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How to Avoid Focus-Stealing Traps

Even for people who consider themselves good at focusing, the technology age presents a challenge. Never before have so many devices, cell phone alerts, social media platforms, advertisers, and tasks been competing for our attention. So, we could all probably use a little help getting focused.

After all, focusing in the right way on the right things at the right times is a critical life success skill – one that psychologists have discovered we can improve with practice.

First, what is focus?

According to Daniel Goleman, a leading psychologist and expert in attention science, and author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, there are different types of focus.

“There are many varieties of attention, technically speaking, each with their best applications,” he explained to Forbes. “Getting a job done well requires applying concentration, for instance, while creative insights flow best when we are in a loose, open awareness.” In other words, while focus involves how we’re casting our attention (we’re always focusing on something!), different modes of attention exist and are best used for different tasks.

Goleman casts the types of attention – which neuroscientists study through fMRI or functional magnetic resonance imaging – into three general categories. He argues that we can have “inner,” “outer,” or “other” focus, or focus on the self, other people, and the world around us. The most successful of us develop and balance out this “triad of awareness,” because “a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.”

Inner focus involves developing self-awareness, or listening to our inner voice. Self-control, or willpower, involves placing our attention on a given task and keeping it there. This second skill, which we also think of as concentration, is what many of us think of when we say we want to focus better. It’s what we’ll be focusing on – pun intended – in this article.

But how do we successfully use our willpower? Goleman says there are three ways.

  • Voluntarily disengage our focus from what’s distracting us
  • Work toward resisting distraction so that we don’t gravitate back to it
  • Concentrate on what we’re supposed to be doing and imagine how good we will feel when we achieve it

When we’re practicing concentration, it’s important to practice these three habits.

Other awareness involves focusing on others and how we relate to the people around us. It requires developing our empathy and understanding how other people are feeling.

Outer awareness refers to focus on the world around us: political, cultural, and economic dynamics, to name a few. According to Goleman, understanding the world is critical for being strategic and innovative.

How attention and concentration work

What’s happening on a brain activity level when we’re concentrated versus distracted? To answer this question, it’s important to understand the two “systems” that psychologists like Daniel Kahneman say govern the brain.

Kahneman, a Nobel Memorial Prize winner, calls these System 1 and System 2, the automatic and reflective systems respectively.

System 1, or the automatic system, is our involuntary brain network that’s always scanning our environments and processing stimuli. It’s the system that causes us to automatically jump when someone touches our shoulders unexpectedly, or step closer to the sidewalk when a car comes careening by. It makes fast decisions and is always humming in the background. When we’re trying to focus, environmental stimuli – including something as insignificant as a co-worker pulling a door closed – can serve as distractions.

System 2, or the reflective system, is voluntary and we use it to make rational, deliberate, analytically-based decisions. It’s the system we use when we sit at our desks and plan projects, strategize, and otherwise analyze our work and lives. Engaging System 2 requires willpower to get the job done. While our willpower muscle can be strengthened with practice, it also gets fatigued. That means we can’t rely on concentrating for indefinite periods of time. Also, when we’re concentrating, our brains are expending energy to suppress distractions. Concentrating comes at a metabolic cost – when our brains get tired, we’re less productive and sharp. It takes longer to complete tasks and we’re more susceptible to making errors in our work.

How to avoid distraction traps

So, how do we improve the duration and stamina of our concentration? Here are four tips to help you out.

  • Minimize all distractions that you have control over.

Eliminate any extra noises, alerts, and computer tabs from your workspace. This includes phone alarms, text alerts, and your inbox. We want to reduce the amount of external stimuli that System 1, the automatic response system, reports to System 2 (resulting in distraction). The less often our external environment demands our attention, the better we’re able to sustain concentration.

  • Practice training your “focus muscle.”

Goleman shares, “The ability to focus is like a mental muscle. The more we work it out, the stronger it [becomes].”

How do we practice focusing? He offers a research-based, four part practice – originally discovered by Emory University professor Wendy Hasenkamp – for doing mental focus “reps”:

  1. Focus on your breath
  2. Recognize that your thoughts have drifted off
  3. Let go of your current thought
  4. Focus on your breath again and stay there

That four-step process is “one rep.” Each time you lose focus, you practice that rep. Goleman explains that this simple but challenging practice strengthens the brain’s circuitry.

You can also practice focusing for progressively longer bouts of time. For example, you can start by focusing intently for ten minutes at a time and build up from there.

Remember: we can practice being more focused and get more proficient over time. We get better emotional regulation and less stress, both factors that translate to better focus.

  • Meditate.

Studies suggest that meditating regularly reduces mind-wandering and increases our ability to maintain concentration over extended periods of time. A review of 23 different meditation studies found that people who practiced for a few months improved their ability to suppress environmental stimuli, which is critical for maintaining attention. And, another review of 30 different studies on mindfulness and meditation showed that just eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction produces results in the brain similar to that of a long-term meditation practice.

Try meditating for five minutes a day to start. If you want to learn specific techniques for meditation, take an in-person class or use an app like Headspace.

  • If possible, put your phone in a different room.

We all know that receiving a text or email can cause a distraction. But a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that having our cell phones within reach – even if they’re powered off– reduces cognitive capacity, or ability to concentrate.

In the nearly 800-person study, researchers asked participants to perform tests that required concentration. The results? The participants who left their phones outside the room outperformed those with phones on their desks and in their bags, by a large and slight margin respectively.

Professor Austin Ward, who helped lead the study, explained: “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but [the process of requiring yourself to not think about something] uses up some of your limited cognitive resources.”

Next time you sit down to make headway on work, try leaving your phone out of sight and notice what changes.

Better self-control equals…

Developing self-control sure takes effort, but data shows the payoff is likely worth the work. The Dunedin Study, a multi-decade long longitudinal study, tracked over 1,000 people as children then assessed their health and wealth outcomes, as well as their criminal histories, as adults. The study revealed a strong link between degrees of self-control and success in those areas, and that self-control can be learned.

Although the relationships between these two related findings may not necessarily be causal, it’s powerful to know that with incremental changes, we can very likely heighten our physical and financial well-being.

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20 Things to Remember If You Love a Person with ADD

By: June Silny

It’s a fact; a person with ADD is hard to love. You never know what to say. It’s like walking through a minefield. You tiptoe around; unsure which step (or word) will be the one that sets off an explosion of emotion. It’s something you try to avoid.

People who have ADD/ADHD are suffering. Life is more difficult for them than the average person. Everything is intense and magnified. Their brilliant minds are constantly in gear creating, designing, thinking and never resting. Imagine what it would feel like to have a merry-go-round in your mind that never stops spinning.

From emotional outbursts to polar opposite extremes; ADD presents several behaviors that can be harmful to relationships. ADD is a mysterious condition of opposites and extremes. For instance, when it comes to concentration, people with ADD cannot concentrate when they are emotional or when their thoughts are distracted. However, when they are interested in a specific topic, they zone in so deep that it’s hard to pull them out of that zone. Starting a project is a challenge; but stopping it is an even bigger challenge.

True love is unconditional, but ADD presents situations that test your limits of love. Whether it’s your child, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or soon-to-be spouse, ADD tests every relationship. The best way to bring peace into both your lives is to learn a new mindset to deal with the emotional roller-coaster that ADD brings all-day-every-day.

Understanding what a person with ADD feels like will help you become more patient, tolerant, compassionate, and loving. Your relationships will become more enjoyable and peaceful. This is what goes on in the mind of a person with ADD/ADHD:

1. They have an active mind

The ADD brain doesn’t stop. There’s no on/off switch. There are no brakes that bring it to a halt. It is a burden that one must learn to manage.

2. They listen but don’t absorb what is being said

A person with ADD will look at you, hear your words, watch your lips move, but after the first five words their mind is on a journey. They can still hear you speak, but their thoughts are in outer space. They are thinking about how your lips are moving or how your hair is out of place.

3. They have difficulty staying on task

Instead of keeping the focus on what’s in front of them, people with ADD are staring at the colors in the painting on the wall. Like walking through a labyrinth, they start moving in one direction, but keep changing directions to find the way out.

4. They become anxious easily

As deep thinkers, they are sensitive to whatever is going on around them. Being in a noisy restaurant can sound like you are standing in the front row at a Metallica concert. A depressing news snippet can set them into end-of-the-world mode.

5. They can’t concentrate when they are emotional

If there is something worrisome going on, or if they are upset, a person with ADD cannot think of anything else. This makes concentration on work, conversation, and social situations almost impossible.

6. They concentrate too intensely

When the doors of their mind open, the person with ADD dives in like a scuba diver jumping into the deep ocean.

7. They have difficulty stopping a task when they are in the zone

And under the deep ocean is where they stay for hours. Even when their oxygen is running low, if they are enjoying the view, they won’t come up for air until they’re almost out of oxygen.

8. They are unable to regulate their emotions

For a person with ADD, their emotions are flying wild, out of proportion and cannot be contained. The tangled wires in their brilliant brains make thought and feelings difficult to process. They need extra time to get their systems up and running properly.

9. They have verbal outbursts

Their intense emotions are hard to regulate. Since they impulsively say whatever they think, they often say things they later regret. It’s almost impossible for them to edit their words before they release them.

10. They have social anxiety

Feeling uncomfortable knowing that they are different, people with ADD are often uncomfortable in social situations. They are afraid they will say something foolish or react inappropriately. Holding back feels safer.

11. They are deeply intuitive

For people with ADD, the surface is an invisible exterior that they penetrate. They see beyond it. This is the most enjoyable aspect of ADD. This inspirational trait is what makes creative geniuses. Inventors, artists, musicians, and writers thrive in this zone.

12. They think out of the box

Another wonderful aspect of ADD is that because they think differently, their abstract minds see solutions to problems that the concrete thinker cannot see.

13. They are impatient and fidgety

Annoyed easily, wanting things to happen immediately, and constantly playing with their phones, twirling their hair, or bouncing their leg up and down; a person with ADD needs constant motion. It’s a calming Zen activity for them.

14. They are physically sensitive

Pencils feel heavy in their hand. Fibers in fabric that most people wouldn’t feel can be itchy. Beds are bumpy. Food has textures you can’t imagine. Like The Princess and the Pea, they can feel a pea under twenty mattresses.

15. They are disorganized

Piles are their favorite method of organizing. Once a task is complete, papers related to it are placed in a pile, where they stay until the piles grow too high. That’s when the person with ADD becomes overwhelmed, frustrated, and cleans up. People with ADD have to be careful to not become hoarders. It’s hard for a person with ADD to keep things in order because their brain doesn’t function in an orderly manner.

16. They need space to pace

When talking on the phone or having a conversation, people with ADD think better when they are in motion. Movement is calming and brings clarity to their thoughts.

17. They avoid tasks

Making decisions or completing tasks on time is a struggle. Not because they are lazy or irresponsible, but because their minds are full of options and possibilities. Choosing one can be problematic. It’s easy to avoid making decisions because they are over-thinkers. They obsess and dwell in the depths of their own minds.

18. They can’t remember simple tasks

Another paradoxical trait of ADD is memory. People with ADD can’t remember to pick up their clothes at the cleaners, milk at the grocery store, or appointments. On the other hand; they remember every comment, quote, and phone number they heard during the day. No matter how many post-its or calendar reminders they set; their distracted mind is always elsewhere. Visible items are easier to remember. That’s why they have fifteen windows open on their desktop.

19. They have many tasks going on at the same time

Due to the constant activity in their mind, once a task is finished, they are ready to move on to the next task without closing up the prior task. The more going on at once, the better. Multi-tasking is one of their favorite activities.

20. They are passionate about everything they do

The emotions, thoughts, words, and touch of a person with ADD is powerful. Everything is magnified. This is a blessing when channeled properly. When a person with ADD does something, they do it with their heart and soul. They give it all they’ve got. They are intense, perceptive, and deep. This quality is what makes the person with ADD so lovable.

Basically, a person with ADD/ADHD has trouble controlling their impulses. They also have many awesome qualities that you will enjoy once you understand how they think and feel. Compassion, empathy and patience will carry you through the most difficult times. It’s important to take extra care of yourself; take alone time regularly, do what you enjoy, find a support group, a therapist or a compassionate wise friend, take frequent vacations, meditate, find hobbies and your own passion. Most of all, learn how to breathe.

Some of the greatest inventors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and writers had ADD/ADHD. They succeeded because they had a loved one just like you supporting them through their daily struggles. Replace your anger with compassion. Realize how they struggle to do what comes easy to you. Think of the ADD brain, as one with electrical wiring in the wrong circuits. Next time you think that they are lazy, irresponsible, disorganized, and avoiding responsibilities; try to remember how hard they have to work extra hard to achieve a simple task.

Yes, ADD/ADHD people are hard to love, but once you understand the burden they are carrying, your heart will open up. Love and compassion will take the place of anger. You will see into their sweet and good soul.

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When Children Can Benefit From Playing Video Games

Children with anxiety and ADHD can learn to control their emotions by playing games connected to a heart-rate monitor

The video games track a child’s heart rate, displayed on the screen. The games get increasingly difficult as the player’s heart rate increases. To be able to resume playing without extra obstacles the child has to calm themselves down and reduce their heart rate.

“What we’re trying to do is build emotional strength for kids,” said Jason Kahn, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Mighteor, a Boston-based company and spinoff of Boston Children’s Hospital. BCH runs an accelerator and funded some of the research and development of the products. They retain a small piece of ownership of Mighteor. Dr. Kahn worked as a developmental psychologist at Boston Children’s for seven years and maintains an affiliation there but launched the company in November.

The games help children “build muscle memory,” he said. So once they are able to reduce their heart rate over and over again the response of physiologically calming themselves down becomes more automatic.

Melissa Feldman, a 39-year-old occupational therapist in Milton Mass., said she heard about the Mighteor videogames through a blog. She enrolled in a pilot group in September for her children, Carson, 10-years-old, and Quinn, 7-years-old, who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, among other conditions.

The games have helped the boys stop and give pause when their emotions feel out of control, she said. “I think being able to visualize that happening when they are breathing and seeing their heart rate come down and connecting that has really helped,” she said.

Ms. Feldman said she’s also seen a lot of carry-over into real life. “I’ve seen it become a much more automatic response for them,” she said.

Her older son, Carson, agrees. He says the games have helped him remain calm in situations where he’s upset, like when he misbehaves and can’t swim in his pool.

“I think it’s a fun way for kids to control their heart rate when their feelings are high and energetic,” he said.

Still, he said the games aren’t quite as fun as the regular videogames he plays on his mother’s computer and phone. “They’re maybe three-quarters as fun,” he said. His favorite videogame is still Minecraft.

The impact of the games was tested in two studies.

In a pilot study, they first tested the game in a psychiatric inpatient unit with children with anger management issues, said Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, director of the developmental neuropsychiatry clinic at Boston Children’s. They found improvements in just five days and published the results in 2012 in a study in the journal Adolescent Psychiatry.

“A lot of these kids we are seeing are not interested in psychotherapy and talking,” said Dr. Gonzalez-Heydrich, who is head of the scientific advisory board of Mighteor, and said he has a small amount of equity in the company. “But they will work really hard to get good at a video game.”

In a subsequent outpatient study the researchers randomized 20 youth to 10 cognitive behavior therapy sessions and videogame therapy that required them to control their heart rate, and 20 youth to CBT with the same videogame but not linked to heart rates. All the adolescents had anger or aggression problems, said Dr. Gonzalez-Heydrich, who was senior author of the study.

Therapists interviewed the children’s primary caregiver before and two weeks after their last therapy session. They found the children’s ratings on aggression and opposition were reduced much more in the group that played the game with the built-in biofeedback. The ratings for anger went down about the same in both groups. The findings were presented at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry conference in 2015. The study is currently under review for publication.

Some doctors are skeptical that this type of biofeedback using videogames can work as a therapy. Russell Barkley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, noted that the studies looked at youth with high levels of anger, but not specifically with ADHD or anxiety, suggesting that further study as a therapy for anger control in particular may be warranted.

The Mighteor games just became commercially available in June. Before that about 200 children had been participating in a pilot project.

The company has about seven video games available now and hope to have 50 in a year. Now, customers can buy a three-month, $249 subscription to the platform giving them access to all the games. The subscription includes a tablet and wristband that acts as a wireless heart monitor, as well as coaching sessions for parents. After that, the cost is $19 a month.

Dr. Kahn said they recommend that children play the games 45 minutes a week. The product is geared toward children ages 6 to 14. Parents receive six coaching sessions from clinical social workers when they sign up.

Kyle Smith, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, said last year he began using the videogames as part of the therapy used in an outpatient program for children with anxiety. The children come to the hospital three days a week, where they attend cognitive behavioral therapy sessions.

He incorporates the video games but the feedback is variable he said. “Certain kids really seem to take to it quite well and it’s motivating for them,” he said. “And there’s other kids who have a harder time. If they have motor coordination difficulty or sensory problems it can be a little tougher.”

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On Campus, Failure Is on the Syllabus

A Smith College initiative called “Failing Well” is one of a crop of university programs that aim to help high achievers cope with basic setbacks.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. — Last year, during fall orientation at Smith College, and then again recently at final-exam time, students who wandered into the campus hub were faced with an unfamiliar situation: the worst failures of their peers projected onto a large screen.

“I failed my first college writing exam,” one student revealed.

“I came out to my mom, and she asked, ‘Is this until graduation?’” another said.

The faculty, too, contributed stories of screwing up.

“I failed out of college,” a popular English professor wrote. “Sophomore year. Flat-out, whole semester of F’s on the transcript, bombed out, washed out, flunked out.”

“I drafted a poem entitled ‘Chocolate Caramels,’ ” said a literature and American studies scholar, who noted that it “has been rejected by 21 journals … so far.”

This was not a hazing ritual, but part of a formalized program at the women’s college in which participants more accustomed to high test scores and perhaps a varsity letter consent to having their worst setbacks put on wide display.

“It was almost jarring,” said Carrie Lee Lancaster, 20, a rising junior. “On our campus, everything can feel like such a competition, I think we get caught up in this idea of presenting an image of perfection. So to see these failures being talked about openly, for me I sort of felt like, ‘O.K., this is O.K., everyone struggles.’”

The presentation is part of a new initiative at Smith, “Failing Well,” that aims to “destigmatize failure.” With workshops on impostor syndrome, discussions on perfectionism, as well as a campaign to remind students that 64 percent of their peers will get (gasp) a B-minus or lower, the program is part of a campuswide effort to foster student “resilience,” to use a buzzword of the moment.

“What we’re trying to teach is that failure is not a bug of learning, it’s the feature,” said Rachel Simmons, a leadership development specialist in Smith’s Wurtele Center for Work and Life and a kind of unofficial “failure czar” on campus. “It’s not something that should be locked out of the learning experience. For many of our students — those who have had to be almost perfect to get accepted into a school like Smith — failure can be an unfamiliar experience. So when it happens, it can be crippling.”

Ms. Simmons would know. She hid her own failure (dropping out of a prestigious scholarship program in her early 20s; told by her college president that she had embarrassed her school) for close to a decade. “For years, I thought it would ruin me,” she said.

Which is why, when students enroll in her program, they receive a certificate of failure upon entry, a kind of permission slip to fail. It reads: “You are hereby authorized to screw up, bomb or fail at one or more relationships, hookups, friendships, texts, exams, extracurriculars or any other choices associated with college … and still be a totally worthy, utterly excellent human.”

A number of students proudly hang it from their dormitory walls.

Preoccupied in the 1980s with success at any cost (think Gordon Gekko), the American business world now fetishizes failure, thanks to technology experimentalist heroes like Steve Jobs. But while the idea of “failing upward” has become a badge of honor in the start-up world — with blog posts, TED talks, even industry conferences — students are still focused on conventional metrics of achievement, campus administrators say.

Nearly perfect on paper, with résumés packed full of extracurricular activities, they seemed increasingly unable to cope with basic setbacks that come with college life: not getting a room assignment they wanted, getting wait-listed for a class or being rejected by clubs.

“We’re not talking about flunking out of pre-med or getting kicked out of college,” Ms. Simmons said. “We’re talking about students showing up in residential life offices distraught and inconsolable when they score less than an A-minus. Ending up in the counseling center after being rejected from a club. Students who are unable to ask for help when they need it, or so fearful of failing that they will avoid taking risks at all.”

Almost a decade ago, faculty at Stanford and Harvard coined the term “failure deprived” to describe what they were observing: the idea that, even as they were ever more outstanding on paper, students seemed unable to cope with simple struggles. “Many of our students just seemed stuck,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford and the author of “How to Raise an Adult.”

They soon began connecting the dots: between what they were seeing anecdotally — the lack of coping skills — and what mental health data had shown for some time, including, according to the American College Health Association, an increase in depression and anxiety, overwhelming rates of stress and more demand for counselling services than campuses can keep up with.

It was Cornell that, in 2010 after a wave of student suicides, declared that it would be an “obligation of the university” to help students learn life skills. Not long after, Stanford started an initiative called the Resilience Project, in which prominent alumni recounted academic setbacks, recording them on video. “It was an attempt to normalize struggle,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims said.

A consortium of academics soon formed to share resources, and programs have quietly proliferated since then: the Success-Failure Project at Harvard, which features stories of rejection; the Princeton Perspective Project, encouraging conversation about setbacks and struggles; Penn Faces at the University of Pennsylvania, a play on the term used by students to describe those who have mastered the art of appearing happy even when struggling.

“There is this kind of expectation on students at a lot of these schools to be succeeding on every level: academically, socially, romantically, in our family lives, in our friendships,” said Emily Hoeven, a recent graduate who helped start the project in her junior year. “And also sleep eight hours a night, look great, work out and post about it all on social media. We wanted to show that life is not that perfect.”

At the University of Texas, Austin, there is now a free iPhone app, Thrive, that helps students “manage the ups and downs of campus life” through short videos and inspirational quotes. The University of California, Los Angeles has what it calls a head of student resilience on staff. While at Davidson College, a liberal arts school in North Carolina, there is a so-called failure fund, a series of $150 to $1,000 grants for students who want to pursue a creative endeavors, with no requirements that the idea be viable or work. “We encourage students to learn from their mistakes and lean into their failure,” the program’s news release states.

“For a long time, I think we assumed that this was the stuff that was automatically learned in childhood: that everyone struck out at the baseball diamond or lost the student council race,” said Donna Lisker, Smith’s dean of the college and vice president for student life. “The idea that an 18-year-old doesn’t know how to fail on the one hand sounds preposterous. But I think in many ways we’ve pulled kids away from those natural learning experiences.”

And so, universities are engaging in a kind of remedial education that involves talking, a lot, about what it means to fail.

“I think colleges are revamping what they believe it means to be well educated — that it’s not about your ability to write a thesis statement, but to bounce back when you’re told it doesn’t measure up,” said Ms. Simmons, the author of two books on girls’ self-esteem who is publishing a third, “Enough as She Is,” next year. “Especially now, with the current economy, students need tools to pivot between jobs, between careers, to work on short-term projects, to be self-employed. These are crucial life skills.”

If it all feels a bit like a “Portlandia” sketch, that’s because it actually was one: in which Fred and Carrie decide to hire a bully to teach grit to students, one who uses padded gym mats to make sure the children don’t actually get hurt.

Add “teaching failure” to nap pods (yes, those exist) and campus petting zoos (also common), and you’ve got to wonder, as a cover story in Psychology Today questioned last year: At what point do colleges end up more like mental health wards than institutions of higher learning?

“Look, I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with trying to create experiences that are calming,” said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Penn. “But I’d like to spend a bit more time figuring out what’s causing those stresses.”

Researchers say it’s a complicated interplay of child-rearing and culture: years of helicopter-parenting and micromanaging by anxious parents. “This is the generation that everyone gets a trophy,” said Rebecca Shaw, Smith’s director of residence life. College admissions mania, in which many middle- and upper-class students must navigate what Ms. Simmons calls a “‘Hunger Games’-like mentality” where the preparation starts early, the treadmill never stops and the stakes can feel impossibly high.

It is fear about the economy — Is the American dream still a possibility? Will I be able to get a job after graduation? — and added pressure to succeed felt by first-generation and low-income students: of being the first in their families to go to college; of having to send money home; or simply overcoming the worry that, as one engineering student put it, “maybe I was a quota.”

“I’m coming from a low-income, predominantly African-American community where there just aren’t resources,” said Arabia Simeon, 19, a junior at Smith. “So there is this added pressure of needing to do well.”

And there’s the adjustment, for many high-achieving students, of no longer being “the best and brightest” on campus, said Amy Jordan, the associate dean for undergraduate studies in the school of communication at Penn. Or what Smithies call “special snowflake syndrome.”

“We all came from high schools where we were all the exception to the rule — we were kind of special in some way, or people told us that,” said Cai Sherley, 20, seated in the campus cafe. Around her, Zoleka Mosiah, Ms. Simeon and Ms. Lancaster nodded in agreement. “So you get here and of course you want to recreate that,” Ms. Sherley said. “But here, everybody’s special. So nobody is special.”

Social media doesn’t help, because while students may know logically that no one goes through college or, let’s be honest, life without screw-ups, it can be pretty easy to convince yourself, by way of somebody else’s feed, “that everyone but you is a star,” said Jaycee Greeley, 19, a sophomore.

It is also a culture that has glorified being busy — or at the very least conflates those things with status. “There’s this idea that I’m not worthy if I’m not stressed and overwhelmed,” said Stacey Steinbach, a residential life coordinator at Smith. “And in some sense to not be stressed is a failing.”

It’s what Ms. Simmons calls “competitive stress”: the subject of her afternoon workshop on the campus lawn, to which she was luring students with ice cream and bingo.

When students arrived, the sundaes were there. But the bingo cards were a little different — filled with things like “I have 20 pages to write tonight,” “I’m too busy to eat” and “I’m so dead.” It was called “Stress Olympics.”

“It’s basically a play on competitive suffering,” said Casey Hecox, a 20-year-old junior. “It’s when we’re like, ‘I have three tests tomorrow.’ And then someone’s like, ‘I have five tests tomorrow, and all I’ve eaten is 5-hour Energy, and my dog is sick.’”

With only a few weeks before school was to let out, the stress pinwheel over summer internships and jobs — applications, recommendations, networking — was already at a steady buzz. What if they didn’t get one? Or the right one? “I’m not used to the whole ‘summer job’ concept, and I found the process quite intimidating,” said Ms. Mosiah, 21, a sophomore. “I had to ask for help from my friends and the on-campus resources to work through this. I’m not used to asking for help or being rejected this often, so I was really taken aback.”

Ms. Lancaster said, “Sometimes it’s hard not to take each and every rejection letter as a failure, but I’m trying to stay positive.”

Whatever happens, there will be plenty of time to talk about it when students return to campus in the fall.

Correction: July 2, 2017 
An article last Sunday about colleges that offer courses in embracing failure misidentified the position that Amy Jordan holds at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the associate dean for undergraduate studies in the school of communication, not for the entire university.

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7 Secrets of the Most Obnoxiously Punctual People

 

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Why Is My Child So Angry and Defiant? An Overview of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

40 percent of children with ADHD also develop oppositional defiant disorder, a condition marked by chronic aggression, frequent outbursts, and a tendency to argue, ignore requests, and engage in annoying behavior. Begin to understand your defiant child here.

Every parent of a child with attention deficit disorder knows what it’s like to deal with ADHD behavior problems — sometimes even the most well-behaved child lashes out, or refuses to comply with even the most benign request. But almost half of all parents who have children with ADHD live with severe behavior problems and discipline challenges on an almost daily basis.

That’s because 40 percent of children with ADHD also develop oppositional defiant disorder, a condition marked by chronic aggression, frequent outbursts, and a tendency to argue, ignore requests, and engage in intentionally annoying behavior.

How bad can it get? Consider these real-life children diagnosed with both ADHD and ODD:

– A 4-year-old who gleefully annoys her parents by blasting the TV at top volume as soon she wakes up.
– A 7-year-old who shouts “No” to every request and who showers his parents with verbal abuse.
– An 11-year-old who punches a hole in the wall and then physically assaults his mother.

“I call them tiny terrors,” says Douglas Riley, Ph.D., author of The Defiant Child and a child psychologist in Newport News, Virginia. “These children are most comfortable when they’re in the middle of a conflict. As soon as you begin arguing with them, you’re on their turf. They keep throwing out the bait, and their parents keep taking it — until finally the parents end up with the kid in family therapy, wondering where they’ve gone wrong.”


“I Can’t Take It Anymore!” Our Best Advice for Parenting a Child with ODD


The strain of dealing with an oppositional child affects the entire family. The toll on the marital relationship can be especially severe. In part, this is because friends and relatives tend to blame the behavior on ‘bad parenting.’ Inconsistent discipline may play a role in the development of ODD, but is rarely the sole cause. The unfortunate reality is that discipline strategies that work with normal children simply don’t work with ODD kids.

Fortunately, psychologists have developed effective behavior therapy for reining in even the most defiant child. It’s not always easy, but it can be done – typically with the help of specialized psychotherapy.

Looking for Links

No one knows why so many kids with ADHD exhibit oppositional behavior. In many cases, however, oppositional behavior seems to be a manifestation of ADHD-related impulsivity.

“Many ADHD kids who are diagnosed with ODD are really showing oppositional characteristics by default,” says Houston-based child psychologist Carol Brady, Ph.D. “They misbehave not because they’re intentionally oppositional, but because they can’t control their impulses.”

Another view is that oppositional behavior is simply a way for kids to cope with the frustration and emotional pain associated with having ADHD.

“When under stress — whether it’s because they have ADHD or their parents are getting divorced — a certain percentage of kids externalize the anxiety and depression they’re feeling,” says Larry Silver, M.D., a psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C. “Everything becomes everyone else’s fault, and the child doesn’t take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.”

Riley agrees. “Children with ADHD know from a young age that they’re different from other kids,” he says. “They see themselves as getting in more trouble, and in some cases may have more difficulty mastering academic work — often despite an above-average intellect. So instead of feeling stupid, their defense is to feel cool. They hone their oppositional attitude.”


Nagging, Logic, and Spanking Don’t Work on an Angry Child. These Strategies Do.


About half of all preschoolers diagnosed with ODD outgrow the problem by age 8. Older kids with ODD are less likely to outgrow it. And left untreated, oppositional behavior can evolve into conduct disorder, an even more serious behavioral problem marked by physical violence, stealing, running away from home, fire-setting, and other highly destructive and often illegal behaviors.

Getting Treatment

Any child with ADHD who exhibits signs of oppositional behavior needs appropriate treatment. The first step is to make sure that the child’s ADHD is under control. “Since oppositional behavior is often related to stress,” says Silver, “you have to address the source of the stress — the ADHD symptoms — before turning to behavioral issues.”

Says Riley, “If a kid is so impulsive or distracted that he can’t focus on the therapies we use to treat oppositional behavior,” he says, “he isn’t going to get very far. And for many kids with ADHD and oppositional behavior, the stimulant medications are a kind of miracle. A lot of the bad behavior simply drops off.”

But ADHD medication is seldom all that’s needed to control oppositional behavior. If a child exhibits only mild or infrequent oppositional behavior, do-it-yourself behavior-modification techniques may well do the trick. But if the oppositional behavior is severe enough to disrupt life at home or school, it’s best to consult a family therapist trained in childhood behavioral problems.

The therapist should screen your child for anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Each can cause oppositional behavior, and each calls for its own form of treatment. The therapist may also recommend cognitive therapy for the child, to help him cope effectively with difficult situations.

Carrots and Sticks

In most cases, however, the treatment of choice for ODD is parent management training, in which the family therapist teaches the parents to change the ways they react to their child’s behavior — both good and bad. Between weekly sessions, the parents practice what they’ve learned, and report to the therapist on their progress.

“Basically, parent training is about carrots and sticks,” says Brady. “On the carrot end, you work on giving your child praise and rewards for cooperating. On the stick end, you lay out clear consequences for misbehavior, usually involving a time-out or the removal of a reward.”

Parent management training is often highly effective, with the child’s behavior improving dramatically in four out of five cases. Parents who undergo the training typically report greater marital satisfaction, as well as improved behavior from their other children.

While some parents balk at the notion that they are the ones in need of training, “they have to learn how to stop getting into the arena with the child and descending to the level of squabbling,” says Silver. Parents often feed the problem by delivering overly harsh or inconsistent discipline. Instead, parents must reassert their authority by setting up well-defined rewards and punishments, and then implementing them consistently and dispassionately.

“My most important rule is that parents should not take ODD behavior personally,” says Riley. “Remain calm and friendly whenever you intervene. Oppositional kids have radar for adult hostility. If they pick up your anger, they’re going to match it.”

Riley recommends a “two free requests” approach: “The first time you ask your child to do something, give him two minutes to respond. If he doesn’t obey, calmly tell him, ‘I’m now asking you a second time to pick up your coat. Do you understand what I’m asking you to do, and what the consequences are if you don’t? Please make a smart decision.’ If you have to ask a third time, the prearranged consequence kicks in — the TV goes off for an hour, or the video game is taken away.”

Positive Opposites

Rewarding good behavior or punishing bad behavior isn’t a revolutionary concept, but with oppositional kids, it’s easier said than done. Parents must rein in their impulse to yell or spank. At the same time, they must learn how to substitute “non-aversive punishments” such as time-outs or the loss of privileges.

Many parents of oppositional children are so focused on bad behaviors that they’ve stopped reinforcing positive ones. Yet positive reinforcement is the heart and soul of parent management training.


“I Won’t Eat That!”


“Invariably, parents come to treatment with the idea of suppressing, eliminating, or reducing problem behavior,” writes Alan Kazdin, Ph.D., in Parent Management Training, a manual for therapists. But according to Kazdin, director of Yale University’s Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut, parent training emphasizes the concept of “positive opposites” instead. “For example,” says Kazdin, “parents are asked what to do if they want their child to stop screaming, slamming the door, or throwing breakable objects. The answers involve reinforcing talking quietly, closing the door gently, and handling objects with care and not throwing them.”

Kazdin maintains that helping parents learn to praise good behavior is one of the toughest challenges therapists face. He says parents are often “hesitant to praise a behavior or to use reinforcers in general because they feel the behavior ought not require any intervention. ‘My child knows how to clean up his room, he just refuses to do it,’ is a typical parental comment.”

Enthusiasm Counts

When parents do offer praise, they should be enthusiastic. “An unenthusiastic statement of ‘Good’ is not likely to change child behavior,” says Kazdin. Praise should specify the praiseworthy behavior and, ideally, include some non-verbal gesture. For example, you might say, “It was wonderful the way you played so quietly while I was on the phone!” and then give your child a kiss.

Appropriate rewards and punishments vary from child to child. The more creatively you tailor your program to your child’s specific abilities and needs, the better. But as Russell Barkley, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, writes in Your Defiant Child, “Creativity is always an asset to child-rearing, but it can’t hold a candle to consistency. Consistency in the way you treat your child — the way you set rules, convey expectations, pay attention, encourage good behavior, and impose consequences for bad behavior — is the key to cleaning up your child’s act.”

Never lose sight of the fact that oppositional kids usually have a great deal to offer, once their behavior is under control. “Oppositional kids are also often quite engaging and bright,” says Riley. “They tend to be optimistic and very much their own person, with their own way of looking at the world. Once you work through their defiance, there’s a lot there to like.”

 

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A Stanford dean on adult skills every 18-year-old should have

Written By: Quora

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the skills every 18 year old needs? Answer by Julie Lythcott-Haims, Author of NYT bestseller How to Raise an Adult; former Stanford dean; podcast host.

1. An 18-year-old must be able to talk to strangers

Faculty, deans, advisers, landlords, store clerks, human resource managers, coworkers, bank tellers, health care providers, bus drivers, mechanics—in the real world.

The crutch: We teach kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers—respectfully and with eye contact—for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.

2. An 18-year-old must be able to find his or her way around

A campus, the town in which her summer internship is located, or the city where he is working or studying abroad.

The crutch: We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there; thus, kids don’t know the route for getting from here to there, how to cope with transportation options and snafus, when and how to fill the car with gas, or how to make and execute transportation plans.

3. An 18-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines

The crutch: We remind kids when their homework is due and when to do it—sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them; thus, kids don’t know how to prioritize tasks, manage workload, or meet deadlines, without regular reminders.

4. An 18-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a house hold

The crutch: We don’t ask them to help much around the house because the checklisted childhood leaves little time in the day for anything aside from academic and extracurricular work; thus, kids don’t know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.

5. An 18-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems

The crutch: We step in to solve misunderstandings and soothe hurt feelings for them; thus, kids don’t know how to cope with and resolve conflicts without our intervention.

6. An 18-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs

Courses and workloads, college-level work, competition, tough teachers, bosses, and others.

The crutch: We step in when things get hard, finish the task, extend the deadline, and talk to the adults; thus, kids don’t know that in the normal course of life things won’t always go their way, and that they’ll be okay regardless.

7. An 18-year-old must be able to earn and manage money

The crutch: They don’t hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for what ever they want or need; thus, kids don’t develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, accountability to a boss who doesn’t inherently love them, or an appreciation for the cost of things and how to manage money.

8. An 18-year-old must be able to take risks

The crutch: We’ve laid out their entire path for them and have avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles for them; thus, kids don’t develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. “grit”) or the thick skin (a.k.a. “resilience”) that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.

Remember: Our kids must be able to do all of these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone. If they’re calling us to ask how, they do not have the life skill.

 

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heartWhat the ADHD Experts Say about Coaching for ADHD

We recommend that you hire an ADD coach to assist you in the process. Get yourself a coach to help you stay on track- Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo. Authors of You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!
Coaching, it turns out, is one of the most powerful and effective ways for people with ADHD to achieve success.- Thom Hartmann. Writer of 7 books on ADHD who has ADHD.
Coaching is the single most effective tool in ADD self-management.- Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. Author of several books on ADHD who has ADHD
Coaching intervention can make a real difference in how people with AD/HD negotiate their own particular deficits and cope with life on a daily basis- ADDA - Attention Deficit Disorder Association

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