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Learning Portal - Learning Online: Bouncing Back

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

Top Tips 

✓ 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.

Introduction to Bouncing Back 

Watch the video (The Learning Portal Ontario, 2017) or follow the steps below to learn how to set goals.

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.

  • Counsellors are always available to help.

Check out NWP's Mental Health Services here!

Know that you are never alone, even when it might feel that way.

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.

Learning from Failure: Assignments & Tests 

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, 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?

Learning from Failure: Job Interviews 

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 the video to understand how self-talk can change your outlook on life. Video by The Learning Portal and College Libraries Ontario, 2017. 

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.


When things go wrong, your brain creates explanations and beliefs about how everything got so messed up. Your brain can be very sneaky about this, you might not even notice that it’s happening, but these beliefs can become part of your internal monologue, colouring the way you see yourself and the world around you. This why it’s so important to try to tease out faulty beliefs before they take root and affect your actions.

The 3 P’s -- personalization, permanence, and pervasiveness -- can help us to do this. When faced with a setback, ask yourself a few questions:

First, consider personalization: Is this all my fault, or are there other factors involved?

People who struggle with bouncing back tend to personalize problems. This means that they see problems as only being caused by themselves. After a setback, their internal script might say: “Bobby broke up with me because I’m boring.”

Resilient people, on the other hand, tend to look at difficulties more realistically, recognizing that there are factors outside of themselves that influence a situation. Their internal script might say, “Bobby dumped me because we are very different people.”

Second, look at permanence: Will this problem last forever, or is it temporary?

People who struggle with bouncing back often see problems as permanent, even when they’re not. This kind of thinking can lead to feeling helpless or doomed. After a setback, their internal script might say “I will be alone forever.”

Resilient people look at problems more objectively, recognizing when a situation is temporary. Their internal script might say, “I feel horrible right now, but eventually, I’m going to meet someone else.”

Finally, look at pervasiveness: Does this problem affect you whole life, or just a part of your life?

People who have a hard time bouncing back often see challenges as pervasive, which means it influences every single part of their life. After a setback, their internal script might say, “Bobby broke up with me because he realized what a worthless loser I am.”

Resilient people, on the other hand, realize that a failure or a setback in one area of their life does not necessarily impact or reflect other areas. Their internal script might say, “My personal life is a little rocky, but I’m doing well in school and I love my program.”

Asking ourselves these questions can help us to identify faulty beliefs about our lives. It’s important to note, though, that occasionally, situations are your fault, are permanent, and may impact various parts of your life. So be as objective as possible when asking yourself these questions -- The key is in challenging your negative beliefs to see if there is any evidence to support them. So, if you think you’re going to be alone forever, make a list of why you believe that. Chances are there’s no real evidence for this and you’ve fallen victim to thinking your problem is permanent.

If you find that you tend to see obstacles as personal, permanent, or pervasive, start working to flip your internal script. Write down your old explanation, [old belief stating “I will be alone forever is written on a page] and then write down your new, more evidence-based one. [New belief that states “I feel horrible, but I’ll get over it!” is written below old belief] Hold onto the new belief. Write it on an index card, write it on your mirror, keep it on your phone. Look at it when you need to be reminded. Over time, as you identify more faulty beliefs and reframe them, you’ll develop the habit of thinking in a more positive way. This will help you bounce back when life knocks you down.

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 the video or follow the steps below to learn how to set goals. Video by The Learning Portal and College Libraries Ontario, 2017. 


Self-care is a word that you might be hearing a lot lately, and it’s often slightly misused. Self-care is more than just doing whatever feels good. Rather, it is about taking deliberate actions to meet the needs of your mind, body, and spirit, all the things that keep you running optimally. When all of these needs are met, it’s easier to bounce back in the face of hardship.

Self-care will look different for different people. It should be guided by the things you
enjoy doing -- but here are some broad categories to think about when it comes to self-care:

First, Sleep. Adults need at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night! There’s a good chance you’re not getting that right now, but sleep makes everything easier to deal with. Think of how you feel on at 11 AM on a Sunday morning, versus the day after pulling an all-nighter. Your problems feel smaller, and you feel more capable of handling them. So make a conscious effort to close the laptop, put your phone on silent, and get some quality sleep!

Then, Nutrition. When was the last time you ate? What did you eat? The term “hangry” [“Hungry + angry” get mushed together onscreen] has become popular in the last few years because we all know the feeling: everything is a challenge when you’re hungry. So make sure you’re eating regularly, and try to make good choices. Not every meal needs to be a salad or quinoa, and it’s okay to enjoy junk food, but if dinner is usually a box of crackers, you’ll feel much better after a balanced meal.

Next, Exercise, Exercise is basically a super vitamin. It’s great for your physical health, and can even make you sleep better at night. Aerobic exercise has also been proven to decrease anxiety and depression, so put on your running shoes, if that’s your kind of thing! If it’s not, consider dancing, swimming, soccer, tennis, baseball, rugby, biking, or gardening. Just make sure it’s something you like, and that it gets your heart rate up!

Then, Social Interaction, People who have at least one close friend are more likely to bounce back after a setback. Socializing also makes you more productive and can improve your mood. This makes sense, friendship is fun, providing us with laughter, support, and an endless supply of inside jokes. So don’t feel bad about hanging out with your friends, it’s an important part of self-care.

Finally, Leisure. Spending time doing the things we like, for no reason other than it’s awesome, is also important in moderation. These activities could be anything, reading, writing, going to a movie, listening to music, playing a video game, taking a bath, you name it.

With all of the stresses of daily life, self-care can often get pushed to the bottom of your to-do list. Try to avoid falling into this trap. By taking the time to take care of yourself, you avoid burn-out and increase your resiliency. You are just as important as anything else on your to-do list, so make time for yourself, and enjoy it.

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.



Unless otherwise stated, the material in this guide is from the Learning Portal created by College Libraries Ontario. Content has been adapted for the NWP Learning Commons in April 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY NC SA 4.0 International License.

All icons on these pages are from The Noun Project. See individual icons for creator attribution.