This article was submitted by Sarah James, NUPSA’s Student Communications Officer
As I watched The Bachelor, blissfully unaware of any responsibilities and searching for writing inspiration, my boyfriend was in a different state of mind. He had an exam in a few days, which happened to cost $4,500. That figure ~spooked~ both me and my bank account. To make matters worse, there’s a pretty high fail rate, meaning you have to pay the $4,500 all over again. No thank youuuuuu.
But strangely enough, he wasn’t that stressed. For someone who I thought would be doing a last-minute cramming session, he was way more interested in the Aussie accents in the new season of The Good Place (Spoiler: they’re scarily bad.)
“The fear just hasn’t set in yet, Sarah. I’ve run out of motivation.”
And it got me thinking – can fear actually be a good thing?
On its most basic, primal level, fear stops us from doing stupid things like walking too close to cliff edges or applying to be on reality television. We learn from past failures and fear making those same mistakes. Sometimes, however, fear holds us back from doing something outside of our comfort zone, like asking someone on a date or applying for that job which seems just above our pay grade.
So how can we as students use fear to our benefit?
While I did reach out to psychologists on campus to seek their specialist opinion, unfortunately they were unavailable – so for now you’re now stuck with internet research and my boyfriend’s thoughts (he happens to be a doctor, so I guess that makes it a qualified medical opinion).
Breaking down the science nitty-gritty of it, hormesis refers to the phenomenon where exposing your body to toxins and other stressors which could substantially impair or possibly kill you at high doses, can actually be beneficial in small doses. Basically, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. For example, when you’re faced with a new task for the first time, often there is a steep learning curve. However, this forces you to develop your skill set and adapt, providing you’re not completely out of your depth.
According to Psychology Today, using fear as a motivator is a bit of a double-edged sword. It invokes a natural flight or fight response. When that big deadline is looming, fear can cause either of two outcomes.
- Fear of failure motivates you to whip out 2000 words in a 24-hour period, work through the night and trigger your keyboard to catch fire; or
- Fear causes you to become so paralysed that nothing actually gets achieved.
As a recovering perfectionist, historically I’ve been very guilty of falling into category number 2. But according to psychologists, there’s a trick to avoiding the deer caught in the headlights response.
In order to successfully use fear as a motivating factor, there must a solution offered to it: a potential, achievable positive outcome. Applying this to my boyfriend’s situation, when the fear did eventually kick in, he studied like I’ve never witnessed anybody study before. Hundreds upon hundreds of practice questions. And the reason it worked for him was because there was the real possibility that if he studied enough, he would pass the exam.
While a bit of a risky motivation, fear isn’t all that bad. So next time you’re really dreading something, try to harness that fear into something productive. It may push you to a level you didn’t think possible.
But I would love to hear your thoughts! How have you found fear impacts on your study? Let me know in the comments.