How to Overcome Setbacks

In life, setbacks are going to happen. Especially if you are trying to change, trying to do something different, or if you are moving outside of your comfort zone. Just by setting ourselves goals and resolutions, we are doing all of these things and so we must expect setbacks.

Having setbacks can be demoralising, and we are often tempted to retreat back into our comfort zones and go back to living life as we once were.

The Change Cycle

This is all part of the change cycle; we live life in a certain way, knowing there are things that we want to change, but not having the drive to actually change them. Then one day something happens and we decide that we cannot live like this anymore - perhaps something awful happens, or perhaps it is New Years and we are told by society that now is the time to change something - either way, it's time to make a change.

Suddenly we are excited for this change, and we start to move forward, but it's scary and new, and sometimes too much. For most of us, this fear is too big and we retreat into our old ways, and we almost develop a kind of amnesia. We forget how much we had wanted to change and convince ourselves that life wasn't so bad before.

So we go back to living our lives until something, again, happens that pushes us towards change, and so the cycle begins again. Each time the cycle begins, the thing that pushes us towards change is likely to be worse, until the pain of living this way is greater than the fear of change. And the change sticks.

But wouldn't it be easier to skip all of this cycling and just stick with the change now?

So how do we overcome setbacks? There is no way of stopping them, but we can't let them stop us.

1. Expect Setbacks

If we are to step outside of our comfort zones and strive for something great, then we must expect setbacks. It is important to understand the change cycle so that we do not fear change, and so that we do not give up when the prospect of change becomes overwhelming.

We must understand that setbacks are part of life, and no one who did anything great did it without challenge. For example, Stephen King's novel Carrie was rejected 30 times before it was published. Setbacks are a part of life and we can either let them keep us down and fearful or we can rise up and try again.

2. Manage your Self-Talk

When we have a setback, there is a tendency for us to feel defeated and to berate ourselves. We sometimes feel silly for even trying, or we feel embarrassed for having 'failed'. But we must be wary of our self-talk.

We must remember that everybody fails sometimes, and every expert was once a beginner. We need to learn how to learn from our mistakes rather than letting them bring us down.

When you experience a setback, whether its in business or a personal setback, take some time to think about the setback, why it happened, what you could have done differently, and what you have learned from it. As Thomas Edison said "I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

The way that we talk to ourselves is so important. It is the voice that we listen to the most, and so it is important that it is a helpful voice, not a bullying voice. Instead of "I'm not good enough" try; "I still believe in who I am/who I am going to be." Instead of "I'm such a failure" try; "I can start again".

3. Be Wary

Although it is good to talk to others when you are feeling down or feel like you are failing, it is also important to be wary at this time.

Be wary of who you choose to talk to. Talking to someone who says "I never thought you could do it anyway" or "Don't worry, it was a silly goal, it doesn't matter" can be dangerous. Although to some it might feel comforting, it can also niggle away at your self-confidence, making you less likely to step outside of your comfort zone again.

You want to find the people who say "That's so frustrating, maybe try doing it this way instead?" or "That must be really annoying, lets take a fresh look at it". These are the people who believe in you and who will bolster your self-confidence.

Another thing to be wary of, and this will vary depending on who you go to after a setback, is becoming stagnant and staying in your disappointment. It is okay to feel disappointed, it is okay to feel annoyed or embarrassed or frustrated when things don't work out. These are natural reactions.

However, it is important to remember not to stay in this state for too long. Maybe set yourself a vague time limit for this negative emotion to run through you. You don't want to bury it, but you also don't want it to bury you. Give yourself a day, a week, a few hours. However long you think it will take to sort through the disappointment, but then move forward.

4. Mindset

There are two general mindsets that we live in; a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Someone with a fixed mindset is someone who says "I'm not good at X, I just can't do it", whereas someone with a growth mindset would say "I wasn't good at X before, but I can learn how to do it."

A growth mindset is all about understanding that our abilities and our intelligence can be developed. It is about finding the tools that we need to achieve our goals.

If my goal was to run a marathon, but I was a coach potato, I might hire a personal trainer; this personal trainer is essentially a tool that I am using to learn a new skill. If my goal was to graduate from university, I might employ a tutor, I might develop a study schedule, I might study with a friend - these are all ways that I am developing my intelligence and my ability to retain information.

When we come up against a setback or a roadblock, it is important to have the mindset of "Now what?" rather than "oh well." "Now what?" encourages a growth mindset, it encourages thinking and learning from these blocks. "Oh well" encourages us to retreat into our comfort zones and is an embodiment of a fixed mindset.

The good thing is, it is possible to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, and doing so is indicative of a growth mindset as we are admitting to ourselves that we are, in fact, able to change!

5. Go back to basics

Go back to basics. Remember why you were trying to do what you were trying to do. What was your reason?

Were you trying to be healthier? If so, why? Just for the sake of being healthy or so that you had enough energy to run around with the kids, so that you would live to see your grandchildren grow up, so that you could run a marathon or overcome an illness?

Were you trying to save money? Why? What are you saving for? To buy a house? To go on holiday? To have some emergency money? To buy a car? What was your reason?

It is so much easier to commit to your goals and overcome setbacks if you have a strong reason why.

When you face a setback or a road block, go back to the basics. You don't have to physically go back there and undo all of the work that you have done, but you do need to remember why you started. Perhaps there is a different way to get to where you want to go? Can you get someone to help you? Do you need a fresh perspective? Stick to your goals but make your plans flexible.

Final Thoughts

Remember, that if we are working towards a goal, lifestyle change, new year's resolution etc, that a setback doesn't mean that we give up. If you got a flat tyre on your car you wouldn't then take a knife to the other three, would you? In the same way, if we have a bad day or week or month, we wouldn't then sabotage the following day.

No, we would replace our flat tyre and carry on. Perhaps we go down different roads in the future rather than continuing to drive through the same potholes, but we do keep moving! We keep moving, keep learning, keep growing, and eventually we get to where we are going.

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at

#goals #resolutions #setbacks #setback #mindset #failure #positivity #selftalk #disappointment #growthmindset #growth #ambition #comfortzone #support #community #change #changecycle #fear #fixedmindset #counselling #counsellor #therapy #therapist #lifecoach #coach #happiness #balham #london #balhamtherapy #balhamcounselling #therapyrooms

7 Hildreth Street Mews


SW12 9RZ

4 Staple Inn

Chancery Lane


  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black LinkedIn Icon