How to change your outlook on university

Are you feeling disillusioned with your degree? Maybe the grades you’ve received weren’t as high as you’d expected. Or, perhaps you’re struggling to settle in and miss your school friends.

Most of students have doubts from time to time.

It’s totally normal to feel like this. It can seem like everyone else is living their best life, but there are bound to be times when they’re not.

I’m lucky enough to have met a Paralympic swimmer, and she told me about how she overcame enormous anxiety and self-doubt to compete at her best on an international stage. Her sports psychologist told her to write down every negative thing she thought in a day down one side of a sheet of paper. Then, at the end of the day, she had to write down the opposite statement to each thought on the other side of the paper. I imagine it looked something like this:

I’m not good enough.I am good enough to compete at the highest level.
I’ll never be ready for the Paralympics.If I follow my training, I will be at my best for the competition.
I don’t belong here.I am here because experts have seen and believe in my ability.

When she started doing this exercise, she could fill at least a page a day. As time went on, the number of negative thoughts started to decrease. She told me that nowadays, when she catches herself thinking negatively or putting herself down, she automatically thinks of the opposite, positive statement. The take-home message for me from this conversation was this if you tell yourself the opposite of what your negative thoughts are, even if you don’t believe them at first, over time you can change your outlook.

So, lets have a look at students’ common negative thoughts and see what the opposite point of view is.

I’m not clever enough to be here

Ah, imposter syndrome. Everyone experiences it at some point, but no one ever talks about it! Feeling that we don’t belong because of perceived shortcomings in our abilities is so common. Imposter syndrome is something that never leaves us, even if we prove our worth to ourselves by progressing! I’ve spoken to so many people about this. People who I think are brilliant – cutting-edge scientists, bosses I look up to and people tipped to be the next big thing. They’ve all told me about feeling like they’re constantly winging it and sooner or later they’re going to get found out!

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Feeling like an imposter has a lot to do with being out of your comfort zone, and not being able to tell that everyone else feels the same way. Imagine if you found your entire degree easy and never had to push yourself – would you feel like it was worth it at the end? Would you put that graduate’s cap on with a sense of pride? Probably not.

I’m not clever enough to be here.I was selected from a competitive process to be here. I’m here because I’ve got the ability to overcome these challenges.

My writing isn’t good enough

This is another totally normal feeling to have. The brilliant author William Zinsser explains this in his book On Writing Well:

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find writing hard, it’s because it is hard.”

Zinsser isn’t some strange case; so many famous and successful writers find writing a difficult – even painful – process. So why should the rest of us feel any different?

If you’re doing a degree then it’s likely that you’re going to end up in a job that involves writing to some extent. If you’re worried about feedback that you’re getting from your tutors, then university is a perfect opportunity to get better!

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Once you start working, no one is going to tell you that your writing is bad (or good, for that matter), which makes it really hard to improve. At university, you will have a regular critique from someone who wants to help you, and there is plenty of support available. Many universities offer extra tuition on study skills, including writing, and some even have people available to read drafts of your essays and give you feedback before you hand them in! And that’s before we get to all the books and online resources available to you from the library. If you have genuine concerns about your writing, now is the best time to do something about it.

My writing isn’t good enough.My writing isn’t as bad as I think it is, but I am going to use all the resources available to me to get better and improve my confidence.

My grades are too low

Much like writing, if your overall grades aren’t what you’d hoped, there are lots of opportunities to get specific support and guidance to help you improve. It is okay to find things challenging and make mistakes. You will learn more through making mistakes and learning how to correct them than getting things right first time! Problem solving is an important skill to take into the world of work and you will need to learn to do this independently. Try and not think about university as being in competition with other people – compete against yourself and see how much you can improve!

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My grades are too low.As long as I have tried my best then that is enough. I will carry on working hard and getting support so I can improve.  

I miss home

Moving away to university is a huge step. If you’re missing the comforts of home and your old school friends, then there are positive aspects to this! If you’re feeling homesick it means that you come from a close and loving family – remember that they are only a phone call away and will be there for you. If you just want to go home and hang out with your school friends, this shows that you’re capable of building strong and meaningful friendships – which means that you can do it again! As you move around locations and jobs as you go through life, you’ll be making lots of new friends as you go along. While you should cherish the childhood friendships that mean a lot to you, don’t let them hold you back from meeting new people and enriching your life.

I miss home.I have already built a lot of meaningful relationships, and those people will be there for me when I need them. I can make new friends wherever I go in life.

Nobody likes me

Even Donald Trump has friends.

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Universities are huge. You will get thrown in with a few people at the start, through your course and accommodation, and the chances of you finding a friend for life in those random allocations are pretty slim. But the chances of there being no one you can relate to or get on with on a campus of thousands are equally slim! If you feel like the people around you just don’t get you, find the people who do. Put yourself out there, join clubs and societies to help you find like-minded people. Put your phone down and talk to someone – you never know where it might lead!

Nobody likes me.This university is full of a diverse group of people, and there are bound to be my kind of people among them.

I can’t cope with all the pressure

The most rewarding things in life are usually also the most difficult. It is going through these challenging times that teaches us who we really are and what we are capable of achieving. You don’t have to go through this alone. Talk to your peers about how they feel – they’re probably experiencing something similar to you. If it is all getting too much – seek out the pastoral support that is on offer at your university – recognising when you need help is a strength, not a weakness. Take stock of what you have achieved so far in life – you have spent years in a pressured education system (or adulting, if you’re a mature student) – and there have bound to have been times in the past when you felt like this. But you came through it!

I can’t cope with all this pressure.You are more resilient than you realise. With hard work and the right support, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

What are the negative thoughts that you need to counter in your day to day life? Comment below and tell us what the opposite positive statements are!

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