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Kindness Can Get Me Into an Ivy League College?

| “Social conformity is a powerful force. And your brain is a powerful feedback machine. Understanding both of these variables helps us understand why universities care so much about finding those few individuals who are kind and not affected by surrounded negativity.”

Harvard university created an initiative that has now been signed by all the Ivy League schools, MIT, Stanford, Duke, Michigan, Chicago, etc. and dozens and dozens of other top schools called "Making Caring Common."

Making Caring Common is an attempt to refocus college admissions decisions away from things that require a certain income level or other significant advantages in order to fulfill, towards character traits that lead to a healthy campus and a good life.

The truth is it is difficult to stay positive when all around you people gossip.

If you don't make a sincere effort to rise about your environment, you will be unlikely to develop the kindness that your community needs.

But with a tiny introduction to human psychology, and an understanding of how important kindness, empathy, and support are, you can choose to rise above the negativity around you.

Learn about a student who got into an Ivy League School. Her admissions officer wrote her to welcome her to campus, and emphasized that the student's kindness was the character trait that really stood out for her, and got her admitted.

And learn what you can do today to begin developing your own character. You'll be glad you did!


  • A powerful lesson that you can learn from a monk
  • The true  story about how kindness helped a student to get admitted into an Ivy League college
  • Why you should stop gossiping and complaining, for good
  • About the  "Making Caring Common" initiative created by Harvard university
  • What admissions officers at top schools are looking for
  • How to apply the 5- Second Rule to boost your positivity

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Transcript of the podcast 

Can you imagine selling everything you have, giving away all of your money, and exchanging it just for two robes, one that you wear and the other for washing? When you need to wash the one you're wearing, then shaving your head and committing to spending months or even years, or perhaps even the rest of your life, in mostly silence. That is the life of a monk.

And in fact, I have a friend of a friend who actually did this. Jay Shetty spent 3 years in a monastery training to be a monk. And he wrote a New York Times bestselling book about it called "Think like a monk." I love the book, it's hilarious. I recommend it. One of the things that you'll find if you read it as well as these really funny stories about monks complaining. There's not a lot to complain about when you've decided to focus on meditation and peace and serenity. But you live with other monks. And even in these quarters, he talks about how, for example, when someone takes longer than the average time for showers, generally they spend about 4 minutes taking showers. But when there's a long line waiting for the shower, sometimes the monks would talk about who must be in the shower because they always take longer. Or when new monks arrive, they would laugh or at least talk about and discuss the new snoring, the level of snoring among these new monks. Sometimes they would compare them to different kinds of motorcycles, for example.

Anyway, I thought that was really funny, but all of this for Jay Shetty is he talked about how he was training to let go of negativity and negative thoughts, especially around other people. He said that when he had a negative thought about someone else, he would spend time thinking ten positive thoughts about that person just as a response.

Now, what we discover is that when you criticize others, when we criticize others, we can't help but see more negativity in ourselves. But when we focus on the good in others, we also see more good in ourselves. If you spend more time seeing yourself as mostly good, you'll also be more confident, more kind, and more fun to be around. And this leads to more helpful risk-taking and success, which further feeds that gap. Whether your thoughts are mostly positive or mostly negative. There is a very real feedback loop here. If you're thinking positive thoughts, then you feed positivity, and that loops back to you. If you are thinking mostly negative thoughts, then that loops back to you as well. You feed the negativity inside you, which means it builds and grows. Well, that suggestion about thinking ten positive thoughts for every negative thought that you think about a human being is really hard work. I've tried it.

As a teacher, I can say it is a powerful exercise for shifting the thoughts and the energy of your thoughts in your head. I'm sure you can imagine that as a teacher, there are students or parents or other teachers or administrators who sometimes are challenging to get along with, challenging to work with, and using this technique or this idea of catching yourself when you think negatively and then forcing yourself to think about ten things that you like about that person. Ten positive thoughts is actually a difficult but very, very valuable exercise.

Now, the title of this episode is kindness can get me into an ivy league school. I'm going to share a true story about how kindness actually did get someone admitted into an ivy league school. But first, I want to discuss just how difficult this is so that we understand what we're talking about here. Because when you begin to also try this exercise, when you begin to try to catch your negativity, you're going to discover that there is gossip all around you all the time. It is like we are bathing in negativity. That's a problem because humans are very social. Gossip is used just to put others down in the hopes that the person whose gossiping can feel superior to them. And because that's how gossip is used. When you truly stop gossiping, your friends will stop gossiping around you. You'll begin to have more meaningful conversations instead. And people will trust you more because they realize that if you don't gossip with them, you also won't gossip about them when they're not there.

Now nobody wakes up and thinks about how I can become mean or negative today. But there is a lot of complaining in most environments, especially in high school and middle school settings. I know I'm a teacher I come from that world. Humans are very social creatures because of that. We often model our behavior based on what we see around us. Let me give you an example. In the 1950s, a man named Solomon Asch did a study where he asked students to compare the lengths of lines.

Now, this is a very straightforward thing. He had one line, and then he asked people to compare the length of that line to three other lines. One of the three lines was obviously shorter. One was obviously the same length, and the last one was obviously longer. But then he put these test subjects in groups of people. And everyone else in the group was an actor. So he had the test subject go last. Sometimes the actors gave the correct answer 100 % of the time. The test subject also gave the correct answer. But when the actors gave the wrong answers, the test subject also gave the wrong answer 75 % of the time. Wow. To me, that's amazing. Dozens of other studies have followed, and this is called social conformity.

Now, another study helps to understand why the negativity and the social conformity kind of combined to make it very unlikely that someone is just going to naturally be positive when they're put inside of a negative environment. This study was done at Stanford, where everyone was split into 2 groups of people. One of the groups was assigned the task of writing about a time when they were wronged or offended or how the world is just not fair.

The other group was asked to write about a time when they were bored. Afterward, the participants were asked to help the experimenters with a very simple task. And those who just wrote about being wronged were 26 % less likely to be willing to help. They were also more likely to leave trash behind and more likely to steal the examiners' pens. So social conformity is a powerful force. Your brain is a powerful feedback machine. Understanding both of these variables put together really helps us understand why today's message is so important and why universities care so much about trying to find those few individuals who are kind in the middle of all this negativity. You may already be familiar with Harvard university's initiative; to make caring common. If you're not, I recommend you go look it up. It is worth investigating. It's a program developed by Harvard and adopted by hundreds of other major universities, including all of the ivy league schools, MIT, etcetera. It is an initiative that is designed to encourage admissions programs at all of these universities to emphasize character when making admissions decisions.

One example of this that I think is just brilliant is the student who is admitted to UPenn. After she was admitted, her admissions officer actually told her that the letter of recommendation she received from her school janitor was the thing that won their hearts over. And the reason that she was admitted in that letter, I've talked about it before on this podcast, and I talked about it in my starter course

The College Prep Made Easy starter course.

That was a simple letter written by the janitor who talked about how kind this person was, how she learned their names on the first day, and how she always tried to help when no one else was looking.

I also want to emphasize that I've spent time in classrooms at Harvard and in those classes. I can tell you that a lot of emphasis is placed on character, kindness, empathy, inclusion, and more admissions officers at these top schools are trying very hard to identify students, identify applicants who have high character, who are kind, who have empathy.

Those people are not easy to identify. They're not easy to find, in part because they're not common. If everyone around you is so negative or so gossipy, it's hard to change. And to me, I think that we have to be honest about something. We have a culture, especially in high school, among teenagers of gossiping and being negative about teachers and other peers and being negative about all kinds of things. Think about this in English. For example, we have words like compassion or sympathy that describe adopting the sad or difficult emotions of someone else. But we don't have any words to describe the opposite, to feel deep and sincere joy because someone else is happy or lucky, or successful. In Sanskrit, there is a word for this. It's called. It is the unselfish joy that one feels in someone else's good fortune. The fact that we don't even have a word to describe this probably shows you that we have an uphill battle if you want to rise above social pressure and choose kindness or positivity and support.

But you can do it. You can rise above the negativity. I've given you one suggestion already, the idea that when you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, spend time thinking, ten positive thoughts about that same person in replacement. It won't take you long before you start catching yourself sooner and sooner in those negative thoughts.

I want to bring back some other things that we've talked about in previous broadcasts as well. In particular, the 5-second rule, the rule here is that when you are frustrated, when you are upset, when you're tempted to be -, you cannot say or respond to your emotions for 5 seconds. Just give yourself the five second rule. There is the 5-second rule that if you drop food on the floor, you have to pick it up within 5 seconds or else the germs get on it. I love that one too, that's a really important rule.

But this 5-second rule says, when you feel angry, when you start to feel those emotions bubble up, you cannot say a word or even give a facial expression until you've counted to five.

Allow yourself just that moment to catch and be in control of those emotions before you begin acting on them.

I want to add to that mindset shift. I want you to begin to see life, especially the challenging situations. As your coach. Think about if you are in athletics, if you're part of a football team or a basketball team, you don't want a coach who's trying to make things easy and make you soft. Instead, you are on a coach that forces you to practice in the harshest conditions that forces you to do things that are harder than the game, so that when you get in the game, you are better. Right? You're able to perform and you're able to win. If you have a coach that's too soft, that's constantly looking for comfort and trying to make it easy on you. You're going to lose when it comes time for the game. Pretend that life is your training. It's your practice time that these negative experiences are your coach. When you experience something that makes you frustrated. It can be anything from a pop quiz to a canceled flight to anything else. When you experience something frustrating and you're tempted to be negative about it. I want you to stop for 5 seconds, use the 5 second rule.

At the end of that 5 seconds, I want you to think these words, good one coach. I didn't see that one coming, but I'm up for it. You can't rile me up with something like that. I'm up to the challenge. I can handle that. Instead of reverting to the downward slope of negativity, and that negative feedback loop, catch yourself with the 5 second rule and shift your mindset.

Say this is an opportunity to develop my patients. This is an opportunity to strengthen my emotional intelligence. This is an opportunity for me to strengthen my mind and strengthen that positive feedback loop. I do have one other suggestion that I think is really important, and that is to pick your friends and deliberately choose to spend time with people who also want to be more positive. That feedback loop is going to be much easier to reinforce. If you're spending time with other people who value kindness and compassion, or who at least value positivity over negativity.

I created the Ivy League Challenge in part to give students a community, to give students the opportunity to work with other like minded, ambitious and positive teenagers who are all committed to improving their communities and improving themselves so that they can get admitted to a top tier university.

I've now created a facebook group to make it even easier to connect with these people. And I encourage you to look into that. I know that teenagers do not use facebook, but there's just no other platform to create a community like the one that I want. So if you're like most teens and you only have snap chat and Tik Tok, I didn't create a community there because there's no way to do it. So you'll need to join facebook, but I have a link in the show notes that you can use to get to that facebook page. Here's the key, “making caring common”. The Harvard initiative that has been signed and adopted by hundreds of universities. All of the top universities make it really clear that if you want to stand out, one of the best ways to do it is by being a beacon of positivity and support in an ocean of negativity and gossip. It's not easy, but if you do it, you will stand out.

And not only will you stand out in your application and be more likely to get admitted to one of these Top schools. Your life is going to benefit. You will be a happier person. This is a task, this is a mission that is worth the effort. It is worth it to train yourself, to reinforce that positive feedback loop. Now I know that there are a lot of parents and teachers and college counselors that listen to this Podcast. Also, I challenge you to step up to, unfortunately there is gossip and negativity in most working environments including teachers, lounges, and for you to more effectively model the right behavior. For the teenagers who are also trying to do their best, it's important for you to do these same things.

So I Challenge everyone who is listening to this Podcast, choose to focus on the good. That is all around you. As you do that, you'll continue to build this positive feedback loop. It'll make it easier and easier to see good and positivity and others around you. It will also make it easier and easier to see the good. That is in yourself, this will build your confidence and probably build your ability to be more empathetic, more compassionate, more kind.

As you do that, you stand out and make yourself more available to make an impact in your community. This is a process. This is a task that is worth the effort.