Wow…just realizing that the last I wrote was 29th May! I’m so bad at this…if I’m one of those bloggers making a living through their blog, I would have starved by now. It’s just that time really does fly. After 29th May, I had gone off on a hiking trip in Japan, then July came around and I was zombified trying to adjust to school starting again then there was National Day, Teachers’ Day, the national elections and here we are in the middle of September. If your time also has wings like mine, I’m thinking some of you must be reeling in shock that promos is merely 2 weeks away or that the JC2s will be graduating 3 weeks from now!

Which is why I guess books on boosting productivity are usually the best selling ones like Peter Bregman’s 18 minutes. One of the most common ways students try to make up for lost time is to multitask like crazy. One student once told me she listens to audio books on Geography while working on her Math equations. She figured that even if she finds it hard to do both, maybe there’s a passive osmosis effect happening and her brain will absorb the Geography stuff anyway. Maybe you don’t do something quite so insane but you find it quite common to be working on your assignments while listening to music, searching for cat videos on youtube, replying to whatsapp messages, eating Mcdonalds and shaking your leg all at the same time…or at least you think you are accomplishing them all at the same time.

In recent times, scientists have discovered that multitasking is a myth and that we humans aren’t as good at doing many things at one time as we think we are. When we think we are ‘multitasking’, we are in actual fact, switch tasking or background tasking. What this means is that when we are doing more than one thing at a time (say listening to lecture and checking instagram), our brain switches between these two tasks in a rapid fire way. Brain scientists have found that it is virtually impossible to be doing two things simultaneously with the exception of physical tasks that we find automatic (say walking and talking at the same time). The cost of constant switch tasking is that we end up spending more time on completing a task than if we were to focus on just one thing at a time. The quality of the work also suffers and we ultimately end up less productive than ever. Check out this video by Dave Crenshaw and do ‘The Myth of Multitasking Test’ to experience this for yourself!

Here’s me when I tried it out. The 2nd attempt looks like $%@ indeed. FullSizeRender

The science behind this is that similar tasks (like texting, doing assignments and listening to lectures) compete to use the same part of the brain and research shows that people can attend to only ONE cognitive task at a time. So the bottom line is this: if you want to boost your productivity, cut down on your multitasking. We might think we are saving time by multitasking, but in reality, brain science has shown that you are just wasting time and you are probably better off focusing on the task at hand singularly.

One student recently told me that she realized when she just buckles down and do her work without being distracted by her phone, youtube or music, she hammered out her math assignment real fast. Piece of cake. Something to think about. Here’s a clip from Ellen on multitasking to keep you entertained. Hopefully you won’t be watching this while doing your work. 🙂

This week at work, I met a couple of students who didn’t know each other but who told a somewhat similar story. A story that you might find familiar yourself. A story of feeling let down, abandoned, and disappointed by people in their lives who were supposed to be there for them, people whom they trusted and called a friend, but who somehow just left and stopped wanting to be friends. Sometimes this is as a result of a conflict or fall out, sometimes there just seems like there are no apparent reasons. In these cases, it’s not uncommon to feel a mix of confusion, sadness and frustration. Often, as a way to cope with the situation, we are faced with two choices. Do I try to mend things with this friend, perhaps give her more space and time, and maybe hope that things can be back to ‘normal’ again? Or, can I accept that things are no longer the same and find a way to let go and move on?

It’s not an easy choice to make and the process of trying to make that decision can be arduous in and of itself. Relationships can sometimes be straight forward and simple, or complicated and bewildering. Human beings, afterall, can be unpredictable. I was asked by these students I met what they should do, what choice they should make. Should they move on, or should they stick around and hope for the best?

The most honest answer I can give is that I don’t know. I’m not a relationship expert. In fact, I probably have had more failed relationships than successful ones. The number of friends I consider tried and true can be counted…on one hand. I often feel like you’re the best expert in your own life (even though you don’t feel like one). I also feel like sometimes we do know what to do…but it can be hard to let go, especially as it comes to friendship that truly mattered. I came across this poem today though, that I just feel hit the nail on the head as it comes to the process of letting go. So I’m going to share it with you.

Take a breath. Have a read. See what comes up for you. Replaced the ‘she’ with a ‘he’ if you have to. Whatever it is that you want to let go of, I hope this poem would help in a small way.

She let go
She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of the fear.
She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.
She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.
Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry,
she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice.
She didn’t read a book on how to let go.
She didn’t search the scriptures.
She just let go.
She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations
about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it.
She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.
She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.
She didn’t call the prayer line.
She didn’t utter one word.
She just let go.
No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort.
There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone
forevermore …

~ Reverend Safire Rose

So I’ve just almost concluded the resilience workshops with the JC2 classes (almost). And one of the things we talked about was how sleep was crucial as it comes to succeeding in school and that young people need about 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep which I wrote about in another post.

So after the workshop, some students came up to me and said they now understand sleep is important but often find it so hard to get to sleep. They find that they often toss and turn in bed and then when they look at the clock it’s like 4 freaking am with another 2 hours to go before they have to get ready for school. Some say they often wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to get back to sleep. I asked them what they do when that happens, and most say they check their phones or reply whatsapp messages until they feel sleepy enough which usually does not occur soon enough and before they know it, it’s 4 freaking am. No wonder when I asked a group of students how they were doing yesterday, 4 out of 5 said they were dog tired, and the one that didn’t,  didn’t hear my question cos she was too sleepy.

Most students now know I like to sleep alot. And when I’m awake, I like to read about sleep biology, how sleep occurs, how to get more sleep, what’s the best temperature for sleep, strategies to fall asleep quickly etc etc and spend the latter half of the day looking forward to sleeping again. Suffice it to say that I’m obsessed over sleep. And one of the things that I realized only in the last few months or so, is the effect of blue light (i.e. the light from our laptops, ipads, iphones and other paler cousins of Apple) on our sleep.

You see, once upon a time, when we were cave people, we spent most of our evenings after the sun goes down in relative darkness. When our body senses that it’s dark (a complicated process that is somewhat explained in the video above), the pineal gland (a pea-sized gland in the brain) begins to secrete melatonin which is a hormone that makes us super sleepy and we go to sleep. When the sun comes up, the pineal gland stops producing melatonin and we are awake and alert from having slept pretty well. We don’t have to make this process happen. Our body’s clever circadian rhythm makes this process automatic. This explains why when we go to ulu places and there’s no TV or wifi of any sort, we start to feel dozy at like 7pm.

With the advent of artificial light, we can now continue to party and work late into the night (woohoo!) and although that has had its benefits on mankind, it has really thrown our circadian rhythm out of whack. What researchers have found is that when we continue fiddling with our phones, tablets or laptops late into the night, the short wave blue light emitted from these devices fool our body into believing that it’s still day time and keeps the pineal gland from releasing melatonin. Without melatonin, we don’t feel sleepy (which explains why some people continue to feel wired and hyped up late into the night) and as a result our sleep really suffers. When our sleep suffers, we can’t focus and stay alert in the day for school and exams (A level exams at 8am anyone?) when we’re supposed to and we can even end up with chronic health issues like diabetes, obesity and heart diseases as outlined in this Harvard health article when we’re chronically sleep deprived.

So what can you do if you want to improve the quality of your sleep? There are a few ways I can think of:-

1. Put away blue light emitting devices at least an hour before bed time. I’ve experimented with this on myself – stowed away the phone and ipad, switched off the TV, turned down the room lights at 9pm and started reading a book instead while waiting for my melatonin to kick in and make me sleepy enough by 10pm. Usually it doesn’t even take that long. I’m comatose by 9.30pm.


2. Install F.lux (completely free of charge) which is a software that tracks the timings when the sun rises and sets and adjusts the lighting of the laptop accordingly to cut out as much disturbing blue light as possible (see picture on left).

3. Avoid sleeping with the phone next to you so you don’t get disturbed when you get random messages in the night and the phone lights up the entire room. Set it to silent and stuff it in the darkest abyss of your bag. If your friend can’t wait for you to reply when you’re awake, then this friend probably has issues.

Hope this helps you to sleep like a baby and come to school with a razor sharp mind. Razor. sharp.

It’s THE day. The nail-biting day when students come back to receive their A level results. While I’ve told students that results are not everything, I can’t help but feel nervous on their behalf. When you’ve put in two years (sometimes three) of hard work, naturally you’d hope that your results turn out well. So as with most results release day, today was a mix of sweet and bitter. It’s so good to see some students’ efforts pay off but what about those who got middle of the road results like CCD/D or DDD/D or EEE/E? Technically you have a full cert but fall short of the mark for NTU/NUS/SMU/SUTD and yet is not eligible to repeat JC2 with YJ in 2015. What are the options left open for you?

The answer is rather many (the nerves got to my grammar). We just need to look and broaden our perspectives. I read this article just today on alternatives for students who didn’t do well for A levels. Some of the things the writer listed really surprised me like I didn’t know about NYP’s course specifically for A level graduates and how you can graduate with a degree in 4 years with that course. I also didn’t know that guys in NS can bring their A level notes up to Mt Biang in Brunei and study in the jungle and still get into NUS! So please do check out that article.

Yet the other thing that struck me is the fact that while having a nice looking A level cert may give you a legs up in further education or career options, the quality of our life; how happy we will be; how ‘successful’ life in the future look like really really really (x infinity) don’t depend on the As and Bs. I read this article (again today…today is article day) that talks about 10 Singaporeans who shows us that the ‘A’ Levels aren’t everything in life. The common thread I think in all the stories of people featured is the fact that they had to take different routes and detours but none of them gave up hope, or gave up trying.

And that’s my hope for all of you out there. Whatever results you got today, know that life is much more than the alphabets on your cert. You just never know what the future may be like. As long as you don’t condemn yourself and keep keeping on (again bad grammar), I think you’d be okay. 🙂

New year, new beginnings!!

Posted: January 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

I’m just realizing that open house was yesterday and if prospective students were to click into this blog the first post they’ll see is about internet porn! So figured I better write something real quick so they don’t think the YJCounsellor is a weird person.

Did you make a new year resolution? Not sure if that’s still the ‘in’ thing to do.  I stopped making them many years ago cos they were mostly futile attempts and only end up making me feel worse about myself. haha. This year I thought I would give it another go but already the commitment to face stressful situations with a mona lisa smile on my face has gone out the window. The first day of school the air-conditioning in the counselling office died and we couldn’t revive it ourselves. The electrician we called took forever to come…I could have walked from JB to YJ and would still be faster than him. Then after that I spilled water all over my desk and in an attempt to clean that mess, I knocked over my container of paper clips and they flew all over the floor, then when I tried to pick them up I saw a dead lizard under my carpet and screamed my lungs off but still no help came. So yes, I was all frazzled by the time day 1 ended I wondered for real how I could survive the rest of the week. Hmm…just realizing that if a new student reads this he/she WOULD think that I AM a weird person.

Anyhoo…things have settled abit better since then although I’m still strangely looking forward to the CNY break (nosey aunties notwithstanding). I remind myself that things do get better if we just give it a chance. I know many students may have had trouble sleeping before the first day of school. New classmates, new teachers, new responsibilities as a JC2 student can all seem very daunting. Hope most of you stuck it out and are feeling things settling a little better now.

I was supposed to give an ‘address’ to all JC2 students during assembly later in the month but really I don’t have much to say except to say that I’m still alive and around and so if you’d like to talk about something – e.g. ideas on sticking to your new year resolution which I’m obviously an expert at (NOT!), just send a text my way. 🙂 4.5 more weeks to CNY!!

Alot of you by now will know that I’m a brain geek. I like to look at how different things (especially lack of sleep as my major obsession) affect the workings of our brain. So yesterday, I was listening to this fascinating podcast by the guy who created the website ‘your brain on porn‘ and how he approached the effects of porn not on a moral or religious perspective, but just purely on neurological science. He’s got a ted talk too which is supposedly very popular but I didn’t really like some of the things he said on the ted talk so I’m not posting it here. But you can click through to his website if you’re interested.

Then as I clicked through to related sites, I came across this very short, succinct yet insightful youtube video that explains the seeking nature of our brain and how we are susceptible to being compulsive clickers, clicking from one thing on the internet, to the next, to the next, forever being distracted by something and finding it very hard to focus on something for a longer period of time. Which really reminded me of a student I was talking to in the earlier part of the year. I remember she labelled herself as a compulsive procrastinator. She knows that A levels is coming and she has tons of stuff that she has to take note of, memorize and apply but she just keeps finding herself clicking from video to video on youtube. And if she successfully managed to steer away from youtube, she then finds herself clicking from one interesting article to the next on huffington, or checking twitter and facebook to see if there’s something interesting going on there and before she knows it it’s 1am and she remembered the school counsellor’s blog post that talked about importance of sleep, so she goes to sleep and then wake up feeling guilty and lousy cos she didn’t do any of the work she set out to do and the cycle continues.

Probably something alot of you may find familiar. Me too. I was so fascinated by this topic I clicked from article to article, and then found this youtube video and thought I should click through to their other videos and then found a video on violent behaviors of panda….okay just the last bit is completely made up.

So what do we do about this? According to this article on how the internet is a supernormal stimuli, awareness is a really good start. When we’re aware that our brain is a compulsive seeker of new information, we can pause and choose whether to cave in to the temptations or to regulate and over-ride them, especially if you have national exams on the line. And as it comes to building awareness, the .b mindfulness course I’m hoping to teach to more students at YJC in 2015 would probably help with that as well (fingers crossed).

I had a black dog

Posted: September 15, 2014 in Mental Health, Mental Illness
Tags: ,

I bought this illustration book by Matthew Johnstone recently and he used the clever analogy of the black dog to describe what life is like living with depression. The black dog was a term first coined to describe Winston Churchill’s bouts of depression. With World Mental Health Day round the corner, I thought I’d post this youtube video that Matthew Johnstone created to help people understand what depression is about and how to feel better. I like the part when he said ‘never be afraid to ask for help…there is no shame in doing so. The only shame is missing out on life’.