How to Bounce Back from a Setback

bounce back from a setback

It’s easy to stay motivated when everything’s going well. But our plans don’t always go smoothly.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a setback on your way towards a particular goal:

  • An injury that stopped you working out and achieving the level of fitness you wanted
  • An unexpected bill that put a massive hole into your hard-won savings
  • A rejection letter from the job that you really wanted

… it could be almost anything. Whatever the details, the setback was something that made your heart sink. Your plans were abruptly derailed.

Perhaps you feel like giving up. Or perhaps you’re trying to plough on ahead despite the setback – but you only seem to be making things worse. You know you can’t struggle on for much longer.

Here’s how to recover your motivation:

#1: Give Yourself Some Time to Rest

Don’t jump back into the action too fast. After a major disappointment, you need some time to rest – even to grieve. Set your plans aside and don’t worry about your goal for at least a few days.

If you try to muddle on forwards, you might do more harm than good. You could exacerbate an injury by trying to do too much, too soon – or you could cause yourself even more financial problems by taking out a hasty loan.

#2: Take Stock of What You Have Achieved

You haven’t yet reached your goal – but you have achieved something along the way. Once you’ve given yourself a chance to rest, it’s time to reflect.

How have you improved your situation? (Maybe that unexpected bill wiped out half your savings – but if you haven’t managed to save up that money, you’d be in a considerably worse position right now.)

What skills have you developed that you didn’t have before? (You might not have got that job you were going for, but the evening classes you took to boost your resume helped you to gain a new qualification.)

It can be very powerful to write down your achievements, so you can see them in black and white.

#3: Consider an Alternative Path

This is where you have to make a tough decision. After taking stock, you need to decide where you’re going next. Will you continue on the path towards your current goal – or will you do something different?

In some cases, sticking on the same path is the best choice. There’s no point ditching your savings account entirely just because of an unexpected expense.

In other cases, you might want to revise your plans. Perhaps your novel has been rejected by every literary agent out there – you could decide to self-publish instead.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to think about this step (though don’t get stuck dithering forever). You don’t want to rush into the new thing that comes to mind – but equally, you don’t want to stick with a goal that’s clearly unachievable for you.

#4: Find People Who Can Support You

Whatever you decide to do, you’re going to want some support. Other people can really boost your motivation – by encouraging you, advising you, or simply taking an interest in your goal.

Your supporters could be:

  • Friends and family – they may not have any particular advice or expertise to share, but they love you and care about how you’re doing
  • An group of like-minded people – they’ll “get it” and encourage you to keep moving forwards; often, they’ll be at a similar stage on the path to you
  • A mentor or teacher – someone who can give you solid advice and practical assistance as you work towards your goal

Setbacks can be brutal and discouraging. But they can also be a reminder to stop, take stock, renew your commitment and find supporters. You might even find that your setback is a new and exciting opportunity in disguise…

I’d love to hear about your experience of overcoming setbacks. The comments are open!

Photo by yopuz

17 thoughts on “How to Bounce Back from a Setback”

  1. Ali,

    Thanks for sharing these tips. Setbacks can make us feel disempowered and discouraged, but sometimes they are needed to ‘force’ us to open our minds to different options that may turn out to be even better ways to get to our goal. Many times, I’ve had the pleasure of finding out how much more resourceful I actually am when I pick myself up after a setback. I’m learning to see setbacks as the chance to discover something new in me, and that is exciting.

  2. We’re creatures of habit! It’s just like when things get a bit out of control during the day and some unexpected event throws your schedule off.

    Sometimes it’s a pain, but it also creates some excitement. That wrench can lead to some great experiences.

    It’s the same thing with setbacks. They can create some spice and, like you said, force you into a new direction, sometimes to a better place than you were previously going.

  3. Setbacks can be brutal. For me the biggest and hardest steps are #2 and #3.

    2 – Take stock of what your learned. Bitterness is so much easier. But in the midst of setbacks is exactly where I often discover the most powerful lessons.

    3 – alternative paths. Too often it is also easier to just feel like we should just grit our teeth and go right back at it working harder. But the setback could let us discover a better route.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ali,
    I agree with Justin, dealing with the ‘sting’ is the hardest part. Then I try to learn from what happened. Is there anything I’d do differently next time (or under similar situations in the future)? What would I not do? What new resources do I have as a result of the experience, which I could put to good use in the future? etc. Many setbacks are out of our control (some health issues, or changes of government policy which affect us, for example), and we have to make sure we don’t dwell on things we can’t control. We need to be proactive after recovering from the sting!
    Great post!

  5. Great post. As an artist the hardest part was (is) the rejection letters. But I have found that keeping it in perspective is the best remedy. I now try to celebrate the rejections because this means I’m one step closer to the acceptance letter. Also to remember that most things (as with art) are subjective – only one person opinion. Most of time when you receive rejection or a setback think about who is the person rejecting – often you do not want to be in that person’s inner circle. So trust your own judgement and follow your own path.

  6. what i find most difficult is the first point – give yourself time to rest. whenever i fail at something, i’m impatient and want to try again and yet, that actually backfires because i dont have enough energy to do so. so i must force myself to leave it and set it aside for some time, then come back again when i’m ready…

  7. Yes, when you seem to be stuck at a certain level of success, it is helpful looking at what you have achieved. And of course, it is good to review if it wouldn’t be better to take another path.

  8. Setbacks can indeed “be brutal and discouraging”. And sometimes they can result in long term positive growth. In today’s world economy setbacks seem to more prevalent than ever, so these tips are highly needful. Making use of online support groups can be helpful, as well.

    But, one of the important things is to not get caught up in thinking it will never improve. Stay in the moment and keep in touch with rational thinking.

  9. Thank you so much for this post, Ali. I recently was rejected from several jobs I interviewed for. Like many people, my financial and emotional situations were rocked by this. After reading your post I am reminded that it’s okay to catch my breath after a disappointment and that my feelings of loss can become something productive.

  10. I liked tip #3, Ali.

    So often, we set our goals, remind ourselves of Ford and Edison’s commitment to keep pushing forward, and end up sticking to a path that doesn’t truly serve us anymore. Sometimes changing course is the shortest distance between two points.

  11. Whenever something bad happens in my life, usually it turns out to be a blessing in disguise. So I try to remind myself that in a few months time I will look back on this situation and be grateful that it happened.

    Also, with #2 above… I can relate to that. Always look at how far you have come, rather than how far that you have to go.

    Thanks for the post Ali.

  12. The hardest thing for me was to pick myself up and move forward. Now I realize my set back was for a reason to help others not so fortunate as me to succeed. Thanks for this post!

  13. One of the best ways to deal with a setback is to view it as an opportunity. Another way to benefit from it is to share your experience with others. This act of giving helps encourage others and motivate them during their dark times. It is not always easy to talk about one’s personal setbacks. I used my experience and replaced the circumstances with an easier to relate to example to come up with a (hopefully) readable blogpost. I hope your readers will find it of value.

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