Published: Aug. 5, 2019 By
Photo of unicorn, "Fake it till you make it."

When I started graduate school, I didn’t believe that I was intelligent. 

Sure, I was a hard worker and productive. But I did not see myself as intellectually stimulating. I could never be as interesting and thought-provoking as my professors, I thought. This belief was one major roadblock to my success.  

I did not need any outward change to my work habits. Instead, I needed to change my mindset. I had to force myself to write and think how a courageous and confident person would write and think. 

When I went to my office to write, I repeated in my head over and over again: “You enjoy writing, and others enjoy reading your work. You are smart and a good writer." Even though I didn’t believe it at first, I forced myself to think that way and write that way. This was an ongoing process, not an overnight transformation. 

Eventually, I started to internalize this mantra and gain the belief that I was indeed just as worthy as anyone else to be in graduate school.

You can do this, too. Begin writing a new story. Eschew the old story of someone who is less than worthy.  Embrace the story of someone who has abundant success. Before too long, your new-found confidence will breed productive creativity.

How do you create a confident mindset? Take 15-30 minutes each morning and follow the six steps below. 

Six Steps to Develop a Positive Mindset Around Writing

  1. Stop yourself from thinking negative thoughts

Every time you find yourself listing reasons to quit, reliving failures or thinking negative thoughts, stop yourself by focusing on your breathing. Take 5 minutes to replace your negative thoughts with good thoughts and beliefs. Guided meditations can help with this. 

  1. Relive your successes

Remember that awesome poster presentation you did last year (or, in 6th grade)? What about that stellar blog post you wrote last week? Re-read your admissions letter from CU Boulder and remember that you are here because people believed in you.

Remember the small successes, too: Did you meet with your adviser? Organize your calendar? Read the introduction and conclusion of a book (because let’s be real . . . who has time to read the whole book these days)? Do your laundry? Everything counts.

  1. Repeat your expectations

Here are some examples of expectation mantras:

  • I will get published.
  • People enjoy my writing.
  • People appreciate my work.
  • I enjoy writing.
  1. Imagine your persona

When I did this, I felt like an actor getting into character. I wasn't saying these things as affirmations, but I was figuratively "getting into the head" of someone with abundance in success with writing. I forced myself to believe that people enjoyed reading my writing, even though in the beginning I knew that wasn't the case. Slowly this understanding of my writing ability became more real for me. Here are examples of persona phrases:

  • I am a good writer.
  • I am enthusiastic and passionate.
  • I am curious.
  • I am outcome independent; I often write for fun and with no expectations.
  1. Envision success

Close your eyes and imagine yourself celebrating your end goal, such as a publishing party, a graduation party or people getting excited about your ideas.

  1. Join a graduate group on campus.

Graduate school is different from undergrad. First year grad students especially often enter having only experienced academic success. They may suddeny find themselves on the bottom of the academic totem pole. Not only that, but they are balancing multiple projects and life responsibilities on top of teaching, writing and designing research projects.

This fall, the Graduate School is offering a weekly seminar devoted to first and second year grad students called “Getting Started.” If you find yourself needing a little extra support outside of your lab or cohort, consider joining us every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. in CASE W311 starting on August 30th. In addition to learning how to get in the mindset of successful graduate students, we will be covering topics such as:

  • Accountability and goal-setting
  • Habit formation
  • Time management
  • Focus
  • Professionalism
  • Relationship building

For more information, contact Sarah Tynen at Check out the Graduate School’s website for all of our professional development opportunities.