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Having a Positive Mindset and Preventing Burn-out

By Ann Choi, 4th-year Con-Ed/English Student

One of the materials that particularly struck me during my two workshops on “Making the Grade: Transitioning from High School to University,” was its emphasis on optimism. While I was telling the students during the workshops that the studies have found out that optimism was a better indicator of the students’ GPA than their IQ, I realized I never seriously thought about the importance of having a positive mindset in academia before.

This emphasis on optimism and an importance of having a growth-mindset was especially relevant in my final year at university as many of my friends approached me for an advice because they were feeling burnt out from their studies.

Some of them have done consistently well at school, but as they began to lose motivation, they were beginning to worry that they may never do well in school again. As they were used to thinking that they did well because of their innate ability and study habits, negative thinking created a vicious circle: because they did not believe in themselves anymore, they also could not work, and their work indeed did not turn out well. Yet, they definitely had a great potential to do well as they had done before. They had just lost faith in themselves.

This does not apply only to the final years: I have encountered similar cases in the first, second, and third years. Sometimes, students who used to be the first in their high schools lost faith in themselves when they did not do well in their exams in the first years. Some did well in the first years, but after one failed essay or test in their second or third years, they lost their positive outlook on their study and continued to do badly. I realized that the cycle of discouragement, the bad grade, and worsening work ethics was quite common at university.

How do you prevent burn-out? All these students have potential. Many of my friends who have done poorly in first, second, or third year, after some time off from their study, decidedly did a lot better when they came back to study with a fresh heart. Many of them found that with a different mindset, they were indeed successful as they were before. Some of the negative thinking can be attributed to burn-out, as students often feel tired from over-work in their university career. To prevent burn-out as much as possible, and to maintain positive thinking, it is important to…

  1. Give yourself a break when you find yourself thinking negatively. Sometimes, you can work much better when you are feeling more energized. When deadlines seem pressing and when you have a lot of assignments due, you may feel guilty about “wasting” your time, but break is never a waste. I often felt guilty about my breaks and tried to force myself to work but realized it was counter-productive. Plan your schedule way ahead of time by using term calenders and weekly schedules to allot time when your body and brain can relax guilt-free.
  2. Spend some time studying with your friends. When I feel sad or unmotivated, I often don’t want to meet anyone. But when I actually meet some of my friends, it helps me to feel better. Talking to my like-minded friends also becomes a source of fresh energy and motivation. When you feel burnt out from work, try exercising (running had personally been a great way to de-stress for me) or talking to your friends.
  3. Try positive self-talk! I know talking to yourself may sound crazy, but positive mindset is incredibly important for your well-being, and whenever you feel negative about yourself, try to remember the activities you love, people you love, and how you are also loved in return. I tried positive self-talk, meditation, and yoga in my second year and they helped me incredibly with some of my anxiety about school, as I became more accepting of myself.

At university, everyone at one point or another struggles for various reasons. It is important to believe in oneself and think positively to recover and work towards one’s goals again. Remember too, that you are not alone and you can always seek help from your parents, friends, and other learning resources around you when you need one.


Photo courtesy of Shanna Trim under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.