Happy 2020! As we begin the new year, I strive to help my students have the most successful year possible. One of the easiest but most useful tool that I can teach is the Pomodoro Technique - a tool to conquer procrastination forever! I hope you will read this and share it with your family.
The American Psychological Association estimates that 80-95 % of college students procrastinate on their schoolwork, while 86% of high school students procrastinate!
Procrastination has tangible negative effects:
There are many reasons students procrastinate:
Ultimately, we procrastinate because doing things we do not like activates the pain center of our brain - but research shows that once we get started on the dreaded task, the pain goes away in 20 minutes. The key is to just get started!
1. Shut off all distractions - there are a number of pomodoro apps to help you do this. "Forest" is a very simple timer that sends you messages if you check another site on your phone, while BeFocusedPro tracks tasks and work intervals.
2. Set the timer for 25 minutes.
3. Focus on ONE task only for 25 minutes. Do not set any goals! Just work for 25 minutes. (Younger students may need to work for only 10 or 15 minutes.)
4. At the end of 25 minutes take a 5-10 minute BREAK! Reward yourself with something pleasant. This might be the most important part of the Pomodoro - do not skip the reward!! If you are caught up in social drama - texting may not count as a break. Your mind needs to relax!
5. If you think of something else that you have to do during your Pomodoro, simply write it down and continue with your 25 minute interval.
As you work up your stamina, try to string together four Pomodoros and then take a longer break. Soon you will feel less overwhelmed and in more control! You can use this technique for other activities, too - like cleaning your room or writing your thank you notes!
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We’ve all heard it before and we understand why breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When it comes to our teens, breakfast rarely seems like a priority. They sleep as late as possible, then fly out the door, maybe grabbing an energy bar (often sugar-laden, loaded with words we cannot pronounce.) If you strive to inspire your teen to eat a nourishing breakfast, you have come to the right place.
Eating a “Brainy Breakfast” is one of the priorities at Thrive Tutoring. We understand how challenging it is to ensure that your teens eat a healthy breakfast, let alone any breakfast at all! A “Brainy Breakfast” offers adolescents the essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and, most importantly, the critical omega-3 fatty acids for proper brain functioning, especially while their brains are still developing. Powering up the brain improves focus, concentration and memory. Studies show that breakfast eaters score higher on tests and perform better in the classroom than non-breakfast eaters. Low school performance correlates with a lack of protein for breakfast. Proper nutrition enhances neuron firing in the brain creating learning and essential neurotransmitters to feel calm, focused and motivated.
Following are some of the foods that are ideal Brain Boosters:
Smoothies are quick and easy, so this is an ideal place for teens to start. They can add their favorite brain boosting foods that taste delicious to them.
High fiber oatmeal, loaded with nuts, seeds, and fruit along with delicious almond flour muffins are grab and go options, so perfect
for teens. The fiber slows down the absorption of glucose, offering a long steady flow of energy to the brain and body.
One of our goals at Thrive Tutoring is to educate teens on why to choose brain boosting foods. We also engage the students in experimenting first-hand with how much better they feel when making wiser choices, while limiting their sugar consumption. In our sessions, they will make quick, simple, recipes such as energy balls and smoothies that they can easily do on their own at home. Recipes will be provided. Also, we inspire teens to plan ahead so they can eat small meals throughout the day for extended periods of focus, attention and energy. Fueling with fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and nut butters along with lean protein are ideal choices for sustained energy and glucose levels.
We know the difference consuming a nourishing breakfast can make, so let’s model for our children. It’s never too late to help bring awareness to how much better they can feel and perform through proper brain boosting, nutrient-dense foods.
Check out our Brainy Breakfast Recipes on Thrive Tutoring, a mind-body approach to helping teens thrive.
Saying good night to my daughter has changed over the years. Gone are the days when I would snuggle with her in bed reading bedtime stories, then turn off the lights and watch her peacefully drift off to sleep.
Now, I go to sleep long before my 14 year old. With hours of homework each night, she is often up late trying to get it all done. When I go to say good night, I often notice her shoulders are raised and tense. I remember asking her a few weeks ago if she was okay, and she tearfully explained that she didn’t know how she could possibly get all of her schoolwork done. I could see and feel her stress. Her body tense with anxiety, her mind racing, my heart breaking. Then, in her exhaustion and stress, she said that she would never get into a good college so why even try. She was just fourteen, at the beginning of her freshman year, and already feeling overwhelmed.
The Epidemic of Teenage Stress
Stress among teens is reaching epidemic proportions. This excessive, prolonged stress affects their bodies and their brains. Researchers at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University found that when toxic stress is triggered continually over a period of time it can have a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health — for a lifetime.
As the mother of two teenagers and one pre-teen, and as a mindfulness teacher working with teens, I see every day the tremendous stress our teenagers experience in their young lives. I often ask the teens I work with to make a list of what stresses them out. Homework, school and college admissions are always at the top of the list. Now, they have added a new stressor to their list – their cellphones— as they are admitting that their compulsion to check their devices, and the added pressure that comes with that constant connectivity, is distracting and anxiety provoking.
This overload of schoolwork, the pressure to succeed in an extremely competitive culture and their constant connectivity leaves our teenagers with no time or ability to disconnect from their peers, to relax and unwind or to connect with their families.
As a result, we are seeing record levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia, attention disorders and even suicide among our teens. Studies also show that teens are turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol, to tune out or avoid the discomfort of their anxiety. There is a critical need for parents and children to learn skills that will not only help them cope with this stress, but will also help them thrive.
Mindfulness: A Brain Changer
Mindfulness is mentioned everywhere these days and for good reason. Scientists are now discovering that we can actually change the structure and function of our brains through mental training. Much like bicep curls strengthen your arm muscles, mindfulness practices strengthen your brain in ways that can improve cognitive function, emotional regulation and overall well-being. Large corporations, like Google and Aetna, are catching on and now offer mindfulness as part of their workplace health and wellness programs.
Professional athletes, like LeBron James, use mindfulness to strengthen their mental game. And schools around the country are integrating mindfulness into classrooms to help children develop emotional regulation, focused attention and resilience.
Since the introduction of Mindfulness Based Stressed Reduction programs at the University of Massachusetts Hospital over 35 years ago, scientists have been studying the physical and psychological benefits of mindfulness practices and have found that mindfulness can:
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally paying attention to what you are experiencing in the present moment, without judging that experience. Mindfulness helps us become aware of our emotions, physical sensations and thoughts, with a sense of interest and curiosity.
For most people, much of our time and mental energy is spent thinking about the past or worrying about the future. For example, I can have an argument with my daughter in the morning, and then carry that along with me throughout my day, continuously replaying those events in my mind and reliving those unpleasant feelings all day long. These thoughts take me away from my present moment experience, distract me from what I am doing and are the source of stress and anxiety.
When we bring our attention to what is actually happening in this moment, we no longer fall prey to the grip of our own stressful thoughts. We can then be present to experience all of the joys in our day as they happen, which we are often too busy and too distracted to notice. And we can experience life’s challenges without becoming overwhelmed by them. This is a radical shift in how we pay attention and an incredibly beneficial way to lower stress, foster positivity and retake control of our own attention.
Three Mindful Practices for Calm, Focus, and Happiness
So, how do we practice mindfulness? Here are three mindfulness practices you can do each day that will help you feel calmer, more focused and happier. Parents should try these for themselves to lower parental stress and share them with your children. Remember being mindful takes practice: Just like learning to play an instrument or hit a baseball, there is a learning curve here. Keep practicing mindfulness each day and you’ll see the benefits unfold.
One Minute of Mindfulness
At the start of each day, and periodically throughout the day, try this:
I often tell my children that I cannot take away the challenges they will face in their life, but I can teach them tools to change how they respond to those challenges. Mindfulness has helped me face difficult situations and challenging people, and it has helped me slow down so that I can be present to enjoy those precious moments that I don’t want to be too busy to miss.
My daughter still stays up late doing homework, but now when I go into her room at night, I often see her stopping to take long, deep breaths. She knows how to recognize her feelings of stress, and how to use mindfulness to relax her mind and her body. She is learning tools to sit with discomfort, to confront life’s challenges and to rely on her inner strength to thrive in a demanding world. We even enjoy breathing together, which is a moment I stop to savor.
This article is written by Cheryl Brause and first appeared in November 2016 in a school series by A Partnership for Drug Free Kids