How to Deal with Setbacks

Setbacks are an inevitable part of life. Relationships end. Illness can strike out of nowhere. People get made redundant or otherwise lose their jobs. Floods, tornadoes, drought or fire can destroy homes and businesses. The car breaks down on the day that rent is due. Whether a setback is big or small, how we deal with it can help us move on productively or leave us mired in negative emotions.

I know from personal experience that what seems like a setback such as being made redundant can feel traumatic. However, by stepping back, thinking about what I want to do in terms of my career; where my priorities are and what I want to do going forward I have been able to turn that setback into a real positive. So rather than simply focus on securing a new role as a Learning and Development Manager I have been able to think more broadly.

Ideally, we would always respond to setbacks with self-acceptance and self-compassion. Self-acceptance means to accept — not necessarily love or like, but at least accept — the negative aspects of ourselves. Self-acceptance helps calm our fear of failure, makes us less dependent on others’ approval, and helps to quieten the voice of self-criticism.

Self-compassion is treating oneself with understanding, gentleness, and compassion. Imagine how you would soothe a beloved child suffering from the same setback. Self-compassion is the act of turning that same kindness toward yourself. Unfortunately, the journey toward self-acceptance and self-compassion can be a long one, and setbacks can, well, set us back.

So from my own experience and additional research I want to share some ideas on how we can deal with setbacks and come out much stronger and more focused.

Dealing with Setbacks

Here are some tips for effectively dealing with setbacks, rooted in the ultimate goal of self-acceptance.
Allow yourself to feel, and express your feelings. It’s natural and normal to mourn lost opportunities or regret mistakes. When bad things happen, all kinds of emotions can surface, such as anger, guilt, sadness, and fear.

Unfortunately, most of us will do almost anything to hide from the experience of our emotions. However, it’s only when we allow ourselves to experience our emotions that we can process them and move on from negative experiences.

To put the process into context, imagine this: You are stuck on an island, and the only way home is to swim a short distance to shore. The ocean is your emotions, and you have only three choices: sit on the island forever; drown in the waves; or get wet, swim for shore, and get your feet back on the mainland. Which do you choose?

Learn your lessons. Once you have experienced your emotions and the rawness begins to recede, it’s time to learn from what happened. Look at the situation honestly, objectively, but with kindness and compassion toward yourself. If you made a mistake, don’t hide from it. Take responsibility and make amends where you can. Learn the lessons of your mistake and plan how to better handle this type of situation the next time. Even if something bad happened through no fault of your own, what can you learn?

Move forward. After you have experienced your emotions and learned your lessons, it’s time to let the setback recede into the past. It happened; it is a part of your experience, but it does not define you or limit where you can go in the future. What comes next is your choice. Take ownership of your life and move forward, on your own terms.

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