Say you've been putting in extra hours for the past two years trying to meet a career benchmark--then, suddenly, a personal emergency puts a halt to your plans (and a significant dent in your confidence). It's easy to fall into a spiral of despair when you've made significant strides toward pursuing a dream only to watch it fall apart.
Setbacks can make you feel disillusioned, scared, and like you're being left behind somehow. Starting from zero seems like a colossal effort--should you just give up on your goals altogether? Change course?
Sure, wallowing in your disappointment is the more comforting option (hello Netflix, my old friend) but it will only keep you stuck. Instead, give yourself a moment to breathe and then take actionable steps to get back on track.
1. Keep moving.
Remaining active during a setback will keep your mental health in check. Research has found that staying on your feet keeps the stress of disappointment at bay and is a simple way for boosting well-being.
Get out of your chair and take a brisk walk. But don't just use this time for going over your endless to-do list; be mindful of your breathing and surroundings.
As writer Ashley Abramson wrote for Medium, the best way to let go of stress is by "calming up" or burning it off. In other words, going for a quick swim can help you discharge pent-up frustration.
2. Reframe the setback.
The way you label any obstacle informs how you respond to it. In her TED Talk, social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood emphasizes how our minds often get stuck in the negatives. "You have to work to see the upside."
One way to do this, she explains, is by being aware of how the negative tends to stick (e.g. you're more prone to thinking about your disappointments than accomplishments).
By acknowledging this tendency, you can then practice reframing setbacks in a more positive light, she explains. So rather than labeling adversity as failure, try to think of it as a temporary period of transition.
3. Reassess your goals.
While hitting a plateau presents real challenges, it's also the perfect time to question whether a goal still fits into your long-term vision.
Be open to changing direction. Is that benchmark you've been trying to meet worth the struggle? Or are there other more pressing goals you'd like to focus your attention and resources on? Evaluating the cost-benefits can help you strategize.
Remember: You aren't static, you can always change and pick a new goal.
4. Count your contributions.
Self-confidence takes the biggest hit after a setback, but there's a way of lessening its impact. In his book Option B, renowned psychologist Adam Grant makes a case for counting one's contributions instead of blessings.
In doing so, you're reminded that what you do makes a difference.
Rather than ruminating over lost achievements, refocus on self-compassion. This involves confronting any adversity you face without judgment and recognizing that no one is infallible.
As psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen argues in his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, overcoming adversity isn't a linear path: There are going to be a lot of ups and downs. So the best thing you can do is treat yourself with kindness.
5. Indulge your creativity.
Think outside the box and try something new. People often idealize certain "dreams" as a way of compensating for a lackluster routine. If you find yourself doing the same old thing day in and day out, mix things up.
Sign up for that photography class you've always put off, or take a small road trip and unleash your sense of wonder. The point is to keep your passion and momentum going while indulging in activities that make you happy.
6. Turn frustration into growth.
Stay highly engaged. The biggest key to success is the amount of grit and continual care you put into all aspects of your life, whether that be your career, health, or relationships.
In other words, don't check out. Instead, draw new energy and inspiration from challenges thrown at you.
Mastering how you respond to a setback can be the difference between remaining stuck in the day-to-day grind or thriving.