacy, especially if they didn’t get adequate education on these topics.

 

What Can Parents Do?

Let’s face it – most children nowadays can’t imagine life without the internet. As we’ve seen, social media is a helpful tool in many aspects of children’s lives, when used properly. On the other hand, if used recklessly, they can cause more harm than good. With this in mind, we’ll now go over a couple of practices that can help parents ensure their children use social media to their advantage.

– If your children are spending too much time on Facebook or another social media app, you should help them find some other activity to fill in their time. Try talking to them and seeing if they’re interested in taking up a hobby, or a sport.

– Try to set an example for your children and don’t use your cell phone too often. As a matter of fact, don’t use it at all in front of them, especially not for endlessly scrolling through social media, reading the news, etc. Use the free time you have together to connect and bond. Make a rule for everyone in your household – for example, that no one should use their phone during a meal or while having family time in the living room [11]. This will help them realize that the outside world is more important than the online one, and hopefully, they’ll understand that they aren’t going to miss anything important if they don’t reply to a text message right away.

Don’t invade their privacy! One study suggests it may not be the best strategy to intervene in your children’s use of social media [12]. A better approach for children’s online safety implies not necessarily intervening, but mediating their online behavior. For example, you should occasionally monitor the information they post online and talk to them about it, but you shouldn’t read their private conversations or use parental monitoring software to block content that contains online risks. If you merely reduce their exposure to online risks, they won’t be able to learn how to effectively cope with them. The suggested approach is to provide children with more autonomy to take risks, as well as for parents to take corrective action to mitigate those risks [12].

– Make sure you help your children learn not to evaluate themselves in comparison with an idealized image someone presented on social media. Let them know that they should be what they feel and think they should be, and not be driven by their perception of unrealistic depictions of others.

– You should suggest your children make their profiles private on social media such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, so that their posts are only visible to their friends. Educate your children to cautiously and more securely access the online world. Think about enrolling them in one of the many interesting upcoming projects here at Nobel, such as the one concerned with teaching children about networking, firewalls, ports & internet security, etc.

 

References:

1. Lenhart, A., Duggan, M., Perrin, A., Stepler, R., Rainie, H., & Parker, K. (2015). Teens, social media & technology overview 2015 (pp. 04-09). Pew Research Center [Internet & American Life Project].

2. http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/Instagram-and-Snapchat-are-Most-Popular-Social-Networks-for-Teens.aspx

3. Antheunis, M. L., Schouten, A. P., & Krahmer, E. (2016). The role of social networking sites in early adolescents’ social lives. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 36(3), 348-371.

4. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). The effects of instant messaging on the quality of adolescents’ existing friendships: A longitudinal study. Journal of Communication, 59(1), 79-97.

5. O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804.

6. Moorhead, S. A., Hazlett, D. E., Harrison, L., Carroll, J. K., Irwin, A., & Hoving, C. (2013). A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(4).

7. Cotter, A. P., Durant, N., Agne, A. A., & Cherrington, A. L. (2014). Internet interventions to support lifestyle modification for diabetes management: a systematic review of the evidence. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, 28(2), 243-251.

8. Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth.

9. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/what-teens-share-on-social-media/

10. http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/03/22/what-the-public-knows-about-cybersecurity/

11. https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects-teenagers/

12. Wisniewski, P., Jia, H., Xu, H., Rosson, M. B., & Carroll, J. M. (2015, February). Preventative vs. reactive: How parental mediation influences teens’ social media privacy behaviors. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 302-316). ACM.

 

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Test Anxiety – How Can We Help?

“What? I don’t know this one! I didn’t study it. The very first question and I don’t know the answer! And it’s happening again… my heart’s racing… I’m sweating so much I can’t hold my pencil…can’t catch my breath. I’m going to fail, I’ll never graduate, I’ll never get into college. My parents are going to be ashamed of me. I just need to focus… I can’t focus. Okay, I’ll just guess and go on to the next question. No! I don’t remember this, either! I know I studied it. Why can’t I remember? I’m no good. I’m a failure. What’s the point? I’m just going to stop trying and I’ll fail. I’ll just guess at all the other questions, too. Probably won’t know them, anyway. I’ll never amount to anything. I wish I could at least catch my breath. I just want to get out of here.”

If that narrative or something similar has ever played out in your head, you’re in the company of 38% of U.S. students who also struggle with test anxiety. That means more than three out of ten students face similar symptoms before, during, and/or after taking a test. From the debilitating physiological symptoms – rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, out-of-control breathing, stiffening jaw, etc. – to the nagging psychological symptoms, such as thought-consuming and self-disparaging, negative self-talk – the impact of not addressing test anxiety can be quite damaging to a child or an adolescent. Many students struggle with finding and applying the best techniques to prevent or counter the symptoms of anxiety, so this article is meant to provide insights on how to be the best test-taker possible, especially if you’ve ever struggled with testing before.

Before we move on to the tips, you should know that the physiological symptoms you feel during a testing or performing situation can actually be beneficial – they are your body’s way of telling you to focus and ensuring you give your best performance. For example, rapid breathing is your body’s way of getting more oxygen to your blood so that your senses are heightened and you can react more quickly to a challenge. [6] If you’re able to recognize the physiological sensations and then use your self-talk to make a positive statement about them, you may not get stuck in the thought tornado of labeling what your body is doing as damaging. “My heart rate’s increasing. That’s great because now my blood’s circulating faster so I can respond faster. I’ll take some calming, deep breaths so I can give my body the oxygen it needs and  my heartbeat can settle down.”

Similarly, there has been research that resulted in the concept known as “facilitating anxiety” that actually helps you get motivated to perform. Facilitating anxiety is meant to help you use your thoughts to predict potential outcomes accurately so you make the best choice, because some of the worried thoughts you may have are in fact true statements. For example, the thought “I’ll fail the class if I don’t take the exam, since it’s worth half my grade” is true because, yes, you will actually fail the class if you don’t show up to take the final exam, but the thought “I will never amount to anything if I don’t get an A on this exam” is untrue because one A on an exam does not predict overall outcomes for the rest of your life. Learning how to distinguish between worried thoughts that facilitate motivation and self-disparaging thoughts that damage your mental wellbeing is an important skill to have during a test.

Now let’s add some other skills you can use before, during, and after taking a test.

Fighting test anxiety – what can students do?

Music therapy. Yes, you can actually help yourself through listening to your favorite music! Whether it’s the newest pop releases or heavy metal, the music you prefer listening to in your free time works miracles to calm you down before a big test. If concentration allows, you can even listen to it as you’re studying, especially if the music is instrumental, so lyrics won’t distract you. If you notice that your heartbeat hasn’t lowered after listening to your favorite music, don’t worry – music tends to raise the heartbeat while calming your thoughts (the worry dimension of your anxiety). [1]

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). You can start to become familiar with progressive muscle relaxation through this video. PMR allows you to work primarily on the physiological symptoms, but not only that. Self-defeating thoughts can be caused, in part, by physiological symptoms, because the body and mind are connected; calming the body will, in turn, calm your mind, and allow you to think more clearly about the situation at hand. These exercises relax your muscles, deepen your breathing, and calm your heartbeat. You’ll learn to systematically tense and then relax your muscles while breathing deeply and getting to a “happy place”. [2]

Work on your mistakes.  Making mistakes is the only way for us to actually learn something and become better at what we do. So if one of your dominant anxieties is “I’ll fail again”, ask your teacher to let you see your previous test. Explain you’d like to look at what you got wrong so you can work on it. Once you see which part of the test is the issue, you can sit down and work carefully on learning those things – alone, or with a classmate who can help you. You can also ask your parents if it’s something you think they’d be good at explaining. [3]

Another thing you can try is to create a test-like situation as you’re studying. One of the scariest things about tests is that they’re full of things that are unknown to you and that you’re not used to. The simple act of entering the classroom on a test day can be enough to send your heartbeat into overdrive. To make this a little bit easier for you, why don’t you create a test-like situation at home while you’re studying? Make your desk look like a school desk by getting rid of your phone and other distractions you won’t find in a classroom. You can even schedule an alarm to ring at the end of the “class”, both to allow yourself to rest a bit and to recreate the school atmosphere as best you can.

Fighting test anxiety – what can parents do?

Offer them incentives. One of the best things you can do to ease your children’s test anxiety is to offer them some sort of reward if they do well on a test. Their thoughts are telling them that they can only expect a bad outcome after the test, so having something good to look forward to might make the whole experience less stressful for them. This reward works best if it’s something that means a lot to them – it can be as simple as praise, or it can be a material reward, depending on what you believe works best for them. [4]

You can also take the time to create a Plan B with them, in case the test doesn’t go as well as they’d like. This will show them that it’s not the end of the world if everything doesn’t go perfectly!

Quiz them. Students themselves can create an atmosphere that resembles that of the classroom, but you can help by playing the teacher. By quizzing them, you’re accomplishing two things: you’re helping them learn what they need for the test and you’re also making them more resistant to the test situation itself. You can combine these two by offering them a small reward if they do the practice test well – but be careful: if you can do it without becoming adversarial, then it’s a good thing to try.

These exercises and tips are something you can do, and should make a student feel better and more at ease! But if you feel as though you need more guidance on this matter, please contact us to set up a consultation with one of our coaches. Parents and students can also sign up for our FREE WEBINAR on test preparation and learn how to improve time-management and eliminate test anxiety!

References:

  1. Davis, W. B. & Thaut, M. H. (1989). The Influence of Preferred Relaxing Music on Measures of State Anxiety, Relaxation, and Physiological Responses. Journal of Music Therapy, XXVI (4), pp. 168-187.
  1. Conrad, A. & Roth, W. T. (2007). Muscle Relaxation Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: It Works But How? Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, pp. 243-264
  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-9cqaRJMP4
  1. Hembree, R. (1988).  Correlates, Causes, Effects, and Treatment of Test Anxiety. Review of Educational Research Spring 1988, Vol. 58, 1, pp. 47-77
  1. Cassady, J. C. & Johnson, R. E. (2002). Cognitive Test Anxiety and Academic Performance. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27, pp. 270-295.
  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

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