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The Pros of Positive Progress Recording

Happy Friday and happy birthday to Sam Martin, from Smart Choice Student Support who is back this week with some more positive study hacks. Over to Sam.....

You came back - thanks!

If you haven’t read the intro, go back and have a quick look. But if you did then you’ll know that when we are in a positive state of mind we are more intelligent, productive, creative and energetic!

With this knowledge, I made a huge effort in my final year of university to increase my positivity before, during, and after studying. I wanted to make sure I was putting my happiness first, and in turn, this would allow me to reach my academic potential.

So today I want to share with you a very special tip I adapted from the field of positive psychology to my studies: Study Gratitudes.

Think About Today, Don’t Worry About Tomorrow

A big problem for all students of all ages is the pressure and stress felt from tests and exams. Face it, they can be scary, difficult, and seem so lonnnnnnng (my exams at Cambridge were 3 hours and 45 minutes long!!!).

But a bigger problem I think is that our focus and fixation on these tests and exams is what leaves us super stressed out! We count down the days till freedom and in the process, this draws attention away from the actual studying we should be working on and enjoying!

This creates 2 problems:

1. We’re going to be miserable and really negative from all the stress we’re heaping on ourselves.

2. We’re not going to be studying most effectively.

What I realised from reading into Positive Psychology is that if we want to achieve and succeed in our goals (in this case exams), we have to stop always worrying about the future and instead, focus on the present moment. We have to take note of what we are doing right now, that will benefit us and enhance our chances of reaching that goal.

This is ‘mindfulness’ at its simplest- which is something I could write another whole series on!

But anyway, in thinking this through I realised that as students we rarely take the time to recognise the progress we are continually making!

So I had to do something about this.

3 Gratitudes:

As a quick point, habits take time to develop! Don’t expect dramatic changes after a couple of days. Just think of these as similar to when you go back to school after the summer holidays. The first week you are so tired from having to start waking up early again. But soon enough, you get into the habit of waking up for school and actually wake up before your alarm! The same thing goes for study habits. Give them a bit of time!

There is a general Happiness Habit out there called “3 Gratitudes”. It’s by far one of the easiest and most effective I’ve encountered.

Essentially, all you have to do is record three things you are grateful for everyday. Write down what they are, why you are grateful for them, and in 21 days you will experience a whole host of positive outcomes, including: being happier, more energetic, greater levels of concentration, and also being less likely to be depressed, anxious, or lonely. By just spending 5 minutes a day, this primes the brain to be more tuned towards all the possibilities out there for personal and professional growth.

What I decided to do was take this habit and reformulate it to be more focused towards study progress. Everyday, no matter how good or bad, I would record three things I was grateful for with regards to my study progress and go into a little bit of detail about why this was the case.

For Example:

  • I am grateful to have written half of my essay on Social Policy and Adoption today. It’s taken a bit more time to get stuck into than I would have liked but those extra hours I did spend reading are clearly helping my writing flow.

  • I am grateful for an enjoyable one-on-one with Natalie. Her feedback on my essay on ethnic inequalities in education was so helpful. She made me aware that there are so many other ethnicities that I should read further into e.g. Irish Travellers.

  • I am grateful for getting out of college to go to my Sociology lecture. I was starting to get a bit of cabin fever from not leaving college for a couple of days so it was great to have a cycle into town and hear some interesting views from others doing the paper.

I know what you’re thinking, "how on earth is doing that going to help with my studies?”

The point is the specific content is not the most important thing; it’s about the emotional and mental state you’re in when you write it. Even if you've had a shocking day where you’ve made no progress on that essay, lost your homework or your calculator broke, being able to see that you are still achieving, however slight, is essential in fuelling further successful study.

In terms of the specific content, I realised over time that I could be grateful for things that in a negative mindset I would see as issues, problems and failure.

For Example:

  • Ah, I’ve only written half of my essay today - I’m screwed! This is taking forever and there was so much I had to read. It feels like this will never be over.

  • OMG! I hate Natalie. All she did was tell me how I need to read and write about other ethnic minorities for my essay. I spent so long on that essay and she didn’t notice the good work I did.

  • Everyone in my Sociology was so much smarter than me! They made so many different points and comments on things I have never thought of.

The specific things achieved or done are still the same. But my perception is entirely different. I’ve unnecessarily stressed myself out and failed to see the progress I’ve made and how I can improve.


We as students forget how much we achieve on a daily basis. All we often think about is the future, the essay deadline, the looming group presentation, or the exam date. We forever look forward at that end goal, even when working on a task that is meant to help us get there.

And even when we focus on what we have achieved, we always see it as never enough.

This over-stresses us, blocks our thinking, and encapsulates us in a suffocating blanket of negativity due to the pressure we put on ourselves. Instead, we have to become more conscious of what is now behind us and what is directly in front of us. Take a moment to look back and see that progress has been made, even if it’s reading one chapter and writing 50 words. If you’re climbing a mountain you should regularly look back at the view, see how it is becoming more beautiful and how far you have already gone in pursuit of getting to the top.

In doing this exercise you train your brain to see that success is not miles away in the distance but that it is there everyday, when you write or type your three gratitudes.

I promise that after 21 days of practicing your study gratitudes you will feel much happier. You will feel like you are achieving, not struggling or scraping by. For me it did take a while to get into the habit, so I recommend having a daily timer on your phone to make sure you go through with it. But after a month or so, I felt a greater sense of achievement everyday. I was buzzing to hit the library and ready to keep dominating my degree. My mind was clear when I opened a book and set about my note taking/writing of essays. It was a sense of clarity and satisfaction I had never felt before in my entire life when studying.

So be optimistic and give this a try! It honestly works an absolute treat. And let me know how you get on!

Sam :)

Other posts in this series of study-hacks: Success Through Smiles- Welcome to Positive Psychology!

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