Have you ever been excited to start a project, and then you lost momentum half-way through?
Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much work needs to get done?
Do you find yourself procrastinating?
If so, you're not alone. This happens to pretty much everyone.
With college application season around the corner, it's easy to feel motivated in the beginning of the process and then cave in to your limiting inner dialogue: I don't feel like filling out that application today. Do you think I can skip the college fair? I have HOW MANY essays to write!?
If you're in the last leg of the college application process, and you want to stay steady toward the finish line instead of trailing off, you'll want to pay close attention to your mindset.
I'm a mindset and writing strategy coach for college applicants, and I discovered that applicants who developed and maintained focused, positive attitudes during the application process were more likely to get into their top choice schools. Why? They wrote better essays, they performed better in school, and they were able to focus and send in their best work.
I want to share five of the most effective mindset strategies you can start using now. They will help you stay on top of your game during the college application process, and they will help you navigate past the times you lose momentum, feel overwhelmed, or find yourself procrastinating.
1) Set an Intention
In your ideal world, how do you want the college application process to go for you?
Do you want it to be stressful, overwhelming, and frustrating? Or, do you want it to be easy and enjoyable?
That might seem like an obvious choice, but most applicants don't choose how they want the application to process to be for them. They listen to others talk about how hard and time consuming the application process is, or they observe their friends vent about how much pressure they're under, and then they believe that's just how it is.
Take a moment right now to consider how you want to feel during the application process. Set that as your intention. "I want to feel [insert positive emotion here] as I apply to college."
Setting an intention guides you to direct your focus, and your focus creates your experience.
Think about it. Your brain has millions of bits of information it can focus on in any given moment. Your mind is deleting most of those pieces of information, and it is aware of the few pieces that it's focused on.
Try this: Notice the pace of your breathing. Now, notice how your clothes feel on your body.
It's likely you weren't focused on how fast you're breathing or how your clothes feel on your skin until you read this sentence.
What changed? I redirected your focus.
In the same way, you can look around right now and locate a few things you don't really like or you can look for a few things that bring you joy. What you see is directly related to what you're looking for.
With this in mind, begin to draw attention to how you're presenting the college application process to yourself.
Here are a few strategies:
- Instead of saying, "I have to write these essays. I need to get them done," rephrase that to "I get to write essays that will help admissions get to know me better! I get another way to show them that I'm a perfect choice for their school!" This shift in your focus will change how you feel about your essays, and when you feel better, you'll write better.
- If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your applications, notice where your focus is. Is it on how much you have to get done? If so, redirect your focus to how much progress you've made or on ways you can make the process simpler by managing your time or by rewarding yourself with a Netflix episode when you're done.
Before you begin any part of the application, set your intention for how you'd like it go, and watch how much easier it will be.
Do you know what worry is?
It's you imagining possible "worst-case" scenarios in your head. Then, your body responds to those scenarios as though they're real.
It's you using your imagination.
However, it's you using your imagination in a way that's disempowering.
Your subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between a perceived threat and a real one; that's why many people experience anxiety. Their body goes into fight-or-flight mode over the perceived threat in their mind.
You can also use your imagination to create possible scenarios of thing going right. This is called visualization. It's what the top athletes in the world use to help them win: they spend time imagining themselves winning, scoring a goal, or landing the shot.
In short, visualization is creating a mental image of a future event.
Why is visualization so powerful?
Visualization causes your brain to create neural pathways or "road maps" in your mind as though you've already completed the action you're visualizing. So, just like your brain can't tell the difference between an imagined threat or a real one, your brain can't tell the difference between an imagined experience or a real one. Use this to your advantage!
Here are some ways to use visualization:
- Mentally rehearse what it would look like and feel like to receive acceptance letters from your top choice schools. Spend time creating a mental picture of this. Where are you? What do you say? Who's with you? What does the letter say? Feel it in your body as though it already happened.
- Imagine what it will feel like to write application essays that you feel inspired to write. Imagine yourself sitting down to write and the ideas flowing through you easily. Imagine writing essays that win you scholarship money.
- Write down your goals and your ideal version of how the application process will go for you. Write down what you want to happen in great detail. Use imagery in your description. This is similar to setting an intention.
Visualization is something you can do at any time to help you feel better. So, if you find yourself feeling confused, visualize what it would look like and feel like if this came easily to you. Your brain will create the pathways to make it easier.
3) Get Organized
The college application process takes planning since it's often in addition to your regular school work and activities. Get a calendar, and put it in a place you'll see every day or make it a habit to check it.
Plan to have a lot of tasks to complete, forms to fill out, conversations to have, and remember that being busy does not mean you need to be stressed. Get yourself organized, and set an intention that you'll stay organized and focused throughout the process. You can even write your intention in your calendar as a daily reminder.
So, what's the benefit of organizing your time? Organization is good for the mind. Being organized can reduce stress and improve your productivity, which both come in handy when you're doing something as important as applying to college.
Once you get into the habit of sticking to your calendar, you'll find yourself procrastinating less and it will help you to gain momentum.
Here are some ways to get yourself organized:
- Discuss with your family what the best plan of action is for your applications. When will you go to college fairs? When will you visit campuses? When will you set out time to write your application and scholarship essays?
- Keep in mind that you've never had to write college application essays before. You need to learn how to write them, apply what you've learned, and give yourself permission to not be an expert at writing them at first. Add in plenty of time for writing multiple drafts, trying something new, and for revisions.
- Clean your room, tidy your work space, and make your bed. If your personal space is cluttered, it's easier for your mind to feel cluttered as well since there's a lot more to focus on and be distracted by. And, researchers found that people got a better quality of sleep when they made their beds. Any little bit of sleep helps, right?
Give yourself enough time to review and revise your applications before you submit them, so when you're organizing your calendar, plan accordingly.
4) Start with the End in Mind
One of the strategies teachers learn when they study teaching is a concept called "backwards planning."
This is how it works: when teachers start planning lessons, they think of what they want their students to know or be able to do at the end of the lesson or unit, then they figure out the steps that will help them achieve that result. They start with the end in mind.
I use this method when I coach applicants writing their college essays. I ask them to get clear on their end result, or what they wanted admissions officers reading their essay to take away from it. This prevents them from writing pieces that don't have a point or a direction.
This shift in your thinking can make a world of difference. Keep your end goal in mind so you don't waste time completing unnecessary tasks that will leave you frustrated.
If you're having a difficult time figuring out your topic or angle, use this method.
- Write down a few aspects of your personality (preferably ones that admissions officers can't get elsewhere from your application), and then write down a few moments in your life where you displayed all those qualities at once. This will help you uncover stories that are purposeful.
You can also use this strategy when you're attending college fairs or doing a campus visit.
- What do you want to take away from the fair? Do you want to meet five representatives? Do you want to narrow down your list of schools? Do you want to learn about scholarship opportunities?
- What about your campus visit? Do you want to meet a few people? Discover a hidden place to eat? Sit in on a class?
Figure out your purpose and direction, and it will help you feel accomplished.
5) Take Inspired Action
Did you ever notice that your brilliant ideas come to you while you're in the shower or right before you're about to fall asleep?
There's a reason for that.
At those moments, you're not resistant. You're a little more relaxed. In this state of mind, ideas can flow to you easily.
This tip will help you tremendously with your college essays.
Here's what to do when you get a stroke of genius:
- When an idea pops into your mind, write it down, or put pen to paper, fingers to laptop...when your brilliance shows up, don't save it for later. Be open and prepared for it. Carry a journal with you, and write them down before you forget what you were thinking.
- Instead of trying to force yourself to write your application essays, wait for inspired ideas. Set an intention that they will come to you easily. I've found that students who write essays that they felt inspired to write have a much easier time writing them, write them more quickly, and feel more confident when they submit them.
Additionally, taking inspired action means doing things as they pop into your mind. Your mind is like an inner filing system with alarms set up to go off. When those reminders go off, take care of them. For example, if your brain reminds you to send an email to your guidance counselor, do it immediately.
Also, listen to your gut instincts. If a college essay topic doesn't feel right to you, or if you got a weird vibe while visiting a particular campus, listen to that. It's the equivalent of inspired action.
Make your mindset an important piece of the application process, and set yourself up for success!
The College Essay Captain helps teens overcome their fears and limiting beliefs around writing college application essays, so they are free to authentically share their stories with admissions teams.