At its most elemental level, people avoid the risk of failure for one simple reason – it hurts. Every single person has experienced failure. If you were to interpret failure by its definition in the dictionary, “the neglect or omission of expected or required action”, wouldn’t you, as a child, have stumbled along the way to achieving those long strident steps you take when strutting along the sidewalk? Yet, nobody feels ashamed of failing to learn to walk as a toddler. Why’s that? You could say that no-one in the right mind would expect that of a human child – we aren’t deer, or gazelles that need to shake off the afterbirth and walk – or risk predation. Our success as a species which put us at the top of the food chain negates that need. Fear is a function of the amygdala, yet failure isn’t. There’s a distinction here that we need to be mindful of. If you’re a parent or have access to YouTube, you’ve probably noticed that there’s an innocence in children that can be quite uplifting to watch, as they try multiple times to succeed at a simple task. They don’t puff their cheeks out and sigh in despair, or bury their heads in their hands. At most, they demonstrate frustration.
Shame is learned behaviour that children integrate into their developing moralities, either from being taught or through observation. Studies done on athletes have shown that perceived parental pressure (or pressure from authority figures) have deleterious effects on how sportspeople experience and interpret failure. Simply put, the fear of failure is a construct of how societies function. For some people, the avoidance of shame that failure brings weighs too heavily on them, and that is the crippling fear of failure. Dr Guy Finch puts this rather more succinctly: “fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame”. How then, do we begin to become more self-aware in the face of these deeply ingrained avoidance mechanisms to start building our best selves?
After all, overcoming fear of failure is all about reversing negative thought patterns, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is designed to help you identify the underlying belief that causes a negative automatic thought (which in turn guides the feelings that come with it).
With the help of a qualified mental health professional, which can be anyone from a trained psychologist, psychotherapist or even psychiatrist, you can be empowered to break the circuit of the pervasive vicious cycle of negativity that prevents the unfettering of fear of failure’s heavy chains.
For instance, think of each deeply held criticism that you can’t let go of as a block in a Jenga game with your friends and the tower represents your thought life as a whole. Even though you’ve suffered through failure after failure, you can’t seem to jettison them from your psyche. Can you imagine a game of Jenga that doesn’t end in peals of laughter? It seems that some re-evaluation is needed to turn the way you handle each soul-sucking gut-punching failure from the darkness of your room. The grip of negativity steadying your trembling hand, an extension of your mind, putting each block up on autopilot because you believe you are not good enough. Instead, we suggest turning the lights on, invite someone you trust into your sanctum of despair, to play the game of Jenga with you. As you ease into their presence, you’ll begin to notice that the tower doesn’t look so intimidating anymore. It’s no longer just a congealed mess of all your shortcomings and toxic thinking, but a simpler thing that can be deconstructed. If each block represents a negative conviction you have about yourself that is too painful to touch, reach for the piece that looks more well-shorn and polished (which represents a perceived positive character trait or accomplishment that you hold dear). Put it back on top of your tower. It is yours, isn’t it? Or perhaps let your confidant handle that splintery block.
Of course, we all know that Jenga isn’t all laughter and grand gestures. There’s physical tension and the cogitation of making the right choice so the tower doesn’t crumble prematurely. Maybe you aren’t too good at Jenga. That’s fine. But if you start thinking of this special game of Jenga as a collaborative effort instead of a competitive one, you’ll start getting the picture. Who would you like to invite to collaboratively play a game of Jenga?
Sagar, S and Stoeber, J. Perfectionism, Fear of Failure, and Affective Responses to Success and Failure: The Central Role of Fear of Experiencing Shame and Embarrassment. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2009, 31, pp 602-627.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many usual activities to be disrupted – apart from most adults having to work from home, the majority of students are also left with no choice but to do home-based learning (HBL). This leaves them cooped up at home with less face-to-face social interaction with their peers and teachers, and most importantly, this may have heightened their stress levels with regards to their academic performances. Considering that some students will most likely have to bear with HBL for quite some time, they will need to ensure that they are keeping themselves mentally healthy. In any case, having to deal with burnout is certainly undesirable, and learning how to handle their stress is crucial.
Youths dealing with HBL often have many things to stress over – from struggling with technical issues to the lack of discipline over one’s assignments and time management. They may tend to procrastinate more, which is unsurprising considering that they may be studying from the comforts of their bed. For the more studious ones, HBL may pose a challenge since it may be difficult for them to receive immediate feedback and guidance from their teachers. With such factors contributing to their stress levels, these youths may be burnt out even before HBL ends. If you are one of these troubled students struggling with HBL and study stress, here are some tips to help you get through the difficult times and to help you cope better.
Firstly, consider if you are allocating time for exercise in your weekly routine. Are you getting the exercise you need after your online classes? It is a well-known fact that exercising and staying fit can do wonders for your mental acuity, and can help lift your spirits through the release of endorphins, which act as “feel-good hormones”. Setting aside time to keep active will certainly benefit you in more ways than one – both physically and mentally. In addition to exercise, it is an added bonus if you pay more attention to your diet. Eating more brain foods will help you concentrate and absorb information better, hence translating into greater productivity as well as improved quality of work.
Now that there isn’t a need to attend school physically (at least for some students), there is a high chance that you no longer pack and organise your study materials. Moreover, your study space is most likely cluttered with notes, stationery and various other personal belongings. Take this chance to tidy up your workspace whenever you can – be it once you are done for the day or before you start. Excessive clutter can cause unnecessary stress as well as the loss of productivity, especially if you have to spend additional time looking for your relevant study materials or other lost items. Needless to say, over time, this will have a negative impact on your grades. In order to eliminate such potential causes of stress, try to make a conscious effort to tidy your study area often. Having a minimalistic workspace with only the essential items will definitely reduce distractions and allow you to concentrate better. For those who share a space with other family members, cutting down on excessive clutter will also help to keep familial relationships positive, for they will no longer have to bear with an unorganised environment, possibly resulting in less frustration and conflict. Having said this, start tidying up and you will come to realise that it is worth the effort.
Are you someone who lacks self-discipline? Most students find themselves facing this problem, especially with many more sources of distraction while at home. Some may tend to procrastinate and end up not having sufficient time to complete their tasks. Their poor time management thus leads to heightened stress levels, particularly when deadlines are nearing. The best tip we can offer is to start off with a list of all the tasks you need to complete. Create your own calendar or a to-do list, and work backwards from all your deadlines. Allocate enough buffer time to ensure that you can complete your assignments before the due date. With this, you can prioritise your assignments with more ease, as well as to ensure that you do not leave out any important tasks. You may think that you can remember all of them, but as stress levels increase with poor time management, something is sure to slip your mind.
In Singapore, the education system is very competitive, as most people would know. Many students rely heavily on tuition to give them a head start, or to help them catch up with any content that they were unable to grasp. However, with the pandemic, tuition centres are shut down to minimise the spread of the virus, leaving the students on their own to cope with their studies. As such, these students could be increasingly stressed out, for fear of falling behind on their school work. If you can relate to these individuals, try forming an online support group with your fellow classmates. Conduct group study sessions and help each other out regarding areas for improvement. Brainstorming ideas while teaching others can help you to revise your concepts as well as to gain more insight into particular topics. In a sense, it is killing two birds with one stone.