Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 18, 2021

Learning how to think positive

By SARAH LU | March 27, 2021

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PIXABAY LICENSE Lu discusses being productive and positive.

We’ve all been there. Sitting slumped in a chair, feeling exhausted, drained and devoid of any emotion besides something that can only be described as “I’m so tired.”

But how did we get here? Only a few days ago we were happily buzzing about, excited about this project or another.

The answer is probably something you know all too well. I’ve been overworked.

Sure, that definitely would be a good reason. It might even be the reason that makes you think, “if only something about my current circumstances changed, then everything would all go away.” But is that really the only reason, or even the main reason why we might be feeling exhausted?

There are plenty of people who we look up to and admire who seem like they’ve got everything under control even when they have a tower of commitments to attend to. We imagine we wouldn't be able to deal with their workload if we were in their position. We think that we would be incapable of feeling happy if we were them. But is it true that we ourselves can’t learn the secret to being happy while under duress? No. I think everyone could learn to gain access to their happiness — and remain extremely productive — if they gave themselves enough room.

The key to really being happy with oneself is not feeling happy all the time but actually being at peace with our inner lives. What exactly does that mean?

It means recognizing that life has its ups and downs. To know and understand that days when you’re upset are just passing phases and better days will soon arrive. And that obstacles and struggles you go through are only there to prepare you to become a better person in the future. 

Think of an obstacle not as something put there as an emblem of the world’s ill will against you but as a marvelous opportunity to learn and cultivate new skills. Every time you defeat your past self is a day you showed strength and personal growth.

Lastly, remember that happiness and sadness both are there to stay for however long you allow them to stay. You are in control of your emotions, and never let anyone take that away from you. If you believe you are happy, then you are. All the tiresome troubles you deal with are preparing you for a better future where you will deal with the same problems more efficiently; you’ll be making different mistakes, not the same ones, as you grow and evolve every day.

And most importantly, the key ingredient to peace is to give yourself room to feel. Truth be told, this eruption of emotional exhaustion was not sudden at all. You have felt something in your subconscious since a long time ago. A tickle in the back of your mind. A little nagging that told you to take some rest. But you ignored it. “It’s unproductive and I have no space to be unproductive right now.”

Hang on just a second. 

I challenge you not to ignore it but to explore the feeling a little further. To fully immerse yourself in the deep pits of your emotional exhaustion and lie down there in the darkness for a little while. 

Then you might find yourself asking why you really are exhausted. Is it really because of the amount of work? Or is it the uncertainty, the insecurity, the feeling of inadequacy and loss of control associated with your work that are imparting a dire sense of stress upon you? Stress is often the real cause of our exhaustion, not the amount of work.

And if so, what are some baby steps you can take to counteract the volatility of your current lifestyle? Think of some easy measures you can employ to assume control of your life — one example might be to move all your planning and scheduling to the weekend, so you can begin each week with a fresh start, free of the worries of the previous one.

Another is to realize that most things don’t go according to plan — but that’s okay because most of the time unplanned, spontaneous events are what bring us the best in life. I also try to remember that I can always do better next time because life is a marathon, not a race. Even if I messed up on a previous test, if I study harder it means I will have gained more mastery over the subject, which can extend into life even after my college career is over. All learning should prepare you for a lifetime and not just a test.

There are also things you learn in college besides doing well on tests. You learn how to be independent and gain life skills, critically think and increase your tolerance to the uncertainties of life. These are all things that would better prepare you to launch your own life and dreams after college.

It might be difficult to think positive at first, but after repeatedly encouraging yourself you will get used to changing your default mindset to one that encourages yourself rather than one that demands perfection every day. Remember that improvements are built up day by day; we are all works in progress, and that’s perfectly okay. The most perfectly imperfect thing you can be is the current self that you already are. All you’re doing is packing bonus sparkles into your personality.

Sarah Lu is a sophomore studying Materials Science & Engineering from Taipei, Taiwan. Through her writing, Lu hopes to inspire others to embrace the best parts of themselves while being gentle and forgiving of their own mistakes. It is her belief that kindness to the self will inspire genuine kindness extended to others and vice versa. 

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