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Essential Study Skills

Bouncing Back

Whether you’ve just suffered a minor setback or are feeling completely knocked down, this module will provide you with some strategies to feel better and get back in the game.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -- Nelson Mandela


  • Find somebody to lean on.It’s normal to feel upset by challenges or failures. In these moments, look to your family, friends, and mentors for support.
  • Epic fails = epic learning experiences!Think about where things went wrong and what could have been done differently. Seek out feedback and listen to it openly.
  • Let it go.Change what you can, but don’t dwell on what you can’t control.
  • Flip the script.If you can’t let it go, or feel completely knocked out by a setback, reframe your beliefs about the three P’s: Personalization, Permanence, and Pervasiveness.
  • Know your worth.There are so many things you’re doing excellently. Remind yourself of them.
  • Be kind to yourself.Make time for self-care, including sleep, exercise, fun, and good food.

Strategies to Bounce Back from a Setback

Bouncing Back

This module will provide you with some ideas on how to bounce back from a setback. Explore this section in whatever order you choose, and put into action the strategies that seem most useful to you.

Watch this video for an introduction to this module. You can also download the Introduction to Bouncing Back video transcript.

Use Your Support System

Independence is an important quality, but so is knowing when to ask for help. Even if you can handle all of life’s problems solo, you shouldn’t have to -- there is no prize for doing it alone. In fact, it’s been proven that people with at least one close friend are more resilient.

Reach out to your support system in times of stress.

  • Family and friends can lend an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on.
  • Professors and mentors can provide you with valuable advice and support.
  • Counselors are always available to help.

Use the My Support System Fillable PDF to list the people in your support system, including their contact information, so that you have this information ready when you need it.

Confront failure

"Failure sucks, but instructs." -- Robert Sutton

Fact of life: you are going to fail sometimes. Everyone does. So use failure as a learning tool.

You can't change the past, but you can make different choices in the future. Whether you've bombed a test, done poorly in a job interview, or hurt someone's feelings, take a close look at your mistakes:

  • Think about where things went wrong.
  • Consider what could have been done differently.
  • Put these lessons into practice!

You may find that once you've examined a failure, you need to reach out for extra help. Depending on your problem, a professor, counsellor, or trusted friend can answer some of your questions and give you guidance.

Below, you will find some situation-specific strategies for learning from failure. You can also view these in PDF form.

Some things to do after performing badly on an assignment or test:

  • Think carefully about any outside factors that might have negatively impacted your performance.
    • Did you get enough sleep? Were you distracted? Did you have time to study? Was there another major assignment due that week?
  • If you have a graded copy of your test with you, look over each question and your answer. If possible, find the correct answer in your class notes or textbook and make sure that you understand it.
  • Make a list of any keywords or concepts from the course that you still do not understand.
  • Meet with your professor to review the test or assignment.

Questions you might ask your professor about a test:

  • Were there any concepts that I needed to focus on more? (Did I lose marks on five multiple choice questions that were all on the same topic?)
  • Do you see any patterns in the types of questions I’m getting wrong? (E.g. negative multiple choice, multiple multiples, written answers, fact-based vs. application questions)
  • Do I need to focus more on the material from the lecture/the textbook/discussions?
  • Will I see this material again on an upcoming test? Is it necessary for me to “get” this in order to understand future material in this course or program?
  • Do you have any advice for me on how to improve on the next test or final exam?

Questions you might ask your professor about an assignment:

  • Was there anything missing from my assignment? Which expectations did I miss?
  • Was there any one factor that had the most impact on my mark? (E.g. content, expressing my ideas clearly, mistakes with writing)
  • Will I see this material again during this course? Is it necessary for me to “get” this in order to understand future material in this course or program?
  • Could I meet with you before the next assignment to review a draft?
  • Are there any resources offered by the program or college that would help me for the next assignment?
  • Do you have any advice for me on how to improve on the next assignment?

Some things to do after performing poorly in a job interview:

  • Think carefully about any outside factors that might have negatively impacted your performance.
    • Did you get enough sleep? Were you running late for the interview? Did something bad happen in your personal life right before?
  • Reflect on whether you were well-prepared for the interview.
    • Did you research the company beforehand? Did you review important terminology? Did you rehearse with a friend?
  • Make a list of the questions you remember, and write down the main points of your answers.
  • Think about which questions went well, and which ones you had trouble with.
    • Did you forget to mention something? Did you mention something you shouldn’t have?
  • Consider how you would answer these questions differently next time.
  • Think about calling the company’s hiring manager for feedback on your interview.

Questions you might ask a hiring manager:

Note: when you do not get a job, it can be useful to call and ask for feedback on your interview. However, remember that someone is taking time away from their day to talk to you and help you to be more successful!

  • Do you have any advice for how I can improve my performance in future interviews?
  • What can I do to seem more ___________________? (Use feedback from first question -- e.g. confident, prepared, friendly, positive)
  • What did I do well?
  • Always thank the employer for the opportunity and for their time.

Examine your self-talk

Watch this video to understand how self-talk can change your outlook on life.

Flip the Script

When something goes wrong, your brain tries to explain exactly what happened and why. You may not even notice that this is happening, but these explanations become a part of your self-talk: your beliefs about yourself.

They fall under three main categories, also known as the 3 P’s: Personalization, Permanence, and Pervasiveness. These beliefs can either help you to become more resilient, or drag you down.

People who struggle with bouncing back from challenges tend to see problems as:

  • Personal (their fault)
  • Permanent (forever)
  • Pervasive (affecting every part of their life)

Resilient people, however, understand that:

  • Some circumstances are beyond their control
  • Many situations are only temporary
  • A setback in one area of life doesn't always affect other areas

To get an idea of how you’re explaining a negative event, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Personalization: Is this all my fault, or are there other factors involved?
  • Permanence: Will this problem last forever, or is it temporary?
  • Pervasiveness: Does this problem affect my whole life, or just part of my life?

For help with self-talk, check out the activity below or complete the Flip the Script Fillable PDF.

Believe in yourself - know your worth

Belief in your skills and abilities is a huge part of bouncing back. If you’re feeling like garbage, though, it can be hard to know where to start. The fact is, you are great at many things, and reflecting on all the things that you’re doing well can provide you with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Try writing down at least one thing you did well each day. It might be big, like getting a scholarship, or smaller, like making someone laugh. Look back on these victories when you’re feeling lost or discouraged.

Track your successes using the Crushed It! Self-Worth Log (Fillable PDF).

Practice self-care

Watch this video to learn about the importance of self-care.

Be Kind to Yourself

With the opportunities and obligations of life pulling you in 15 different ways, it can be hard to remember basic human maintenance. But it's important to make time for essential activities, including:

  • Exercise
  • Good nutrition
  • Sleep
  • Social time
  • Leisure

These activities refuel your mind, body, and spirit, so prioritize them. If you're struggling with this, consider the following strategies:

  • Set a reminder in your phone.
  • Put self-care activities on your daily to-do list.
  • Write down activities that fulfill your physical, mental, and emotional needs, for when you're feeling terrible but don't know what to do about it.
Tip: If you’re not sure how much time you’re spending on different activities, it can be helpful to visualize it. Try using an app like Toggl to record your daily activities for a week. Then, look at a visual breakdown of your time, and consider whether you need to change your schedule in order to feel more balanced.

For help with self-care, check out the activity below or complete the My Self-Care Plan Fillable PDF.