It’s no secret that when I started at University twenty-five years ago, I really struggled. I didn’t know anyone who had been to University before and I hadn’t a clue about how to study successfully. One of the major factors in turning my experience around was to observe students that knew what they were doing and use them as my role models. Through trial and error, I gradually changed my habits and routines to become a better student. But do you know what made the most difference?
Taking valuable and effective notes in lectures? Essential. But it wasn’t number one.
Reading in a more targeted way? Yes, that helped, but it wasn’t my biggest gain.
Scheduling and using my time well? That’s a no brainer really, but it wasn’t what moved the needle most for me.
The single factor that made the biggest difference - and the one which transformed me from awful to awesome - was adopting a success mindset. I studied the positive thought patterns that worked for other students and recreated them to help me achieve my goals.
Whether you’re new to University or returning back, challenge yourself to see whether anxiety about your performance or doubts about your ability is rooted in negative thoughts. Then try out one or more of these Student Success Mindsets to see if they transform your experience too!
Now, let’s take a look at the Success Mindsets one at a time.
Student Success Mindset #1 – The future starts now
Each student arrives at University with a different education history, positive or negative. If you are new and didn’t get the A-level results you wanted, or you didn’t get your first choice of University, it’s understandable that you may feel disappointed. Similarly, if you’re returning to University after having a less than successful year of low essay marks or exam retakes, then you may doubt that you’re made of the right stuff for University.
But your past experience doesn’t define you or hold you back.
While you can’t change what’s already happened, you can change what’s to come. Focussing on regrets and failures is a waste of time and energy. Instead, use your time to think about what being a successful student means to you. Make three lists - what would it look like, feel like, and sound like if you was a success? Once you’ve written it down, keep your list in a place where you can find it easily or see it often, like your planner or journal. Refer to it when doubts creep in and decide you’ll focus on your future, not your past.
Student Success Mindset #2 – One step at a time
Adjusting to being a University student is a major life change. And big shifts in lifestyle and responsibilities can sometimes make us feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. Successful students know that one way to make big goals more manageable is to break them down into smaller tasks and objectives.
If you’ve gone to University thinking ‘I need to get a first or a 2:1’ then you’ll know that the burden of high expectations can sometimes weigh heavy on your heart. Instead, write down the individual steps that will help you get to that overall goal. These could be activities like create a schedule, or prepare for lectures, or they might be goals such as improve essay marks by 5% and pass the end of year exams.
If you keep your focus on one step at a time, you’ll be able to keep going even when you’re busy or tired, such as through end-of-semester assignment deadlines and exam periods. When it all seems to be too much, simply look at your list of activities and goals and choose one to focus on right now that will bring you closer to your final achievement of gaining your degree.
Student Success Mindset #3 – I’m not alone
While the first two Student Success Mindsets require you to reflect on yourself and change your own perspective, #3 looks outwards to demonstrate that there’s strength in numbers!
If you’re struggling on your own, you’ll know how lonely it can feel sometimes, and how easy it is to get worries out of perspective. Knowing that there are other people who are going through the same situation can transform your self-belief and confidence and increase your motivation.
What can you do to feel like you’re not the only one? The answer is to surround yourself with people who share the same goals and who can give you the support and motivation necessary to succeed. It doesn’t need to be a crowd - in my case, I buddied up with two other students on my undergraduate course and we made time to meet at 11am each weekday to talk through topics from our course and any concerns or questions.
Coffee, cake, and commitment to each other meant we met daily to discuss what we needed to study and share any concerns or worries. Although ultimately you’re accountable for your own success, knowing you’re not alone can give you an extra incentive to succeed with your studies.
Student Success Mindset #4 – What can I learn?
Ever messed up and replayed it over and over again in your head? I certainly know I have. It’s all too easy to beat yourself up when you plan your time badly or get lower marks than you know you’re capable of. And you know what, it’s okay to feel cross with yourself for a while. But the key to being successful is to use the experience as a springboard to a better future.
Unsuccessful students get stuck on their failures, but smart students know how to look objectively at a situation and analyse what went wrong. It’s from this place that you can build a plan of action so you don’t make the same mistake again.
Learning to be resilient in the face of setbacks is a skill that improves your chance of success in the long term. Because people who learn from errors build their knowledge of what works and what doesn’t – but they also learn that failure isn’t the end of the world. And that leads to increased confidence that you can face ANYTHING the world throws at you – an important skill in all areas of life!
Student Success Mindset #5 – I’m only human
Are you a perfectionist? I know that I used to be. I set the bar high in every area of my life from study to sport to socialising. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having high standards, but as time went by I found I started to withdraw from any situation where I felt I couldn’t win or excel. Whatever the occasion, when you say hello to your comfort zone, you kiss goodbye to opportunity.
What can you learn from my mistake?
Accept that you’re human, just like everyone else and aim for pragmatism, not perfection. Get stuck into a task and learn through doing. Don’t let procrastination set in as you worry about whether you will be any good at it. Don’t obsess over whether you look naive or foolish. Be proud when you try something new. Everybody has to start somewhere and it’s easy to look at someone with more experience and compare our small beginning to someone else’s middle or end. Finally, give your inner critic the day off and treat yourself with the same kindness as you’d treat a friend. We’re often far harder on ourselves than we are on other people.
Five ways to put the power of positive thinking back into student life
Okay, so how can you replace doubts and disappointment with energy and encouragement?
#1 – The future is now – The past is behind you, focus on what you want to become instead.
#2 – One step at a time – Break large goals into smaller activities to eliminate overwhelm.
#3 – I’m not alone – Find your tribe of like-minded students and buddy up to share study time.
#4 – What can I learn? – Treat setbacks as an opportunity to learn what works better.
#5 – I’m only human – Show perfection the door and be gentle on yourself.
How often is your success sabotaged by negative thinking? Which one of these student success mindsets will make the most difference to your life? Remember to tell me in the comments below and don't forget to download your infographic. It's inspiring and it's free!