Ask the professor: How can you stop feeling like a bad week means you’re talentless?

—Tony S.*, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Oh, boy, there are times still that I have bad days when I feel as though I’m not the smartest person on the planet. It usually happens when I’m teaching and make a major mistake, or I have a meeting with a student that doesn’t end well. Fortunately, I’m old enough to know that the next day or week will get much better if I just wait.

However, when I’m at that low moment, there are some things I do that help me get out of that hole. I can’t guarantee much in life, but I do guarantee that the following tips can change your mindset and your mood if you do them sincerely. They will help you get a little perspective on the week you just had.

  • Remember that you’re human If you have high standards for yourself, and it sounds like you do, you may want to remind yourself that you’re human. You make mistakes, and hopefully you will remember to learn from them.
  • Talk positively to yourself One of the first things you need to do is to banish any negative words or images such as “stupid” or “idiot.” Don’t say them or think them. Your thoughts become your words, and your words become your reality. Instead of going “there,” to that dark place we have all been in our lives, replace every negative word or idea with a positive one. If you can’t muster something positive just yet, then try something like this: “I’m a work in progress. I’m learning how to be better at this, know more, and feel more confident. I may not be there just yet, but I’m getting there.”
  • Accentuate the positive Honestly reflect on your week and find at least one or two things you did well. Did you do all of your readings? Did you help a colleague with a project? Nothing is too small to celebrate. Some days, I celebrate that I remembered to feed the dog.
  • Look for the lesson When all else fails to turn my frown upside down, I ask myself “What is the lesson in this?” Is it helping me find my true calling—by steering me away from something that’s not working? Is it reminding me that I need to be more prepared before I go to class? Or is it a sign that I cannot control other people’s reactions, only my own actions? Looking for the lesson helps me put the experience in perspective.

If you have a close friend, share your horrible-no-good-very-bad-week experience and get it out of your system. Then, remind yourself that tomorrow is another day.

(*Name changed)

Amy Baldwin, EdD, is the director of University College at the University of Central Arkansas. She is the author of The Community College Experience, The First-Generation College Experience, and The College Experience, all published by Pearson.