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What To Do With Fear

| “If you can understand your fear and use that energy effectively, those fears will plant the seeds for future confidence.”

I recorded this podcast right after finishing the class in the Ivy League Challenge where we talk about the three origins of fear. I felt our students were so brilliant in sharing their ideas on how to use the energy that fear creates productively. So today, I want to share some highlights from our session.


  • 3 origins of fear (and why you need to know about them)
  • Questions you can ask yourself to use fear productively
  • How to use your fear to achieve great things in college, and in life
  • Big lessons you can learn from these Ivy League Challenge students
  • A process you can follow to conquer all of your fears

     And so much more.


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Hello and welcome to Ivy League Prep Academy podcasts, where we explore ideas for living a better life and preparing for the university of your choice. We're your hosts, Nathaniel and Steve. Hello, everyone.

Am so excited. We just finished our course in the Ivy League Challenge with my private group, and we talked today about fear and where it comes from and how to overcome it. And I felt like the students were so brilliant and had so much wisdom about how to overcome that fear or just how to use the energy that fear creates productively.

And so I just wanted to share some highlights from the live Call today. So it all begins with understanding kind of the nature of fear other than physical safety issues. Like, if you are truly afraid that your life is in danger or your safety is in danger, that is a different kind of fear than we're talking about here today.

We talked about the anxiety, the fear, the stress, the other stuff that's not physical safety based fear. And we discover that there are three origins of that fear. So it's important to know to understand fear.

The better you understand it, the more control you can have over the fear. So here are the three origins. One is the fear of loss, right? Maybe you're afraid that you're going to lose something.

So if you make a choice to do something new, that that's going to cost you something else, you're going to lose something by making this choice. The second fear is process pain. So the fear of process pain, and this is the fear that says, I'm afraid to make this choice.

I'm afraid to do this thing because I think it's going to be hard, it's going to be painful, and I don't want to experience that pain. And so for a lot of people, accepting the Ivy League challenge is you're afraid that, hey, if I decide that I'm going to commit to a top tier school, I'm going to do what I need to to qualify. And and be in the running for these better schools.

That that's going to be a lot of work, and it's going to be painful, and that's fair. The third origin of fear is based in what's called outcome pain. And that is this idea that, hey, I did all this work and it didn't matter.

At the end, my life was just about the same as before. I did all the work, so why should I make the choice? Why should I do the work? And we had just such an outstanding conversation where everyone in the group was able to share as authentically as you can imagine. I'm so impressed with my students in the Ivy League Challenge.

Just amazing. And I'll encourage you to do the same thing, even if we can't talk through it together in a more organized way. The more open you are about each of these sources of fear, the better.

So we did an exercise before class where I asked them simple questions. Things like, one thing I'm afraid I might lose if I truly commit to attending the best university possible is another thing I'm afraid I might lose is or other questions. Things like with something as competitive as top tier college admissions, I'm sure I will have to work very hard to obtain the test scores and grades I need.

And if I'm honest, I'm afraid the hardest, most painful part of this process will be the other things I think will be difficult or painful include and then finally we talked about kind of that last source or origin of pain or fear. And that's the outcome, pain. So I told them, hey, I've had a student say, if I put in the work to be accepted to a top tier school, I'm still concerned that no matter what I do, I won't be accepted.

I won't be accepted anyway. Or what if I'm accepted only to discover that my dream school isn't as great as I hoped it would be? And so the question then is, does that ring true for you? Is that something that you're afraid of as well? And first of all, just know that if you have these thoughts, I'm not smart enough. I didn't do anything amazing or special.

How could I possibly compete with the top students in the world? I'm not talented enough. All of these fears are not only common and understandable, but they can even be helpful. So if you understand where the fear is coming from and can reachannel that energy effectively, your fear will plant the seeds of future confidence.

And so start by answering those questions. What are you afraid you might lose? What are you afraid might be painful in the process? And do you have a fear that you're going to do all this work and not see the returns that you're looking for anyway? And after you complete that, let me share you a story about Victor Frankel. And then very quickly, I'll share some of the solutions that my students came up with that are absolutely brilliant and they deserve to be heard around the world.

So that's why I'm sharing. If you haven't yet read any of the books by Victor Frankel, let me suggest you begin with a book that was printed, I believe in about the 1940s, 1950s, called Man's Search for Meaning. And Victor Frankel? Very quickly I'll tell you about him.

He was Jewish and he was an Austrian neurologist, right? He was an amazing psychiatrist. And during the Holocaust, he was placed in an internment camp, and he watched as most of the people who came into the internment camp around him died. And as a neurologist and a psychiatrist, he observed with academic curiosity.

And at the same time, Sigmund Freud is well known for saying that humans are driven by the pursuit of pleasure. And Victor frankel disagreed. He said in the internment camp.

There's no pleasure anywhere. And some people survive, will others die? And what makes the difference, what truly drives people? And he said, the true driver is meaning. And so what we really care about is not having little pleasures throughout the day that make us feel good for a moment.

What we really care about is meaning. Some kind of meaningful impact. Which is why I love, love, love the Ivy League challenge, right? It's all about finding your values and then creating an impact, making your sphere of influence a better place to be because you bring your values into it and you make it a little bit better.

That's so meaningful. All right, but Victor Frankel says that in between stimulus and response there is a space. And that space is where we have a choice.

So think about the fear that you experience as you identify loss pain, a fear of loss pain, fear of process pain, fear of outcome pain, or any other thing that really trips you up, anything else that really frustrates you. Whatever that stimulus is, you do not need to respond immediately. Because in between stimulus and response, there is a space.

And in that space you have a choice. That choice is what enables you to make the world a better place. That's what enables you to live into your values and make a positive impact in your sphere of influence.

So I just want to share a couple of ideas from my students about how to use this fear. Use this space in between stimulus and response so that you can process correctly the origins of fear, the pain that you're afraid you might experience and use it to your advantage, or just accept it. Recognize that it's there.

Remember that emotions are data, they're valuable information. So because you're afraid doesn't mean that you are a coward. Because you feel anger doesn't mean that you are an angry person.

Emotions are data that help us understand how we are interpreting the world around us. And so one response, of course, is to feel the pain, experience it, identify it, recognize where this pain is coming from. This fear is coming from, I'm afraid I'm going to lose something.

I'm afraid the process will be difficult. I'm afraid that all this work will not lead to a better life anyway. And then recognize that fear and say, thank you for letting me know that that's how you feel and you can move on.

But other times it is helpful. In that space between stimulus and response, it's helpful to say, you know, this energy is useful. The fear that I'm feeling can be helpful.

So, for example, I have one student who talked about outcome pain and his fear that he's going to continue working so hard to prepare for the Sat, and in the end, he's not going to get the score that he needs anyway. After all this work. And after a few minutes we did some exercises together and they did some brainstorming as partners.

After a few minutes he came back and he said, in the space between stimulus and response, my choice is this. I'm going to take the fear I have about outcome pain, that the outcome is not going to be any better. And I'm going to use that to focus my energy every single day that between now and the time I take the test, I will be better focused and more alert and I will perform at a higher level because I'm feeling this fear.

And therefore, I am grateful for the fear that my outcome will be no better than my current situation. I love that another student talked about the process pain and this particular student said, you know, I've really struggled with getting good grades and it takes a lot of work for me to prepare for tests and to get the grades that I need to be accepted to my dream school. And I know this process is going to be difficult and it's going to be long and I have to stick with it.

And he said, but in the space between stimulus and response, I choose to see it this way. And this person said one of the best pieces of advice that they ever heard was that every day you should do one thing that is good for you, but that you don't really want to do. And as you do that, you become a better person.

You begin to master yourself and that self mastery allows you to build the character and the other qualities that you want to develop, to have a greater impact in the world and to have a more meaningful life. And so he takes that advice to heart and he tries to do things every day that are good for him that he doesn't want to do. And he uses this process pain as more opportunities to develop that character, right, what Angela Duckworth calls grit, this character that we build by doing things that are good for us even when we don't want to do them.

And he said my values, one of my values is meaning and another one of my values is growth. And so doing the things that are difficult and that are even painful for me are exactly the activities that help develop the things that are important to me, develop my growth and allow me to contribute meaningfully to my sphere of influence. And therefore I can take this process pain and be grateful for it and I can make the most of it.

And one last student that I am so proud of, I love this perspective, said, you know what? Right now I want to be accepted into a top tier school. I want to go to the best school possible and I'm willing to do all the work that we're doing in this Ivy League challenge to prepare myself to attend this top tier school. So I've put a lot of work into identifying my values, which we do.

We spend a lot of time helping each individual student discover what is most important to them. And so with this student, we spent lots of time, I've discovered my values, and now I am preparing, I am creating an impact within my sphere of influence based around my values and my interests and my strengths. And this is amazing.

And I'm doing it. I started doing this because I was motivated to be accepted to the best university possible. I want to go to the best.

And that's why I started this. And yet now, only a few weeks into the Ivy League Challenge, I have put all this time and all this thinking, all this reflective time into identifying my values, identifying my strengths, identifying my interests, brainstorming on ways I can make a more meaningful impact around in the world around me. And it's dawned on me, what if in two years, I changed my mind and I don't even want to apply to a top tier school anymore? What if in two years, I discover through this work that my passion is in some area that does not require that I attend a top tier school and I can just go to any school or I decide not to go to school at all? If that happens, wouldn't that be so sad? I put all this work in and in the end, it was not useful at all.

And I smiled as the student said, the answer is no. Absolutely not. If I do not go to university, what is the best use of these two years that I have between now and university? The best use of my time, no question, is to identify, truly identify my values, my strengths, my interests, and then use that self awareness to create a genuine, authentic plan to make my sphere of influence a better place, to make the world around me a better place.

And the best use of my time, if I want to go to a top tier school, is to do this. That will help me stand out among all the candidates, all the people who have excellent test scores and excellent grades, that will help me to stand out that I know who I am, I know my values, and I have evidence that I know my values because I've been making a difference in my life, in my community. However, if I do not apply for a top tier school, or if I apply and I'm not accepted in still, the best use of my time right now, the best use of these two years is to develop myself in this way and to make a meaningful impact in my community.

And I am so proud of my students because they are absolutely right. So with that mindset now she is no longer afraid of the outcome. Pain, right there's, no more fear there because this is the best use of her time and energy, regardless of what happens.

And my other students are no longer afraid of the process pain that they're worried about because that's exactly what they want to be doing, to develop the character and become the person they want to become. And I just want to encourage everyone who is listening in here, please take advantage of the wisdom of my private group and these students and their brainstorm and their answers. It's absolutely brilliant.

When you feel that fear or you feel another emotion or you have some kind of stimulus in life that you interpret as being negative, you have a space between stimulus and response. And in that space, you have a choice. And your power comes from the choices that you make.

So use your time, use your energy to identify your values, your interests, your strengths. And when you understand your values, make choices that are consistent with those values. If you're interested in getting some of my support and being part of a community of high school students that are actively engaged in this meaningful impact project and this process of learning to stand out for top tier school admissions or just you want to make the most of your time and this is a great way to live your life.

And you want to join the Ivy League challenge. Right now we are not accepting new applications, but before long we will set up a waitlist and just keep listening to the podcasts, getting the most value you can out of the materials that I put out. I hope that they're helpful for you.

And when we are ready to take applications and open up the waitlist, I will be sure to let you know. In the meantime, thank you for listening. Thank you for being willing and having the courage to face those emotions, recognize that emotions are really valuable, even fear.

And often people want to run away from fear or bottle it up or hide from it. And that's not the most healthy approach. And so I appreciate that you've listened to this far.

You can now at least identify the origin of your fear and where you think that pain might come from. And hopefully this gives you some strategies that will be useful for you. Remember that between stimulus and response there is a space.

And in that space you have a choice. And that choice gives you power. Thanks, everyone.