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Your college years can be fun and exciting, but when it is time to work on and complete schoolwork, most students do not really jump at the opportunity. Doing homework can be boring after a while, and most students tend to get on their phones and use social media or watch Netflix instead. While tempting, it is not the best idea when you need to finish something. Here are some tips to get you motivated to do your homework and study for those big tests.

1. Listen to music while you work.


Listening to music is a great way to get you focused and help you complete tasks. Everyone listens to different genres of music when they have to study or do homework, and some prefer to just sit in a work space with no music playing. When you can't find good music to listen to while you work, or if you want to listen to something different, try looking at study/focus playlists on music platforms such as Spotify, AppleMusic and Pandora Internet Radio.

2. Establish a homework schedule.


Even if you are not a super-organized person, planning out what you are going to work on at what time actually helps you get your homework done. It also helps you keep track of when each assignment is due and prevents you from forgetting about an assignment or remembering it at the very last minute. You can write your schedule out in a planner, on post-it notes, a whiteboard, your phone's calendar or a scheduling app. It is super easy and extremely helpful!

3. Set goals.

Tell yourself you are going to complete a certain number of assignments or make flashcards in a specific amount of time. You could even make a checklist of the goals you want to accomplish to make it even more satisfactory when you finish each goal.

4. Establish rewards.


Another way to get motivated to finish tasks is to find and create a reward system that will make you want to do schoolwork. Tell yourself that if you read two chapters, you are allowed to spend the following 20 minutes on social media or watching TV. A tasty tactic could be putting your favorite candy across your textbook pages and telling yourself that when you read past each candy, you can eat it. There are countless reward systems you can use when doing homework, you just have to find the most effective one that will cause you to want to do your schoolwork.

5. Get support from friends or family.

Sometimes the best motivator is getting positive support from loved ones. Call or text them and tell them how you want to get motivated to work on your schoolwork, but need a pep talk or positive feedback from them. I am sure they would be more than happy to do so if it will actually get you driven to do your work.

6. Form a study group.


Do you ever get confused by something your professor said in class or on a topic that will be on an upcoming test, and do not want to ask your professor about it? See if anyone in the class would like to get a study group going; sometimes having classmates around you studying will encourage you to stay focused as well.

7. Do not procrastinate.

Kind of self-explanatory. Just try to avoid it at all costs.

8. If you end up thinking about ways to procrastinate, think about why you are attending college.

You are on the verge of procrastinating -- you just do not feel like working on your assignments. It happens, I get it (and for some it happens way too often). When you are at this stage, try and think about why you are at college. Why is it important for you to go to and graduate from college? Thinking about that kind of stuff will get you motivated to complete your tasks because you are in college for a reason, and that reason is probably fairly unique. But remember that you're not at college to just have fun.

9. Put inspirational quotes or notes up around the area where you do homework.


Having constant motivational quotes visible around the areas you walk by every day will help put a smile on your face, as well as get you in the mood to do well in your classes.

10. Learn to say no to distractions that will disturb you from getting your work done.

Let's say your roommates want to go get food or go shopping and ask you to come along while you are sitting down to work on an assignment. While it may seem very tempting to just leave your work behind, sometimes the shopping can wait until you get your work done.

11. Put your cell phone away.

Put away anything you are prone to use that distracts you from your responsibilities. Putting your cell phone (or something of that sort) in another room or far away from you will force you to get your work done.

12. Stay positive.

I know there are several times throughout the semester where we all get really stressed and think about dropping out (midterms and finals week), but please try to have a good attitude when it comes to school. Instead of saying you want to drop out, tell yourself you are going to try your hardest to study and prepare for your tests and do the best you can.

13. Take care of yourself.

The most important thing that you need to make your top priority is you. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating throughout the day and simply living a happy, healthy life. If you can't remember the last time you got any sleep or ate, you need to make sure that is done or you won't feel like yourself.

Music can change the world because it can change people.

- Bono

Interventions for ADHD usually include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, coaching, support groups, and/or changes in the home, work, or school environments. Sometimes we hear about other tools to make life with ADHD more manageable too. These include exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, and good sleep. They all works together and most people with ADHD probably use a combination of these to manage their symptoms.

In this blog we’re going to look at another surprising tool that helps with the challenges of ADHD: music.

The power of music

Music has a special place in our hearts … as well as our brains. Who hasn’t experienced really deep feelings listening to a song, or recalled a distant but powerful memory listening to music? Music helps us to get going in morning, finish tough work-outs, tolerate boring rush-hours, celebrate marriages, birthdays, and holidays, and even to mark the memories of those we’ve lost. It adds something amazing to our lives. It can be a device of political self-expression. It unifies countries and marks solemn world events. Think about how often you usually hear music in a typical day.

Music lifts our spirits, gets our hearts and legs moving, and of course really impacts our emotions. I’m an amateur musician so it’s on my mind a lot.

I saw the new Star Wars film (The Force Awakens) last weekend and was instantly aware of how key John Williams’ score is to the plot and characters in the film. It informs us about what we’re supposed to feel and what the characters are feeling. When the bad guys show up on screen, eerie dark music warns us about them. It cues us on who the good guys are, who triumphed over whom, and when we’re supposed to feel anxious, tense, or exhilarated.

Music is a major component of movies and TV. Test this some time with a scary movie or a reality TV show. At a scary part of a horror movie turn off the sound and notice how much less frightening it becomes. That’s what music adds to our experience. Or turn off the sound on a reality TV show and notice all the cues you suddenly miss about the characters, their relationships, and who is feeling what!  It’s remarkable actually.

So I’m a music junkie and in my free time I like to sing and play two instruments (guitar and play keyboard). I try to practice about three times a week if I can. It gives me a sense of serenity, lifts my mood, challenges my mind and body, helps structure my day, and evokes my emotions.

My dog used to get really excited when she first heard me play guitar. These days she reacts less to it, I assume because she’s used to it (hopefully not because she dislikes my playing), but when I first got her she scampered over in a joyful, curious mood when she heard chords coming from my guitar. There is a joy in listening to music, making music, and sharing it with others.  

Music and cognition

So music is powerful and fun, but how is that helpful for ADHD? Well, whether you have ADHD or not, the benefits of music are many. And some of the problems that come up in ADHD may be impacted by music.

For instance, several studies show that people who were musically trained tend to do better as a group on tests of memory, attention, and executive functioning, compared to those who were untrained. That doesn’t mean they were professional musicians; just that they had musical training for some amount of time. Also, these comparisons were made across the two broad groups, not among individuals in the studies.

Still, this is important because both attention and executive functioning are deficient in ADHD. ADHD gurus Russell Barkley and Ari Tuckman argue that executive dysfunction is a core part of the cognitive symptoms in ADHD. And a 2014 study involving brain imaging shows that musical training is linked with improved executive functioning in kids and adults (see study details at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0099868).

How the brain processes and uses music can change based on experience. For instance, singing is usually governed by the right side of the brain while speaking is usually controlled by the left side. Following a left sided stroke, some people cannot speak, and so speech pathologists may incorporate singing into their language rehabilitation, since it draws on the right side of the brain, as one step in helping them to regain language skills!

On a related topic, scientists have suggested that we process music differently if we have been musically trained. Music tends to be processed by the left side of the brain among people who have been musically trained. This makes some sense as the left side is more logical, linguistic, and analytical, while the right side is more holistic and big-picture. Music is more often processed by the right side among those who have not been musically trained.  

Taken together, these results suggest that music impacts cognition, including some of the cognitive functions that tend to have problems in ADHD.

ADHD and music

Some recent studies have looked at ADHD and music more directly. On the surface music seems like it would benefit someone with ADHD, given that music is so enjoyable and it might improve multi-tasking, adherence to structure, collaboration, auditory processing, and self-confidence.

We know that in ADHD there tends to be low level of brain messenger chemical, dopamine. One reason that stimulants are thought to help improve ADHD symptoms is because they increase dopamine levels. Well, music seems to do that as well! A 2011 study by Valerie Salimpoor and colleagues shows that music raises dopamine levels, which might account for the sense of pleasure and increased arousal we feel listening to music (see study details at: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n2/full/nn.2726.html).  

Another study from Florida International University found that some kids with ADHD benefit by listening to music while doing their homework.  This again probably has to do with the activation and arousal effects of music (see study details at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21695447).

Finally, a 2014 study at Boston Children’s Hospital showed improved executive functioning in kids and adults trained in music before the age of 12 compared to kids who were not trained in music.

Experiencing music

Whether listening or playing, a fun way to experience music is by sharing it with others. This adds a social and interactive component to it as well. Making music together can be as casual and spontaneous as playing songs at home with a family member or friend, or as structured as a school orchestra or community choir. When we contribute together we feel unity and mutual enjoyment.

Here in Chicago we have a large musical organization called the Old Town School of Folk Music (website at: https://www.oldtownschool.org/). The word “folk” in the title reflects the origins of the school but it’s really a misnomer to me, since the school has hundreds of group classes involving instrumental instruction, as well ensembles that range from country to heavy metal, to jazz, blues, R & B, hip-hop, folk, Broadway, and all varieties of rock and pop.

What I love about the classes is the strong sense of camaraderie as well as the challenge of using our ears when we play together. That boosts auditory memory and attention. Unlike a chorus or a concert band for instance, the Old Town experience is closer to being in a band and having to rely on things auditory processes to play together, rather than everything being notated in a detailed score. A few other cities, like San Francisco and Denver, also have amateur music school programs similar to the Old Town School.

Feedback

So music is fun and it is good for our hearts and minds. Tell us about your experiences with music and ADHD. Does it make practicing hard for you? Does music help with your concentration, self-confidence, and social experiences? Do you hyper-focus when listening to or playing music? Share with us your experiences with music and ADHD.  

Source: Tom Gally, The C maj chord in guitar, with bass in G (Wikimedia Commons)

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