Fear of Failure: How to face your fears to get the grades you want
Fear of failure. Just thinking those words sends shivers down my spine. Even on my most positive days the fear of failure seems to hunt me down and sow seeds of doubt in my mind. And, I think you feel the same way too.
Recently two people have contacted me to talk about their fear of failure. One was the mother of a very bright student who she suspects is scared of failing. The other was a year 11 student on my facebook page.
I’ve been thinking about how to write about the fear of failure for over a month. You see, I’m definitely not an expert. Doing many of the things that I have to do to expand my blog readership and grow my business scare me. During the summer reading challenge I even read a book called ‘Rejection Proof’ to help me overcome my fear of asking for guest blogging opportunities. I recently enrolled in an online course called ‘Creating Fame’ which is all about putting yourself out there and making your work famous in your field. It is very uncomfortable for me to do because I’m scared of people saying no and I’m scared of what I’m doing here being unsuccessful (and to a lesser degree, if I’m really honest, I’m scared of being too successful). However, every day I force myself to take small steps towards facing my fear head on. And, everyday I’m getting a little bit better at doing the things that scare me.
However, there was one thing that never properly scared me and that was failing my exams. You see, I never believed that I would fail. Yes, I had that feeling of trepidation before the doors of the exam hall opened. But, that was always mixed with a feeling of excitement as my chance to show off what I knew and could do was about to arrive. I think it may have been a bit like the way an actor feels as they’re waiting in the wings. They are nervous in case something goes wrong, but they also know that being on stage and performing is what they’re best at. They’re about to show off their genius and they love it. Like the actor confident in their ability to perform, I always had confidence that I could achieve the grades that I wanted.
So, today, with a little bit of help from some other blog posts from people with more expertise than me, and some reflection on my own experiences, I’m going to help you to face your fears and get the grades you want.
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Are your suffering from fear of failure?
While I was googling around trying to learn more about fear of failure I found the blog post
10 Signs That You Might Have Fear of Failure by Guy Winch PhD. We’re going to use these ten signs to diagnose whether you’re suffering from fear of failure. After that I’ll explain what you can do about it!
1. Failing makes you worry about what other people think about you.
Are you worried about letting down your mum and dad if you don’t get the grades they want you to? Are you worried about your friends laughing at you if you don’t get the grades you’re predicted? Then this is you.
2. Failing makes you worry about your ability to pursue the future you desire.
Are you worried about not getting the grades you need to get into the university that’s offered you a place? What about worrying you won’t get the grades you need to get into sixth form? Then you’re worrying about your ability to pursue the future you desire.
3. Failing makes you worry that people will lose interest in you.
What if all your friends are cleverer than you and predicted to get much better grades? They’ve all got offers at Russell Group universities and you’re headed for an ex-poly. You’ve been mates since you were eleven but you can’t see how they’d still want to be friends with you if you’re clearly not a high-flyer like them. You’re worried that the people you like best will lose interest in you because you’re not as ‘good’ as them.
4. Failing makes you worry about how smart or capable you are.
You’re worried that a poor set of exam results will make people think you’re thick for the rest of your life. Writing your lack-lustre GCSE grades on every application form from now until eternity makes you feel sick. You’re worrying about how smart or capable you are.
5. Failing makes you worry about disappointing people whose opinion you value.
Maybe there’s a teacher you really admire or your grandad’s has believed in you, supported you and encouraged you more than anyone else throughout your life. You’re desperate not to let them down because you know what the disappointment on their face will look like and you can anticipate the hollow feeling in your stomach when you see it. You’re worried about disappointing people whose opinion you value.
6. You tend to tell people beforehand that you don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations.
You keep telling people that there’s no way you’ll get the straight As that school has predicted and you’re really not that clever. You’re trying to downplay people’s expectations so they’re not disappointed if you don’t get the grades you should.
7. Once you fail at something, you have trouble imagining what you could have done differently to succeed.
You’ve got your mock exam grades back and got much worse grades than you wanted. You tell yourself that your expectations of yourself were too high and that you’re meant to get low grades, instead of really digging deep into what you could have done differently so you can learn from your mistakes and do better next time.
8. You often get last-minute headaches, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms that prevent you from completing your preparation.
Do you sabotage your own success with psychosomatic problems?
9. You often get distracted by tasks that prevent you from completing your preparation which, in hindsight, were not as urgent as they seemed at the time.
You hide from the important work you need to do by doing ‘busy’ non-urgent work just to put it off and distract yourself. You kind of do this on purpose so you don’t have to face your fears.
10. You tend to procrastinate and “run out of time” to complete your preparation adequately.
You procrastinate over the things you should be doing and purposefully run out of time so that you sabotage your own results.
Fear of failure can be a good thing
Now we know what’s causing your fear of failure we can talk about why fear of failure can actually be a good thing.
Worrying about failing can be a good thing because it can drive you on to succeed. If not failing is that important to you, you’ll do everything in your power to succeed.
If you won’t want to see that look of disappointment on your parent’s faces when you get your results you’ll do everything in your power to succeed.
If you desperately want that place at that university you’ll put the hours in to ensure you get the necessary grades. (Like I did when I was so desperate to get a place at Cambridge).
What can you do to make sure you succeed?
If you’re afraid of failing your exams you can learn from me how to get the top grades (I got 5 A grades at A-Level).
My top tips are:
- Put the hours in. Create yourself a weekly routine and stick to it. Be consistent.
- Keep yourself motivated. Book yourself in for a 1:1 Get Motivated! session with me on Skype.
- Create study habits that work for you.
- Reflect on how you learn best and use this knowledge to make your revision time more effective.
- Perfect your exam technique.
If you want to know my full method for getting the top grades then get your hands on a copy of my book The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take and I’ll take you step-by-step through how I managed to walk into every exam feeling quietly confident and that this was my moment to show the world what I was made of.
“But What if I do fail?”
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we fail. It might not be an outright failure like getting 0% in all your GCSEs, it might just be gettings Bs and Cs when you were expecting As and A*s. But, to you, that is still a failure.
So, how do you cope with this situation?
I’ve failed at things in my life. Like the time I set of for a three month solo round-the-world trip. Five weeks in I found myself in New Zealand. I could hardly have been further away from home, I was alone, I was scared and I couldn’t cope. Then I did something that tipped me over the edge.
Being a Geographer I was fascinated by the unique landforms and features on New Zealand’s South Island. I joined a hiking trip up the Franz Josef glaicer. It was pouring with rain and water was running off the ice. It was like the glacier was melting under my feet. I’ve always been petrified of slipping, falling and injuring myself on ice (goodness knows why I thought it was a good idea to walk up a glacier). I literally felt that the earth was being pulled from under my feet. I was feeling desperately alone and homesick and the fear I felt with every step broke me. I started sobbing and eventually had to be led down from the glacier by an ostentaciously patient guide. It was the beginning of a total collapse. I realised I couldn’t cope on my own and ended up cutting my trip round-the-world trip in half and arrived back in the UK three days before Christmas.
I felt like a failure. I’d left my well-paid graduate job and gone swanning off around the world spending my savings. My then boyfriend (now husband) and family were left back in the UK worried sick about me being on my own on the other side of the world. I had thought I had the mental toughness and confidence to do this.
But it turns out that I didn’t. It was embarrassing to come home early and have everyone know that I couldn’t stick it. It was also embarrassing to come home to nothing. No job, just my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house. I had to pick my the threads of my life and start over again.
But, now I don’t look on this experience as a total failure. So, how do you turn a failure into a positive experience?
You turn a failure like this into a success by learning from it. Ask yourself these three powerful questions:
- What did I learn from this situation?
- How can I grow as a person from this experience?
- What are three positive things about this situation?
From my round the world trip I learned:
- That I’m no good on my own. I need to be around the people that I love to keep me strong. I’ve made all the choices in my life based on this knowledge ever since.
- I grew as a person because I had greater self-knowledge. I was more humble because I had failed and I was better able to understand other people’s frailties and weaknesses because my own had been exposed so clearly.
- Three positives for me were: I came home to spend Christmas with my family, I haven’t made the mistake of going off on my own for extended periods of time again and I have greater empathy for others and their weaknesses.
So, if you have failed, what have you learned?
Maybe you learned that a certain subject wasn’t for you, that you hate book work and studying or that you really need to sit down and focus if you want to reach your goals in life.
Whatever you’ve learned you can apply to living your life better in the future.Whatever you've learned from your failures you can apply to living your live better in future. Click To Tweet
Do you fear failure?
Leave a comment below telling me which of the ten things (listed above) show that you have a fear of failure. Knowing how your fear shows in your life is the first step towards facing that fear head on and succeeding anyway. Let’s start a conversation and help each other to overcome our fears of failure.
Know someone else suffering from fear of failure? Help them out by sharing this post with them.