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Replacement Habits

I have a lot of bad habits. You can probably guess some of them: I drink too much, I don’t get enough sleep, stuff like that. On top of the normal college issues, I also smoke. And there’s some other stuff, but I don’t want to get too much into it. Instead, I want to ask the experts about a way out of it all. I’ve been reading about habit triggers and replacing habits. The idea is that you find out when and why you’re doing something unhealthy and replace the habit with some new habit based on the same “trigger.” My question is: does it work? And if so, how do I know what new activity to choose to replace each old habit?

The concept you’re referring to is a popular one in self-help circles, psychology studies, and among countless individuals–and there is some evidence that it does work. The process works as you describe: you pick a habit and track it, identify moments that you choose to indulge the habit, and look for consistent triggers. Then you attempt to replace the habit with something healthier. Perhaps, for instance, one might realize that he or she eats unhealthy foods when bored. That person could then pay extra attention to feelings of boredom and, when they strike, try to quickly exercise. Ideally, this person will find that whatever reward they got from eating bad foods is present as well, in exercise–perhaps both things distract them from feeling lonely. If that’s the case, perhaps the habit can be replaced.

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Foreign Filings

Like a lot of college students, I’m going abroad. The difference is, though, that I’m not going during the school year or through a school program. It was important to me to maximize my time on campus, so I worked with my parents to come up with a plan for going abroad on my own. During the summer, I’m going to visit a few countries over the course of a few weeks, visiting historic sites and doing a little bit of an ‘independent study abroad’ program, so to speak.

But one tricky thing about doing this all on my own is that I don’t have the school to guide me about all of the paperwork I need. I’m getting ready to research all the stuff I need to do, but I don’t even really know where to start. For instance, I need a visa, right? How is that different from a passport? Help!

Never fear! It’s important to have your paperwork in order before you head abroad, but the good news is that the information you’ll need for foreign travel is relatively straightforward.

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Wary on the Web

I have a friend here at school who is scared of technology. I don’t mean that he’s bad with technology or that he won’t touch it–I mean that he’s literally afraid of it. He knows how to use a computer, but he avoids the internet when he can and refuses to join social networking sites or keep track of anything personal with a computer. He says it’s too easy for other people to get information about you online–when we were talking about this the other day, he pointed to a store we were walking by and said that we could easily find out all about the person who owned it with little more than a Google search. He’s also convinced that even the “private” stuffy is easily accessed by hackers–and easily misused by the company you trust with it. He’s convinced that cloud storage is insecure and that anything saved online is at risk. He’s got me feeling all paranoid! What are the real facts here?

Your friend isn’t alone in being wary of the way the web has affected our privacy and our security. When we use the internet, we leave behind evidence in all different forms, from public social network posts to web browsing data we may not even realize is being collected. And 44 percent of Americans consider the ways in which companies like Facebook store and catalog that data to be “an invasion of privacy.”

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Computer Cramp

I get a lot of muscle pain from using computers. How can I avoid this?

Any prolonged computer use will result in discomfort of some kind. Students and office workers alike can be afflicted by what is commonly known as repetitive strain injury. It is caused by being in the same position for a long time and results in the pain you have described. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to alleviate the problem.

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Can Do Attitude

Academically, girls outperform boys.  Why isn’t this publicized more?

According to research, girls outperform boys academically from elementary school and achieve better scores on standardized tests. Women have constituted over half of the college student population for the past four decades. However, people still talk of a gender gap. The statistics and scores are clear, but the reasons for the gender gap that still remains are not.

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Fasting for Finances

My friend and I have a plan for when we graduate: we’re going to start our own business. We have our idea (sorry, I can’t say what it is), but we don’t have any financing, and that’s stressing us out. My friend, in particular, has become really focused on strategies for raising money. He’s convinced that it’s all about presentation, and he has started to criticize the way (he thinks) I will represent our company. He thinks I don’t dress sharply enough, he thinks I mumble too much, and, above all, he thinks I’m too fat. He’s gone so far as to get me diet pills! I don’t know what to do. I think our business plan is a good one, but I’m worried about how my future business partner is behaving, and I’m not sure what to think about his takes on financing and appearance.

Your business partner has no right to be giving you the business about your appearance –especially when your company hasn’t even been started yet! His behavior is extreme, and you should think carefully about your next move.

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Computer Connections

I’m studying to prepare for a career in technology. That’s not my problem, though: I’m very happy with that! It’s my father who isn’t. He’s an old-fashioned guy with old-fashioned values, and he’s not big on technology. Don’t get me wrong, I’d probably have it worse if I’d announced I was going to be an artist, or something. But while my dad is happy I’m headed for a career with some money-making potential, he’s totally unimpressed with the industry I’m entering. He rolls his eyes at startup culture, laughs at tech’s lax dress code, and, above all, insists that technology drives us apart. He loves to talk about “kids with their noses buried in phones” and how “nobody ever talks to each other anymore.” Any tips on bringing my dad around to the benefits of technology?

Your father is not alone in his opinion of technology: more than 70 percent of Americans believe that technology is weakening our personal connections. But that opinion is not universal, and it is important to note that the divide is very generational. Millennials think that technology gives them more connections with people. Interestingly, millennials also believe that connections made online are getting “less authentic” and will continue to trend in that direction–so perhaps you should keep this moment in mind for years from now, when you may find yourself have the same argument with your child.

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Elderly Edifice

My parents are putting my grandmother into a nursing home. I’m worried about this decision, as many of the nursing students I know have mixed feelings about elderly care facilities. Are they safe?

While there have been tragic incidents of neglect and abuse in nursing homes, the good news is that the short answer to your question is yes. These incidents are statistically uncommon, and the facts back nursing homes as a good option for the elderly.

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Life Lesson

My company is sponsoring a lecture series from life coaches, aimed at young employees. Should I spend the time to attend this? 

We are receiving this question often, as life coaching becomes more popular and successful.  According to the International Coaching Federation, over 40 percent of people using professional coaches believe it enhanced their work/life balance. The right program can help you identify areas for growth in personal leadership, self-confidence and self-care. But what you learn is only as good as your teacher.

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Dyslexic Dynamics

I have dyslexia and still pursue my college degree. Do you think my potential employer is likely to be understanding?

This question is important to an estimated 5-10 percent of the U.S. population with dyslexia, with some estimates double that figure. There is no simple test, but a general diagnosis based on a series of criteria. This is why it has taken so long for this problem to receive proper recognition. You may be surprised that someone used the phrase the ‘upside of dyslexia’. What are they talking about?