By Scott Lutostanski
One of the most universal experiences that connects us all as human beings is “the blank page.” If you were born before 1985, then your blank page was literally a blank page; its blankness to be filled by the pen in your hand. Nowadays, the blank page is a blank screen, but that doesn’t change the emotion involved.
Whether it’s a school paper, a challenging email, or a project that needs to be started, the blank page is no joke. It can cause stress, avoidance, anxiety, or fear, among other things. In my experience working with students, the blank page is one of the highest hurdles to clear. Getting ourselves to start something that is difficult is, for lack of a better word, difficult.
This blog isn’t going to include strategies to fight through the challenge of making that page not blank. Instead, I want to focus on the experience and the feeling of the individual staring down the blank screen. It can leave us with all sorts of reactions. Some students will pull up Instagram and avoid getting started for 20 minutes. Others will put on an episode of Netflix, swearing they’ll just watch one episode. Sometimes, we can even convince ourselves to do something productive, like read a book, but all these things end up with the same result: avoiding something we know we should be doing.
It’s important to explore this experience because there are students that feel it every single day. They feel it with their attention in class, their nightly homework, or the test they know they should be studying for. When students lack self-regulation, parents have their own experience, too. Parents might get frustrated and angry, extra supportive and more upbeat, or any reaction in between. Despite the parent reaction, the real question is how is the kid experiencing this. Each day, they are living their life with basic tasks they know they should be doing, but they just can’t get themselves started. It is the blank page on a continuous loop. It is wanting to execute, but constantly getting distracted or avoiding. This happens most frequently with students diagnosed with ADHD, but it’s relevant to all students.
Anytime we are seeking to change behavior, awareness is always the first step. It is really important to have an awareness of the way the student interprets their daily activity (or inactivity in this case). It may be surprising to learn how it impacts the student’s emotions, perceptions, and thoughts on a daily basis.
The next time you are faced with a “blank page,” stop, reflect, and think about what it would be like to face the challenge over and over each day.