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Real Strength- How to Develop It

| “In between stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space, you have power. –Viktor Frankl”

Have you ever found yourself feeling really upset and angry because someone said or did something? But then you realized that you shouldn’t have reacted in anger, and that YOUR REACTION made the problem worse. Before you know it, you feel even more upset at yourself? 

We’ve all experienced such situations in life. So if you can relate, you’re not alone. And in today’s podcast, I want to share with you the strategies that can help you deal with those situations. One skill in particular will help develop real strength in you.


  • Why you should shift your mindset about frustrating situations
  • How letting negative emotions spread can impact the quality of your life
  • The biggest lesson you can learn from real-life heroes
  • What I learned from my professor in Harvard
  • A powerful–and playful–technique to help you develop your strength

     And so much more.


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Too many people are overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated about college admissions prep. I created this podcast to help you build a standout college profile and boost your confidence. Enjoy!

– 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.

Have you ever found yourself really upset by a text message or an offhand comment? Maybe it was a personal insult, or perhaps the other person just insisted on their idea, even though you were clear that you disagreed. If you've ever experienced that, then you know what? That makes you human. That makes you completely normal.

And perhaps you've already had this experience where something someone said made you really upset, made you angry, got you frustrated. But then after the fact, you realized that, you know what? Your reaction to the frustration made it worse, that the bigger problem was the way that you reacted and the way that you held on to that anger. And perhaps later on, still something happened where you got triggered, you got frustrated, you got angry again.

And then as you were angry, you began to realize that you were getting angry. And then you began to feel upset at yourself, that you were getting angry at what someone else said, because you knew that getting angry was actually making the problem worse. All right, so all of these stages, all of these experiences, if you can relate, again, you're human.

And this whole process is very normal and very natural. All of us go through this as we grow up and as we experience life. But I also want you to know that in that moment when you realize that you're more angry than you should be, I want you to know that you're right.

And there's really good news. There are some excellent strategies to help you in that moment and today, that's what this podcast is all about. In fact, if you're the friend of the person who's been insulted, you know this entire process very, very well.

Because from the outside, it's so easy to see, right? It's so obvious that the reaction to the struggle, the reaction to the insult, is making the problem so much worse. But when you're the person who's kind of stuck in that mindset, you're kind of stuck in that mental trap, oftentimes you can't figure it out. Someone says something and they're done.

They move on with it. They might have intended harm, they might not have intended harm. They may or may not have had intentions of malice, but they say what they say or they text what they text or they post what they post on social media.

And if you feel like you're the target of that insult, then you might find yourself thinking about that sentence or that post over and over and over again. A few years ago, I had a friend whose pipe burst. A pipe in the bathroom on the second floor of their house.

The pipe burst, and of course, all this water began to spew out of the pipe onto the floor, getting into the carpet, and just causing water damage absolutely everywhere. It was so bad. There was so much water on that second floor all kind of trapped into one area that the entire floor became saturated and began to leak.

Water began to drip into the floor underneath this burst pipe. And as water began to drip, drip, drip, it began to drip heavier and heavier and heavier. And then the entire ceiling collapsed and a wave of water fell onto the floor below.

Now, the pipe bursting, that pipe itself is not that big of a deal. A decent plumber can probably come in and fix that pipe within an hour or two and is going to cost no more than a few hundred dollars. The real problem, of course, is the water that spills because of the burst pipe.

The water can destroy the carpet and the floor. It can collapse the ceiling and cause damage that requires weeks or even months to repair. An insult is like that burst pipe.

It takes a few seconds and it is gone. But our reaction to it, if we let it, might create emotional damage that takes days, weeks, months, or even years. I've spent a lot of time in nursing homes, either singing to or just visiting with elderly people, some of whom have fading memories or even dementia, and who just can't remember big portions of their lives.

And yet I have heard over and over from some of these people in detail how upset and how frustrated and how angry they still are about comments made decades earlier. And so it's not the pipe that causes the real damage. It's allowing that pipe to spew.

It's allowing that water to just continue to spew from the broken pipe that causes the real damage. That takes forever. But of course, that is not necessary.

You know by now, if you're a regular listener to this podcast that Victor Frankel taught this beautifully. He said that in between stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space you have power.

And I want you to look around at the real heroes in the world through history, through biographies that you have read or people that you know personally. These heroes oftentimes are people who have learned to maximize their power in that space between stimulus and response, where they have a choice. And that choice gives them power.

That power allows you to immediately fix the pipe. It allows you to immediately stop the water damage and immediately stop the pain and suffering and everything else that that insult might otherwise cause you if you continue to stew over it and get angry about it. Let me tell you about Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson was the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues. And as sad as this history is, decades and decades ago, the baseball leagues were separated and white players played in their own league, the Major League Baseball league, while these athletes of color played in a separate league. And when one manager decided that that was not okay, he wanted to find the perfect athlete of color to bring into the Major leagues to kind of force the issue.

And he asked all of his scouts to go and find the perfect athlete. Had to be someone who was dynamic and entertaining, an outstanding athlete, outstanding baseball player, but also, he said, had to be someone who had a perfect temperament, someone who would not get angry easily. And all of his scouts came back with the exact same recommendation.

They said, look, we found your player. There's no question. It's Jackie Robinson.

He's electric, he's dynamic, he is attractive, he's young, he is a crowd pleaser. Everyone loves him. But there's a problem.

He is a hothead. He constantly argues with the refs, he argues with other players, he's gotten in fights, he's been kicked out of games, and he's even gotten yelling matches and even fights with fans. He is an absolute hothead, but he is the best in baseball.

And so the manager asked Jackie Robinson to come into his office and he told Jackie Robinson, look, I want you to come play in the Major leagues. I want you to break the race barrier and come play on our team. However, you must promise me that for three years you will not get upset, you will not get angry, you will not yell, you will not defend yourself, you will not fight.

You have to be a model citizen. And as the story goes, Jackie Robinson said, what are you talking about? You want Me to be so weak that I don't stand up for myself? And the manager said, no, I want you to be so strong that nothing anyone says can knock you off track. In other words, I want you to find that power that exists between stimulus and response, where you have a choice, and your choice needs to be every single time.

It needs to be peace and calm and serenity. It needs to be that you are above the insults. You need to do this because you are going to get insults constantly and you have to be bigger than that.

You just have to be bigger than that. Well, Jackie Robinson agreed, but neither he nor the manager could possibly imagine just how terrible the insults were. They were vile, they were oppressive, and they were absolutely constant, just nonstop.

Jackie Robinson just had to put up with it. At one point, it was so bad that the referees or the umpires had to delay the game. They had to stop the game.

People were throwing things that Were just dangerous onto the baseball field. And the manager Of The other club was the one leading the hateful and racist insults towards Jackie Robinson. The game continued to be delayed and it looked like it might even be canceled because everyone in the stands was trying to get under Jackie Robinson's skin.

They were trying to insult him, they were trying to get through to him, to trigger him, to make him angry. If they could make him lose his cool, they could prove that he didn't deserve to be in the league. Or so they thought.

But when it became clear that the anger and the hatred and the racism and the comments were just not going to stop, jackie Robinson did something. He walked out onto the field and just stood there. No anger, no frustration, no reaction.

He just stood there. And then one of his white teammates also walked out onto the field and just put his arm on Jackie Robinson's shoulder and together they just watched people hate on them. Well, when the crowd just could not get under Jackie Robinson's skin, nothing could upset him.

They ran out of steam, they ran out of energy trying to rile him up. And when they calmed down, the game resumed and they were able to play the game again. Not everyone is controlled by their anger or is at the whim of their emotions.

They prove that there is that space between stimulus and response. They prove that in that space you have power. And so can you.

So here's what I want you to do. I want you to build that power that exists within that space, the space between stimulus and response. And the way you build that power is by playing a game.

Now first of all, I want to mention one of the most interesting things that I learned when I studied biology in college, I learned from my professor, who was also a pediatrician, that the best thing kids can do when they're little is just surround themselves with dirt. If you have pets, pets are dirty. And that's wonderful because that makes the kids surrounded by germs and bacteria and dirt.

And it's great if kids just even eat dirt or suck on the table, or eat food off the floor, stuff that is just eh, really dirty. But it's good for them because it builds their immune system. In fact, it's really important if you have a child who is raised in a very sterile environment, their immune system isn't nearly as strong.

And then when a disease does interact with them, which eventually it will, they don't have nearly the resources to be able to fight that disease off. And so many pediatricians recommend that we have kids play in the dirt, right? Just go outside or inside and play and cover yourself with germs and cover yourself with dirt so that you can build your immune system in the same way you can strengthen your emotional self control through practice. You can strengthen that ability to control the space between stimulus and response.

Because if something unfortunate happens to an individual who's been protected in a palace their whole life, wow, any hardship will be overwhelming. But the same or greater challenges would not even phase someone with a stronger emotional intelligence. So I want you to play a game with yourself, and I want you to begin today.

This is fantastic. I want you to pretend that God or your higher self or the universe is testing you. Pretend that God is like this great coach.

A great coach doesn't try to pamper their players or protect them from hardship. A good coach will challenge you. So when something or someone frustrating enters your life, tell yourself, oh, this is a clever challenge, but I'm up for it, right? Thanks, Coach.

I can see that you're giving me a challenge. I see that you're toughening me up, but I'm up for it. And then to pass these tests, you have to keep your cool.

Be flexible instead of rigid so that you can bounce back instead of breaking. So that's the game that you play. You pretend that life's challenges are your coach.

This is your emotional intelligence coach. Toughening you up and making you stronger so that you can perform better in life. And I want you to give yourself two tools that you can do to exercise and be up to this challenge.

The first is to strengthen your immune system. Go play in the dirt. In other words, welcome frustrating experiences into your life.

Welcome unpleasant experiences. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is advice that I got when I was young that changed my life forever. I love giving this advice and I love when people take the advice because their lives will never be the same.

The advice is, every day, find one thing that is good for you that you don't want to do and do it right. This could be a cold shower. It could be exercise.

If you hate to exercise, but you know it's good for you, it could be changing your diet. And especially it can be stepping outside of your comfort zone to talk to a stranger, to ask for help or support, to reach out to someone that you don't know very well. Okay? The idea here is find something that you know is good for you, but that you don't really want to do.

It's not convenient, it's not comfortable, but you know it's good for you. And just choose to do one of those every single day. Okay? The second thing I want you to do is commit to the five second rule.

Remember that anger will burst into flames if you let it. And it happens immediately. It happens so quickly.

So in between stimulus and response, there is a space. If you can elongate that space, if you can stretch out that space to 5 seconds by setting a rule for yourself that you will not react for the first 5 seconds. So you count to five, and during that time, remember that this is just a test.

This is just a test that life is giving you to toughen you up. This is your coach. It's helping you accept the help and you kind of just say, oh, wow, this is a clever test, this is a clever challenge.

I didn't see that coming, but I'm up for it, right? During those 5 seconds, the more ridiculous the setback, the more points you get by keeping your cool. Remember, you've got one life to live and you are living it now. Your time and your energy is so valuable.

Don't waste it by allowing yourself to get angry and frustrated and then losing that power that you have. In between stimulus and response, decide to savor your relationships. Decide to value your life and your experiences and live to the fullest by choosing to see setbacks for what they are.

They are just practice that's strengthening your emotional intelligence immune system.