Fear of academic failure is a pretty common problem among students. It comes from external and internal pressure one might experience. It can become overwhelming and actually lead to failure. That’s why it is important to acknowledge the problem and act on it.
Where Fear Comes From
Many factors can result in such a disrupting feeling. Students deal with a lot of stress and a high academic load in a world where academic success is put on a pedestal.
One doesn’t have to experience failure to be afraid of it. Even the best students in the class might feel anxious about getting wrong answers or doing their papers incorrectly.
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Fear might also come from such factors as:
- Constant stress;
- Lack of preparation;
- The personal shame of being incompetent or not good enough;
- A fear to disappoint others, like parents, classmates, or professors;
- Career pressure.
Recognizing the problem is the first step to working on it. Students need to learn to alleviate stress and feel calmer. It is also crucial to understand that mistakes are inevitable and are a normal part of studying. No one is perfect, and it is ok to make a mistake or two sometimes. Only those who do nothing never fail.
Tips on Beating this Fear
Start with giving a new meaning to the word “failure”. It is probably tied to only negative connotations, which makes it scarier. Recognize that it is not only a negative thing; there might be some good things that come from mistakes.
It is an experience that helps grow and develop. If you do not make errors, you do not have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Also, every person experiences it on some level. Read about people you admire and their way to success. Every one of them has failed at least once.
This will make it less scary and paralyzing and prevent burnout from constantly beating yourself up.
It Does Not Define You
A mistake does not define you as a student or as a person. People tend to see anything as a sign of a personality trait. But it is no more than a cognitive bias.
If you fail the test, it doesn’t mean you are incompetent or bad. It is only one particular instance that does not characterize your whole personality.
Analyze why it happened and see what you can do better next time. Did you lack time for preparation? Start earlier. Did you miss important dates? Prepare flashcards to memorize them. Did you worry too much? Learn some breathing or meditation techniques that can help you calm down in a couple of minutes.
If you failed once, it doesn’t mean you are destined to do it again. You are still a good student and can do better.
Some people might be very harsh on themselves. No matter whether you did great or not, be compassionate to yourself and do not fall into the pit of internal criticism.
Beating yourself up is not effective or productive. It does not help in any way. If you find it hard at first, talk to yourself as if you’d talk to your friend. Imagine that your best friend failed the project, and you need to support them.
Set Realistic Goals
Setting unachievable goals is a recipe for failure. To feel more confident, create small actionable goals you actually can achieve in a set period. For example, create a list of goals for a semester.
It can feature anything quite easy like “do not miss classes” or “start working on papers two weeks before the deadline.” This will make success more realistic. Every time you do it, praise yourself for the effort and result.
Small goals lead to bigger success while not being intimidating. Recognize your accomplishments and improvements.
A lot of internal pressure comes from the habit of comparing yourself to others. This is a bad habit that only drains energy and makes one stressed. What one might consider great success will be a failure to the other one.
Set your own reference points based on your goals. And compare your results with your previous results only. For example, you might not get an A on the test. But you’ve got B, which is better than C from the previous one. So it is an improvement and a sign of success. It doesn’t matter that other students got A because you’ve overcome your reference point.
Practice Coping Beliefs
Positive coping beliefs help reshape the mindset on the path to resilience. Write down your fears, and based on them, create a list of such beliefs.
They can be:
- A difficult task is not a threat but a challenge;
- You’ve done a lot of things great and you can do this one;
- The potential gain is bigger than the potential loss;
- In any case, you are learning and thus developing.
Do not focus on terrible things that can happen but shift attention to the good things that also might come to life.
Do Not Isolate Yourself
The worst thing one can do when dealing with emotional turmoil is isolation. Talk to friends or relatives about what has been bothering you. Take a friend for a coffee and discuss how you feel. They will provide support and understanding. You’ll see that you are not alone. Everyone feels this way sometimes.
It will also take off some interpersonal pressure because your friends and relatives will love you no matter how successful you are in academics.
It is important to be resilient and accept the fact that everyone makes mistakes. Yet it is not the end of the world but a valuable experience you can learn from.