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Don't Think Big, Think Momentum

| “Rather than starting big but getting limited or no results, a smart student starts small, builds momentum and eventually gets massive results.”

Do you think the key to success is about doing it all, doing it big, and doing it now? Surprisingly. smart students don't use this approach.


  • How "starting big" usually leads to small results
  • Why starting small & building momentum are keys to massive results
  • How smart & successful students approach their work
  • A mindset you should apply when creating your projects
  • Harvard university study on what motivates workers

     And so much more.


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– Steve Gardner, Founder

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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

Does this sound like you or anyone you know? Once I had a student approach me with an idea for a school project. He wanted to use design principles to create the perfect school, right? It would be perfect for all different ages for different learning preferences. It would incorporate natural light and soft colors and nature and trees and all kinds of elaborate details to make everything about this school perfect.

And when the project was turned in, it had none of those details. In fact, it had been done the night before in a burst of procrastination caused anxiety and it didn't have anything to do with school design. He had abandoned the idea because it was too overwhelming.

Do you sometimes feel like the key to success is to do it all, to do it big and to do it now? Smart students don't. Smart students realize that perhaps your dream is at the very top of a tall mountain. But the more you aim for the top of the mountain right away, the less likely you are to move your feet at all.

If you don't get off the ground, you won't reach the top of the mountain. So instead of trying to accomplish it all now and then fizzing out over time, start small and celebrate your progress. The irony here is that starting big leads to small results and sometimes leads to no results.

It leads to procrastination and just nothing. But starting small and building momentum leads to big results. This is really, really important when we talk about the impact projects.

So many students who get involved in the Ivy League challenge hear about the value of an impact project and try to find a way to squeeze it into their current schedule, right? I can do it all. I can do it all big, I can do it all now. And that's a mindset and an approach that is just not going to work.

Smarter students realize that I can do anything, but I can't do everything. I certainly can't do everything well. And the impact project needs to be something that you do well.

So, of course, we begin with an activity audit and we remove all kinds of meaningless activities that students generally have. These are clubs or activities that you participate in just because a friend invited you or a teacher, but you're not particularly interested in things that take a lot of extra time but are not giving you a huge return. Those activities need to be cleared out in order to make space for curiosity, for exploration, for fun, because you're going to create the best momentum, the greatest wins that lead you towards a huge impact project.

You're going to create those. When you are curious when you are in an exploration state and when you're having fun. So ironically, starting big gets you limited results.

But smart students start small, build momentum, and eventually get massive results. The next thing we do after the activity audit is you find your curiosity and you become a journalist. All right? As a journalist, you're not trying to do everything all at once.

You're not taking on everything. You're not assuming that you can include all of these elaborate details into your project all at once. You're a journalist.

So you are exploring. You're watching experts with curiosity. You're asking questions.

So after this kind of curiosity stage where you're the journalist, you're asking questions, you're just exploring. You'll find a way to support one or more of those experts. You'll join an organization and then you'll pay your dues.

You might need to do mundane, boring activities at first, but you find ways to make life easier for the expert so that they want you around. This allows you to explore and to be curious on a whole nother level that most high school students just have no opportunities to do. And as you're doing this, you're building trust, you're gaining skills.

And eventually, once you've built that trust, they might ask you to take on bigger activities. Or you could ask you can ask to take on bigger projects. Once you're taking on these bigger projects, these are the things that high school students rarely do.

You become truly interesting. You become an expert. So again, rather than starting big but getting limited results or no results, a smart student starts small, builds momentum, and eventually gets massive results.

Now, this same idea applies to all areas of your success as a student, not just to the Impact project. There was a Harvard Business Review study done, a big study on what motivates workers. And as an educator, I believe that these same factors are true for students as well.

We've seen evidence that a lot of the same Motivators that work for adults do work in teenagers. And I've certainly seen this kind of anecdotally in the classroom as well. So after thousands of journal entries recording performance, mood, motivation among a group of creative professionals, these are all kinds of different professionals that are trying to solve different problems.

So they need creativity to be creative. And the study asked them to journal at specific times during the day about their mood, their performance, their motivation, et cetera. And do you know what the two most important variables are to motivate people? Achievement and recognition.

For achievement, of all the things that will make a difference in your growth, the most important thing you can do is to create small wins and to believe that you are truly making progress. So start small, build momentum, and celebrate small wins along the way. Now, if you think about it in your own life, isn't that true when you feel like you're making progress, that you are getting better.

As you work at something, you feel motivated to continue working on that thing. Whether that's music or athletics or social situations or academics, it doesn't seem to matter. If you are seeing progress in yourself, you feel motivated to continue working on it and continue growing.

So the enemy to that progress is trying to do too much all at once, or trying to do things too big all at once at the beginning. Instead, start small, build momentum, and celebrate those small wins along the way.