Learning to See Failure in a Positive Light

When things don’t turn out the way we planned, it can feel like a disappointing setback. However, students can learn to frame these situations in a constructive way. Here is Tutor Doctor’s advice for learning to see failure in a positive light.

Use failure to pinpoint what went wrong. Disappointing test results are actually extremely helpful as academic resources – especially when working with a tutor! When approaching difficult concepts, knowing what not to do (or mistakes to avoid) is just as important as knowing the correct procedures. Although bad exam results aren’t what we hope for, this type of feedback is an invaluable tool when identifying areas that need improvement.

Think of failure as one less future mistake. It’s like people say – “Well, I’ll never make that mistake again.” In many ways, we can learn to see failure as one less negative outcome that we now know how to avoid. Failure teaches us what to look out for and what areas need special attention. In sports, a coach may only know a certain defensive position is needed because of a previous game where an obvious goal snuck through. Failure makes us stronger in the long run because it provides a unique perspective on what approaches to take next time.

Remember that failure usually comes in small doses. When you really think about it, massive failures are fairly unlikely to come completely “out of the blue.” In most cases, a student isn’t going to unexpectedly fail a final exam if they’ve been doing well the entire semester. If a concept isn’t making sense, smaller setbacks will likely arise long before a big test. These smaller challenges should be seen in a positive light. In reality, failing a quiz or having your homework marked incorrect is a good thing – these are small challenges that you can easily come back from. Think of them as speed bumps! In other words, we can view failure as a “practice run” – it’s better to receive disappointing results on a minor assignment rather than later when the stakes are higher.

Create a game plan. Failure puts us into a position to start making changes. Use failure as an opportunity to put together a plan towards improvement. Whether that involves extra studying time, reaching out to your teacher, or working with a tutor – use these situations to develop a strategy for overcoming obstacles. Set reasonable goals for yourself, draw out the steps needed, and make it happen!

Remind yourself of other times you overcame challenges. It’s not uncommon for students to become discouraged after experiencing failure, especially when dealing with repeated setbacks and/or challenging subjects. If you feel like improvement is impossible (“I’m never going to get this!”), try to remind yourself of other times when you were in similar situations and got through it. When the going gets tough, it can sometimes be difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Just remind yourself that mistakes, setbacks, and failures are all part of the learning process – these experiences make you a stronger student!