I’ve been procrastinating brilliantly (it’s a gift) for the last several weeks on some paperwork that I really must do. Today I was determined to complete it. It is a lovely day here, so I fixed a tall glass of ice water, took my computer outside on the deck, and settled down to work.
Before I actually started though, I thought I should record this moment of spring beauty and uncharacteristic productivity in some meaningful way. A picture on Instagram™! Just the thing.
After taking the picture, I cropped and edited it, and posted it on Twitter™. When I checked Twitter™ to see if my picture had been retweeted, I saw a video link whose title was something like, “If You Only Watch One Video Today, Watch This One.” After watching the video, I read the comments below it and was reminded of comments on my own blog.
Finding no new comments on my blog, I thought, Well no surprise there. I’ve not posted anything lately. I opened a new word document to begin a new piece: perhaps a humorous post about procrastination. Just then, my computer made that tell-tale noise it makes when new emails arrive in my inbox. Guess what? Amazon™ has a new site now—woot.com. Who knew?
An hour later, we ended our call and I sat back down to work. I hunkered down and finished one of the documents, printed it out, and celebrated heartily. When I started the second one though, I saw that I needed some information I didn’t yet have. Well it’s just silly to start when you know you won’t finish. That’s a total waste of time.
I’ll get it done tomorrow. Or Monday. Tuesday at the latest.
We all know that, right? For example, the paranoid brain fabricates menacing scenarios that petrify and isolate. The depressed brain suppresses joy and deflates hope. The dementia-clouded brain suggests life should be lived in the distant past, not the present moment.
So yeah, diseased brains are deceitful; but they aren't the only ones. At times, healthy brains mislead too. They can’t help it. It’s all a part of the natural growth process.
All of the above normal thought patterns come with their share of inherent dangers, but it is the last one that is the most lethal. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, even though “. . . young people at this age are close to a lifelong peak of physical health, strength, and mental capacity, . . . death[s] by injury between ages 15 to 19 are about six times that of the rate between ages 10 and 14.”
Harvard neurologist and parent Frances Jensen began studying the adolescent brain when her two sons were teenagers. She explains, “Nature made the brains of children and adolescents excitable. Their brain chemistry is tuned to be responsive to everything in their environment. After all, that's what makes kids learn so easily.”  So it’s normal. Scary, but normal.
See the brain is not fully developed until we are in our mid to late 20’s. And the part of the brain that recognizes risk, the frontal lobe, is the last to grow up. That’s why we do such stupid things in high school and college. Because our brains are literally too immature to know any better.
If we're lucky, by the time we are in our 30’s, we look back on our ideas and impulses of previous decades and cringe. We're embarrassed, maybe even humiliated. We wish we could go back in time and tell our teenaged selves that risk is real and warnings are for a reason.
But, you know what? Our adolescent selves wouldn’t pay any attention to our overly-cautious, bossy, controlling adult selves. That’s because teenaged brains are too busy misconstruing reality.
Lies. All of them.
So parents, let’s stop the blaming and name-calling and understand that when our teenagers are acting irresponsibly, it’s because their brains are just doing what comes naturally.
And teenagers: you can't always trust your brains. You really can’t. So do this. In potentially dangerous situations, defer to someone whose frontal lobe is fully developed. Occasionally you might miss something fun. But at least you’ll live to complain about it.
"The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction." NIMH RSS. The National Institute of Mental Health, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-still-under-construction/index.shtml>.
 Knox, Richard. "The Teen Brain: It's Just Not Grown Up Yet." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124119468>.
 Spinks, Sarah. "Adolescent Brains Are Works in Process." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/adolescent.html>.
August 11, 2012
I published a form of this article in a kids magazine back in 2006. In about 10 days, I start teaching at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (ABTech). I'll be teaching a class required for all first semester students on student success and study skills. Seemed like a good time to pull out this old article and post it. I've not updated it to include current technological aids, but I think you'll find these habits are timeless.
Disappointed in your grades? Want to be an A student? You can be. . .just fake it! All you have to do is find those academic superstars in your life and start imitating them. Here’s what you do: pay close attention to their class attendance; take note of how they take notes; and then study how they study. Once you have figured out how those A students act, just copy their behavior. Before long, your grades will look just like theirs!
One thing A students do is go to class--every time it meets. They treat class like a job. So do that. Be on time to class, pretending that you have to punch a time-clock. Be alert, ready to go to work. If you know you will have to miss a class, let the teacher know. Get your assignments. Act as if you care that you will not be there. If you do not know beforehand, just explain your absence to the teacher later. If possible, get a brief summary of the previous class and also find out how to make up any missed work. Then, of course, you should follow through and do the work. That’s what A students do.
C students often take lots and lots of notes, spending their whole class period with head down and pen to paper. Don’t do that. If you spend every second writing, you will miss the whole lecture. Most A students take notes sparingly. They have pre-defined abbreviations so that note-taking is more efficient. For instance, in a class on the Roman Empire, a good note-taker would just write a capital R for Rome or Roman, therefore writing less and listening more. After class is over, it’s a good idea to fill in any vague areas in your notes with details you might forget later. While you are doing that, quickly review all the day’s notes to solidify what you just learned. Take that a step further and breeze over them just before the next class begins. This way you have a fresh memory of the information from the previous class and can respond appropriately to the instructor’s questions. Not only does this make the upcoming information easier to digest, it also makes you look really smart.
A students study in many different ways. Some confine all study to an orderly desk. Others spread notes on the floor, prop up on an overstuffed pillow, and go to work. Whatever study environment suits your needs, that’s the environment you should create. It’s a good idea to post reminders in your study area so you will not forget what you are trying to fake. Make a sign for your study area that says, “A students enjoy studying!” Make a note in your car that reminds you, “A students make the most of every minute.” If you have a tendency to slouch in front of the TV like a solid D student, place a sign on it that suggests, “A students do not waste time.” (It’s not easy to be someone you have never been before; every little reminder helps.) Also, remember to allow sufficient time to study alone, even if you participate in study groups. Many A students benefit from group study; you might as well. But most A students prepare for group sessions in private and also do ample studying on their own.
One key aspect of studying is scheduling. At the start of your course, break down course requirements into daily study requirements. Stick to the plan whenever possible, but revise your schedule as the course progresses and as needs change. Sometimes classes need more time than you originally thought. Revise your plan if this is the case. And sometimes you will get behind. Again, readjust, refocus and get back on schedule. A students get off schedule all the time. The trick is, they make a new plan, they readjust, and then they get back to work.
Many times a study environment requires certain tools--things like computers, test tubes, calculators, books, notebooks and pens. But often, we find ourselves with time to study in places where these items are not within reach. When the tools that you normally use are not readily available, consider using mental rehearsal. This technique involves reviewing necessary information in your mind as if you were actually studying or practicing it. You can silently recite historical dates, mentally practice a music score or dance routine, or review mathematical or scientific equations, all without picking up a pen or lifting a finger. Mental rehearsal is convenient. It helps you make use of time that is often wasted. While you commute to class or wait in line, while you wait for your doctor's appointment or sit in line at the drive through window, wherever you are, you can use your best study tool--your brain.
One very irritating thing about A students is that they always do their class assignments, whether they get a grade or not. They practice formulas and do their reading assignments. So if you want to fake your way into straight A’s, this is crucial. No C student does assigned work just for the sake of doing it. So do those assignments, and do them in advance. A students usually have reading assignments complete before class discussion of that reading ever begins. They even bring questions to class about completed assignments that stumped them. And remember, A students do get stumped--all the time. They just ask questions, figure it out, and keep moving.
So are you ready for the test? You should be, almost. Because if you have done all these other things that A students do, cramming for the test will not be necessary. Complete additional study and review before the test. Do not stay up all night. Get plenty of rest and eat a good meal--that brain of yours needs sleep and nourishment! Get to the test on time, dressed in clothes that make you feel confident. (In other words, look the part.) Then get in there and ace that test!
See, you do not have to be an A student. Just pretend that you are! And in no time, you will find people are starting to imitate you!