We are made up of many facets – thoughts and feelings; however because studying is an academic, intellectual activity, we tend not to realise how much we can influence our outcomes by self-belief and motivation; we try to ignore negative emotions and fears instead of doing something about them. At University, we hope that you are excited, stimulated and even thrilled… but you may also be scared or insecure. This section will show you how to harness your positive feelings and work to overcome your negative ones.












Look at these Student
talk about self-confidence
and positive thinking...











The positively successful student

  • Why do we experience fear, low self-esteem and low self-confidence?
  • What can we do to overcome the negative and build our motivation?

Why do we experience fear?

  • Surely fear tells us to give up or run away?
  • If we did this we would have no life at all.
  • Evolutionary, cognitive and popular psychology all have something to say about fear and what to do about it.

Evolutionary Psychology
Simon Baron Cohen argues that whilst it is normal to be afraid when on unfamiliar territory, we can be too aware of our own fear – this is what makes fear so dangerous for us. As humans we are constantly moving into fearful situations and taking risks; the trick is to enjoy this.

Cognitive Psychology
Bandura’s work on self-efficacy suggests that a complex interplay of family, class, gender and ethnic group, will influence how we will feel and behave. Some of us will avoid risk, danger and failure, others will relish those things. Some of us are prepared to persevere and push through problems; others will feel easily defeated and give up. In terms of being a student, wherever we are from, we need to learn how to push through the feelings that are defeating us – and succeed.

Popular Psychology
Popular psychology, Susan Jeffers for example, argues that we are accidentally taught fear in the way that we are brought up:

  1. Mind how you cross the road.
  2. Don’t climb that tree.
  3. Can you manage that?

We hear these as criticisms – and as meaning that we are pretty feeble and incompetent. After a while we internalise the negative voices of others and just criticise ourselves and undermine ourselves, whatever we want or try to do – we become our own worst enemy. But the good news is that there are things to do to take positive control.

See fear differently: Here are some new ways to look at fear, see if they help. - Fear is good: Fear is okay, it is part of growth and doing new things. Fear does not mean, ‘This is not for me!’ It means that you are doing something new, you are facing a new challenge, you are taking a risk – you are being human.
- Fear affects everyone: Everyone experiences fear when they do something new. We are not cowards, just human. Accept this and move on.
- The only way to get rid of the fear of something is to do it ... the quicker the better: You know that this is true. You can spend months worrying about something, and then it takes two minutes to do it. Get rid of those months of worry – do it now: you know it makes sense.
- It is easier to face fear than to live with it: It is easier to do what we fear than to keep living with the fear.
- It takes practice: Re-framing fear may not come naturally to you. However, with practice you will find that you can face fear differently, and it will make a big difference – especially to the way that you face the challenge of being a successful student.

We can take responsibility for our own lives
If every time you face something new that little voice in your mind seems to call out, ‘Watch out! You’ll be sorry! That’s dangerous!’ Work to drown out that negative voice with a new positive one. Respond differently to the things that happen to you. So, instead of immediately saying things like:

  • ‘I’ll never be any good at that’ say, ‘I can do it’.
  • Wake up in the morning and let your first thought be, ‘It’s a great day!’
  • Say, ‘I am loved...I am strong... I am a great student.’
  • When you sit down to study do not say, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ Or, ‘I can’t do this’. Say, ‘This is great!’ I like this topic’.

I was moaning about all the hard work I had to do, all the time it was taking… yada yada. When my friend told me to stop it: I had chosen to do the course. If I didn’t like it – leave. If I was going to carry on, I had to enjoy it!

Being positive at university
The choice really is yours, you can just choose to sit there and cry – and say ‘If only...’ or you can do something positive. So, instead of feeling sorry for yourself or blaming other people or just giving up when things go wrong - and things will go wrong - work out exactly what you will have to do differently to make sure that next time it is a success. If you do get a really low grade, use this website to help you do much better next time. In particular you might look at:

- organisation and time management – so that you manage your time more effectively
- analytical thinking and creative approaches to learning – so that you develop techniques that will open up an assignment question – and a pattern notemaking system so that your research is more active and useful
- notemaking & reading – so that you develop targeted research and active reading skills and make short useful notes
- the essay, report or presentation – so that you understand how to present your work most effectively.

I always practise positive thinking on my way to do a presentation. I can feel my mouth get dry – and all those butterflies…But I just keep saying, I can do it, I can do it… It works for me.

Don’t stop
Once you start using these positive strategies, it is important to keep them going. Every time you have a spare moment, maybe as you travel or as you tidy up, repeat your positive statements to yourself. When fear pops out, repeat your positive statements – we promise you will feel the panic subside.


  • Stick ‘em up: Write positive statements on cards and stick them round the house – by the bed, on the bathroom mirror
  • Find out – give 100%: When you decide to achieve something, investigate what it will take to succeed – and then do it. Give 100%. You cannot sit in a corner glowing positively and expect that essay to write itself; you can investigate what it takes to do a good essay, and then do it. If you want to pass your exams, look at past papers, work out what you need to do and learn to pass – then do it. If you want a new job, find out what they are looking for, put that information in your CV, then go for it.
  • Positive thinking is not about replacing hard work with happy fluffy thoughts; but it is knowing that with research, effort and belief in yourself, you can do it. Has this actually made you a little more fearful? Well, you know the answer to that – feel the fear and do it anyway! It is exciting and liberating to be in charge of your own life – enjoy your fear, it means you are still alive.


Information, further research and reflection

You may like to follow up these ideas by reading positive thinking books ore exploring some of the websites below. If you find something that was useful or helpful – why not blog about it telling other students how it would help them?