I Must Get a First! Part 3

In part 1, I introduced the notion of irrational beliefs in students and the potential use of REBT principles to help students to deal with adversity and pressure. In part 2, I focussed on two of these so called irrational beliefs; demandingness and awfulising. Now in part 3, I move onto two more irrational beliefs:

             3. Frustration Intolerance. I can’t stand it…I can’t bear it…I can’t tolerate it…

             4. Depreciation. I’m an idiot…I’m a failure…I’m worthless…

Frustration Intolerance

In 1972, the Robertson family were shipwrecked by killer whales in the Pacific Ocean for 38 days on a dingy with no food or water. They killed 13 turtles and a 5-foot shark using a spear fashioned from a paddle, for food. For water, because the rain water in the boat had been poisoned by the turtle blood, they took enemas to hydrate, bypassing the stomach and the side effects of the poisonous water. They survived to tell the tale…and you can’t stand exams?!?

Frustration intolerance is about believing that you can’t stand or tolerate adversity. But actually, we know that the opposite is almost always true. It is adversity that shapes us. The old maxim “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is really what I am getting at here. When a student says “I can’t stand presentations” I ask them whether they have done any before. If the answer is no, I enquire as to how they know they can’t stand presentations if they have never done one. If the answer is yes, I remark that if they couldn’t stand presentations then previous experiences would have killed them. Since they are sitting with me having a conversation, this has obviously not happened! To not be able to stand or bear something suggests that in the face of that event one would simply perish. This is rarely the case for exams and presentations.

But it is no wonder that some students want to avoid presentations and exams if they believe that they “can’t stand” them. Students can stand exams and presentations, and they will face much more significant adversity that they will also be able to stand or tolerate. Students all have a natural propensity to be resilient in the face of pressure, it’s just that many of them don’t know it or cannot harness it.


All human beings are fallible. And since we are all born human, we are fallible. Many of us have jaws that are too small for wisdom teeth, so when we grow them we experience immense pain. The appendix is pointless. Mine has been removed because it got infected and nearly killed me. I don’t miss it (I have it in a jar…just kidding!). The windpipe is right next to the gullet, making choking common. Not good. We are born fallible!

The point here is that we can expect to fail and accept that failure is part of our DNA just as much as success is. But more importantly, accepting ourselves when we fail is crucial for long terms well-being and goal attainment. We fail. Failing is bad. But one failure does not make me a complete failure. Just as one success does not make me a complete success.

It is not a surprise when students start to feel depressed when they don’t perform well if each time they fall below their expectations they brand themselves as “failures” or “idiots”. One really effective way to reverse this belief is get students to think about their role model, or somebody they have the utmost respect for. Then ask the students to think about all the times that person has failed. There are lots of famous successful people who failed quite badly prior to being successful. Abraham Lincoln first went into politics at the age of 23 when he campaigned for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly and failed. He then opened a general store which failed after only a few months. Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school and applied to attend film school three times but was unsuccessful due to his C grade average. Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper for lacking in ideas. There are loads more here: http://presentoutlook.com/famous-failures/ This helps students to accept failure as a part of being successful.

Ultimately, the belief “failure is bad, but it just shows that I am a fallible human being” is what to aim for here. Those able to approach exams and presentations with a desire to succeed, realising that failure is bad but not awful, that they can stand set-backs when they arise, and that realise that one exam does not define them, will enjoy their assessments and are therefore more likely to fulfil their potential.


I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings. You must enjoy this blog, and I can’t stand it if you don’t! I really believe in REBT and have seen its power in helping people to deal with adversity and face pressure.

Being more rational is not about saying “don’t worry about exams” or “it’s only an exam”. Being rational is about recognising the importance of such events, but then also recognising that just because you want to succeed, does not mean that you “must”.

Helping students to be more rational in their thoughts about success and failure is an important part of what I do, and I hope that this blog inspires others to help create a rational culture around assessment and achievement.

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