What sort of setbacks have you faced in life? Have you been let down by friends or business partners? Cheated out of an inheritance? Betrayed by your spouse? Perhaps you were recently bypassed for a promotion at work and the boss went with someone less able and talented than you, but that someone invested a great deal of time ingratiating them-self to the boss! Setbacks are painful. They tend to knock us right off our feet. If you’ve followed my career, you’ll know that I have lots of first-hand experience at dealing with setbacks and I’d like to share my insights with you. I want to help you deal with your setbacks, and also set you on a course for success.
I read an excellent article in Psychology Today, which described setbacks as ‘psychological injuries’. Why? – because failure distorts our perceptions of ourselves in three ways. First we feel less capable or competent of achieving our goals in the future. Two, failure can make our goals or dreams seem more impossible, and three, failure makes us feel like we cannot control our lives.
We all know failures are demoralizing, but I’d never realised that they are a form of ‘psychological injury’, in that they distort our perceptions—and thus set us up to fail again. According to Psychology Today there are three ways in which this happens:
1. Failure distorts our perceptions of our abilities so that we feel less up to a task or less capable of reaching a goal – even if we are perfectly capable!
2. Failure also distorts our perception of the goal so that it seems more difficult and further out of reach.
3. Failure makes us believe that whether we succeed or not is out of our control.
Be Kind to Yourself
According to the article’s author, Dr Guy Winch, if you’ve suffered a setback it helps if you acknowledge that you have suffered a real injury. You need to be kind to yourself and give yourself space to grieve and heal. Take time out to acknowledge your disappointment. Talk to friends and family. Do not apportion blame or lash out at others. Under no circumstances should you write vengeful emails or letters. Accept that you are injured and care for yourself first.
Acknowledge Setbacks as Part of Life
It is also helpful to acknowledge that setbacks are part of life. Try to view your setback as a medal. It has been awarded to you because you tried something new, but difficult. A recent article in Forbes magazine on setbacks at work described failure as ‘progress in disguise’. Think about your most important life lessons. Major insights are usually learnt through setbacks.
Regain Control of the Situation
If a setback has hurt you and caused you to lose confidence in yourself, it is vital that you don’t spend too long feeling hopeless but instead begin taking control of the situation. This will help heal your psychological injury. For example if you have been bypassed for a promotion at work, assess whether it was because you were underqualified? You could look at doing further study. If you lacked experience, is there an opportunity at work to get more experience in this area? If you feel your boss has not been fair and will never recognise your strengths, perhaps it is time to look for a position with another firm. What is most important is that you regain control of the situation. If you have suffered a relationship breakup you also need to take control of the situation. You may feel rejected and worthless. Care for yourself. Invest some time in your appearance. Aim to feel attractive. Resist seeing yourself through your ex-partners’ eyes. Remember you’ve only been rejected by one person, not the whole world! Do activities that make you happy. Step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Join a community group and meet new people. Avoid jumping straight into another relationship just to restore your ego. After a break-up it takes most people three to six months before they are ready to date again. But it is crucial that you take control of the situation and stop feeling like a victim.
I recently wrote a blog about emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent people can manage their emotions and other people’s. Sometimes you need to ‘step out’ of your emotions and logically assess what happened. Write down the sequence of events that led to your setback. Seeing the facts on paper might help you ‘step out’ of your emotional response and see the facts clearly and objectively. This will also help you draw up a plan to go forward. Setbacks do not end careers or our ability to have a happy relationship – they only define what we need to learn next.
Explore your Spirituality
While recovering from a setback you may want to explore your spirituality. Faith often sustains us when we feel like we don’t have the strength to keep going. Regardless of what religion you were raised with, revisiting your spirituality allows you to see the bigger picture and even acknowledge that this setback will serve a purpose in your life. Spend some time meditating or praying after a setback. It will help you heal.
Stop Negative Thoughts
Do not sink into negative thoughts. If you have been passed over by your boss or rejected by your spouse, it is easy to see yourself only through their eyes. You may be tempted to tell yourself that you are inadequate and worthless. Please do not do this. It is a futile exercise. Again, remember this is only one person’s perspective. Perhaps your boss or ex-partner has made some valid points about your shortcomings. If so, take these points on board, learn from them, then get on with life! Failure never needs to be final – it’s all down to you!
How Setbacks Lead to Success
There are so many successful people who have suffered setbacks but gone one to have stellar careers. Steven Spielberg’s films have earned more than $9 billion and he has won three Academy Awards, but as a young man he was rejected by Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts TWICE! Thomas Edison’s teacher told him as a child that he was ‘too stupid to learn anything’. JK Rowling, the world’s richest and most successful author, was a single-mother on welfare living in a housing commission flat when she wrote the first Harry Potter novel. President Abraham Lincoln went to war as a captain but his supervisors were so unimpressed with his abilities they demoted him to private (the lowest military rank). When Jerry Seinfeld did his first stand-up comedy routine he was booed offstage by the crowd. If these individuals can recover from setbacks, so can you.
Finally, I want to say that I’m sorry for your setback and I know you deserve better – and you will achieve more in the future. First take some time out to heal and then say these wise words out loud: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Now get going and good luck!