Bouncing back from setbacks

Bouncing back from setbacks

Feeling frustrated things have not worked out as you hoped?

Sometimes, despite our continued efforts, we do not achieve the results we want. Setbacks can occur unexpectedly, and they can catch us by surprise. 

It is understandable to feel frustrated and even disappointed when things do not work out the way we hope.  

At first, it may be difficult to look beyond the mistake or problem. We tend to focus on what went wrong and overlook the wider context. By putting things in perspective, and considering different factors, we can explore options to find ways of solving the problem.

Generally, people view failure as a negative thing and try to avoid it. Some may interpret it as an indication that they are not good enough at what they do. Fear of failure can trigger tension as a result of imagining the worst case scenarios. For example, “what if I don’t get the job?”, “what if lose my job?” or “What if I cannot do it?”.

Whenever we do something new, there is the risk of failing or that things could go wrong. If we take the view that making mistakes is part of the process of creating something new will allow us to tolerate the frustration. 

Instead, our focus is on learning from the mistake, and applying the insights we get to the work we do going forwards. It is thanks to the errors we make that we can adjust our knowledge and behaviour to make progress. Learning happens when we take the time to reflect on our actions and experiences. 

Turning setbacks into opportunities:

Develop your sense of self-efficacy:

Self-efficacy is the belief in our ability to manage difficult situations. It is when we trust that we have the ability to persevere and achieve our goals. By strengthening our confidence in our ability to manage challenges, we can build our capacity to persevere with our efforts (Bandura, 1997).

As we trust ourselves to be able to cope when mistakes happen, we get better at managing our emotions, and we learn to deal with the possible negative consequences. As we acknowledge our feelings, we can understand what is important to us. Giving some space for our emotions is necessary to restore balance. They are like signals letting us know that something we value is at stake (Neff, 2011).

Then, we can be creative to problem-solve more effectively. 

Redefine the meaning of failure:

How we define the word failure can make a difference as to how we interpret and react to events. Often we are more concerned about the possible negative consequences than about the mistake itself. 

Adopt the scientific method:

In this approach, mistakes are viewed as an integral part of learning. Mistakes are not personal. They are related to the work we are creating, so instead, it is best to view them with curiosity to understand what happened. 

By reviewing the steps we took, and by identifying where things went wrong, we can discover new information that we can apply to make adjustments. Through this process of deliberate practice, we can develop our creativity to find solutions and achieve a positive outcome.

 “Failure just means that things are not going the way you expect them to go and you need to remain flexible to get back on track.”   (Mlodinov, 2018)




Bandura, A. (1997) Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H.Freeman & Company.

Mlodinov, L. (2018) Elastic. Flexible thinking in a constantly changing world. London: Allen Lane.

Neff, K. (2011) Self-Compassion. Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York: HarperCollins Publisher.

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