Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Focus in on This

Have you heard about this? Oh wait-what's that outside? Remember that cool YouTube video you wanted to watch! It'll only take a second!

Everyone's had these messages flash across their mind or their computer screen. Something interesting appears, and before we know it, we've rationalized how "it'll only take a second" and pretty soon we've gone from game statistics to Star Wars trailers and end up on beard ornaments. (There actually are beard baubles. Who knew!) But! Before you Google "beard ornaments," check out this list of how to stay focused!

Nadia Goodman, M.A. in Clinical Psychology, has three excellent suggestions for those who struggle to focus in on the task at hand.

1. Do creative work first.

Typically, we do mindless work first and build up to the toughest tasks. That drains your energy and lowers your focus. "An hour into doing your work, you've got a lot less capacity than (at the beginning)," Rock says. "Every decision we make tires the brain."

In order to focus effectively, reverse the order. Check off the tasks that require creativity or concentration first thing in the morning, and then move on to easier work, like deleting emails or scheduling meetings, later in the day.

2. Allocate your time deliberately.

By studying thousands of people, Rock found that we are truly focused for an average of only six hours per week. "You want to be really diligent with what you put into those hours," he says.

Most people focus best in the morning or late at night, and Rock's studies show that 90 percent of people do their best thinking outside the office. Notice where and when you focus best, then allocate your toughest tasks for those moments.

3. Train your mind like a muscle.

When multitasking is the norm, your brain quickly adapts. You lose the ability to focus as distraction becomes a habit. "We've trained our brains to be unfocused," Rock says.

Practice concentration by turning off all distractions and committing your attention to a single task. Start small, maybe five minutes per day, and work up to larger chunks of time. If you find your mind wandering, just return to the task at hand. "It’s just like getting fit," Rock says. "You have to build the muscle to be focused."

Nadia's suggestions are excellent suggestions for change, and can be implemented slowly throughout our day. The trick is to recognize the potential distractions for what they are, and commit to doing something about them, or to making small changes in our daily schedule, and eventually we will be in charge of our time and our attentive energy.

In addition to making creative work our first priority, allocating time, and retraining the mind, livescience tells us how to implement planned breaks into our day, to ward off monotony.

Enjoy a diversion

Perhaps the simplest way to improve attention span is simply not to pay attention for a little while. Evidence shows that taking a break improves your ability to focus once you return to the task at hand.

Even the briefest intermission can be beneficial, according to research from the University of Illinois, as reported in the journal Cognition in February. In the study, led by psychologist Alejandro Lleras, 84 participants were given a 50-minute-long computer task. The participants who were allowed two short breaks during the task performed it better.

Lleras said that just as the body becomes habituated to a stimulus over time (for example, you're not constantly aware of the feel of your socks), your mind can become habituated to the subject of its concentration.

"Prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance," Lleras said.

In other words, taking a short break in the middle of a long task acts like a "refresh" button for the brain.

Know your limits

In the end, increasing your ability to focus may require you to figure out what distracts you most.

In one study, people whose work was interrupted by emails from a hypothetical supervisor reported higher levels of stress after just 20 minutes.

Surprisingly, the participants were working faster, but at a higher cost: They reported feeling their workload was greater and required more mental effort to complete, according to Gloria Mark, who presented the findings at a 2008 meeting of the Association of Computer Machinery.

Mark said everyone may have a level of interruption that is tolerable, and a threshold for distraction. Exceed the threshold and the quality of work (not to mention the quality of a person's life) declines.

If you're feeling overworked and unable to concentrate, the solution may be as easy as signing out of your email account for a few hours.

By gaining an understanding of how the brain and body respond to distractions and to staying focused for prolonged periods of time, we can gain a greater understanding of our own needs. Taking a few minutes a day to plan out when you'll shut off electronics and focus only on the task at hand, and planning out break times can make small but meaningful changes in your personal and work life.

These principles are applicable to any area of life, so share them with a friend, child, parent, or co-worker. It always helps to have a friend to help when making life changes, so grab another Aggie and take control!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Enjoy a Stress-Managed Life

It's November, the end of the year is approaching, final project due dates are coming up, and the holiday planning is just around the corner. Nothing ruins the most wonderful time of year like stress.

We know you're working hard so you can enjoy the upcoming celebrations with friends and family, that's why we created this post on Stress: What it is and How to Manage it.

Why is managing small stress factors so important? Cortisol.

Psychology Today tells us that: the stress hormone, cortisol, is public health enemy number one. Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease... The list goes on and on. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. This week, two separate studies were published in Science linking elevated cortisol levels as a potential trigger for mental illness and decreased resilience—especially in adolescence.

There are many areas in our lives which create small levels of stress. These can build up over time and cause emotional outbursts to relieve emotions. Learning to deal with these smaller stresses as they come will decrease stress levels and allow you to more fully enjoy the holidays, protect your relationships with others, and maintain productivity.

Now that we know how stress impacts the body, it's time to use that knowledge as motivation to implement some stress coping mechanisms. Each person has the ability to choose to change, and it's amazing the effect even two minutes of positive action can have (just ask your pearly whites!).

What actions can be taken? 

Let's go back to the great advice from Psychology Today.

You can make some simple lifestyle choices that will reduce stress, anxiety and lower your cortisol levels. Below are 4 tips for reducing your cortisol levels everyday:

1. Regular Physical Activity: Any aerobic activity, like walking, jogging, swimming, biking, riding the elliptical... are great ways to recreate the ‘flight’ outlet and burn-up cortisol.  A little bit of cardio goes a long way. Just 20-30 minutes of activity most days of the week pays huge dividends by lowering cortisol every day and in the long-run. Fear increases cortisol. Regular physical activity will decrease fear by increasing your self-confidence, resilience, and fortitude—which will reduce cortisol. Yoga will have similar benefits with added benefits of mindfulness training.

2. Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM): Any type of meditation will reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels. Simply taking a few deep breaths engages the Vagus nerve which triggers a signal within your nervous system to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and decreases cortisol. The next time you feel yourself in a stressful situation that activates your ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response take 10 deep breaths and feel your entire body relax and decompress.

3. Social Connectivity: Close knit human bonds—whether it be family, friendship or a romantic partner—are vital for your physical and mental health at any age.  Recent studies have shown that the Vagus nerve also responds to human connectivity and physical touch to relax your parasympathetic nervous system. The “tend-and-befriend” response is the exact opposite to “fight-or-flight”. The "tend-and-befriend" response increases oxytocin and reduces cortisol. Make an effort to spend real face-to-face time with loved ones whenever you can, but phone calls and even Facebook can reduce cortisol if they foster a feeling of genuine connectivity.

4. Laughter and Levity: Having fun and laughing reduces cortisol levels. Dr. William Fry is an American psychiatrist who has been studying the benefits of laughter for the past 30 years and has found links to laughter and lowered levels of stress hormones. Many studies have shown the benefits of having a sense of humor, laughter and levity. 

In addition, Elizabeth Scott, M.S. recommends journaling as a way to manage stress, emphasizing the need to put aside roughly 20 minutes to record your thoughts and feelings: As you write, don'’t just vent negative emotions or catalog events; write about your feelings, but also your thoughts surrounding emotional events. (Research shows much greater benefits from journaling when participants write about emotional issues from a mental and emotional framework.) Relive events emotionally, and try to construct solutions and ‘find the lesson’. Using both aspects of yourself helps you process the event and find solutions to problems. 

As we've discussed stress, it's impact on the body, and ways to manage stress effectively, we hope you were able to find something to change in your life. Implementing some of these ideas as healthy coping mechanisms will increase mental and emotional health, therefore increasing individual quality of life and enable us to reach our goals and better our relationships with others in all areas of life. Here's to a stress-free winter wherever you are, Aggies. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Art of Leadership

This article includes content from Business News DailyLevo League and

What is leadership?

The word "leadership" may bring to mind images of power and authority, but that's not always the case. Think about a leader in your life-perhaps a friend, co-worker, or family member. Are they in a position of authority? Not necessarily.

How do we define leadership?

Business News Daily asked 30 business owners and experts to define what leadership means to them. Their ideas may just lead you to create your own definition of leadership. Take a look at what they said.

"Leadership is having a vision, sharing that vision and inspiring others to support your vision while creating their own."
"Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished."
"A true leader is secure in creating a framework that encourages others to tap into their own skills and ideas and freely contribute to the whole of the project or company."
"Leadership is actions committed by a person or group that produce an output or result. It simply helps people to get things done. It is not based on position in a hierarchy."
"Leadership is employing your skills and knowledge, leveraged by your attitude to get the results you desire."

Leadership is like art. There is more than one way to define leadership, just as there is more than one way to be a leader. Tiffany Dufu of Levo says that a leader is someone who uses their leadership, who "inspires people to live their best selves and their best lives," and that "artful leadership is knowing others and knowing yourself."

How do we become better leaders?

We want to see our Aggies across the globe leading the pack in establishing the qualities necessary for a happy, successful life. Whether you are in a technical position of leadership or not, you can be a leader everyday. There are many ways to improve your leadership-all of which can be started right now.

Learn More About Your Leadership Style. Understanding your current leadership style is essential. What are your strengths? Which areas need some improvement? Once you've determine which areas need some work, you can begin looking for ways to improve your leadership abilities.

Serve As a Role Model. Inspiring leaders exemplify the behaviors and characteristics that they encourage in their followers. They walk the walk and talk the talk. As a result, group members admire these leaders and work to emulate these behaviors.

Have a Positive Attitude. Leaders who facilitate change have an upbeat, optimistic attitude that serves as a source of inspiration for followers. Even when things look bleak and your followers start to feel disheartened, try to stay positive. This does not mean viewing things through rose-colored glasses. It simply means maintaining a sense of optimism and hope in the face of challenges.

Listen and Communicate Effectively. Good leaders should express sincere care and concern for the members of their group both verbally and non-verbally. By keeping the lines of communication open, these leaders can ensure that group members feel able to make contributions and receive recognition for their achievements.

Encourage Creativity. One way to foster creativity is to offer challenges to group members, making sure that the goals are within the grasp of their abilities. The purpose of this type of exercise is to get people to grow and stretch their limits without being discouraged.

Keep Trying New Things. Who says leadership is a one-way relationship? As you work toward honing your leadership skills, don't forget to look to your followers for feedback and inspiration. Pay attention to the things that have been effective in the past and always be on the lookout for new ways to inspire, motivate, and reward group members.

Go get 'em, Aggies. We're rooting for you!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How To: Throw a Perfect Tailgate Party

This post uses information obtained from and

It’s that time of year to cheer for your Aggies! With football season comes one of the best traditions, tailgating parties. The Aggies open their season this week and need the help of past, current, and future students to cheer them on. For those that need a little prodding, we’ve assembled this brief tailgating guide. Also, be sure to check out the Tailgater of the Game/Year Competition.

Why Tailgate?

It’s a great way to meet people. There are so many tailgaters, so there are so many opportunities to meet students, other alumni, and fellow tailgaters.

There are many aspects of tailgating. Food, games, activities. USU Alumni will be at every home game with a tent full of games and prizes.

You could win big. The Alumni Association will be on the prowl for the best tailgater to crown them the official “Tailgater of the Game.” Along with the glory of holding this prestigious title, you will receive a Camp Chef stove, which will undoubtedly improve your tailgate for subsequent games.

The Basics

First things first. Start out by pre-purchasing a tailgating space. For home games, these can be obtained through Parking and Transportation for the north tailgate lot, or the USU Big Big Blue Scholarship Fund for 800 East spots. For away games, check with the specific school’s stadium.

Be in your spot by 2 pm for 6 o’clock (or later) kickoff or 10 am for 1 o’clock kickoff, but not before 8 am without prior, written approval.
(Note: All official rules can be found on the Parking and Transportation website)

Tips for tailgating pros

We've assembled some of the most sound practices for making your tailgate a success. We won’t give away too much, because we want you to come up with the rest.

First and foremost, show your best Aggie pride. Show the world how much you love being an Aggie. 
This is your time to brag about how much Aggie gear you really have.
Dress the part.
Float a helium balloon on a long string from your car, so friends can find you.
Consider what way the wind is coming from. You don’t want grill smoke blowing on your tailgaters.
Think about how you could use paper towels or a hand-washing station. People like that.
Keep it simple.
Keep it classic.
Finger food is better. Make it portable.
Think about the extras: music, face paint, games, etc.
Introduce yourself to your neighbors.
Have fun.

We hope to see you at the tailgate party.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Preparing Young Children for College

The post below uses information obtained from and

Do I really need to start preparing my child for college while they are still in middle school?

Experts say yes. Ultimately, the decision comes down to you and your child, but here are some tips when considering your child's future:

Add college to the conversation.
Talk to your child about their interests, how they might translate into a college major and career. You can help them envision the future at a time when the social anxieties and opportunities of middle school seem to be taking over any extra time in their minds.

Expose your child to college opportunities. 
It’s not too early for you and your child to visit a college so he/she can begin to picture him/herself there. Don't be afraid to introduce them to certain programs or career paths that you have decided together might be a good fit. Many universities offer campus tours to students of any age for free. 
Click here to schedule a tour at Utah State.

 Get involved in your child's choice of classes.
The research is clear: Kids who take algebra by the eighth grade and geometry by ninth grade are much more likely to go to college than those who don’t. These math classes are required to take more advanced math classes in high school and to take science classes like chemistry and physics. In addition to taking math every year in middle school, your child should take: 

  • English: Every year 
  • History (including geography) and science: As many classes as possible 
  • Foreign language: Many colleges require at least two years of a language, which your child can begin in middle school. 

Because college work and many jobs now require computer skills, your child should also try to take advantage of any computer science classes offered in middle and high school. He’ll gain new skills and may discover a career path.

Learn about college costs--and ways of avoiding them 
High school students who take AP classes can often use those credits to skip many general education classes at their university. These high school classes generally cost a fraction of the price, but your child must be academically ready to take on such courses.
Make sure your high school students are preparing to take the ACT or SAT. High scores on these tests can ensure scholarship offers and good job placement after graduation.

College doesn't have to be a scary thing. Preparing early and starting the conversation with your children should help them be excited about their future.

And really, who doesn't love the idea of being a Future Aggie?

    The post below uses information obtained from and

    Thursday, July 16, 2015

    The Mentor Effect: Going from Mentee to Mentor

    Original article by Levo League

    by Akansha Agrawal

    I have entered into a full cycle of being a mentee and a mentor: my mentor, Vivian is a Cal alumni, and my mentee Andrea is a sophomore economics student. My relationship with Vivian has been so extremely gratifying that it inspired me to become a mentor — a phenomenon I like to call the ”mentor effect.’ Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

    Utilize Your School’s Alumni Network
    I came across Vivian’s profile on Cal’s mentorship program through the alumni network, and I knew she would be the perfect fit for me: we grew up in the same city, we share a similar academic background and we were both passionate about the same industry. Your school’s alumni network is a perfect starting point in your search for a mentor, because chances are you will find someone who shares a similar background and interests.

    Discuss Your Goals and Mission

    After a brief exchange through emails, Vivian and I had our first casual meeting where I discussed my interests and goals for the future. It’s important to identify and communicate to your mentor how she or he could best help. I remember when I first heard about the Levo League, I was so eager to get involved that I emailed Vivian right away — I knew she could best advise me on how to reach out to the team.

    Show Your Appreciation

    A mentorship should not be one-sided, and so as a mentee, show your appreciation by writing a nice thank-you note or treating your mentor to lunch. Stay in touch regularly, even if you don’t need new advice or help.

    Give Back

    I have found mentoring Andrea to be even more fulfilling than I could imagine. I learn from Vivian’s mentoring tactics and apply it to my mentorship with Andrea, hoping I can provide her that support system Vivian provides me. As discussed elsewhere on this site, you are never too young to be a mentor, so don’t let age or career level hold you back!

    Original article by Levo League

    If you are interested in becoming a mentor to current students or recent graduates at Utah State, please contact 

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    How To: Land Your Dream Job Without Experience

    Photo Courtesy of Levo League

    An Army combat engineer turned advertising executive. A banking executive turned career counselor. A mother of 12, now a communications writer. An Intel engineer turned comedian. These are not your typical career changes.

    Here are the inspiring stories and creative strategies these people used to transition into a job they love—without related work experience or education.

    Work on your transferrable skills and connect with the interviewer on a personal level

    Tom Aiello, president of March Marketing, was an Army combat engineer who wanted to work in advertising.To get the recruiters’ attention, he listed his skills and compared it to job descriptions to see which of them are applicable in advertising. Then he focused his resume and cover letter on these transferable skills. His next challenge was to convince company VPs that his military background was applicable to advertising. 
    These decision-makers didn’t think “a rigid Army veteran would thrive at an ad agency,” Tom says. He had to convince them that he could fit in. “The key was connecting on a personal level to make them feel they could work with me,” Tom says. 
    He looked up the background of each interviewer, then used the information he found to break the ice by drawing out what they have in common. 
    Do your homework: study the people, culture and the work done. Use this to “ask intelligent questions about the job,” Tom suggests.

    When transferrable skills aren’t enough: quash the stereotypes
    Peter Berner, president of Pilot Workplace, had a successful banking career, but he wanted to be a career counselor. 
    Back then, “the going price of admission into the career development field was a Ph.D. in Psychology and a skirt,” says Peter. 
    Here’s a situation where transferrable skills and enthusiasm weren’t enough. 
    To solve this, he compiled the bios of senior leaders in major career development firms, and through persistent networking, he got an audience with the decision-makers of these companies. 
    But he didn’t ask for an interview. Instead, he showed them the bio compilation without the names and asked them to check for any similarities in the work and backgrounds on the bios. None of them could find a pattern. 
    The credentials of the senior leaders were diverse, but even more surprising to his audience was the fact that “none of them had a Ph.D. in Psychology and not one of them were female,” Peter says. 
    After realizing this, the people who didn’t want to give him a chance were suddenly open to hiring him. Don’t disqualify yourself from the competition just because you don’t have the “requirements” for the job. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

    Create your own experience
    Varda Epstein, a mother of 12 with a high school education, started out occasionally cleaning houses to help pay the bills, but is now a successful writer. 
    Like most writers, she started out with no clips, so she wrote editorials for a local newspaper and used them for her portfolio. Today, she’s the communications writer at Kars4Kids, an organization sponsoring educational initiatives for children. “I’m doing what I love best: writing about education and helping children,” says Varda. 
    Many aspiring writers think they can’t have a successful writing career because they don’t have a journalism degree, but she didn’t let that stop her. “No potential employer noticed or inquired about my lack of education,” says Varda.

    Don’t be impatient for success
    “Nothing big starts big,” says Dan Nainan, senior Intel engineer turned comedian. He used to travel the world doing technical presentations with Intel Chairman Andy Grove, but he wasn’t exactly a “natural” on stage. 
    He took comedy lessons to get over his fear of public speaking. After that, the comedy kind of took off and, since then, he’s performed at several events, including a TED conference and several presidential inaugurations. 
    He’s successful, but “it took almost two years of full-time work to get my first show,” Dan says. Back then, each $5 ticket sold earned him $1 and he had to hand out flyers in Times Square. It was hard work for low pay, but he persevered. 
    As for changing jobs and learning new skills, Dan suggests, “If you want to do something difficult, try something even more difficult, and the difficult thing will become less so.” 
    Let that sink in for a moment. It’s logical advice. In his case, speaking on stage was hard, but it’s even harder to make people laugh. Once he got comfortable with comedy, public speaking came easier.

    What about you? Are the requirements for your dream job a bit out of reach? Try the strategies here.