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Accepting and Responding to Setbacks

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We simply cannot control everything that happens in our lives. Inevitably, things happen that are outside of our control. We call them setbacks, because they set us back in our plans of action in work and in life. And guess what? Everyone has experienced a setback before. So you are not alone!

How do you feel when you face a setback? Most of us get depressed and experience low-energy. This is because we are conditioned to view a setback as something negative, or a failure.

However, if you change your mindset, you can change your reaction to a setback. Indeed, you could view a setback as forward progress in camouflage. You don’t have to see it as a negative thing. It all depends on how you look at it!

The first step is to accept your failures and the situations in which they occur. In other words, own the setback or failure. Then try to gain an accurate understanding of why things went wrong. And when you understand what happened, then strategize, plan, action, and learn from the failure.

Responding to setbacks

So how should you respond to a setback?

  • Acknowledge the pain and turn toward the problem. If you’re disappointed, acknowledge that disappointment. Don’t try to ignore the feelings. But then focus on the problem in order to unearth why the setback occurred.
  • View the setback as an opportunity for change. What do you need to improve in order to prevent similar setbacks occurring in the future? Commit to improving. Pick one small, distinct change and make a change. Make that change today!
  • View the setback also as an opportunity to learn. After all, if you are not making mistakes, perhaps you are not trying hard enough.
  • Don't believe the negative self-talk. It’s easy to fall into a negative spiral when things don’t work out. Try to take a step back and reason with yourself. Acknowledge the emotions, of course, but analyze the situation logically.
  • Gather facts so that you can develop an accurate overview of what’s happening.
  • Consider the narrow and wider elements of the situation. Put the setback in its proper context.
  • Consider the impact of the setback on you personally, and on the organization. What are the consequences? Bear in mind costs, such as time, resources, and money.

Building support

Remember, you don’t have to deal with setbacks on your own. Gather a supportive team around you. Listen to their advice. Consider your life and work environment when you experience a setback. Does it support you or is it perhaps sabotaging your efforts to recover from the setback?

Ever notice how some people seem to bounce back from failure better than others do? Well, bouncing back from failure actually starts before the failure occurs! Again, it’s all about mindset. You need to develop a dogged, tenacious outlook. Say to yourself, “Yes, I will fail sometimes. However, I will also always pick myself up, learn from that failure, and go again!”

Bouncing back in action

To help you respond to failure and bounce back from it, consider the saying, "Feel afraid, yet choose to act." Have you ever been in this situation? Ever done something that initially made you feel afraid? Let’s dig into that a bit.

What did you observe, think, and feel at the time? Suppose you decided to go on a rollercoaster. You might have initially felt butterflies in your stomach as soon as you saw the rollercoaster.

What did you or the people around you say, think, and do to help you face your fear? You might have said to yourself, “Hey, if children can go on it, so can I!”

Remember how you felt when you took action. At what point did your fear start to go down? How did you feel afterwards?

Now think back to a situation in your childhood when you faced your fear. Was it the same or different than the first adult situation you described?

Finally, think of a workplace situation you are currently facing that creates fear or anxiety as a result of a setback. What are you most afraid of? For example, you might be afraid that you won’t be able to answer a specific question in a meeting.

Now consider, is there a way to apply the same skills you used in the two earlier situations to be more courageous in this situation? If you survived the rollercoaster, what do you need to do to survive the meeting? Remind yourself that you have the necessary skills and have used them successfully in the past. Ask yourself, what mental or environmental barriers stand in the way of using these skills? How can you cope with or get rid of these barriers?

Repeat this exercise over the course of a week, using each example of courage we just looked at. On the seventh day, come up with your own bespoke definition of courage, one that is most meaningful to you. Now repeat the whole exercise, with this definition. This then becomes your own pathway to finding your courage to bounce back from a setback.

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Kevin J Reid

CEO of Personal Skills Training, Senior Coach at Kevin J Reid Coaching, Co-founder and Communications Director of The Counsel.ie, and Lead Collaborator of LeitrimMade.com

  • A consummate and skillful international communications trainer, facilitator, and coach
  • Has over 15 years of learning development experience with individuals, teams, and entire organizations
  • Has facilitated communications workshops and training across numerous sectors in Ireland, the UK, Europe, America, and Africa

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

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Personal Skills
Kevin J Reid
Skills Expert

When it comes to improving your personal skills in the workplace, four essential skills stand out: the ability to be more productive at work; the ability to adapt to a changing work environment; the ability to manage your time effectively; and the ability to deal with setbacks. This module focuses on enhancing your skills in these four critical areas.

When it comes to productivity, you will learn about the difference between being busy and being productive, and techniques you can use to increase your output and to deal with unwelcome distractions and interruptions.

The lesson on adaptability focuses on how to cultivate an adaptable mind-set at work, and how to find alternative – and innovative – solutions to problems by using tactics like brainstorming and mind-mapping.

The time-management lesson explains how to prioritize tasks and set goals, how to save and create time, and how to eliminate personal time stealers such as excessively viewing email or attending too many meetings.

The module concludes with a lesson on how to respond to setbacks in the workplace. You will discover the importance of demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity, and how to turn setbacks into valuable learning opportunities.