4 Steps to Mastering Setbacks

Hand Over Top Rock

“More than education, more than experience, resilience determines who succeeds and who fails.”  – Harvard Business Review

In times of unprecedented change, setbacks are inevitable, and how we respond to them will ultimately determine our peace of mind, and success.

There are practical activities we can do each day to immunize ourselves from the emotional toll of a crisis, such as knowing our purpose, boosting our mood, and developing our top 5 strengths. Doing these things can help prepare us for the trials and tribulations of life, but what do we do when a crisis hits?

I recommend 4 things:

Accept reality

The first step is accepting what has happened. If possible, don’t react straight away, but take a moment to step back for a clearer perspective. It can help to write down and describe our setback, as this can slow down the worry loop. Engage in optimistic and pessimistic thinking about the implications of the setback. What is the best and worst case scenario?

Find meaning

Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived Nazi concentration camps, found that the 1 in 28 prisoners that didn’t perish somehow found a way to tap into meaning. For some it was imagining meeting their loved ones again, for another it was imagining playing their beloved piano, for Frankl it was imagining delivering a lecture where he shared the lessons of survival from the holocaust. Helping people discover meaning from crisis became his lifelong work. He famously showed that people can also find meaning from hopeless situations such as being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

When considering your own crisis ask yourself what is really important? Can you tap into your life’s purpose? Can you tap into the love of your family? Can you tap into your spirituality?

You get out of a black hole faster when you move outside yourself. At work it can come by deciding to be of greater service. In life it can come by deciding to be more loving.

Get resourceful

Some people get so stuck in victim mode, that they don’t see any possible way out of the black hole. When you are highly distressed, the reptile brain (amygdala) cuts in, and promotes black and white thinking which is not helpful when seeking solutions. If possible, get outside and go for a walk and get a good night’s sleep to refresh your mind. Then follow this approach:

  1. Write down the problem – properly describing a problem is halfway to solving it;
  2. Brainstorm options – try to write down at least 5 possible courses of action;
  3. Consider the pros and cons of each option (which one allows me to use my strengths best);
  4. Ask a trusted person for their ideas and input;
  5. Decide on a course of action.
Take action

When we are distressed we tend to have an overactive mind and an underactive body. Relief starts once a decision has been taken regarding the next step. Taking action moves us from a victim to victor mindset. In times of instability, the best results come from hoping for the best but planning for the worst, so having a plan B is also essential. Focus on what you can control.

True transformation comes when we discover, that setbacks, lessons, and gifts, are all the same thing. You can change your setback into an opportunity, when you discover the silver lining in the bad times. Decide to cope well with setbacks.

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