Almost everyone at some point in their life has set a huge goal for their self, and most everyone has had numerous failed attempts at reaching that goal. These are what we call setbacks. They are small, or even sometimes large, slip ups that tend to derail us from our progress towards these goals and feel like failures. For example, you have been on a diet for a month and lost a quality amount of weight, but then have a binge at your favorite fast food restaurant and a dessert of a pack of Oreos and feel that all of that progress has been erased. Those setbacks do not have to be taken so negatively though. They are not failures, but rather practiced attempts towards a goal that build to success. Each setback or mistake leads to a learning experience that can be used to move forward. These perceived failures also teach valuable lessens that lead to an increased chance of success, achievement, and long term maintenance of the goal. So how do you keep setbacks from triggering those self-defeating thoughts and feelings and maintain forward success?
First of all, learn to expect setbacks and give yourself credit for the progress you have made. There is no such thing a perfect straight forward path to success. Trial and error is a critical part of any endeavor towards a goal, whether its personal or occupational. It takes work and adjustment and failures all to get where you are going. No human being is perfect and therefore no path to success will be perfect either. Through this process you learn what is working for you and what is not and learning to accept your level of readiness and ability will allow you to perform at your best and take some of the pressure off of yourself that may actually lead to setbacks.
Adding onto that, the level of stress you experience or place on yourself can actually lead to an increase in setbacks. While you do need a certain level of stress or pressure to motivate and make changes, too much can lead to setbacks, especially if the goal is removing one of your previously used coping skills. Going back to the example of going on a diet, if you fully restrict yourself from the foods that have provided you comfort and pleasure, you are more likely to give in and binge in a moment of heightened stress. If you allow yourself small indulgences, you will feel less need to binge, working towards success rather than a large setback that can derail your emotional success.
Allowing yourself those small little breaks rather than considering them setbacks allows you to practice until you achieve the goal you are working for. Practicing skills or experimenting with different methods of working towards your goal minimizes setbacks and reframes your emotional perception of setbacks. If you are practicing and trying different techniques until you find one that succeeds, you are actually never having setbacks, you are simply finding something that works for you and personalizing your plan. Success and achievement has more to do with mindset than forward progress anyway. If you are able to conceptualize and reframe forward movements and possible setbacks, they have less power to derail progress and stopping you from moving forward. Taking a trial and error perspective will almost always be more successful than jumping in headfirst and storming towards the goal.
Another key to keeping setbacks from stopping you is to be able to identify the warning signs that you are becoming overwhelmed. These can happen with any goal you are working towards. You may start to feel more tired despite getting a full nights sleep, get headaches, find yourself being more negative in attitude, experiencing mood changes, or even using unhealthy coping skills. When you notice these, participating in appropriate self-care verses unhealthy behaviors that lead to setbacks can help reduce the likelihood of them occurring and increase success. Remember that it is emotions and negative thoughts that tend to lead to setbacks, so caring for yourself and keeping your mental health healthy will help reduce the likelihood of setbacks.
Finally, remember that you are only human. You will make mistakes, you will slip up, and you will experience setbacks; but they absolutely do NOT have to stop you. Recommit as quickly as possible. Starting back on the right path immediately rather than letting one setback lead to a downward spiral is key. Meaning one cheat day on a diet does not have to be a cheat week and one day will have much more minimal negative effects on your success than one week. Also, don’t forget to ask for help when you need it. Support is a vital part of success. Being that we are all human, we often don’t have the strength to succeed on our own. We are social creatures and that support can be the biggest difference between a setback stopping you in your tracks and just being a hiccup. We all need a cheerleader sometimes. If we can’t remind ourselves of the little successes, having a support person that can will lead to continued progress and stop those setbacks from stopping you.