Something that has become really apparent to me in grad school is all the negativity that surrounds the everyday student life. It is common for me to hear things like “I have no time for fun”, “We don’t get breaks”, or “I don’t get paid enough for this”. Even when doing research for this article many of the sources I read about described graduate school as dark and frankly depressing (50 things only grad students will understand). It can be difficult staying positive when surrounded by people who express this mentality. Even though some people say it jokingly, eventually you can start believing it. At some point negativity becomes part of the culture of grad school.
Graduate school is hectic and difficult. Students are overworked and underpaid, but staying positive through this is essential for success. From personal experience, on days I am positive I can get twice the work done and the time goes by very quickly. After doing some research on positivity, I have learned negativity can affect our health, both mentally and physically. Despite the negative consequences, negativity is hardwired in our brains as a mechanism of survival. (Biology of Positive Habits). As a result negative thoughts can be difficult to overcome, but there are steps we can take to foster positive thinking. Being mindful of our surroundings, experiences, and actions are ways to develop positivity in ourselves. Here are my 10 tips on how I stay positive in graduate school!
- Focus and remember your goals!
Graduate school is a process. In some cases (those getting a PhD) it can be a long one. Over time we can lose track of why we started grad school in the first place and get frustrated with daily demands of school. We may even start questioning why we are forcing ourselves to go through this process. When those moments arise, it is key that you set aside the worry, and focus on why you started grad school, your personal goals, and what you hope to achieve from this experience. It may change over time, but it might help to write it down that way you can look back when you are struggling or if you want to reevaluate your initial goals.
- Remember the things you like
Instead of putting yourself down, why not instead praise the things you have accomplished and highlight the great things about grad school. There are several things I enjoy about grad school, which are being surrounded by smart and creative researchers and freedom with my projects that I may not have in industry. Also I like being in a university environment and getting the occasional free t-shirts and free food from university events.
- Surround yourself with things that bring you happiness
In my office and in my home, I like to surround myself with little things that put a smile on my face. It is one of the tricks I use to brighten up a bad day. When I study at home, I like to put on a nice candle and get a nice cup of tea or coffee to make doing work more enjoyable.
- Happy music!
Music has a big impact on your mood (The Effect of Music Tempo…). Look for music with an upbeat tune and uplifting lyrics to put a smile on your face. For suggestions, you can look at the Home page of my blog for a new song every week or look at this post for an archive of songs I have previously featured.
- Don’t compare yourself to others
While you can’t change what others do or say, you can take control of how you feel. Letting others dictate your emotions will only lead to negative thoughts. Instead appreciate others accomplishments, but focus on your worth and your triumphs (Inspiring Video).
- Focus on successes and not on failures
Similar to the last point. Celebrate your successes, even minor ones. I don’t see that enough in my graduate school environment, but helps push me to achieve my next goal.
- Looking good is feeling good.
Dress in something that makes you feel confident and empowered, it will translate in how you feel and brighten up your day.
- Taking time to relax and to separate from work.
Taking some time to relax is a great way to de-stress and re-focus. Things can get very difficult and overwhelming sometimes which can lower your productivity. Therefore, I recommend to take breaks during the day when you need one. I like to take the occasional 5 mins to watch some cute cat videos or take a 30 min walk. What you do is up to you, because it your time.
This one is simple. When you smile more, you feel better.
- Making a physical reminder to stay positive
Day in and day out, grad students make things lists, planners, schedules. Why not make yourself a physical reminder to stay positive? It can be anything, just as long as it has meaning to you. Mine is a cute sign that says “Life is a beautiful ride”.
Hope you all have a positive day!
[For other resources look at Ted Talks on positivity]
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