How to recover from setbacks quickly

How to recover from setbacks quickly

Setbacks are a normal part of life.

How we handle them matters. 

Learning to deal with difficult things well, can make all the difference in the world. 

So how can we do that?

There will always be setbacks

One aspect of the work that I do (and love), is around helping people have #moregoodweeks.

But let's be honest here - all of us find ourselves having to deal with difficult things from time to time. There are some seasons of life, where we may find ourselves dealing with setbacks on a weekly, if not daily basis.

Whoever we are - and however we spend our days, there will often be challenges along the way.

We can't escape from the discomfort and pain of opposition, frustration, failure, and disappointment. Even minor setbacks, can leave us feeling raw and vulnerable. Even when we're fairly healthy in body, mind and spirit.

We may be able to see some of these things coming - and plan for them. But you simply can't foresee (or plan for) everything.

Some things catch us off-guard. 

And as Muhammad Ali famously said:

"Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth."

No-one enjoys getting punched in the mouth - either literally, or metaphorically.

It's painful, disorientating, and can impair your ability to think clearly, about what to do next. Knowing what to do, to help ourselves recover in a timely way, matters.

Developing Resilience

Resilience is about 'bounce-back-ability' - the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and recover from setbacks quickly.

One way we can build better resilience in ourselves and those around us, is by giving those of us who need it, time to think in a useful way, about where we are now - and what we might do next. 

Time to think doesn't just help us handle our current circumstances better.

It also helps develop our thinking skills - so we can think more objectively and creatively, in the future. It develops our resilience 'muscle' - so that we are better equipped to handle future challenges effectively.

Time to think is only part of the picture. There are a number of things that can help us recover from setbacks in a healthy and timely way.

When you feel like you've been 'punched in the mouth' - here are some strategies, to help you recover sooner, rather than later.

Prioritise self care and self control

Setbacks can significantly increase personal and professional risks, in our life and work.

Slow down: so you can respond, rather than react

It's often best to avoid reacting quickly to setbacks - and give yourself time to process - and work out how to respond, rather than react.

This is especially true for those of us who are often busy - and usually live and work at speed.

It's easy to make bad decisions quickly, in the immediate aftermath of a setback. And whilst some of the consequences of these decisions are fairly easily 'recoverable' - other things are harder to fix.

Stop: take a break (and maybe take a nap...) 

The acronym HALT is widely used in the area of addiction recovery - but is applicable in a much wider sense. Many of us have tendencies towards unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviour, when we are under stress. When we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (HALT) we are at greater risk of doing, thinking or saying things that we might regret later. 

Know your personal temptations

All of us have our own particular temptations under pressure.

It's good to be aware of these, so we can take steps to guard against them taking hold of us - so that a temporary setback doesn't end up becoming a more significant problem. For most of us, this will not be substance abuse - but it might be things like:

  • shooting your mouth off (in person, by email, or on social media)

  • seeking comfort through eating and drinking to excess

  • engaging in inappropriate emotionally or sexually intimate behaviour

  • spending money you don't have, on things you don't need - and can't afford

  • watching something on screen, that goes against your better judgement.

For you it might be something different - just know your own weaknesses here!

When you've experienced a setback - check in with yourself - and ask yourself if you are Hungry (physically or emotionally), Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

If you are - practise some self care - and take steps to get your basic human needs met appropriately, quickly. (and Yes. I know 'Anger' is not a basic human need!)

Taking steps to feed your body the good stuff, get some rest and sleep - and be with those who do you good, can help get you on the road to recovery quickly, stop things deteriorating further, and prevent you from doing things you might regret later.

Connect with others

Setbacks can prompt us to withdraw from others - and isolate ourselves from those whose care, support and counsel we need the most - especially if we are experiencing guilt or shame around the setback we've experienced.

Significant challenge, failure or disappointment can prompt us to run away - and nurse our wounds. Whilst that's totally understandable - and it can be good to take some time alone, seeking out the company of God and others early, can help us recover from setbacks more quickly - so we can start moving forwards.

In the company of God, others and yourself, you can: 

Get some additional perspective on your current situation
On your own, it can sometimes be really hard to see things objectively. Others can help you notice what you need to notice - and see things more clearly. It's always good to remember how far you have already come. It's also useful to discern, together with others, what is within your control - and what isn't.

It's good to give ourselves permission to mourn failures, disappointments and setbacks - and name them for what they are, rather than pretending they don't matter. If we refuse to allow ourselves the opportunity to process and grieve, this can cause problems later. 

There is always stuff we can learn from setbacks - that can help us build our knowledge, skills and competence. It's good to stay teachable. This includes being willing to learn from ourselves and our own experience - as well as from the wisdom and experience of others.

It's easy to start judging ourselves and others and getting caught up in the blame game. It may important to process what's happened, so that any lessons can be learned - and things put right where possible. but it's important we're able to forgive ourselves and others, let go and move on - so that we're able to move forwards.

If we are willing, we can allow our setbacks to form and develop our character and maturity. Our setbacks can be the making of us - rather than the breaking of us. On a personal level, I'm pretty sure I've learnt and grown more as a result of the hard times I've experienced, than I have from the successes.

Get inspired again
Experiencing a setback can be depleting and draining. It's easy to lose your spark - and your sense of purpose and motivation. Taking time to read, watch, and listen to things that engage your mind, soul and spirit and fill your tank, might be just what you need to re-inspire you for the road ahead.

Do things that are life-giving
When things go wrong, it's easy to hyper focus on the area where you've experienced a setback, to the exclusion of other things. Take time to move your body and get some exercise. Find things and people that will help you relax and laugh. Be creative with your head, heart and hands. Serve others.

Give yourself time to regroup - but stay positive
It's important to mourn. But it's easy to end up feeling very sorry for ourselves, when difficult things happen. It's also too easy, to get stuck in our own personal pity party - whether we choose to party alone - or insist others join in. If we allow ourselves to be trapped by negativity, it can prevent us from thinking and acting positively, so we can move forwards.

Create a simple but strategic action plan
As you're able, it can be useful to create an action plan that you can start putting into practise as soon as you're able. If your confidence has taken a knock - get some supportive accountability around you, to encourage you to start taking action - and follow through.


If you need some time and space to think after a personal or professional setback, some coaching might be useful.

Coaching isn't counselling or therapy.

It's not designed to dig down into the problems, or focus on the detail of what has happened.

Coaching is about taking time to think, in the company of someone else, in a way that is useful to you.

If you're ready to focus on moving forwards, some time to think can help you process - work out where you are now - and what you might do next.

When you're not recovering...

Often, we're able to recover from everyday personal and professional setbacks and challenges with the support and encouragement of those around us.

But sometimes we're not.

If you sense you're struggling to recover, talk to those around you - and seek some professional help and advice.

So here's what I'm learning in my own life and work...

Doing this stuff works.

Over the last week, I've bumped into some minor practical and personal challenges in my own life and work. None of them are major - but all of them require some intentional thought, to help me work out how to respond well.

Whilst individually, they are not particularly significant, because they all happened around the same time (isn't that so often the case?!) they managed to knocked me off track a bit. 

I'm human. And sometimes, this is what happens. 

For a couple of days, I found it difficult to focus clearly, so I could make the progress I want to make, on some of the things that matter to me.

But whilst getting knocked off track for a couple of days is no big deal - I also know from personal experience that if I don't stop, reflect and take action quickly - a couple of days, can turn into a couple of weeks - or a couple of months.

Back in April, I scheduled an online catch up conversation yesterday, with someone in my network. I got to have a conversation someone who 'gets it' - and has some specific skills which enable people to think things through. It came at just the right time. They listened, asked some good (and challenging) questions - and in an open handed way, shared some things they noticed. Together, these things enabled me to think in a really constructive way, about where I am now - and got me thinking about what I'm going to do next. 

It's amazing how a one-off, timely conversation can help you get back on track - and moving forwards again.

Taking time to think, in the company of someone else, has given me a chance to recover my focus quickly - and get on with some of my favourite things this week.

There will always be challenges in our life and work - and sometimes we will experience setbacks. 

But this week is already shaping up to be a good one.


© 2018 Sarah Phillips, Away Coaching
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