When positive thinking backfires…

"Dream big!"  "Dare to Dream..." "Stay positive!""Believe in yourself..."Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by slogans about the importance of being optimistic, staying positive, and assuming the best. And why not? As anyone who has seen "The Secret" knows, positive thinking leads to positive outcomes!Right?Well, not necessarily.  Optimism and positive thinking do have a number of benefits, but they have downsides, as well. Why too much positive thinking can backfireResearch by Gabriele Oettingen, author of the book Rethinking Positive Thinking has shown that too much time spent fantasizing about the future can actually backfire…reducing motivation, and increasing the likelihood for future depression.Why does this happen? Well, while imagining a positive future outcome feels great, it can also trick your brain into thinking that you have already achieved your goal…which lowers your blood pressure, makes you feel more relaxed, and reduces your motivation to work hard and take action.How this impacts students’ performanceChildren and teens are naturally more optimistic than adults, and while this has a lot of benefits, it can also backfire when it comes to student’s performance in school.When teens imagine that an upcoming test is going to be really easy for them, they typically don’t put as much effort into studying for it...and are frequently disappointed in the results.One of the most common reasons

By |August 3rd, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Motivation|0 Comments

4 Steps to Avoid Summer Procrastination

Even though school is out for the summer, most students still have assignments to do…whether it’s reading 3 books, working through a math packet, taking an online class, studying for the SAT...or all of the above.Left to their own devices, many students end up scrambling to complete these summer assignments in the final week before school starts...which creates a lot of stress & anxiety for them and their families.While this may be the default way students operate, it’s often not what they really want.When I sit down with students to discuss how they'd like to handle their summer work, and discuss the pros & cons of different options, they typically choose one of two approaches..."I want to finish my work as soon as possible, so it’s out of the way and I can relax for the rest of my break!"OR "I want to do a little work each week, so I don't have too much to do on any one day"So, if students don’t really WANT to procrastinate on their work & leave it until the last minute, how can we help them make better choices about how to spend their time?Here are 4 tips to help avoid summer procrastination:1. Put them in charge of making the planStudents are much more likely

Making the Most of the End of the Semester

Students often wait until the final week before exams to study, believing they will remember the material better if they study it closer to the time of the exam.  It's true that the material will seem more familiar if they have seen it more recently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to recall it on the test.  In order to remember what we’ve learned, we need repeated practice recalling it from memory and applying it to practice problems.This makes sense if we think about how we practice a sport, or a musical instrument.  In these contexts, we intuitively understand short-term “cramming” doesn’t work.  Can you imagine a football team waiting until the week before playoffs to practice, and then staying up late – putting in hours on the field – to “cram” before the big game?  Of course not.  No team would practice that way…and if they did, they would certainly lose the game.Yet, students often attempt to study hard right before their final exams.  In addition to leaving less time to study, “cramming” also causes students to…Feel stressedWorry about the testAdopt quick and ineffective study strategiesStore the material they learn in short-term, rather than long-term, memoryLose

Start before you’re motivated

Do you ever worry that your kids aren't as motivated about their schoolwork as they should be?When I talk with parents about the challenges their teens are having at school, they often express concern that their kids just don't seem to be very motivated about schoolwork.Similarly, when I ask students what they need to do in order to improve at school, many of them will tell me: "I just need to get more motivated!"On the one hand, these concerns make a lot of sense.If these kids were more motivated to do their work, it would certainly make it easier for them to earn better grades.And it is generally true that students who are doing well in school are generally more motivated and driven to succeed, as compared to students with lower grades.However, sometimes I wonder if we may be mixing up cause and effect when it comes to motivation.What if, rather than the motivation leading to progress, it is actually the progress that comes first...and the motivation that follows afterward?Exercise is a good example of this principle.I definitely did NOT feel very excited about going on a run early this morning…but once I got out of the door and actually started running, it felt invigorating, and I

By |March 4th, 2016|Categories: Motivation|0 Comments

Taming technology distractions: Internet blocking apps for students

Do you feel like you're always having to police your kids, telling them to put away their phone and computer so they can start their homework? Are you concerned about how the phone and computer are affecting their ability to stay focused on their assignments, and complete their work efficiently? Even when teens have good intentions to sit down and focus on their homework, technology is such an enormous part of students lives, is often very difficult for them to turn it off. And for many students, turning technology off completely is impossible, because their assignments are posted online, so they need access to their computer in order to complete their work. However, once they’re on the computer, there are about a million other things to do that are more interesting than homework.   If only there was a way for kids to have access to the sites they need for their homework, without being distracted by everything else on their computer! ...Introducing web blocking apps There are actually a number of apps that allow students to do exactly that — block the distracting websites & apps on their computer and phone, while giving them access to the sites they need to complete their homework.  If this sounds like

Kids do well if they can.

"He knows what he needs to do. I’ve reminded him 10 times already. This isn’t that hard.  Why isn’t he doing it?  Does he just not care?"  I talk to parents all the time who are worried that their kids just don’t seem to care about doing well, because they’re not following through and doing the things they need to in order to be successful.  But when I meet with their kids, what I hear over and over again is that these kids WANT to do better.  They don’t enjoy disappointing their parents…or themselves.  They want to feel proud of themselves, and make their parents happy.  They’re just having a really hard time getting there. So, who’s right?  When kids behave badly, is it because they don’t want to do well? Or is it because something is getting in their way, and making hard for them to follow through? Ross Greene’s quick 4-min video does a wonderful job of explaining the differences between these two philosophies:   What approach do you usually take? If you adopt the philosophy that "kids do well if they want to"…and they’re NOT doing well…that means your job is to make them want to to better. This is where rewards & punishments come from — the idea that kids won’t want to

By |January 29th, 2016|Categories: Mindset, Motivation, Study skills|0 Comments

Why Optimistic Students Earn Better Grades

Is your teen more of an optimist, or a pessimist?It turns out that the answer can have a significant impact on their future. Studies have shown that optimists experience a number of benefits later in life, as compared with their more pessimistic peers, including...Better test scores and higher GPAsLower levels of stress, anxiety, and depressionSuperior performance in a wide variety of sportsMore job offers, higher starting salaries, and more frequent promotions at workLower rates of disease, and higher life expectancyIf your teen is optimistic, this is wonderful news! But what if your son or daughter is more pessimistic, and tends to see the world from a more of a "glass is half empty" perspective? The good news is that optimism is a learned skill, not an innate personality trait! No matter what their initial level of optimism or pessimism, all students can learn how to become more optimistic. Pessimistic vs. Optimistic ThinkingThe first step in becoming more optimistic is understanding what we really mean by the word "optimism". While many of us think about optimism as a measure of how cheerful someone is on a day to day basis, it is actually a measure of how they explain the events in their lives. If a student does

By |October 12th, 2015|Categories: Mindset, Motivation|0 Comments

Prioritizing homework: What to do first?

"What's the best way to prioritize homework?" "Should I do the easiest assignments first?  Or the hardest ones?" I’ve heard from a number of parents and students recently who have been wondering how to prioritize homework. It’s sometimes hard to know whether starting with easier or harder assignments is better, because there are benefits to both approaches... Starting with the easiest assignments...Reduces the risk of procrastinationGives students a quick ‘win’ so they feel encouraged to continueGets some assignments checked off the list quickly, so there are fewer things to think about Starting with the hardest assignments...Enables students to tackle their most difficult work when their focus & energy level are highestGets the most challenging work out of the way, so the rest of the homework feels easier & more enjoyablePrioritizes work that is a large percentage of students’ grade, and/or the classes where they need the most improvement Since there are pros and cons to each approach, how do you know which one to choose? For the majority of my students, I actually recommend using a blend of the two approaches.  What I like it do is...Start with an EASY assignmentTackle a CHALLENGING assignmentTake a short break...then repeat until the work is finished! Here is a diagram of what

Is homework taking forever? Try taking more breaks.

 Now that we're a few weeks into school, students are starting to spend more time doing homework in the evenings.  The standard guideline for homework is that students should be spending approximately 10 minutes a night doing homework per grade level.  So, that equates to an hour each night for a 6th grader, and 2 hours for a senior in high school. Unfortunately, many students spend far more time on homework than this, which is frustrating for them and their parents. So, what can we do to help students work more efficiently? Somewhat counter-intuitively, one answer is to take more frequent breaks! Study breaks provide a number of important benefits, including...Less procrastination. When homework seems challenging, students often put off starting it until as late as possible.  However, if they know they're only committing to work for 30 minutes or so, and then they will get another break, it's often easier to get started.  More focus. When there's a clear distinction between work time & break time, it's easier to distinguish between "work time" and "break time" activities (texting, etc.). It's also easier for students to resist tempting distractions if they know they'll be able to to whatever they want on their next break... instead of until

Why students procrastinate (Hint: it’s not what you think)

How does your teen respond to deadlines & due dates? Do they typically...a) Get started on their work as soon as it's assigned?  b) Wait until the due date approaches before they begin?c) Delay starting their work until (or past!) the last possible second? While many students argue that waiting to start their work is "no big deal", procrastinating can actually have some pretty serious costs. For some students, it means they don't have time to finish their work before the they're getting low zeros on uncompleted assignments and low grades on tests for which they weren't prepared. Other kids manage to meet the deadlines by staying up late to complete their work...but end up feeling stressed out, exhausted, and coming down with frequent colds & illnesses.  And these are just the short-term costs. In the long term, high levels of procrastination are associated with lower salaries, shorter terms of employment, and a greater likelihood of being unemployed or under employed rather than working full‐time (Nguyen et al. 2013). WHY do students procrastinate? Given all the problems procrastination creates, why is this such a common and widespread problem? Why don't students learn to avoid it?  We used to think that procrastination was due to a character flaw, and that people who put things off until the last minute were simply lazy, or unmotivated. In