At the beginning of this year, I spoke to a class of first-year journalism students about a writing opportunity on campus, and at the end of my presentation the professor asked a question: “What advice do you have for first-years going out for their first story days?”
Story days were the several days throughout the semester where we started working on a story in the morning, and had to file it by 5:00 p.m. on the same day. They were frantic and fun, filled with interviews and writing and panicked editing sessions with friends in the hallway while waiting to talk to our professors.
As I stood in front of the class of students, I answered with advice that seemed normal to me but which I later realized was probably a bit unconventional. Before my first story day, I was incredibly nervous. So, as I told the new first-years, I got around my nerves by tricking myself into being excited. I didn’t allow my mind to wander and dwell on the fear I felt. Instead, every time story day crossed my mind, I would force myself to think about how excited I was.
And here’s the thing: it worked. By not lending weight to my negative or fearful thoughts, I calmed myself down. Now I’m much more comfortable with interviews and reporting, even on tight deadlines, and I feel the excitement naturally because I love reporting and writing. But even when small, nervous feelings creep in, I remind myself of the positive experiences I’ve had in the past; and the negative feelings begin to fade away.
I think part of banishing negative thoughts relates to the idea of being grateful. Last fall, I wrote about a quote I saw on Pinterest that I loved: “Life would suck without all the things that make life suck.” In other words, the things you’re feeling negative about are also the things that, at one point, you may have wished to be in your life.
When I was feeling worried about my story days, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about all the years I had dreamed of being in journalism school, or how lucky I was to be in that program having those experiences. When I thought about those things, my nerves faded away a bit. Fear is, unfortunately, a powerful emotion—but ultimately, so is positivity.
The moral of the story is that positive thinking can make a difference. I’ve found that often, I become what I think; if I’m consumed by negative thoughts, of course I’ll feel nervous. But if I think positive and think about what I am grateful for, I’ll feel positive and grateful. And that, in turn, makes me feel more confident, meaning for things like story days or reporting, I’ll do a better job, be more open to taking risks and learning new things and have more fun in the process.