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Going Back to School: How to Overcome Procrastination

Ah, January… The month of getting back to reality. The holidays are over and everyone’s back to their regular routine of working and going to school. But now that the kids are used to sleeping in and getting some well deserved rest, procrastination may be an issue when it comes to getting up early for school and studying. So how can you help them find their motivation and get back to hustling? We have some ideas for you!

Procrastination: Laziness or Something Else?

The first question we should answer is: what is procrastination? For children who tend to procrastinate, it’s an ongoing habit that doesn’t depend on the time of year, a.k.a. chronic procrastination. However, it can become more apparent and troubling if they’ve just returned from vacation and are suddenly expected to be doing a million school assignments at once. Why is that? Are they just lazy?

Well, if you came across this article when you were searching for topics like “how to overcome laziness”, we have some (good) news: procrastination usually doesn’t stem from children being lazy. Although the definition of procrastination is “avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished” [1], that avoidance is usually the result of fear of failure. You can’t fail at something you never attempt in the first place, right? And the chance of failing is much greater if you’ve been on break for days or even weeks and are now suddenly required to be finishing task after task.

Another cause of procrastination may be perfectionism. People who want to do things perfectly never feel quite ready to start doing them – they feel they could always be a bit more prepared. Combine that with not studying for a while and voilà – you’ve got yourself a perfectionist who’s afraid of failure and thus – procrastinating.

It All Comes Down to Habits

This whole thing may sound scary, but there’s good news, too. It’s all about reversing bad habits. Although fear of failure and perfectionism are not habits per se – they’re emotional struggles – they’re difficult for children to overcome because they’re being reinforced. Every time the child feels stressed out, they choose to close up their books and whisper those magic words, “I’ll do it later – I have enough time”. This brings instant relief, which makes it easier for them to do the same thing over and over, just to calm their fear and anxiety. Though it might work for a while, time soon starts running out. So what can they do instead – and how can you help them?

They can choose to stay in that stressful situation, or challenge themselves, and become stronger. It’s like exercise, really – you try to do one push-up for the first time, and it’s so difficult! You keep going, and eventually you can do two, three, five, until the moment you find everything less than twenty to be a piece of cake.

But children shouldn’t be forced into it – instead, they need to develop certain skills and understanding of their issues before being able to confidently work on them. What you as a parent can do here is learn what makes your child fall behind at times and work on that with them.


If you want to know more about how to help your child deal with different issues and help them become more independent, check out our upcoming Online Classes for Parents.

These classes are perfect for you if you want to:

  • Improve Your Child’s Executive Function
  • Help Them Build Great Homework Habits
  • Help Them Manage Their Screen Time

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What Are Some Other Reasons for Falling Behind?

Parents often come to us, especially at this time of year, with: “I don’t feel my child is keeping up with their classmates. What can I do to help?”

So, what happened? Your child did their best to keep up before the holidays, but now that they’ve gotten some rest, it’s become harder for them to get back into the study-hard mode. What can you do to help them become better at handling school assignments? How can you aid their productivity?

One of the ways you can help them is by providing them with motivation. A more comprehensive list of ways to do that can be found in one of our previous articles, but it all comes down to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is the one that lies inward. When the child is self-motivated, results tend to be better and the child is happier to tackle the necessary work. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, means you’re providing rewards for them – the motivation lies outside of them. This isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s a good way to start developing intrinsic motivation – but intrinsic motivation should be the main goal.

What Can I Do?

For example, you can start motivating them by offering to make their favorite meal if they study for two hours every day that week. Make sure to praise the effort they’re putting into studying, rather than the result. For one thing, the effort will usually lead to good results; and it will all happen without the stress they’re feeling if they need to strive for the result. The “you must get an A” might cause test anxiety and further exacerbate their perfectionistic issues, which will have precisely the opposite effect from the desired one.

Once they start seeing their efforts rewarded, they’re in a much better position to begin developing intrinsic motivation. In fact, one of the best ways to ease your child’s transition to school during the post-holiday period is to make studying creative and fun – and making their favorite meal together once they’ve studied enough is a good start [2].

One more thing to pay attention to is the amount of time they spend using technology. They may have had a lot of time to browse through social media or YouTube while on vacation, but that amount should be lower now that they’re back at school [3].


If any of this sounds familiar to you, schedule a free consultation with one of our Coaches and talk to them – together with your child – about their struggles and steps for overcoming them.


In Conclusion…

Procrastination is a normal occurrence after the holidays. Just remember how difficult it is for you during those first few working days in January. Now, imagine if you had to go home and do homework and study on top of that! A lot of children tend to also be fearful of any sort of failure, or even be perfectionists when it comes to school. All of that can lead to avoiding school tasks, which can often be mistaken for laziness.

The best thing you can do is to motivate them by rewarding their efforts. This will teach them both that effort really matters, and that they don’t need to be perfect, as long as they keep trying. Eventually, they may develop their own inner motivation for studying – and you’ll be happy to see that it’s bringing in good results, without your needing to reward them for it anymore.

References:

  1. https://nobelcoaching.com/procrastination-teens-can-help/
  2. https://www.verywellfamily.com/solutions-for-back-to-school-problems-4081699
  3. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/10-common-back-to-school-strugglesand-how-to-deal_b_5b896a6ae4b0f023e4a60479

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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Balancing Homework And Friends After School

School and social activities are high priorities for young people, but balancing the two can sometimes be challenging. If you think this occasionally applies to you, here’s some advice on how to solve the dilemma.

1. Do It Together

People differ when it comes to the surroundings that make them feel relaxed and comfortable. Some prefer spending a quiet night in with a book or a movie, while others usually need external stimulation to feel good; they enjoy loud places, meeting lots of people, and being the center of attention. However, most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes, sometimes preferring peace and quiet, sometimes bright lights and lively company.

But how does this relate to helping you with your homework? Well, depending on which end of the continuum you’re closest to, the solution to your problem with the homework-friends balance might be different.

If you generally prefer small groups, you might find it hard to choose between picking up a school book or calling a friend over or perhaps messaging them all day. Having one eye on your work and the other on your phone tends to be very distracting. So, do you perform your academic tasks or decide to have a fun time with your friends? Actually, there’s no need to always choose between the two. You can ask your friends to come to a study group with you. Just choose a quiet place, decide on a goal together (forty-five minutes of studying, fifteen minutes of free time, for example) and follow it. It helps to work together – you’re motivating as well as keeping an eye on each other. And after the homework’s done, you can continue to hang out.

Now, what about those who prefer to be among lots of people? Pretty much the same thing applies, except the surroundings are different. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone needs to be closeted away in a quiet room to make the most of their homework time. If you find it hard to concentrate this way, you might benefit from a different approach. Invite your friends to join you at a neighborhood coffee shop, or go to a popular park with a blanket and your books and get ready to work! You’ll be with your friends, and surrounded by the chatter and stimulation that simply doing your homework in your room doesn’t give you.[2] You’ll feel comfortable and much more able to focus on your work.

However, for most people, the ideal work environment depends largely on their current mood. If this describes you, you might sometimes prefer quiet surroundings, sometimes lively ones. You know yourself best, so find out what works best for you at any given time. Be honest with yourself, though. It’s important to do the work as well as socialize, so if you notice you’re frequently distracted while with your friends, you might want to try the other approach.

2. Do It As Soon As Possible

Whether you decide to do your homework with friends or alone, tackling it as soon as possible after you’ve dealt with the material in class can lower the time you’ll need to retain the content successfully. When new information is still fresh in your mind, it’s easier to recall the small details and hints your teacher gave you as well as the overall material. [3] So, doing your homework first is a smart move. It means you’ll finish it more quickly and have more time for your friends later on. That in itself should be motivation enough.

And here’s something else that may help. It’s been shown that studying, as well as homework, is best done in parts. [4] That means that though you should ideally start doing your homework as soon as possible, if you feel your eyelids getting heavy and your yawns getting the best of you, it’s probably time to hit the pause button. You can use this time to clear your head.  Listen to some music, make some coffee, exercise, or squeeze in a little quality time with your friends. The choice is up to you. However, the time you spend on your break should depend on the amount of time you’ve spent doing homework. If you only began half an hour ago, a break of ten minutes will do just fine. On the other hand, if you’ve been dealing with it for two hours straight, an hour off won’t be too much. This break helps you in two ways. Your brain will return to the task refreshed, yet still able to remember what you’ve been working on, and as a matter of fact, tasks you don’t finish from the get-go tend to be remembered more clearly than those you do! [5]  So, having a break is nothing to fear, as long as it doesn’t turn into a vacation.

Now that you know these little tricks, there’s nothing stopping you from leading a fulfilling academic AND social life. So, enough procrastination and off you go!

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. Jung, C.G. (1987), C.G. Jung Speaking
  2. Geen, R. G. (1984). Preferred stimulation levels in introverts and extroverts: Effects on arousal and performanceJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(6), 1303-1312.
  3. Edwards, C.D. (1999), How to Handle a Hard-to-Handle Kid: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding and Changing Problem Behaviors
  4. Mace, C.A. (1963), Psychology of study
  5. Zeigarnik, B. (1967). On finished and unfinished tasks. In W. D. Ellis (Ed.), A sourcebook of Gestalt psychology

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PROCRASTINATION AND TEENS – HOW CAN WE HELP?

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started.”

David Allen

Have you ever spent hours staring at a blank page trying to write a meaningful paper or e-mail, etc.?  Have you ever postponed a boring or unpleasant task until the last minute when you couldn’t put it off any longer? Have you ever caught yourself doing all sorts of unimportant activities such as washing dishes or rearranging the furniture instead of getting started on a pressing obligation? What was your favorite time zapper when you were a student yourself?

Let’s face it – we’ve all procrastinated. If you want to help your teen avoid becoming a chronic procrastinator, we suggest you start by admitting that you’ve dealt with this issue as well. We hope that gaining a better understanding of the underlying causes of procrastination and following some of the tips we suggest, will enable you to help your teen overcome the habit.

So, what is procrastination?

Authors Olpin & Hesson (2013) define procrastination as the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. While delaying tasks from time to time is nothing to worry about, it becomes a problem when transformed into a habit and starts to affect important aspects of our lives – academic, professional and personal. Or,  as Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby put it: “Procrastination is, hands down, our favorite form of self-sabotage.” Fortunately, each habit is learned so it can be unlearned as well.

In order to understand a teen’s mind and world better, I asked my 15-year-old niece about her experience with procrastination as it related to schoolwork. This is what she told me:

I used to have a lot of problems with this pro, pro… Now it’s much better, but back when I was routinely putting my school obligations off, it was always when I was up against more complex tasks; when I knew the work would be more difficult and that I’d need more time to complete it. Why was I acting like this? Because I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want the burden. It was easier to leave it to the last minute. I could force myself to study only when it was urgent and when I knew that I couldn’t postpone it any longer. Deadlines, actually, are a great help in this! And while I was waiting till that very last moment, I was usually hanging out, watching movies, a TV series on the Internet, or just lying down and doing nothing.

According to psychologist Linda Sapadin, author of the book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles, my niece fits the Crisis Makers style of procrastinators. Crisis Makers, addicted to the rush of high emotion, wait until pressure mounts to take action. Other styles are: Perfectionists (afraid of making mistakes, they waste tons of time unnecessarily focusing on details); Dreamers (lack initiative and fail to translate their big ideas into action); Worriers (afraid of change, they’re focused on worst-case scenario); Defiers (may be openly rebellious or passive-aggressive, defy authority or avoid making agreements and often don’t do what they promised); Pleasers (have problems setting priorities and saying “No”, so they make the job harder than it needs to be).

It is very important to first identify the root of the procrastination since this is the key element in pursuing the ongoing battle against it. For instance, if you realize that your teen’s perfectionism is the reason he’s putting off his school obligations, you should focus on helping him overcome his fear of making mistakes, as well as talking to him about time management and related coping skills.  Reassure him it’s okay to make mistakes; teach him that perfection is an illusion, the enemy of the good; advise him just to keep moving, not to get bogged down in details and lose focus on his main objective.

We should acknowledge that chronic procrastination is not a simple matter of time management or self-discipline but a complex psychological and/or neurocognitive issue (Burka and Yuen, 2008). These authors suggest that procrastination is a strategy people use to manage other issues, for instance: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of feeling controlled, or fear of facing reality.

Also, in this high-tech, digitalized age we live in, the accessibility of gadgets and the virtual worlds we tend to inhabit (this applies especially to teens) are not helping us win the procrastination battle. On the contrary.

You can read about the advantages and disadvantages of technology in one of our previous articles: Education and Technology: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

So, what to do if you recognize that your teen has a problem with procrastination?

I asked my niece what has helped her. She said:

When I was younger, my parents would keep reminding me to study but it didn’t work. I would pretend to study in order to please them but in actual fact, it was waste of time and I’d end up cramming anyway. Now that I’m in high school, I realize that everything depends on me. My subjects are more complex and since I want good grades, I’d exhaust myself staying up at night with mountains of schoolwork. And I was tired during the day, both in class and during training (volleyball). I realized that procrastination makes me tired and leads nowhere. I now try to organize myself better and study more consistently. And it’s funny – it is not as hard as I used to think. I think that’s because I made the decision on my own, nobody forced me to. It wouldn’t have worked if anybody else tried to force me or to organize my time for me. I had to do it for myself.

We can learn a lot from our kids, don’t you agree? However, it is also useful to get empowered through reliable sources. There are comprehensive and detailed programs developed in order to overcome the habit of procrastination. For your information, you can check the references at the end of the article.

In a nutshell, these are our suggestions:

  • Talk openly and without criticism about the issue of putting obligations off. Show empathy. Through talk and through time it is more likely that a teen will gain insight about how procrastination is affecting him and whether and what he wants to change.
  • Remember your own experience with procrastination and how it made you feel. Share that with your teen. What tasks nowadays do you hate to do and tend to put off? You can talk about it as a common problem and search for solutions together.
  • Share what worked for you when you struggled with procrastination. It doesn’t mean it will work for your teen, but it’s a good start. Praise his efforts to beat the habit.
  • You should figure out what is at the root of his/her procrastination. Underlying reasons need to be addressed, such as any kind of fear, resistance, perfectionism, etc. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a coach or therapist if you estimate that it is needed.
  • Help him/her learn how to study and how to plan his/her time.
  • Help him recognize his favorite time zappers – how he usually deflects when he procrastinates (social networks, TV, video games, surfing the Internet, oversleeping, panicking, etc.) and make a deal that he try to overcome these impulses during study time. That is where time management skills are important.
  • Encourage him to ask for help if he doesn’t understand the subject matter or doesn’t know how to do his homework.

One of the first authors of self-help books, Robert Collier, has suggested:

“If you procrastinate when faced with a big difficult problem… break the problem into parts, and handle one part at a time.”

This strategy is well-known and is recommended in all manuals for overcoming procrastination: to break a bigger task into smaller, measurable actions with a realistic deadline for each of these smaller actions.

The other one well-known tip for more demanding tasks is to hit the most difficult (or the most unpleasant) part first, if at all possible. As the pioneer in the personal development field, Dale Carnegie observed: “Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”

Help your teen recognize what motivates him and what gives him energy. Teach him to use these as rewards for maintaining self-discipline and progress in the adoption of a new habit. It is easier to go through unpleasant tasks if we know that we will be rewarded afterward.

Teach your teen to deal with details at the end. For instance, if he is writing a paper, teach him to write the main parts first, to keep moving and to leave dealing with details last.

While these are general tips to deal with procrastination, keep in mind that each person is unique and tailor your approach to what works best for your teen.

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References and useful links:

  1. Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It Now, by Burka, J. B. & Yuen, L. M. (2008)
  2. Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, by Olpin, M. & Hesson, M. (2013)
  3. Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age, by Dr. Linda Sapadin http://beatprocrastinationcoach.com/
  4. Procrastination and Science, including quotes related to procrastination https://procrastinus.com/
  5. Award winning video by John Kelly about examination of procrastination https://vimeo.com/9553205
  6. TED Talks: Tim Urban – Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator#t-831583