We’ve all heard that there are only two things we can count on for certain: death and taxes. But anyone who has ever lost a job, suffered from a personal challenge, or kept an eye on the stock market of late can tell you, there’s a third certainty that can be added to that list: setbacks.
Setbacks, quite frankly, happen – and they happen to everyone.
Some setbacks are temporary, relatively minor, and handled quickly (a flat tire on the way to work). Others are major (a poor performance review, being laid off or fired, a business failure, foreclosure on my home, or serious illness). Such setbacks knock us off balance, diminish our happiness and well-being, and often weaken our confidence in ourselves.
The question is how we recover. Although not easy, people can recover from setbacks, and not only as a function of the passage of time. Those who do so grow in confidence and the knowledge that they can influence life and control their own destinies. Those who do not recover, gradually lose confidence in themselves as they give up control of their lives to external influences.
The key to recovering from setbacks is managing our emotions and then moving forward by making positive choices. The following five steps will help you do this.
- Face it | Step towards rather than away from it. Look it squarely in the face and see it as it is. Tell the truth about it rather than distracting yourself from it.
- Feel it | Setbacks can be painful and often require that we go through a process of grieving. To grieve means to be honest about our inner experience and be willing to explore and feel it. It is painful to accept the loss of a job, physical limitations, the death of a loved one, etc. But as we give ourselves permission to feel our hurt, disappointment, fear, shame, anger, etc., our negative feelings begin to dissipate and lose their intensity. We can do this by writing in a journal, talking with a safe person, praying, etc.
- Reframe it | This means to view the setback in a different way. For most of us this is difficult because we are convinced that our point of view is “right.” However, the truth is that you can be right about your point of view or you can change it in such a way as to shift how you feel about it. Take some time and write a number of alternative ways of thinking about your reality. Keep writing and exploring different options until you come up with some that you can honestly believe and feel good about. Then notice how your feelings change.
- Accept it | Acceptance is allowing reality to be what it is. We accept it by saying something like: “It is okay” or “I allow this to be part of my life.” This does not mean we like it. And it may not mean we feel it at the moment. But such a conscious declaration of intent works inside of us to accept and stop struggling against the reality. Acceptance is a healthy respect for what is and recognition that at any given moment reality is “bigger” than our ego, will, or power to control. We can either make a decision to allow it or be swallowed up by it.
- Act on it | Many realities exist outside our ability to control or influence. Some, however, can be altered if we are willing to confront and change them. Either way, there are always actions we can take that will allow us to reclaim our power and authority and direct our energies in ways that make a difference. Although all of our actions won’t always result in a complete remedy of some of the realities of our lives, they will at least result in an internal sense of personal integrity and confidence.
It takes honesty, courage, responsibility, and persistence to step up to our setbacks. It requires a willingness to let go of the payoffs we get out of blame and wallowing. But it’s worth it as we recapture confidence in our ability to handle whatever life throws at us. As we realize that what’s inside us is bigger than what’s outside.