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Obstacles Strengthen You

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By Rhona Gordon

I love the Olympics and I am sure you do too. To see the best athletes in the world train day in and day out and suspend their lives for years in order to dedicate themselves to their respective sport, is commitment at its finest. Many have to overcome adversities to reach or at least try to reach their athletic goal. But, I was struck today when I read the New York Times article about the World’s fastest sprinter, Usain Bolt, who runs with an uneven gait. The fact that his stride is not the “proper” one makes it amazing that he is still the best in the World, no matter who dissects his running skills. What I didn’t know, and you might already know, is that Bolt’s stride may be a result of his scoliosis, which “…curved his spine to the right and made his right leg half an inch shorter than his left,…” (New York Times, July 23, 2017). He runs with an asymmetrical stride, but instead of it being a hindrance, it is a benefit. In other words, one could say that this handicap worked in his favor instead of his disadvantage. That is fantastic!

Now, for the rest of us mere mortals, this is a lesson to remember. We all have our ups and downs everyday or once a week or sometimes, but we have them. What is hard for you, math, writing reading? Are you frustrated that either you or your child cannot work efficiently or address academic courses without a struggle? We need to remember that obstacles in our way may actually help us get stronger and be more successful. This is a lesson in never giving up. Don’t give up on your child no matter how many times you remind him or her to put papers in order or be ready on time. Don’t give up on yourself or your efforts even when you take one step forward and three backwards. Remember, this is a journey to achieve successful executive functioning skills that are vital for school and life. Give yourself a pat on your back and on your child’s and lace up your shoes and go out for a run!


Erica MechlinskiObstacles Strengthen You

Common Application Essay Prompts

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Every year, anxious high school seniors across the country take a deep breath and stare at a dreaded enemy: the Common Application. They have to fill out personal information, decide which colleges to apply to, and write an essay that will impress the college admissions board. But no matter how intimidating the Common App may seem at first glance, it’s actually not *too* scary. The Common App undergoes some changes every year, and the 2017-18 essay prompts have recently been announced. In the past, the Common App released its essay prompts in August, which gave aspiring graduates only a few short weeks to work on their college essays. Now, the Common App releases its essay prompts towards the beginning of the year so that seniors will have ample time to work on their essays and produce the best work possible. So what are the major changes to this year’s essay prompts? Let’s find out!

For years, there have only been five writing prompts students could choose from on the Common App. But for the 2017-18 application, there are now a whopping seven prompts to choose from. Five of these prompts are similar to the prompts that showed up on the 2015-16 application, such as, “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” However, these prompts have been reworded slightly from their 2015-16 counterparts.

Most significantly, though, is that there are two completely new prompts. They are: “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?” and “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.” In both of these prompts, students are free to write about a topic that they truly enjoy, one that asks them to discuss their passions and intellectual interests. With these prompts, the hope is that students will answer the questions honestly and in a way that shows their true selves. Too often students craft answers that they think colleges want to hear, and these answers do not present an accurate depiction of the candidate. These two new prompts are meant to encourage students to reflect on what they truly love and speak candidly.

A strong college application essay is not one that presents an ideal version of the applicant. Rather, a strong college application is one that shows a human being: one with interests in all sorts of things, one with flaws, and one with the capability to grow. So if you or your child intends to apply for college in the Fall, consider answering one of the new essay prompts in the Common App. Write about your love for the Oxford comma, your interest in animal hibernation patterns, or your passion for debating the place sports has in politics. If you write about something you legitimately enjoy, you offer colleges the chance to know the real you.

Erica MechlinskiCommon Application Essay Prompts


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Picture the scene: it’s 7:00 AM, the school bus will arrive in 10 minutes, and your child is frantically searching for her binder. She looks in every room, overturns every pillow, but her binder is nowhere to be found. The bus arrives, and your child sadly shuffles out the door, knowing that she will receive an “incomplete” on today’s homework. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, this is a scene many parents are all too used to. For students with executive dysfunction, it’s incredibly hard for them to keep track of their materials, be it binders, books, pencils, or calculators. Something always seems to go missing, and no matter how hard they search for the item or try to remember when they last saw it, the object refuses to be found. Luckily, there is one important step you as a parent can take to help your child better manage her materials: modeling. Children learn from watching their parents, guardians, or other authority figures perform actions, so if you start focusing on your own material organization skills, you will be inspiring your child to work on her own skills.

If your child cannot remember where she placed her school supplies, show her how you have a dedicated space in your bedroom or near the front door where you store your work materials, such as your briefcase, your laptop, or any documents you may need. Before your child goes to bed each night, show her how you go over a checklist to make sure you have everything you need for the following morning. To encourage your child to keep track of her school assignments with a planner, show her how you create appointments on Google Calendar, or how you write in your own agenda book.

By modeling the benefits of material organization, you can motivate your child to mimic your actions. Gathering materials at the end of the night can become a family affair, and eventually your child will develop the habit of keeping her school things tidy on her own!

Erica MechlinskiModeling

Three Websites for Improving Productivity

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Many of the students who work with Thinking Organized struggle to maintain attention to a task. Often times they zone out without realizing it, or they’re uninterested in the material and cannot absorb it. As a result, homework and tasks are incomplete, and the students (and their family) are left in a whirlwind of panic. So how can these students avoid this panic and better concentrate on a task? By checking out the great websites below!


Noisli is a sound app that offers a variety of noises designed to help a person better focus on their work and be productive. There are sixteen sounds to choose from: rain, thunderstorm, wind, forest, leaves, water stream, seaside, water, bonfire, summer night, fan, train, coffee shop, white noise, pink noise, and brown noise. You can play as many sounds at once as you would like until you find a unique combination that works perfectly for you. The thought process behind Nosili is that people work better in a relaxing sound environment because it stimulates the brain. In addition to providing sounds, Noisli also offers a text feature so you can write undistracted, a timer where your chosen sounds fade out after a predetermined time to alert you when your timer has reached the end, and a background that gradually changes color. This is a great app for homework and learning how to manage time.

Written? Kitten!

The premise behind this website is so simple and cute that it’s almost genius. For every 100 words that you write on the site’s textpad, you receive a picture of a precious kitten. If you’re not a kitten person, you can change the photos to those of puppies or bunnies. Additionally, if you desire a larger challenge, you can change the settings so that you don’t get a picture until you write either 200, 500, or 1000 words. This is a website that revels in the rewards system as a motivational factor, and it enables students to set writing goals for themselves. For instance, if they get two pictures of a kitten, they can take a fifteen-minute break.

Cold Turkey

Cold Turkey is exactly what it sounds like: the complete and total stoppage of something. In this case, it’s the complete and total stoppage of utilizing distracting websites. Once you download the software, you can input the websites that you tend to visit when you’re trying to work on a task. You set a timer for how long these websites should be blocked, and that’s it! Cold Turkey blocks access to these sites until the timer is up; even if you try to stop the timer or uninstall the software and reinstall it, Cold Turkey persevers and refuses to let you procrastinate.

Erica MechlinskiThree Websites for Improving Productivity

A Memory Palace

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One of the key executive functioning skills that Thinking Organized stresses is memory. We all know that many courses in school require that students memorize vast amounts of information in order to do well. The challenge is how to keep all of that information in one’s mind without looking at notes or calling up our smartest friend, Google. Thinking Organized teaches its students a number of memory enhancement strategies such as visualizing, chunking, mnemonic devices and the method of loci, more commonly known as building a memory palace.

Alex Mullen, a “memory athlete” and Johns Hopkins graduate who became the first American to win the World Memory Championship in 2015, uses this method to help himself succeed in medical school and to win memory competitions. Mullen, who currently attends the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, focuses on the method of loci for memorizing long lists of terms in his med school classes. It’s a technique used at least as far back as the Roman Empire. The method of loci, or the memory palace, is based on the fact that we all know our immediate environments very well, such as our rooms, our homes, schools, streets in our neighborhood or our favorite hiking routes. Associate the very-well known with new information, and your brain will make a link between the two that is hard to forget.

Take a look at this video as Mullen demonstrates how to easily memorize a list of 20 random words by building a Memory Palace.

Mullen’s website,, has a plethora of videos, questions and answers and in-depth looks at other memory enhancement techniques.

Next time you need to memorize a long list of names, places or formulas—remember this!

Erica MechlinskiA Memory Palace

The Power of Music

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Learning how to play a musical instrument provides a multitude of benefits for a person of any age. For school-age students in particular, however, the power of music is tremendous. Not only does playing a musical instrument teach persistence and discipline, but it also increases students’ abilities to process sounds. This links to the ability to read and understand language, as well as focus in the classroom. For example, making sense of a variety of complicated sounds in band practice is similar to being able to focus on what a teacher is saying in a noisy classroom.

In a study conducted by Sylvain Moreno, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, musical training enhanced executive function in 90 percent of students. This includes their ability to “plan, organize, strategize, and solve problems.” Think about all of the skills required to play an instrument in a musical ensemble. You have to be able to coordinate the appropriate motor movements to produce the correct sound, simultaneously pay attention to the music around you and read your sheet music to know what to play when, plan ahead to properly execute what the composer is asking, manage your time to maintain a practice schedule, and much more. It sounds like this would be a lot of tedious, hard work, but for many students learning to play an instrument is an enjoyable, welcome challenge that can last a lifetime.

Given the boost to your brain that music provides, why not try picking up a musical instrument this summer?


Erica MechlinskiThe Power of Music

The Meaning Behind Motivation

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Thinking Organized recently welcomed Rebecca Kullback, Licensed Certified Clinical Social Worker (LCSW-C) and co-founder of Metropolitan Counseling Services in Bethesda, to speak at our staff development meeting and give us a new perspective on the topic of motivation. We all know what it is like to dread getting started on certain tasks, procrastinate, and feel a lack of motivation. One interesting point that Ms. Kullback brought up is that we have to be mindful of why this might be the case. In any given situation, who is the person that wants a certain behavior to be executed? If a child’s room is messy, for instance, a parent might tell him to clean his room. The child may not see any purpose in doing so and is just fine with the mess, appearing unmotivated to complete the task. Instead of saying, “You need to clean your room,” a parent might say, “I need you to clean your room.” Why? Because it is the parent’s need that has to be fulfilled, not necessarily the child’s. Ms. Kullback made an important distinction between motivation and behavior, saying that if a child can do the behavior but just won’t, it is a behavioral issue and not a motivation issue.

When it comes to shaping behaviors, many people have differing views on the practice of using external motivation, such as rewards, to encourage behavior. Every person’s brain develops connections based on experience and environment. In the case of students with ADHD, Ms. Kullback explained that sometimes their brain needs time to catch up and make the necessary connections in order to associate the presentation of a demand with follow-through. White matter found in the brain may be at the core of this issue. According to Trends in Neurosciences Research Journal, “White matter is the brain region underlying the gray matter cortex, composed of neuronal fibers coated with electrical insulation called myelin.” Myelin determines how quickly and efficiently brain impulses can travel. As a result, it can be worthwhile to use external motivators as a short-term intervention if implemented thoughtfully until habits are developed and imprinted in the brain. More simply put, students with ADHD have different brain chemistry that often requires them to need more time in developing and consistently using desired routines. Until that time comes, external rewards can be an effective way to encourage the brain to form certain habits.  One way Ms. Kullback described it is that for kids with ADHD, it can be like they have a Mazda Miata engine in a 40-year-old clunker with 100,000 miles on it, and external motivation can go a long way in encouraging them to reach their full potential.

We learned a lot and gained some wonderful new insight from all of the meaningful topics that Ms. Kullback discussed, and above are just a couple that we found particularly beneficial and wanted to share with you! If you are interested, you can learn more about the great work that Ms. Kullback and her team are doing at Metropolitan Counseling Services here:



Erica MechlinskiThe Meaning Behind Motivation

A European Adventure: The Thinking Organized Way

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By Anna McAloon

We’ve had a few recent days in the DC area that have been a welcome reminder that summer is on its way. Blue skies, temperatures in the mid-70’s, and the sweet scent of cherry blossoms blooming urge everyone to get outside and often inspire excitement for upcoming travel plans. As a full time educational mentor on the Thinking Organized team, when I travel, of course I take into account the full range of executive functioning skills involved in the process.

Recently, I had Picture1the opportunity to go on a European adventure completely planned and funded by myself and a friend that we had been dreaming of since middle school! As I am sure you can imagine, time management was key and there was a lot of planning that took place before we boarded the plane. As I so often do with my students, I used a monthly calendar to plan backward in order to calculate how many weeks I had until takeoff and how much I could save each month to be able to pay for expenses. My friend and I collaborated on a Google Doc to brainstorm all of the places we wanted to see (a long list!) and prioritized until we narrowed the itinerary down to France (Paris), Spain (Barcelona), and Italy (Siena, Florence, Venice). From there, we chunked the workload over a period of about 6 months. How would we get from one place to another? Where would we stay? What attractions did we definitely want to see? Picture2What did we need to pack? How would we understand French? I ended up making many checklists. Finally, after months of planning and getting to our first stop in France, one day we got lost and missed our shuttle to the airport. Needless to
say, we had to be flexible in revising our plan and hopped on a bus instead! The need to come up with a plan, implement it, and use cognitive flexibility to revise it when needed are all executive functioning skills we used to make our dream trip a reality. In the end, we had an unforgettable experience, and I cannot wait to go back again some day.

As you get excited for the summer months and any travel plans ahead, remember that you don’t have to do all of the work! It is a great opportunity to have students practice using those executive functioning skills in a fun and meaningful way.


Erica MechlinskiA European Adventure: The Thinking Organized Way

[Book Review] Ungifted: Redefining Intelligence

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Here at Thinking Organized, we know that intelligence manifests itself in many different ways. Some of our students are amazing artists, gifted athletes, current events aficionados, fabulous bakers, or experts on specific topics such as Formula I Racing. When they enter our office, they are not solely defined by a neuropsychological report, but also by their passions and character. Many people view academic achievement and IQ as the best indicator of intelligence and future success, and this can have a harmful effect on students’ self-concept and ability to realize their potential.

In Scott Barry Kaufman’s fascinating book, Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, he shares his own story about going through life labeled with an auditory learning disability and combines this with relevant research regarding various aspects of intelligence. Kaufman proposes his own definition of intelligence: “Intelligence is the dynamic interplay of engagement and abilities in pursuit of personal goals.” The book is filled with studies proving that a person’s success and fulfillment in life are dependent on so much more than an hours-long decontextualized test administered on one single day of a person’s life. Traits such as openness to experience, maintaining a growth mindset, self-control, and meaningful engagement in pursuit of a goal all play important roles in defining a person. Kaufman also weaves elements of his own personal narrative into the book that gives the reader a real-life sense of why the information is significant while adding engaging humor. If you are looking for an interesting, scientific non-fiction read that doesn’t feel like you are going through a textbook, we highly recommend this book. It will alter your perspective of the true potential inherent in each and every individual and help you reconsider what it means to be labeled as having a “learning disability” in today’s world.

Erica Mechlinski[Book Review] Ungifted: Redefining Intelligence