Tag Archives: executive functioning

How to get motivated when you’re not feeling it

Reasons for low motivation can include:

Avoidance of discomfort.
Sometimes a lack of motivation stems from a desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Discomfort could include feelings that a task is too hard, too big, too exhausting, or too complicated (task expectations that are not clearly laid out are one of the biggest motivation killers). Feelings of distress or task aversion are one of THE most common reasons for de-motivation.

Boredom.
Repetitive everyday tasks are often avoided. From doing dishes, laundry, to cleaning up after the kids, every single day feels like Groundhog Day. It feels never-ending. For students, the parallel is ‘busywork’, such as repetitive homework.

Self-doubt.
When you think you can’t do something—or just don’t know how to get it done. When you lack the tools, skills, or even the training to get it done, it can be very un-motivating.

Being over-extended.
When you are juggling a lot in life, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed. You may not even know what to tackle first and this feeling can zap your motivation.

Perfectionism.
Procrastination has a positive correlation with perfectionism. Often, perfectionists have difficulty starting or staying on task because the internalized goal of doing it perfectly feels so hard to meet.

Executive Functioning Weaknesses.
Executive function is mediated by the frontal lobe, the conductor of the brain or the Head Chef. What appears to be low motivation is sometimes a direct result of difficulties with planning, organizing, sustained effort, attention, processing speed,  prioritizing, and self monitoring. If you have a bunch of talented musicians who can’t work together in an orchestra, the result is a jarring cacophony of sound no matter the skill level. Learn more: What Is Executive Functioning?

Lack of commitment to a goal.
Agreeing to a task simply because you felt obligated, may mean your heart really isn’t in it. And you are less likely to take action when you aren’t committed to your goal.

Mental health issues.
A lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression. It can also be linked to other mental illnesses, like anxiety. So it’s important to consider whether your mental health may be affecting your motivation level. Read more on how mental health can sap your motivation.

Strategies for Motivation That Work
One Goal.
Probably the most common mistake that people make with regard to motivation: they try to take on too much, try to accomplish too many goals at once. You cannot maintain energy and focus (the two most important things in accomplishing a goal) if you are trying to do two or more goals at once. You have to choose one goal, for now, and focus on it completely.

Find inspiration.
Inspiration can come from all over: clients, mentors, friends, entrepreneurs, colleagues. Read blogs, books, magazines,  Watch movies and shows, talk to people. Write down ideas that you find inspiring. Having an inspiration journal is a boon when it feels like your mind is blank.

Ask for help.
Having trouble? Ask for help. Join an online forum. Talk to a colleague or friend you trust.  Find somebody who can coach you through the rough bits. Having an executive coach or emotion coach can get you back on your feet.

Reward Yourself.
Create small rewards for yourself that you can earn for your hard work. You might find focusing on the reward helps you stay motivated to reach your goals. For example, if you have a long paper to write for a class or a work assignment, you might tackle it in several different ways: Consider whether you are likely to be more motivated by smaller, more frequent rewards or a bigger reward for a complete job. You may want to experiment with a few different strategies until you discover an approach that works best for you.

Use the 10-Minute Rule.
When you dread doing something, like walking on the treadmill for three mile or lifting weights for 30 minutes, you may lack motivation to do it. You can reduce your feelings of dread by breaking it up into short components.  The 10-minute rule can help you get going. Give yourself permission to quit a task after 10 minutes. When you reach the 10-minute mark, ask yourself if you want to keep going or quit. Life, 10 minutes at a time.

Break it down.
I work with a lot of students, researchers, and writers. Having to write or produce a large amount of material is a daunting task for most people.  Learning how to break down a large project or paper into smaller steps, each with its own deadline, requires practice. One of the largest factors in motivation is feeling overwhelmed by the huge-ness of a task.

Ebb and Flow.
Motivation is not a constant thing that is always there for you. It comes and goes. But realize that while it may go away, it usually doesn’t do so permanently. Be patient with yourself on bad days.

Start small.
If you are having a hard time getting started, it may be because you’re thinking too big. If you want to exercise, for example, you may be thinking that you have to do these intense workouts 5 days a week. Do small, tiny, baby steps. Just do 5 minutes of exercise. Organize one cupboard or drawer.  Want to wake up early? Don’t think about waking at 5 a.m. Instead, think about waking 10 minutes earlier for a week. That’s all. Baby steps are powerful. Just think about it, a tiny human learning to walk. That’s a powerhouse.

Manage Your To-Do List.
First of all, it’s impossible to keep everything in your head. When some of my students or clients tell me it’s all up there, I just nod politely. No matter how great your memory, something will slip through the cracks. Having a list is not optional.

It’s tough to feel motivated when your to-do list is overwhelming. If you feel like there’s no hope in getting everything done, you might not try to do anything. Keep in mind that most people underestimate how long something will take them. And when they don’t get it done on time, they might view themselves as lazy or inefficient. This can backfire by causing them to lose motivation, which makes it even harder to get more things done.

Take a look at your to-do list, and determine if it’s too long. If so, get rid of tasks that aren’t essential. See if other tasks can be moved to a different day. Prioritize the most important things on the list, and move those to the top. I like keeping separate notebooks, for tasks that are essential and those that are long-term. You can further divide both categories into work deadlines, social commitments, family commitments, self-care,  and academic or educational endeavors. I actually like to use different color pens for each area. The important thing is to break your to do list down into components that are actually possible or else you will have the same long list day after day.

Mindfulness and Self-Care.
You’ll struggle with motivation as long as you aren’t caring for yourself. Sleep-deprivation, poor nutrition, stress/worry, and lack of leisure time are just a few things that can make trudging through the day more difficult than ever. Learn more about Mindfulness and Self-care.

The Pillars of Self-Care.

    • Exercise regularly.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Drink water, and eat a healthy diet.
    • Make time for leisure and fun.
    • Use healthy coping skills to deal with stress.
    • Find meaningful social connection.
    • Avoid unhealthy habits, like binge eating and drinking too much alcohol.
    • Seek professional help as needed.

Get support.
It’s hard to accomplish something alone. A landmark study in 2016 (Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology) found that not feeling alone was an incredibly potent variable in motivation. Researchers gave out an impossible task, that is, it had no actual solution. The participants were split into two groups and given a complex puzzle to complete. People in one group were told they’d be working in teams, and were introduced to their teammates before being sent off to work on the puzzle alone. The other team was told they’d be working alone, and didn’t meet any teammates. While working on the puzzle, those in the team group were given handwritten notes supposedly from their teammates (they were actually from the researchers). These notes, and the process of meeting their teammates before starting the puzzle had an impact on their experience, despite the fact that they were working on the puzzle all alone, just as those in the non-team group were.

The participants who felt like they were part of a team, worked 50% longer on trying to solve the puzzle. They also reported finding the puzzle more fun and more interesting than participants who didn’t have teammates. The mere idea that one is working with a group and not alone can increase intrinsic motivation, that is, an inner drive to finish the work and increased internal satisfaction working persistently.  Read: How to Ask for Help Without Feeling Weird.

State Your Mantra.
Print out your goal in words. Make your goal just a few words long, like a mantra (“Exercise 15 mins. Daily”), and post it up on your wall or refrigerator. Post it at home and work. Put it on your computer desktop, bathroom mirror, and cell phone. You want to have real reminders about your goal, to keep your focus and keep your excitement going. Learn more about Mantras.

Pair a Dreaded Task With Something You Enjoy.
Our emotions play a major role in motivation level. If you’re sad, bored, lonely, scared, or anxious, your desire to tackle a tough challenge or complete a tedious task will suffer. Boost your mood by adding a little fun to something you’re not motivated to do. You’ll feel happier and you might even look forward to doing the task when it’s regularly paired with something fun.

Here are some examples:

  • Listen to music while you run.
  • Call a friend, and chat while you’re cleaning the house.
  • Light a scented candle while you’re working on your computer.
  • Rent a luxury vehicle when you travel for business.
  • Invite a friend to run errands with you.
  • Listen to audiobooks or interesting podcasts while commuting.
  • Turn on your favorite show while you’re folding laundry.

Give yourself a time out.
Giving yourself breaks throughout a large task can be very energizing. The average person can only sustain attention for30 to 45 minutes and often less. Get up, stretch, move, see below.

Include physical movement.
Although you might be getting ready to do something that’s not physical, like working at a desk, your schedule routine should include some movement. Exercise oxygenates your brain and can do wonders for your motivation and energy.

Get outside.
Walking or spending time in nature can be very beneficial. A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking half a mile through a park or working in a garden for thirty minutes reduces brain fatigue.

Write it down.
Numerous studies have shown that you are more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. A guided day planner with a daily list of goals will give you the motivation to achieve your objectives step-by-step. When you know what steps to take to achieve your goals and you see them in writing, you’re more likely to get motivated to complete them.

Practice Self-Compassion.
You might think being hard on yourself is the key to getting motivated. But harsh self-criticism doesn’t work. Research shows that self-compassion is actually much more motivating, especially when you are struggling with adversity. For example, a 2011 study conducted by researchers at the University of California found that self-compassion increases the motivation to recover from failure. After failing a test, students spent more time studying when they spoke to themselves kindly. Additionally, they reported greater motivation to change their weaknesses when they practiced self-acceptance (a key component of self-compassion). Self-compassion may also improve mental health (which can increase motivation). Having a kind inner dialogue is a key component of avoiding discouragement, the motivation killer. Learn more about Self-Compassion

Is simplicity significant?

Whether or not you call it minimalism, neuropsychological research indicates there are certainly mental health benefits to this type of lifestyle. Primarily, following a minimalist lifestyle emphasizes saving time, energy, and money, areas that are integral to mental health. Based on research from clinical psychology, minimalism has cognitive, social, and emotional benefits.

Allows you to self reflect
Overcommitment creates a frenetic pace. Time to sit and think is rare. Making time for meditation, prayer, and breath work/pranayama forces our brains to slow down in a way that is often not possible during the rest of our busy lives.

Encourages solitary time
Neuropsychological research shows that solitude has a number of benefits including increased feelings of creativity, introspection, agency, and even spirituality. Decreasing our social commitments and social media time is often difficult but actually provides a brain boost.

Reduces decision fatigue
Over 35,000 times. That’s the current cognitive research estimate on how many decisions we are required to make each day. And, if true, that comes out to 2000 decisions per hour or one decision to be made every two seconds. Overthinking is not just a phrase, it’s reality.

Supports executive brain functioning(such as organizing, planning, prioritizing, and self monitoring).
Simplifying life can help assist with productivity. Everything from meal prep, giving away items that are not used, going through your closet, not scrolling endlessly, and removing unnecessary events and tasks from your calendar all support your frontal lobe abilities.

Also see my post on simplified daily rituals that matter.

 

How to Make an Omelette: Eggs and Executive Functioning

Frontal lobes are the head chef of your kitchen. I teach teens how to make an omelette as an illustration of executive functioning: planning, initiating, obtaining and organizing ingredients, sustaining attention, sequencing, timing, and self-monitoring.

  • Here are the key steps I teach in my office kitchen for a simple omelette:
  • Organize and prep all your ingredients. Mis-en-place.
  • Beat the eggs: Use two or three eggs per omelette, depending on how hungry you are. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork.
  • Melt the butter: Use a 9-inch skillet for 3 eggs. Melt the butter over medium-low heat, and keep the temperature low and slow when cooking the eggs so the bottom doesn’t get too brown or overcooked. Low and slow matters.
  • Add the eggs: Let the eggs sit for a minute, then use a heatproof silicone spatula to gently lift the cooked eggs from the edges of the pan. Tilt the pan to allow the uncooked eggs to flow to the edge of the pan.
  • Fill the omelette: Add the filling— whatever vegetables or cheese that you might want to use. Ingredients are personal choices, but don’t overstuff the omelette—when the eggs begin to set.
  • Cook for a few more seconds. Monitor for over-cooking.
  • Fold and serve: Fold the omelette in half. Slide it onto a plate with the help of a spatula. Top with fresh herbs.
  • Admire and enjoy.

Learn more about executive functioning: https://embolden.world/what-is-executive-functioning/.

On Metacognition

Metacognition is thinking about your own thinking. It’s the ability to have an internal dialogue and analyze your own thought process. I have named it the personal landscape, in my work. Mediated by the frontal lobes, metacognition is a measure of executive functioning, perhaps the highest measure. People who demonstrate high metacognition talk about and analyze their own thought process. A simple example of meta behavior is: ‘I need to give myself a reminder or put this on my calendar, or I won’t hold myself accountable.’  People with high metacognition are often conscientious and successful entrepreneurs, students, and employees. They leverage self-awareness. They watch an internal movie of their personal cognition: thoughts, feelings, and observations, that’s on replay.

Another interesting example:
The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, which is the experience of attempting to retrieve from memory a specific name, memory, or word but not being able to do so. Usually, the name or word is eventually retrieved, but while one is trying, it seems to hover tantalizingly on the rim of consciousness. Metacognition is knowing what you know, and also knowing what you don’t know, simultaneously.

The Neuropsychology of Chores

Neuropsychological research shows that those children who have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in relationships, school, and future endeavors. These are all aspects of executive functioning, which include planning, organizing, sequencing, sustaining effort, and self monitoring, all mediated by the frontal lobe of the brain. One study by Dr. Martin Rossman showed that the best predictor of young adults’ career success in their mid-20’s was participating in household tasks when they were children. Also see the What Is Executive Functioning

In my practice, parents often express concern that their kids are so busy with school work, sports, and social life, that they have little or no time to contribute to household tasks. I believe that household tasks and chores are absolutely essential, contribute to brain development, and help with prioritizing, scheduling, and multitasking. I specifically assign household tasks that are developmentally appropriate as part of a treatment plan for each family.

The gains:
Life Skills
I often ask kids, are you important in your family? Kids begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. They feel a connection to the family. Holding them accountable for their chores can increase a sense of themselves as responsible and capable. Not being taught the skills of everyday living can limit children’s ability to function at age appropriate levels. By expecting children to complete self-care tasks and to help with household chores, parents equip children with the skills to function independently in the outside world.

Self-Esteem
If you let children off the hook for chores because they have too much schoolwork or need to practice a sport, then you are saying, intentionally or not, that their academic or athletic skills are more important than life skills. I work with young adults who go off to college and don’t know how to do their laundry or who live with roommates and leave piles of dishes in the sink, causing friction. Chores are an important part of relationships, with family, colleagues, and friends. One goal I emphasize is for kids to plan and help make a meal for the family each week. By accomplishing goals that are not related to school or athletic prowess, there can be huge gains in self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Role Modeling
You can model a message that there are tasks that need to be completed in order for the entire household to run smoothly, and that everyone in the family is encouraged and expected to participate. Or, alternatively by being allowed to avoid tasks, children may receive the message that chores are boring, mundane, can be put aside, and are to be done by others.

Encouraging Participation
Young children naturally want to be a part of the family and want to help. Ideally, you will encourage their participation (even if it takes more work on your part in the short run). The size of the task does not matter; the responsibility associated with it does. Praise hard.

Withholding Judgment
When tasks are assigned, and completed on a consistent basis, they are creating new neural pathways. Being overly critical or judgmental is not the objective, making chores part of a daily routine is.

Assigning Chores
For those parents who did not begin a chore regimen when their kids were little, you can still start a plan now. You can take some time to think about what tasks you need help with in the home, what life skills your children need to learn, and what are each child’s interests and abilities.

Family Meetings
As you contemplate these decisions, you can ask your children for their feedback and input. This shows teamwork and connection. Also, brainstorm ideas for overcoming any obstacles faced in the past, such as children not following through, arguing, or not doing a thorough job. Many parents hold a family meeting to discuss chores and when and how they will be starting, revising, or re-instating them. Such times together can build morale, improve relationships, and facilitate creative problem solving.

Giving an Allowance
One question that parents frequently ask is whether allowance should be tied to the completion of chores. This is a personal call for families. Many parents want their children to help around the house as a contributing member of the family, not because there is money or other external rewards associated with it. The option I most often discuss is that chores and allowance can be separate. I also encourage providing an allowance or reward for a task that is above and beyond everyday routines, such as cleaning the garage, painting a shed, or other major house projects.

Earning Privileges
One alternative to paying an allowance may be to have children earn privileges for completing their chores. For example, a teen may earn the right to use the car on the weekends by washing the automobile. A school-age child may earn the privilege to have friends over to play if he throws away the trash and puts away the games after a previous gathering with friends. Often parents expect kids to finish their schoolwork, before they get on their favorite video game. All of these actions demonstrate earning privileges, and when done consistently, show that chores and fun are both important.

The Psychology of Loyalty

Loyalty is defined by being OK with things not being OK. Decision theorists, who analyze data for a living, call it a paradoxical move, hurting today to feel better tomorrow, taking a disadvantage today for a possible advantage tomorrow–delayed gratification, but more accurately delayed uncertain gratification, a leap of faith. And while animals make such paradoxical moves by instinct, we humans have much more leeway in choosing our paradoxical moves. However, the mental flexibility that’s involved in loyalty, is defined by our frontal lobes. It’s the highest form of intellectual functioning.

We have language which enables us to imagine future satisfaction, a vision of our goals achieved. For example, you might picture your future as a lawyer, entrepreneur, or doctor, and so decide to borrow money and stay up all hours studying for exams and deadlines, when you don’t want to. You’re loyal to your goal.

Alan Turing, the inventor of the digital computer, called it the “halting problem”. Essentially: Programming a computer to search for a pattern in a string of seemingly random numbers, you have to also program in when the computer should halt the search, in effect giving up on finding the pattern. You can call this Turing’s Blurring Anxiety. When you’re trying to accomplish something, unless and until it is accomplished, you won’t know whether it can’t be accomplished or just hasn’t been accomplished yet. The distinction between those two outcomes is blurred.

In everyday life, Turing’s halting problem could be called the loyalty problem. Loyalty to a person, a project, a task, or a belief is a dogged and deliberate commitment. In essence, loyalty is one of the ultimate cognitive measures of executive functioning. Stick-to-it-iveness. 

Executive functioning and COVID-19

Many of you are excellent teachers, and probably didn’t know it. I’m a clinical psychologist of 23 years with a neural science background, and I have worked with children and teens every one of those years. I have literally met and spoken in detail with thousands of children and families. They are MY teachers.

When you show your kids that they, and you, don’t wear masks, don’t social distance, hang out in public places, pick fun over health, and disregard safety of others,  you are teaching LOTS. 

  • Rules don’t apply to you.
  • Impulse control doesn’t matter, do what YOU wanna do.
  • Being uncomfortable, physically or emotionally, is just too hard.
  • Fun before safety.
  • Others don’t matter, it’s about you.
  • You are healthy right now, so why worry. 
  • Emerging research doesn’t matter; it’s changing anyway, so it’s irrelevant.
  • Uncertainty is unbearable.
  • Everyone else is doing it, so why not.

Unfortunately, children with their developing frontal lobes do not apply these rules, which are aspects of executive functioning, to a single situation. They are generalized and integrated at the neuronal level. They are learning, growing beings.

[“But Doctor, Junior will not follow basic household rules. They only think about themselves. And she goes out every weekend and does risky things. It’s so frustrating.”]

Um. 

Obviously, there are many families working hard, and I mean hard, to keep others and themselves safe. I know it’s not easy, I hear from you every day. Big respect. There are also creative solutions. May you all have a healthy summer and fall.

On talking to the kiddos and executive functioning

It’s hard for many people to put the coronavirus global crisis into perspective. It’s even harder to explain it to children. But understanding the big picture can often help us make sense of what’s happening around us.

Some kids—and adults—have a hard time seeing the bigger context in situations. (It’s common with kids who have trouble with executive function.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for kids who get more nervous the more they hear and know.

But for other kids, not understanding what’s going on makes it harder for them to cope. It raises their anxiety level because they don’t always recognize that people are doing things to reduce the threat. 

To help them get a broader idea of what’s happening and be less anxious, start with what they know, says Ellen Braaten, PhD, director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) and co-director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Correct their misconceptions and then help them organize their thinking on the topic,” Braaten says. “Emotions tend to ‘de-organize thoughts,’ so you need to keep things real.

“You could say things like: ‘Scientists predict that this kind of virus can spread quickly. But it can’t spread as much when people stay apart for a while. That’s why you’ll be home from school for a while,’” she says.

It’s important to talk about what you’ll do during the time off. Share how you’ll continue to do things to stay healthy, like washing hands and getting enough sleep. Explain that doctors, nurses, and other health care workers are working very hard to understand how to help people, and they’re doing a good job at it. Emphasize the importance of having a routine.

“To do this, you need to be informed yourself,” says Braaten. “You also need to be able to discuss this in a fairly non-emotional way.”

(Stats from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics).

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive Functioning has become a catchphrase in psychology, parenting, and, increasingly, education.  Executive functioning is mediated by the frontal lobe. You can think of it as the conductor of the orchestra. Or the chef of a bustling kitchen. You can have very talented musicians, but the orchestra doesn’t do so well without the guidance and direction of the conductor. Similarly, even in the most delicious or skilled restaurant settings, the head chef is required to pull together all of the stations, to make and serve the perfect meal.

We use executive function when we perform such activities as planning, organizing, prioritizing, self-monitoring, strategizing, and paying attention to and remembering details. People with executive function problems have difficulty with planning, organizing, processing information, and managing time and space. They also show weakness with “working memory” (keeping information in your mind while working).

Why is executive function important?
In school, at home or in the workplace, we’re called on all day, every day, to self-regulate behavior. Normally, features of executive function are seen in our ability to:

  • make plans
  • keep track of time
  • keep track of more than one thing at once
  • meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • engage in group dynamics/interactions
  • evaluate and analyze ideas
  • reflect on our work
  • change our minds and make corrections while thinking, reading and writing
  • finish work on time
  • ask for help
  • wait to speak until we’re called on
  • seek more information when we need it.

These skills allow us to finish our work on time, understand if we are doing it right, ask for help when needed, manage our time, and seek more information.

Problems with executive function may be manifested when a person:

  • has difficulty planning a project
  • Frequently procrastinates
  • has trouble comprehending how much time a project will take to complete
  • struggles to tell a story (verbally or in writing); has trouble communicating details in an organized, sequential manner
  • has difficulty with the mental strategies involved in memorization and retrieving information from memory
  • has trouble initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently
  • has difficulty retaining information while doing something with it; e.g., remembering a phone number while dialing.

How do we identify problems with executive function?
There is no single test or even battery of tests that identifies all of the different features of executive function. Educators, psychologists, speech-language pathologists and others have used measures including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (Berg, 1948), the Category Test (Reitan, 1979), the Trail Making Test (Reitan, 1979), and the Progressive Figures and Color Form Tests (Reitan & Wolfson, 1985) to name a few.

Careful observation and interviewing are invaluable in identifying, and better understanding, weaknesses in this area. It’s often helpful to receive information from another person who observes the behaviors, such as a parent, coach, spouse, or teacher.

Strategies to improve executive function.
There are many effective strategies one can use in when faced with the challenge of problems with executive function.

Here are some methods to try:

  • Take step-by-step approaches to work; rely on visual organizational aids.
  • Use tools like time organizers, reminders, computers or watches with alarms.
  • Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day.
  • Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
  • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.
  • Create checklists and “to do” lists, estimating how long tasks will take.
  • Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
  • Use visual calendars to keep track of long term assignments, due dates, chores, and activities.
  • Use management software such as the Franklin Day Planner, Palm Pilot, or Lotus Organizer.
  • Organize work space.
  • Minimize clutter.
  • Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
  • Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space, including your desk, work bag or backpack.
  • Make a checklist for getting through tasks and assignments. For example, a student’s checklist could include such items as: get out pencil and paper; put name on paper; put due date on paper; read directions; etc.
  • Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems.
  • Doing chores at home has been shown to improve executive function for young people. Sequential tasks facilitate frontal lobe development. For example, learning to do laundry includes sorting clothing by fabric or color, learning how to put the correct amount of clothing into the washer, putting in laundry detergent and softener, learning stuff how to pick the correct settings, taking clothing out in a timely fashion after it’s completed, putting clothes in the dryer, the correct setting for the dryer, removing clothing, folding, putting items away.

Distracted?  Try these study tips.

These are study tips I share with patients who have ADHD and trouble with planning, organizing and staying on top of tasks.  And these same suggestions would be beneficial for most students and learning styles.

Review Before Bed
Studies show that you remember more when you take 10 to 15 minutes just before you go to sleep to review what you studied or learned earlier in the day. This doesn’t mean that students should do all their studying at bedtime, but reviewing what they have studied allows students to process the information as he or she sleeps (consolidation of short term memory into long-term).

Don’t Cram
Space out studying over time.  A small window of study, daily, leads to greater encoding of information.  Those who cram often report great difficulty bringing the information to mind when they need to retrieve it.

Exercise Sharpens Focus
Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise a day, four to five days a week, improves focus and executive functioning skills, especially in students with attention issues. If you are a student athlete, try to study after an event. Consider studying right after practice, too.  Although any aerobic exercise will do the job, the most helpful exercises for students with distractibility are dance, yoga, and tai chi, all of which require students to focus on their body AND their mind.

Meditation
Meditation can help sharpen focus and clear brain fog when distracted.  Several meditation apps are available, including headspace, Calm, and Buddhify (these are available for iPhone and android).

Napping
Most people need to sleep eight to nine hours a night to retain (consolidate) memories, but teenagers and young adults need more. Thirty-minute afternoon naps can help. Be sure these siestas aren’t any longer than 30 minutes, since extended naps can interfere with sleep cycles at night.

Breaks
Taking a break helps all learn more, especially those with ADHD. Studies show that students remember more when they take breaks between study sessions instead of studying straight through for an extended period. Having downtime enables a student’s brain to review information and material, even when she doesn’t know she’s processing it.  Use your smartphone to set a timer for 30 or 45 minutes. During these breaks, do something active, such as walk around the house, stretch, or go outside.

Sip a Sugary Drink
A drink that contains some sugar helps homework performance. Sugary drinks provide glucose, which is the primary source of fuel to the brain. If you’re low on glucose, you won’t be able to focus or perform well.

Sipping Gatorade or apple juice slowly delivers glucose, without overloading your system with sugar. Sodas and other drinks with high levels of sugar (up to 10 teaspoons) provide too much glucose, which results in a sugar crash later, impairing memory and clouding thinking. So a slow release of glucose can bring improved focus and mood.

Smartphones
Smartphones are built with every organizational tool imaginable. At the beginning of the semester, put all the important dates into your calendar and use the alerts to remind you in advance. Set recurring alarms to wake you up or remind you to go to class. Use memo reminders, calendars, and lists to remember deadlines for assignments and exams.

ADD students have the unique ability to hyper-focus. As such, you run the risk of finding yourself so caught up in a task that you completely miss your 2 o’clock class. Set alarms for everything! Also, when studying, put your phone in airplane mode to minimize distractions like emails, texts, or social media pushes.

Identify what distracts you
As Socrates echoed, “Know thyself.” Does your mind wander in utter silence? If so, avoid the library. For some students, a quiet room with the occasional sound, like coughing, page turning, or whispers is more distracting than a noisy environment where they can tune everything out. If this is you, find a restaurant, café, or coffee shop that has Wifi and study there.

Do you need utter silence? Find a private study room in the library. If you have a hard time sitting still, a private study room will allow you to pace while you study without feeling like other people are looking at you.

Do you find yourself remembering other tasks, like mailing a letter or taking laundry out of the dryer? The key is to figure out what distracts you and avoid those environments. It may be a trial and error process, but keep trying different settings while evaluating your productivity.

Make lists
Studies show that the distracted brain has a difficult time prioritizing. Sit down and make a list of everything that needs to get done. Don’t worry about the order. Go over your list a second time and number the tasks in order of importance.

If you have a large assignment, write out all the steps. This will help divide the task up into manageable chunks so that you are not overloaded with everything all at once. This will help you set realistic goals for yourself.

Write down stray thoughts
Our natural instinct is to find an escape route from unpleasant tasks. Menial things, like thinking about returning an email, checking text messages, or wondering what your dog is doing at home, pop into our minds and it is a temptation to do them “real quick” so that we don’t forget. Don’t fall into the trap.

Write down the fleeting, distracting thoughts. The brain is programmed to keep things that we don’t want to forget in the forefront of our mind, which crowds out the information you are trying to learn. These thoughts can easily bounce around, distracting you from the task at hand.

Any stray idea that you feel the need to address, just write it down. Get it all out. It’ll clear your mind so that you can concentrate on your work; if it’s written down, it won’t have to stay on your mind!

Move around!
Get-up-and-move.  This is a particular problem for those with distraction—sitting still can be hard. When studying, find a place where you don’t feel self-conscious moving around. Repetitive movements, like pacing back and forth or rocking in a chair can help you to concentrate and better retain information.

If you are attending classes in person, talk to your professor at the beginning of the semester and explain that you might need to stand at the back of the room occasionally. However, avoid doing anything that will overtly distract the other students, like tapping your pencil or sitting in a squeaky chair if you have keep changing position.

OHIO Principle
When given something to do, complete it immediately if it all possible, rather than putting it down to do later. Follow the Ohio principle: Only Handle It Once. Avoid the stress of paper shuffling.

Relax
Tension and stress undermine the memory process especially in terms of recall. If you find yourself tense up or get panicked when you first sit down with an exam or assignment, close the book, take a few deep breaths and calm your nerves. Use positive self talk like, “I studied well for this test, I will know at least some of the answers.”

Make it multi-sensory.
The more senses incorporated during the learning process, the more deeply the memory is encoded. Hearing and seeing the information is always better than just one or the other. Hearing, seeing, and having a tactile experience with the information is even better.

Translate 
Translate information into your own words. This is a great one to do when looking through notes, studying for a test, or reading a book. Talk to yourself, or tell the info to a friend or family member.

Repetition
The more you repeat the information, the better the consolidation, and the more efficient the storing and retrieving. One of the best ways to do this is by making flash cards. The following programs help individuals create flashcards on line: Quizlet, StudyBlue, and FlashCardMachine.

Imagery
Visualization strategies are extremely effective in remembering information. When listening to a story, make a movie in your head to play out that story. If trying to associate one person or concept with someone or something else, make up an image that places these two things together.

Chunk Information.
This is particularly important when studying. To avoid overload, study one section at a time so that you can consolidate that information before adding more information. When taking a reading comprehension test, stop after reading each paragraph to scan the questions and see which ones you can answer based on the paragraph you just read.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.