How you think about yourself, your studies and what happens to you will affect your life. American philosopher and psychologist William James sums this up wonderfully…

“The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

In short, if we change our unhelpful thoughts (negative thinking) into helpful thoughts (positive thinking), we can change our lives for the better.

In this blog post you’ll discover how to overcome negative thinking so you can be a happier, more confident and more successful student.


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Negative thinking in our studies

Do you ever find yourself thinking these things when you’re studying?
- I don’t get this at all
- I’m stupid
- I can’t do this. There’s no point in even trying
- This is too hard, I’m not good enough
- What the hell is wrong with me?!

These statements (and many more) have run through my head at times during my studying. Negative thinking creeps up on us and slips into our brains so easily. When it happens often enough it’s like a well-worn, familiar path our minds like to walk down.

The negativity bias

Psychologist and author Rick Hanson explains that our brains are predisposed to notice the bad stuff that happens to us more easily than the good stuff. This is called the negativity bias.

A squillion years ago, it was a lot more important for us to notice and react to scary stuff than good stuff. If we missed out on some yummy berries we would usually have another opportunity to find some later. However, if we failed to notice a predator, a cliff’s edge or an angry fellow human – WHAM. No more chance to pass on our genes.

Luckily our life isn’t like this anymore, but our brains don’t seem to have caught the memo that we ain’t got time for this negative thinking malarkey.

Negative thinking sticks like glue

Rick explains that, “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones.”

This means that when something crappy happens in our life and studies, our brains remember it. If we get confused about a topic, have an unproductive day, or get a lower mark than we wanted – it sticks.

When something good happens, it slides off easily. When we make a great page of notes, get good feedback, or understand something straight away – our brain barely registers it.

It’s like how we could get five compliments from people and then that one person (normally a work colleague) tells us we look tired and suddenly we believe we’re a troll.

Negative thinking reboot

I can’t promise you that you’ll never experience negative thinking again, because we can’t control what we think. What we can do is work out when we’re sinking into negative thinking so we can stop, reframe and move in a more positive, helpful direction.

Over time, redirecting our thoughts down a more positive track can change our neural pathways, making the road wider and stronger so it’s easier for our brains to follow this path instead.

Imagine what your study results would be like if you could approach each study session in a calm, positive, motivated, productive way?

How to overcome negative thinking

1. Name that inner critic

Imagine your negative thinking as a person or creature that sometimes lives in your head – and give them a name. Something silly like Gremlin, Perfectionist, Nag or Muggle works because it helps break that pattern. It’s pretty hard to take your negative thinking seriously when it’s got a ridiculous name.

2. Thank your inner critic

This may seem counter-intuitive but your negative thinking is a form of self-preservation. Your brain doesn’t want to experience failure or feel embarrassment or shame so it feeds you negative thoughts to keep you small and reduce this risk.

Studying is a challenging feat where it’s very likely you’ll experience some not-so-nice things along the way. It would be easier and nicer for your brain if you just didn’t do it, or didn’t try very hard, so negative thinking is a way your brain tries to protect you.

We can combat this by thanking our inner critic. When you notice you’re in a negative thinking pattern, thank your inner critic (by name) for trying to protect you.

You could say, “I see you Muggle. Thank you for trying to protect me but I don’t need this right now. I’ve got studying to do so shove off and leave me to my kick-ass-ness please”…or something similar!

3. Sit in the positive

We now know that positive stuff slides off us like Teflon, so one way we can overcome negative thinking is to sit in the positive thinking for longer. As you notice and pay attention to the good stuff that’s happening in your studies and life, your brain will find it easier to choose positive thinking over negative thinking in future.

When something good happens, when you make progress, when you achieve any win (big or small) – sit in that great feeling for a few minutes. Give yourself a pat on the back, put a big, cheesy grin on your face and tell yourself that you’re awesome – because you are!

Tell a friend or family member when good stuff happens to you. You could agree with a friend to be each other’s positive pals. Whenever something good happens, text them and share the news.

Check out my other blog posts for more ideas on how to celebrate your achievements and be more positive in your studies.

Follow these steps and you’ll find your negative thinking doesn’t hang around too long in future. Positive thinking will politely shoulder barge it out the way so you can get on with your study sessions feeling more confident, motivated and kickass!


How to Actually START Your Essay

Workbook + video training to take you from procrastination and overwhelm to understanding your question and mapping out your ideas with momentum. Easier, faster essay writing (and higher grades) await.

Start Your Essay

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