Coping with failure

Failure isn't pleasant, but it is a normal part of life.

If you are reading this because you performed very well at secondary school, and have had your first experience of failure at university, it may be useful to remind yourself that many students have failed and gone on to a good career. A quick search of the internet will give you a number of examples.

Below are some things that have been found to help to cope with failure:

  • Your appraisal and attitude towards failure are key to coping with it. In 2011 researchers Joachim Stoeber and  Dirk Janssen published  the results of their study of perfectionism and coping with daily failures. They found that positive reframing, acceptance, and humor used in relation to failures predicted higher satisfaction for students.
  • Positively and realistically reframing the situation, using what is termed realistic optimism (Schneider, 2001), can help you cope. It is possible to be optimistic and not unrealistic. This TED talk by professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University about the power of believing you can improve shows how reframing failure effects grades.
  • In the short term humor can help with the immediate effects of not achieving what you want. A study published in the December 4, 2003 issue of Neuron reported that humor has similar effects on the brain as drug-induced euphoria. It stimulated the reward centres, leading to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of the pleasure-reward system.
  • There are some great (short) videos about  the research on concepts that might help you cope with failure. These include understanding concepts such as grit, your study mindset, and the power of believing you can improve.


Joachim Stoeber & Dirk P. Janssen (2011) Perfectionism and coping with daily failures: positive reframing helps achieve satisfaction at the end of the day, Anxiety, Stress, & Coping: An International Journal, 24:5, 477-497, DOI: 10.1080/10615806.2011.562977

Mobbs, Dean, Greicius, Michael D., Abdel-Azim, Eiman, Menon, Vinod, & Reiss, Allan L. (2003). Humor Modulates the Mesolimbic Reward Centers. Neuron, 40(5), 1041-1048. doi:

Schneider, Sandra L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3), 250-263. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.250

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