Give not worrying a try

Here’s an exercise that just might help you worry less this year.

Make a list of the ten specific things you worried about the most over the last year. Then review each item on that list with the benefit of hindsight, and ask yourself two questions:

1. Was the worry justified at the time?
2. Did worrying improve the outcome?

I’m not suggesting we don’t face situations in life where worrying is both natural and justified. A family member gets sick. Your taxes get audited. You don’t get the financial aid you needed and aren’t sure how you’ll pay for college. You can’t just smile your way through everything.

But as you look at that list of ten, my guess is that many of those things you worried about either never ended up happening, or had outcomes that worrying did nothing to improve.

So as we all enter into 2018, the next time you find yourself worrying about something, take a step back and ask: (1) Is this worth worrying about? (2) Will worrying improve the outcome? If the answer to either one is no, maybe it’s time to give not worrying a try. Imagine what you could do with all that energy you spent on worrying last year.

Happy New Year!

A new take on resolutions

In the past, I’ve posted suggested resolutions for students and parents, plus another for private counselors.

I’ve posted Chip and Dean Heath’s (who teach at Stanford and Duke respectively) “4 Research-Backed Tips for Sticking to Your New Years Resolutions.”

I’ve shared Dan Pink’s take on the science of behavioral economics when applied to new year’s resolutions.

And I’ve posted this 30-minute podcast on the Freakonomics blog about why willpower alone is not enough (and what to do instead).

But here’s a new take—what if this year, you only resolved to do two things?

  1. Spend more time doing one thing that you love doing.
  2. Identify one thing you don’t like doing and stop doing it.

If you took those two resolutions to positive rather than irresponsible extremes (I don’t recommend you commit to spending the next 365 days eating as many donuts as possible and doing absolutely no homework), imagine what a difference it would make over the next year.

How much happier and less stressed would you be? And how much closer would you be to reaching your goals?

Maybe two resolutions is all it takes.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.

First the good news, or the bad news?

If you have good news and bad news to share with someone, science says that you should deliver the bad news first. Why? Four out of five humans prefer endings that rise rather than deflate.

Dan Pink explains more in this (very short) video.

And for families awaiting college decisions, remember that every piece of bad news is inevitably followed by good news, both in the short term (another college will almost certainly say yes) and the long term (you’ll end up at a college to call your own).


The 3,000th post

Today is my 3,000th post. Every day, for 3,000 days. In a row.

Busy days, slower days, weekends, holidays, and every day in between. The discipline to post every day has been a priceless lesson. Like brushing your teeth, once you make the decision to do it daily, breaking the habit becomes a lot more difficult than starting it was.

I write every entry myself. I don’t take any advertising. And blogging has never been a job requirement. These posts are just for you, from just me.

I’ve blogged through some of my biggest life milestones.

I blogged on my 40th birthday.

I blogged the day I moved from California to Seattle.

I blogged on my wedding day.

I blogged when I sold Collegewise and when I bought it back.

I blogged when both my sons were born.

If you’ve read and benefited from my blog, I have two favors to ask.

First, please tell someone who might benefit. Even just sharing a single post that helped you makes a difference. I don’t pay attention to how many readers I have and I’ve never written anything just to game the SEO algorithms. The point is to share something that might help someone during an important college admissions-related time in their schooling, parenting, or professional career.

Second, consider starting a blog of your own. Everyone has something to share, something that might interest or help or otherwise appeal to someone. You don’t need permission. You don’t need an agent. You don’t need a publisher. In blogs, today we all have our own publishing platform available to us free or almost free.

I plan to keep posting as 2018 begins. But for the first time in 3,000 days, I’ll also be doing some blog soul-searching. I’ve long said that I would keep posting daily as long as I had something to say, and it’s getting more difficult to satisfy that metric every day. But whether the streak continues or comes to an end, daily blogging has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, almost entirely because of you.

Thank you for reading, for sharing, and for letting me chime in during your college admissions experience.

Happy celebrating

Today is a celebratory day for many readers. But even if you don’t officially recognize Christmas on your family calendar, here’s a recommendation—celebrate anyway. Not Christmas, per se, but something that you find celebration-worthy.

Need suggestions?

Do you have a roof over your head?

Are you with your family today?

Parents, have you raised good kids?

Kids, do you have supportive parents who look out for you?

Do you have social connections who support you?

Can you identify three good things that happened yesterday, no matter how small they may be?

Are you off work or school today?

Do you have something worth looking forward to?

And while we’re at it, I’ll just remind students and their parents that the United States has the most open and accessible system of higher education anywhere in the world. The vast majority of the over 2,000 colleges admit far more applicants than they deny. There are billions of dollars in financial aid available. And studies continue to show that your future success and happiness will be influenced far more by what you actually do in college than it will by which specific college you attend.

We can all find something worth celebrating today.

Happy celebrating, however, whatever, and with whomever you choose.

If you can’t control it, let it go

I wish that positive psychologist Shawn Achor had shared some of his extensive research in his recent piece “Why You Shouldn’t Worry About the Things You Can’t Control.” If you haven’t read his books or listened to his TED Talk, the article might read more like an anecdote than a scientifically proven way to lower stress and increase both happiness and success.

Still, the article is worth a read. I’ve written frequently that the students and parents who enjoy and emerge successfully from the college application process focus on the parts that they can control, and as much as possible, let everything else go. If you’re new to the blog and haven’t seen those posts, you can find them here:  “You can only control your effort” and “The right kind of control freak.”

What message do kids hear about college?

Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, has something to say about the message so many kids are receiving about getting into college. From his recent Washington Post piece, “What is college for? (Hint: It’s not just about getting in)”:

“In the process [of preparing for college], all too many receive a sorry message, indeed: ‘The goal of high school is to get into the college that rejects the most people; the goal of college is to gain access to employers or graduate programs that turn away the greatest number of qualified candidates; the goal of life is to have more of the stuff that other people are unable to acquire.’ No one puts it quite this way, but that’s what our young people are hearing. It is a message that kills the soul: Value things only to the extent that other people are deprived of them.”

Who do you surround yourself with?

New research out of Kellogg (the business school at Northwestern) shows that just sitting near a high performer can actually make you better at your job. And not surprisingly, it also shows that the bad apples have an even bigger effect.

But before we all go rearranging our chairs accordingly, it’s worth thinking about not just who we’re sitting near, but also who we’re actually surrounded by, literally and figuratively.

I’ve written before about the findings showing secondhand stress—that which you take on from those around you—is real. But the people you regularly spend time with have an impact that goes further than just one outcome.

When you consider your friends, family, and other people you interact with most often, how do those interactions make you feel?

Do you come away from that time with them encouraged, motivated, happy, and positive? Or is your outlook less bright after time spent with them than it was before?

It’s worth not just considering the effect those people are having on you, but also acknowledging and acting on it. Seek time with people who make you better and happier. Minimize time with people who do the opposite. And if the people who negatively impact you are close enough that you can’t just spend less time with them (especially if they’re related to you), you might consider telling them how you feel after conversations with them. They might not be able or willing to change who they are. But they can change what they talk about.

If you’re hoping to enjoy your ride to college, who you decide to surround yourself with is an important college planning decision.

Read the room

Seniors, as your college decisions roll in, it’s natural to want to share the news and how you feel about it. But when you do, please remember to read the room.

Your safety school that you openly dismiss is someone else’s dream school.

Your elation over admission can make someone who got different news feel even worse.

While you’re in despair over the one school that said no, someone else is worried they won’t be able to pay for any college that says yes.

Your hard work may have paid off the way you’d hoped, but someone else’s didn’t.

That student you’re sure did not deserve their admission may have brought something to the committee readers that would make you feel differently.

Of course, your college admissions experience is your own. You get to experience it and react authentically. Nobody can take that away from you.

But with the arrival of decisions, discussions and public sharing of experiences often turn from the process to the results. When you say, post, or otherwise share something, do your best to read the room. Ask yourself if your success or good fortune might make someone else feel worse. Ask yourself if your disappointment might pale when compared to what someone else is experiencing. Ask yourself if the audience with whom you’re sharing can really handle the presentation.

There’s never been a time in the history of college admissions when those going through it have shared and compared so openly. Sometimes it’s nice to have comradery and to know that you’re not going through it alone. But as the results arrive, please remember that there’s no law preventing you from sharing only with the audience closest to you–those who have a sincere interest in your success and won’t be negatively affected by your reactions.

You’ll get the best reception if you read the room.