How Do You Overcome Setbacks?
Here are 4 techniques to help you coach yourself into having more perseverance
Setbacks are an inevitable part of life. It’s how we manage those setbacks and successfully overcome them that often sets the optimists apart from the pessimists.
I don’t believe that we are entirely either one or the other. I think we can have a primary setting; to see situations more naturally through the lens of positivity or negativity. But I also think it’s changeable from day to day and mood to mood. And therefore, no matter how tough the situation, I believe we can learn to overcome setbacks, train ourselves to use techniques that help us get back up on the horse again and eventually rise above whatever hurdle we’re faced with.
Not convinced? Ok, then let’s start at the beginning. When we’re born, we are born optimists. Babies, toddlers, and young children are innately wired to think they can do anything. If that weren’t so, we’d never learn to walk. How many times does a little one fall and get right back up again when they’re learning to go from crawling to walking? They don’t fall three or seven or even thirty times and just give up. They don’t tell themselves it’s impossible and too hard and hopeless. They don’t tell themselves they are losers or worthless or destined to be crawlers for life.
Nope, they don’t give up. They see other people standing, and they instinctively understand that if it’s possible for others, it’s possible for them. And guess what? (You know where I’m going with this…) They eventually learn to walk and then run.
Falling isn’t fun. It’s a struggle. It sometimes hurts. There are sometimes tears and maybe a few bruises.
Same for the rest of life. There is struggle, pain, grief, disappointments, bumps, and injuries.
So, what changes from early childhood as we age? We start to overanalyze our setbacks. We begin to overthink what went wrong and we start to internalize the struggle and pain. We start to assign singular setbacks a bigger, overarching meaning.
We start to pile up memories of what didn’t work out well, and the scrollable list of defeats become a part of our identity, until we are nearly paralyzed. And this builds a programming in our mind that is pessimistic and negative.
And that dark shadow that internalized suffering and setbacks cast on us leads to hopelessness.
“It isn’t the suffering itself that leads to hopelessness. It’s the suffering you think you can’t control.” – Angela Duckworth, academic, psychologist, author of Grit
The good news is that you are not doomed to live the rest of your life through the lens of negativity and pessimism.
You do have control. You are not helpless. You can choose to see yourself differently.
You can choose to see setbacks as just what they are – a challenge.
Nothing personal or related to who you are as a human being. Just bumps in the road, just like everyone else has to ride over too.
In general, optimistic people tend to see setbacks as caused by specific reasons. They more rationally pinpoint the reasons and feel they could make changes in the future and learn from it. Example: I failed the test. Looking back, I could have studied a little more. I know that if I had created better notes I probably would have done better on the test.
Pessimists tend to think the setbacks are “just the way it is” and are caused by general misfortune and they tend not to pinpoint what may have been within their control and could be learning points for the future. Pessimists may even feel that they somehow deserve the struggle and suffering. Example: I failed the test. Just like I failed that other test three years ago. I always struggle with tests. I suck. I’m just not smart enough for this class.
Being willing to get back up after a setback and try again, with the same determination, if not more, than before – like the toddler learning to walk – can be a learned behavior.
You can overcome.
You can cultivate the grit it takes to brush off struggle and overcome setbacks.
You can learn to build and regularly flex optimism muscles, no matter how negative you’ve been in the past. No matter how attached you have become to struggle just being a part of who you are.
You can learn to embody a more positive and hopeful spirit.
It requires a little bit of work undoing the reflex of taking personal ownership of all the obstacles that have come up in your life.
Train yourself to see challenges with more objectivity, with more space between your emotions and the facts. If you can start to see adversity, like the failed test example, as not being an overall judgment about yourself or about the outcome of every test you will take or comparable situation you will face, that’s progress.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” – Maya Angelou, poet, author, and activist
How to rebuild the grit you had when you were a kid takes a little time. It takes being gentler with yourself. It takes learning to not rush to judgment about yourself – which by the way, starts with practicing having less judgment about others at the same time.
You can coach yourself into having more perseverance, a characteristic common in people with gritty and optimistic outlooks.
Here are a few tips on how to retrain yourself to overcome setbacks in your life
1. Recognize that you are not your setback.
Start by recognizing that hardships do not define you as a person. Allow a bit of emotional space between you and the challenge. Don’t fester on the situation. Take a breather. Use mindset shifting strategies to clear your thoughts and distract you from the intensity of the setback.
“We all have disabilities. Just some are more visible than others. We all have challenges; we all have obstacles. Stand up tall, keep your head up high and show them what you’re made of.” – Amy Purdy, double amputee, author, Paralympics silver medalist
When you circle back to consider how to overcome it, the de-escalated emotion around the situation will help you see with greater clarity. Imagine what you might say to a child or friend who is facing a similar setback. What would you say? How would you help them see that the challenge does not define them, that failing at something or facing hardship isn’t an overall judgment of who they are?
Sometimes when you step back and see the situation as if it were someone else’s, it can help you put it in perspective with less emotion. Without dragging in every other sensitive and tender feeling you have which only serves to amplify the issue.
2. Choose to follow thoughts that feel better.
Even just a tiny bit better.
“With every thought we think, we either summon or block a miracle.” – Marianne Williamson, spiritual leader, and author
Follow the thoughts that quietly reassure you that it will be ok, that you will get through and feel better and do better. Encourage thoughts and actions that are better for you in the long run. Like how you do have it in you to not give up, that you can figure out where things went wrong; not to attach blame to something but to do better the next time or to find better ways to cope.
3. Recognize when you are being unfairly mean and hard on yourself.
Notice it and redirect those thoughts. Don’t allow a failure or disappointment to seep into your self-identity. Your defeat or misfortune has nothing to do with who you are, but more to do with a variety of aspects – some out of your control, and some within your control that you can contemplate and then learn from.
4. Look for the blessings in the mess.
There are always lessons in tough times. Stretch yourself to find a tiny thread of gratitude in the situation. Grab a hold of that thread and tug hard. It will pull you toward feeling lighter and thinking more clearly about how you will rise up.
On the inside, beneath the battle scars of life-lived, you are still the same toddler who could think of no reason why you shouldn’t be able to stand up and walk, even after so many unsuccessful attempts. You are not an eternal pessimist; you are a born optimist. We all are.
You took the bumps and bruises and kept at it and eventually, you overcame the setbacks you faced. And so, you will again. <3
If you can’t seem to feel better or feel something is blocking you from believing you have purpose, or something you can’t quite pinpoint is preventing you from shifting your mindset and clearing your energy – first, grab my free positive affirmations download below and then consider how distance energy healing or my one-on-one private coaching program can help you unblock, heal, and assist you toward the mindset and energy shifts you desire. Connect with me if you have any questions or would like to know more. – Marlene
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