“Losing motivation after failing”.

Disputant
4 min readJul 7, 2021

So here’s my take.

I believe that it’s better to prevent avoidable problems — especially downward spirals like getting your work ethic destroyed — whenever possible. In other words:

  1. Prevent failing in the first place; and
  2. Counteract what’s making you lose the work ethic when you do fail

So the first thing to examine is the cause of that problem.

If you studied for your exams and you thought you understood it correctly, and yet you failed, then it could mean three things:

  1. The material you used probably lacked context (i.e. you might not be using textbooks to understand the concepts from first principles)
  2. You had gaps you didn’t realize you had (i.e. you got the Fluency Illusion, or just lacked the prior ideas that build to the current topic)
  3. You’re practicing without feedback. Practicing isn’t enough — deliberate practice, i.e. correcting weaknesses, is the gold standard for getting better.

So, use better materials, and use questions to expose your weaknesses.

“Wouldn’t that take me more time?”

Well, yes, in the short term.

But I’m sure we can both agree that what really takes more time is failing and becoming unproductive, right?

You must expose your weaknesses now before the exams do it for you.

It’s the logical choice.

Now there’s the second part: Motivation.

You might be asking…

“What if I really failed? I really understood it, yet the exams were really hard.”

Well, of course — feeling bad about it is pretty unavoidable.

BUT, the reason your motivation gets destroyed for sustained periods is because you might be focusing on grades as the only metric for your success.

Worse, you might be tying your identity to your grades.

DON’T.

Now, this might seem like I’m imposing my values on you…but hear this out:

Sometimes exams do have tricky, out-of-the-world questions, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

The issue, though, is when you don’t realize that:

  1. Grades are just correlative of your learning. It’s not a direct measure of learning, but rather a (more) direct measure of compliance and diligence
  2. Some professors like to place out-of-this-world questions they hope nobody would be able to answer

Now, instead of “Did I get a high grade in the midterm?”, here are better questions to ask:

Is my knowledge compounding or not?

Once way to test this is:

Am I meeting the chapter objectives in our main textbook?

If you’re doing pretty well AND you’re exposing your weaknesses, then you’re all good.

Also, if you’re studying problem solving subjects, here are my best pieces of advice:

  1. Stop answering the same problem type over and over again. That’s a total waste of time. It’s like proving that the sun exists when it has been done already.
  2. Avoid direct substitution problems altogether. Nothing useful is tested in this case.
  3. Interleave your questions from multiple topics. Knowledge doesn’t exist in a vacuum — they’re all interconnected. Knowledge is a system, folks! You can’t expect to connect your knowledge if you only knew how to apply Algebra in Algebra subjects. Same goes with concepts in Physics. (Or in any subject, for that matter)

Lastly, here’s some fairly obvious (but unattractive) thing about failure.

Failing is a waste of time, but like I said earlier, the other side of failing is that it exposes your weaknesses.

Heck, if failure didn’t exist, the science giants wouldn’t be able to prove or disprove scientific hypotheses!

Now in your case, as I told you earlier.

You can be proactive with it by exposing your weakness before there are real stakes.

It doesn’t matter if it takes a little more time.

We’re not aiming for “finishing more within 24 hours” here.

We’re aiming to learn in the least total time. And that doesn’t mean 24 hours. It spans the entire semester, the year, and even your whole career.

But, if you haven’t had the chance to do that, there’s still a better decision to make:

Instead of moping over your failure, just look at what you got wrong, find the exact topic where it came from, and spend your free time plugging the holes.

Otherwise, those knowledge gaps will compound, and it won’t be long before you fail your finals, as well.

I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.

I don’t wanna bullshit you, that’s why I’m telling this.

On a lighter note…be like Eren:

I’m no Motivational Guru, but yeah.

So there’s that.

I hope this helps!

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Disputant

Dissident Hindu. Medical Student. Calisthenics Advocate. Knowledge Management Enthusiast.