“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. 

For the world was built to develop character, 

and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves 

which we endure help us in our marching onward.”

 – Henry Ford

We all experience moments when things don’t go as per our plans.  We all have experienced times when we have grappled with lifeline.  We all have faced obstacles, failures in relationship, got rejected professionally and some more.  Life never works in a straight line, it’s more like a rollercoaster.    There are lots of ups and downs, peaks and valleys all the way in order to keep moving forward.  Peaks (achievements) can become our motivation to keep going, while valleys (setbacks) allow us to learn and better ourselves.

Setbacks and failures in life are inevitable, why do we still handle them so poorly?  When we don’t learn to deal with the setbacks properly, we are caught in a negative vicious cycle where we keep harping on what has happened to us rather than moving forward.  We can certainly learn to deal with life’s challenges more effectively if we learn to deal with setbacks in life in a positive way.  For that firstly, let us understand –

What is a SETBACK?

Setback happens when we–

  1. Don’t achieve as per plan
  2. Suffer a loss – emotional, financial or relational
  3. Miss opportunities or deadlines
  4. Get stuck and are directionless
  5. Can’t move forward
  6. Face low motivation and self-confidence level

Types of Setbacks –

We face many types of setbacks in life –

  1. Personal Setbacks –  include injuries, illness, mental health issues e.g. anxiety or depression, relationship challenges, breakups, divorce, loss of life, loss of home and even loss of hope, dreams and motivation.
  2. Professional Setbacks  –  include not getting a due promotion or raise, losing an important project or assignment, working under an impossible boss, or being laid off or fired.
  3. Financial Setbacks – include losing money, loss of job, wrong investments and facing frauds etc.
  4. Environmental Setbacks –   include natural disasters & calamities like a fire or flood or Tsunami etc.  

Generally, one setback leads to another causing a downstream effect, impacting all areas of  life. When facing setbacks, we tend to respond differently projecting us as vulnerable in the first place. 

Our response to SETBACKS –

  1. Casting Blame –  Human psychology is to justify the setbacks by pointing all the situations and circumstances.   We want to reason out that we got in trouble because of  certain reasons and not because of any of our fault.
  1. Expression of Anger –  Expression of anger and anxiety is another natural response as if we have just been unjustly convicted of a crime that we have not committed.
  1. Experiencing Frustration –  We express frustration too because we feel we let ourselves down.  Not being able to rise up to occasion or unfulfilled self or other’s expectation leads to frustration.
  1. Facing Fear – Setbacks bring lot of insecurity and  fear about the future.  Uncertainty about future and not knowing what lies ahead of us scares us.

While all these responses are understandable, they present a huge issue.   These negative feelings or responses does not help in moving forward, they don’t lead us anywhere and can leave us unsure of how to get out of this turmoil.  

Psychologically, there can be different stages of overcoming a setback

  1. Acknowledgement –  It can be extremely detrimental for our growth if we try to deny setbacks.  Pretending that we are not disappointed or frustrated will not help. Facing them head-on will help us to start dealing with them productively and effectively.  
  2. Shifting blames –  Most easy thing for anyone to do is to put the blame on others or on circumstances.  Holding others accountable will stop our learning from the setbacks and will hamper scope of improvements in life.
  3. Healing –  Believe that everything is temporary and this tough phase will be over soon.  Believe that we will be able to pick up the pieces again and will come out of the storm as a winner.
  4. Leaving the comfort zone –  We mustn’t waste time regretting things that can’t be changed anymore.  Rather putting all our energies into working hard and trying out something new out of our comfort zone will help attain success faster.
  5. Focusing on ‘what now?’  –  While we experience disappointment, we must redirect that emotional energy towards progress.  Preparing a list of options, evaluating each one of them basis the need of situation will bring results.
  6. Changing mindset –  Setbacks can prove to be progress in disguise.  Setbacks can help us to stop, introspect, analyse and understand what went wrong in the first place.  We must allow setbacks to be our motivation so that we can review our strategies and cultivate new strategies to come out of the setbacks.

Setbacks – A New Perspective

Setbacks are negative only when we let them be.  Actually, setbacks can –

  1. Help us to prepare better –  Setback means perhaps we did not prepare well.  Time to identify the skills we need to develop or acquire to reach the success we desire.
  2. Help building resiliency –  How we deal with setbacks will impact our future actions. By adopting a growth mindset and treating setbacks as learnings will make us more resilient and committed to our goals.
  3. Help us to take an alternative approach – Setbacks helps us to take a pause and reflect, to think about what we could have done differently.  Fresh approach, new perspective will get us new results.
  4. Help us to get into minute details –  Setbacks are indication that we should be cautious of each step and must not rush into anything without a deeper thought.  Many a times, redefining what success means to us also helps us in taking better decisions.
  5. Help us to stay focussed on important aspects –  While reflecting on setbacks, we must identify activities that we should eliminate or delegate so that we have enough time to spend on what’s more crucial and important to attend.

What to do when we hit a setback –

Setbacks provide us an opportunity to reassess our lives and reflect on our setbacks.  Either the setback can take us down or it can be a stepping stone for future success, this is for us to decide.   However, before getting into action, we need to ask ourselves certain questions –

  1. What is the problem at hand?
  2. How would this problem look after a year or 5 years?
  3. What is the worst thing that can happen now?
  4. How is it going to impact my life?
  5. Is it really that significant a problem or this is just overwhelming right now?

The idea is not to undermine a setback but to consider it from different angles so that we take informed actions.

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Does setback have to be the end of the story?  No, in fact, a setback might be exactly the right push to get where we want to be.  It simply means that it’s time to reset and make a fresh start.  Setbacks motivate us to achieve something greater than what we had originally planned and should not become wasted opportunities.Strategies to deal with SETBACKS

Skipping corners in life is human and by doing it we end up producing lower quality work.  At such times, setbacks allow us to return to our original level of motivation and hard work that lead to success in the first place.   Here are many actionable things that can help us shed the disappointment and propel us forward with enthusiasm so that we emerge victorious on the other side.

  1. Expect Setbacks –  Degree might vary but everyone faces setbacks.  It is part of human life experiences to see things falling out of line and not go as per plan.  While a setback is not very welcome but they happen, so we must expect & accept them in life and career.
  1. Handle Emotions Well – Setbacks are emotional and its often easy to blame everyone and everything.  Fear, Sadness and Anger can be the worst enemy at such times. Fear can hamper progress, Sadness leads to avoiding the situation and Anger leads to rushed decisions.  We must be in control of our emotions and handle them well.
  1. Concentrate on information – Review situation objectively.  Consider if there was an event or decision that lead to setback.  Break down the process and write down what worked and what didn’t. Write down what factors created the setback. Seeing the facts on paper neutrally can help crystallize the facts. 
  2. Regain control – We must overcome the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.  Review situation from a different angle and consider the actions needed to overcome setbacks.  We might not be in control of all the situation but we certainly can control our reaction to the situations.  We must try accomplishing our goals by working hard over a dedicated period, through a step-by-step approach to goals. 
  1. Don’t fear the failure –  Do not create doubts and open doors to failures.  Taking stock of what we can do to get closer to the objective helps.  There cannot be any substitute for mindset, discipline and hard work.  Make peace with setbacks so that we can reach our potential.   Realise what the situation is, accept it and move on.  
  1. Allow Yourself Time –  Process what happened and allow time for this process.  Let the mind absorb why setback happened.  Come to terms with setback and figure out how to process & move forward from there.  
  1. Don’t Panic –  Give time to adjust to the situation in hand.  Getting panicky is not going to help the situation at all.  In fact, in panic we might end up doing something that we will regret later.  Thus, be in control of the situation but before that in control of our own emotions.
  1. Stop Replaying –  Reliving the past and why the setback happened will hold us back as we will fear that the same thing will happen again.  Keeping ourselves in the present is the key in order to plan for the future effectively.  Focus on where we are at present will stop us from slipping in the past and help gain control of the situation.
  1. Be Vulnerable –  Vulnerability is seen as weakness but actually is the strength.  “Rather than sitting on the side lines, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.  This is vulnerability.” – Bren Brown.   Instead of being on the fence, we must let ourselves be vulnerable by choosing to re-engage and get back into action with renewed energies and revised strategies.
  1. Move Beyond the Negativity –  Feeling negative while facing setback is completely “normal.”   However, for success, moving beyond this type of negativity is absolutely critical.   Acknowledging negative thoughts is actually the first step to this process.  Putting back all the new skills, experiences, learning that we have from each new situation propels us towards achieving the object.  Carrying a positive attitude, mindset and reframing challenges strives us to do better.   
  1. Focus on what you can control – Rather than having an unorganised approach, focus on something we can control, do or fix.  Break down tasks into manageable chunks and then complete them one by one in an organised fashion.  How do we perceive the challenges involved and what do we do about them is the key.  Gaining absolute control on the situation will see us on the other side of setback faster.  
  2. Pause and Reflect –  Step back and garner perspective, pause and reflect on what is wanted from life.  Setbacks can create self-doubt. We must manage our internal thoughts so that we don’t stray away from our goal and remain focused on the future.  After all, a setback is a setup for a comeback.
  1. Get Clarity  –  Setbacks are opportunities to identify what we want to keep or eliminate from the next stages of our life.  Setbacks are our chances to evaluate and identify our priorities.  Setbacks help us identify and define what we expect from life.  Setbacks can actually be the fuel we need to get back to life and become stronger.  
  1. Learn the Lesson –  Learn from the situation, identify what can be done differently next time.  When faced with setbacks, we have two options – (1). Give in to the fear and insecurities and stop progressing (2).  Embrace setbacks and learn from them.  Setbacks suggest that there was something that needs adjusting in the journey. View them as lessons, and that will motivate you to keep going.

Be Grateful –  Power of gratitude has the ability to transform lives, it puts us in a better spot mentally, spiritually and emotionally.  Time to appreciate what we have versus focusing on what we do not have pays well.  Setbacks provide us the opportunity to learn and grow and see things from a different perspective to thrive further.

Let’s face it. Life is full of setbacks, failures, obstacles, and challenges. Setbacks are not in the way of life but are a critical part of our life. Setbacks redirect us to our real path rather than throwing us off the path. Setback doesn’t have to be the end instead, they are an opportunity to re-evaluate and see if there’s a more efficient approach.  We must use setbacks as motivation and inspiration.  Our further success will depend on how we deal with setbacks.  If we use the feedback that setbacks provide effectively, success is bound to happen.  The key is to change your approach, re-strategize and continue taking action until we reach the desired results.

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We must remember – Setbacks advance us and not define us.  Treat them as  opportunities in disguise to improvise.  Our comebacks should be stronger than our setbacks.

We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, 

or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.” 

– Pema Chodron

                               Author – Dr. Neeta Pant 

Senior HR Professional, Clinical Psychologist, 

Executive Life Coach, Soft Skills Trainer, POSH & POCSO Trainer, Graphologist, Hypnotherapist