In this episode, we delve into how to bounce back from study disappointment. Whether your grades are really low or just not as high as you’d like, learn how to come back with a resilient mindset, turning setbacks into stepping stones towards the grades you really want. 

Join us as we explore proven strategies to cultivate a growth mindset, leverage self-awareness, and transform disappointment into motivation and a catalyst for growth. Get ready to unlock your potential and gain actionable insights and techniques to navigate academic setbacks and emerge stronger on your learning journey.

This post originated as a podcast episode which you can listen to below or search for episode 150 of the Chloe Made Me Study podcast. Or, if you’re more of a learn-by-reading student, carry on for the rough-and-ready blog version based on the podcast script.

Ways to listen:

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In this episode, we're delving into the art of how to bounce back from study disappointment. Whether your latest university results are fantastic, disappointing, or somewhere in between, your mindset regarding these outcomes can significantly impact your future grades and overall educational journey.

Even stellar university results can sometimes lead to unexpected challenges.

If you’ve received your latest results and they’re high then you may be celebrating, patting yourself on the back for your dedication and discipline throughout the year. Or…you may now be terrified. Terrified that you may not be able to replicate these results. Terrified of your own mindset and how you’ll cope if your next grades aren’t as high. Worried that these results aren’t actually a true representation of your actual abilities – that somehow you got lucky, or the assessor was kind. You may now feel an immense pressure to keep up the good work. And I get it, it’s scary to stick your head above the parapet. It’s much easier and much more comfortable to stay in the middle of the road, with no hefty expectations placed on you by yourself or others.

However, this episode primarily focuses on those students who find themselves less than satisfied with their grades – those who want to bounce back from study disappointment. Whether your grades have fallen short of your expectations or you simply wish they were higher, I’m here to guide you through navigating these emotions and turning them into opportunities for growth.

The importance of self-awareness to help you bounce back from study disappointment 

To get under the hood of this situation I want to remind you that a very important trait for all students to develop is your self-awareness. One essential aspect we'll explore is the significance of self-awareness. By truly understanding yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, triggers, patterns, dreams, and fears – you open doors to informed decisions and actions. Taking intentional steps based on this self-awareness can lead to transformation in both your academic and personal life.

Disappointment vs. self-pity

I want to distinguish between two emotions that can be quite common for students who are currently wishing their grades could be higher.

The two emotions we’re going to distinguish between are disappointment and self-pity. There are important differences between them. One of them is a productive emotion that can give you the insight and the impetus to move forward towards greater results. The other can leave you feeling stuck and hopeless. But don’t fear because, as always, I’m not gonna leave you hanging. I’ll be sharing tips and advice for what to do once you’ve recognised which one of these emotions you’re experiencing.

Understanding your action-tendency

Now the frame to view these differences through is something called action-tendency, which I learned from the wonderful researcher and author, Brené Brown. The action-tendency of an emotion is just that – the urge to act or behave that is linked to the emotion. For example, the action tendency of fear might be to run away or hide. Or, the action tendency of anger may be to lash out physically or with words.

OK, so the action tendency for disappointment is to do better. It’s to move through it and learn from the experience. With disappointment, curiosity is evoked. What happened? Where can I go from here? What is my next best move?

On the other hand, the action tendency for self-pity is to seek sympathy – from others or from yourself, hold a pity party. The tendency here is actually *not* to act. There may not be any desire to think through it, learn from it, or become better. Now, this self-pity could come from a lack of confidence. If throughout your life you’ve experienced a number of crushing disappointments you may struggle to feel confident that it’s even possible to take action to change not-so-great situations. You may not believe it’s possible to bounce back from study disappointment. You may not believe in your ability to take action to achieve your goals. And that’s OK. We’re all on our own limitless mindset journeys and we’re all at different points. What’s important is having self-compassion for where you’re at and continuing to believe that new versions of you are possible.

Why feeling guilty can be a *good* thing

There are two other linked emotions that are relevant. The difference between shame and guilt.

Students who feel self-pity when they achieve a grade that they’re not happy with have a tendency towards feeling shame instead of guilt.

So, let’s say you received a low exam grade, you only just passed, which means you’ve got to achieve much higher results in your future exams to achieve the overall degree classification you want. You deduce that leaving your exam revision to the week of the exam was probably a pretty hefty contributing factor to the low grade.

You may feel guilty. You may be frustrated at yourself for leaving revision so late. You may regret making the decision to see friends and family quite so often in the run up to your exam. You may reflect that all the times you stayed up later than necessary to watch Netflix impacted your energy levels to fit revision into your daily routine.

Or….you may feel shame. You may feel ashamed of yourself for leaving revision late, and seeing your friends and getting stuck in Netflix binges rather than revise enough. You may tell yourself that you’re a crappy student who doesn’t deserve to get high grades. You may tell yourself that you’re not good enough to be studying at this level.

Self-pity and shame are very much tied to our identity (we are bad), whereas disappointment and guilt are tied more to our behaviour (that wasn’t great).

Disappointment and guilt are GOOD emotions. Or rather, they can be productive emotions. They’re relatively short-term (if we have strategies to move through them) and they can be used in service of our future selves. They’re emotions that have positive action tendencies attached to them – seeing failure and mistakes as stepping stones to future success. Getting curious and taking action to do things differently moving forward.

The importance of a growth mindset to help you bounce back from study disappointment

In this way, we can also make connections between disappointment and self-pity and a growth and fixed mindset.

A fixed mindset is the belief that your intelligence and all other skills and traits are fixed or unchangeable. That, yes, you may be able to make slight improvements with hard work but ultimately, we are who we are. We’re naturally talented at some things and our potential in others is limited.

On the other hand, students with a growth mindset believe that every one of their qualities, including intelligence, is changeable and can be improved upon. That with hard work, smart strategies, supportive allies and self-belief – our potential is limitless and we can achieve so much more than we or anyone else can imagine.

A fixed mindset aligns with the idea of self-pity. You get a bad grade, you feel upset about it, but ultimately you view it as a measure of your abilities and potential so there isn’t much that can be done. Yes, you can pick yourself up and try again but there’s not really any point in trying to improve your skills. There’s no point putting a lot of effort into improving because the result will be the same or very similar.

A growth mindset aligns with the idea of disappointment. You get a bad grade, you feel upset about it, but you do *not* view it as a permanent measure of your potential and abilities. Instead, you get under the hood of what happened and work out the gaps in your skills, knowledge or execution that you can work on so that next time the result is different. You seek out support from those who’ve achieved what you want to achieve, you try new strategies to find what works better, you work on your habits and dedication to ensure you’re putting in enough effort.

And it pays off. If all the inputs going into your essays and exams improves then of course the output (your grades) is going to be improved.

There you have a walk-through of some very important emotions and mindset concepts for studying.

Let’s get tangible now. I’m going to share some action steps to take if you’re feeling disappointed with your latest academic results…and some actions for if you’re experiencing the other side of the coin – feeling self-pity and shame.

I want to make it clear that there is no ‘right’ option. It’s not bad to feel self-pity or shame. What we’re not going to do is add feeling bad about feeling bad to our shame pile! These are all human emotions that we will all experience at different times to different degrees. What I think is important, linked to what I mentioned earlier about self-awareness, is that first we can recognise and distinguish between our emotions, and second we can be clued up about the action we can take to move forwards, towards emotions we *want* to feel. This process will equip you to bounce back from study disappointment. 

Three steps to bounce back from study disappointment

OK, so here’s a process I’ve outlined before in this article and this one.

1. Wallow and feel all your feelings

This is the Bridget Jones aspect of the process. Where you do your version of crying on the sofa in days-old pyjamas, eating ice cream straight out the tub and watching sad movies. It’s important that we don’t try to push down or ignore our negative feelings. Firstly, because they don’t actually go away unless we let them move through us. And secondly, we can learn more about ourselves when we let ourselves feel our feelings.

My tip for this process – so it doesn’t turn into a full pity-party – is to try to see yourself as an observer of your thoughts. Thoughts and feelings about your behaviour can be productive (as this can lead to change). But negative thoughts or feelings about who you are as a person are not helpful. They may come up, and that’s OK, but try to then tell yourself, “These thoughts are not facts, these thoughts are not me. I’m feeling them because I’m in a low state.” Almost like if you’re trying to deal with a small child who’s screaming and crying and telling you that they hate you. They don’t actually hate you but they need to get these feelings out. So pop your little invisible protection shield around you and go and enjoy that ice cream. 

2. Get curious about what happened and what you could do differently next time

There is a version of you and your skills that got you those results. And there’s a version of you that will achieve the results you really want, in the way you want to achieve them e.g. calmly, confidently, productively. What stands between these two versions is a gap, it could be small, it could be large, that needs to be bridged.

Your job is to identify steps you can take or habits you can form or new strategies that you’ll try that will bridge this gap and allow you to become the version of you with the studying reality you want. Not only will you bounce back from study disappointment, you'll also shoot further, towards your dream grades.

So once you feel ready and you’ve felt all your feelings, it’s time to identify what on earth happened. What behaviours, thoughts, strategies (or lack thereof) got you to the results you achieved?

This is where feedback from assignments can be useful but you can also very much do this yourself. It’s also what we’re going to focus on in the workshop series I’m running next month.

You’ll learn new study strategies for planning your studies effectively, reading and taking notes efficiently and studying with more focus and productivity. You’ll learn how to study smarter, not harder, and align your efforts with the criteria of your course – no more wasting your precious study time on tasks that aren’t going to contribute to the learning and results you want.

Oh and you’ll learn lots about mindset and how to study with more confidence so you can face your studying challenges with more resilience and positivity. A key skill for all adult learners is resilience – so you can bounce back from study disappointment quickly and painlessly. As I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, the best way to hear more about these workshops is to join my email list. Click here to join anddd you’ll get my free confidence-boosting email series too when you sign up.

3. Build yourself back up

The third step is to build yourself back up. Your confidence might have taken a hit so there’s a few things you can do here.

Remind yourself why you’re studying. Why do you want to further your education? Why do you want to achieve your qualification? What are the small and big reasons that are motivating you to challenge yourself? What are you excited about achieving? And who are you excited about becoming throughout this journey?

Remind yourself of your power and determination. Bring to mind the hard things you’ve done so far in your life – not just studying related. Think about the times you’ve failed or stumbled but then gone on to achieve success. Think about the things you’ve done that you never thought possible.

Two techniques from moving forward from self-pity

Now if your emotions about your studying currently are more like self-pity or shame, the above steps will still be useful but here are two other things I’d invite you to try.

1. Detach your self-worth from your grades

The grades that you achieve have no impact on your self-worth or value as a human being. Achieving high grades doesn’t make you a better person. Achieving low grades does not make you a worse person.

The grades you achieve are simply a measure of how many boxes were ticked by the work you submitted. The grades you achieve are based on your understanding of the task at hand, the focus and energy you could input into the task, and your current but very changeable skill levels in responding to the task.

This means that your grades are not based on your talent or how worthy you are as a person, but instead they’re based on codifiable behaviours and actions. My job is to break down exactly how to achieve top grades in essays, exams and other assessment types – and then turn this into step-by-step strategies that ANY student can follow to achieve epic results. Your job is to believe you can change and then put in the work to do so.

2. Your past results do not have to dictate your future ones

Along a similar vein here, remind yourself that what’s happened up until this very moment does not have to dictate your future. You can learn from the past by being curious. Reflect on the study methods that have gotten you this far. And then get curious and proactive about the small or big tweaks you could make going forward to achieve different results.

So there you have it. If there’s a small part or a very large part of you that’s disappointed in your current university results, then this episode has walked you through some core mindset concepts that will help you make sense of your emotions, and some simple strategies you can implement to move towards the grades and studying reality you want.

Bounce back from study disappointment and move towards the grades you *really* want

If you want support with this, if you’d like to set yourself up for success in your next modules or classes, then you’ll want to join next month’s series of study skills workshops. Four virtual workshops covering the key study skills you’ll need to start the new academic year on the right foot. The workshops are practical and you’ll walk away with a solid plan that’s completely personalised to you and your course and situation. And all the workshops will be recorded so you can rewatch throughout your course and all future learning whenever you want a skills boost. 

The best way to hear more about these workshops is to join my email list. Click here to join. And be sure to subscribe to or follow this podcast as I’ll be sharing more information in the coming weeks.

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