Getting things WrOnG:
If someone were to ask me “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since starting sixth form” it would have to be that failure is a part of life. A BIG part of life.
For a very long time I was afraid of failing – I always wanted to be right, to instantly score perfectly on tests and be the best without putting in much effort. But that just doesn’t work out (and it can wind up doing more harm than good), for the simple reason that we need to fail in order to learn and in order to truly succeed.
When you get something right straight away, you don’t get the same feedback loop that you get when something’s wrong. Our brains are hardwired to learn from experiences, adapt and make better decisions. This is why failing is essential to the process of learning (it forges strong pathways in our brains and CHANGES the way we think).
There are plenty of methods of learning that utilize this phenomenon. For example, active learning methods such as using flashcards or active recall, sort content into categories based on how well you know the content. Instead of wasting time taking the easy path going over everything you already know, active learning methods focus on training your brain, through failure, and practicing what you don’t know. While its initially more difficult and requires significantly more effort – the knowledge is more deeply rooted and secure in your memory, making you understand the content better.
Over the past few weeks, I got lots of stuff wrong. And I mean LOTS. I struggled through the first dozen maths lessons, wracked my brain during physics practicals and felt like crying during economics. But I knew that this was all part of the process and very importantly didn’t give up. This meant that after weeks of tortuous difficulties, things eventually began to ease up. Suddenly, binomial expansion didn’t seem so alien and everything began to make sense. Failing keeps us on our toes and is essential to improving. If we never failed, we wouldn’t learn and we’d have hundreds of blind spots. So instead of aiming for 100% the first time you do something, think about what you’ve got to learn and how you can maximise this.
So, what do you do when you get something wrong?
Take some deep breaths...
Let’s face it. No one feels good about not getting the grades they wanted or mucking up on something really important. We’ve all felt that gut wrenching horrible sickly feeling when we find out that we’ve performed significantly lower than our expectations. This is why it's important to take a moment to step back and look at the bigger picture because that’s all they are – expectations. Expectations can help us to set goals, and are useful for planning for the future but 99% of our expectations don’t work out. Expectations do not equal reality, and confusing the two could lead to you becoming seriously stressed out. So, remember that expectations are expectations and reality is reality.
If you didn’t achieve what you wanted, you now know where you’re at and can begin to plan how you’ll get to where you want to be. Think of failure as a roadmap to success, one that constantly shifts and changes as you grow, and one that will help you to flourish as you progress through life.
Tiffany Igharoro is a student in Y11 preparing to take her GCSE's. One of her favourite pastimes is writing as it helps her organise her thoughts creatively and dynamically. She has won awards and prizes for poetry, academic and scientific writing and short stories. Recently, she won a nationwide historical essay competition that opened her eyes to the importance of how things are told, and the impact ordinary people have on the world. She is studying art GCSE and believes there is something incredible about finding links between drama, art and maths.
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