Everyone needs a “Feel Good” folder

Dear Graduate Student,

Grad school is tough. For the most part, the pace of progress in your graduate program essentially falls on your shoulders. On the one hand, this is great because it means that you are in complete control of your success in a program. On the other hand, it means that you are ultimately responsible for stagnation and setbacks. This can lead to cyclical patterns of inspiration and determination followed by crippling self-doubt and burnout. Similarly, both faculty and graduate students commonly express feelings of imposter syndrome. How you view yourself matters and negativity can permeate your academic life. How can we combat negative feelings and cheer up on days that we're feeling down?    

One method I've found that helps me is to have a "feel good" folder. I honestly can't remember where I first heard this idea, but it's often recommended for cultivating inner strength and boosting self-confidence. At first it might seem a little cheesy, but I've found that it genuinely helps when I'm feeling less-than worthy or am woefully reflecting on a professional or personal mistake. A feel good folder might be a virtual folder in your inbox or a literal folder in your desk drawer that contains things that make you happy or that reinvigorate your passion and enthusiasm.

Mine is a folder in my inbox literally labeled "FeelGood." If whatever item that would make me happy wasn't in an email originally, I email it to myself and file it in this folder so that I can access it anytime from any device by logging in to my inbox. What's inside my FeelGood folder?

  • Touching words from the summary comments of Reviewer #2 on my NSF GRFP application who acknowledged that making mistakes is part of life and that we shouldn't be forever punished for them. Every time I feel like I've screwed up – and there have been and will continue to be many – I read this note to myself. It has been a lifeline for me during graduate school.
  • An email from a former student mentee who got accepted into his dream graduate program. Whenever I feel like I've failed someone, this note reminds me that I have made a difference in someone's life.
  • A letter of recommendation written by a mentor for a an award. I didn't win the award, but I wasn't even upset because his letter was such a surprising and positive boost. I knew he would write a decent letter, but reading how he expressed his belief in me makes me believe in me too.
  • My acceptance letter for graduate school. Whenever I feel like I don't deserve or want to be here this leaves me feeling so very grateful and proud to have this opportunity.
  • A supportive email my partner sent when I was feeling totally overwhelmed about my choice to pursue a graduate program that forced us to have a long-distance relationship.

Choose whatever items bring you joy and remind you of your self-worth! Choose items that keep you going, that remind you why you were passionate about your research and why you chose this path. Maybe your feel good folder isn't in your inbox or your desk or is called by another name, but I hope you find some way to stash away reminders of your value for the days your tank of positivity is running low.

Stay positive. – R

What is your manifestation of the feel good folder and what do you keep inside? Tell me in the comments!