How to Turn Setbacks Into Success

We all experience setbacks, and it would be nice if we didn’t. However, given that they are part of life, for me as a coach the question when I’m working with people is, ‘how can we turn setbacks into success?’ Over the years it’s become clear to me that a number of things can make all the difference. So here’s what will make that difference?

1. Turn the Setback into Feedback

Firstly, it is important to realise that a setback is just feedback. One of the most obvious kinds of setback is when something changes and you know you’ve got to do something different. But it’s worth being clear about the kind of feedback such a setback is offering.

Sometimes the feedback is coming from outside – the world has changed and you need to change too. An example, would be when you learn that a company is downsizing. You haven’t done anything differently but the world is different and that is having an impact on you. Other times, the feedback is the result of something that you have done which has produced a change – you have an affair and your partner decides to leave. However people don’t have to have done anything different to create setbacks. They may have just done the same thing as usual, and they’ve done that so many times, that now there is a change that was unanticipated. For instance they’ve smoked the same number of cigarettes every day and eventually they find they have some kind of serious illness – that’s feedback too.

If you regard any setback as just feedback, it can begin to tell you what you need to do next. When you learn that your behaviour has had one effect and you know that is not what you were seeking to achieve, it tells you that your behaviour needs to change. So you can begin thinking, ‘how might my behaviour best change?’ However, you can only do that if you see the setback not as overwhelming or proof of your failure, but just as feedback.

Feedback is not the same as failure and if you make that distinction you already start to change your internal state, that is to say the way you are inside. And the way you are inside has an enormous impact on how you will handle any setback.

2. Control Your State

The second thing that is going to make a huge difference is your emotional and physical state.

How you respond to a setback is not just determined by the size of the setback, sometimes we’rejust more vulnerable, then little things can trigger big responses.

So how to manage your emotional and physical state?

The first thing to do is to allow yourself to have your responses rather than ignoring them or distracting yourself with large amounts of alcohol, TV or some other activity that pulls you away from what’s really going on. So acknowledging what’s going on is step one.

Step two is recognising that you may need to take care of yourself, to recognise that any shock or disappointment is naturally going to have an impact. Feeling crushed or overwhelmed will have an impact on you not just emotionally but also physically, so you may feel tired or low in energy or a bit wobbly. All of these are things you can begin to address, perhaps you address the fatigue by giving yourself more time to rest. As for the wobbliness, well what helps you feel strong? What helps you feel grounded?

The answer varies from one person to another. I know one of my clients found that when she worked out she didn’t feel so emotionally frail because even though she was taxing her body, she was reminded of how she had a lot of strength physically. Also she changed her brain chemistry, producing an endorphin release, which meant she experienced a sense of well being in the hours throughout the rest of the day having exercised. That was her remedy. She changed her state and she knew that she was going to be doing that by the activities she engaged in. Your way might be quite different.

The trick is to keep a balance between staying in touch with what’s going on for you internally while taking steps to improve your overall state. Often this is where one-to-one NLP coaching can be really valuable. Many NLP techniques now exist which will help you both get at what is going on inside you then manage and change your physical and emotional state so that you can move forward.

So managing your emotional and physical state is really important and you can’t do that if you don’t first of all know what is going on inside you. That’s not all however because you also need to recognise that this is a process that goes on through time. Setbacks are not just for a moment and then everything’s fine again. Setbacks may last for some time and during what is a difficult transition period the question is, what will best help you. That brings us to a third crucial strategy.

3. Aim to be resourceful, not comfortable

Aim to be resourceful, don’t get stuck in trying to be comfortable. Most people seek a level of comfort and experience some unease when they are outside of that comfort zone. That comfort zone may involve living a certain lifestyle, being with a particular partner, having a particular job, or having a certain routine. The world in some way is rendered familiar and made safe.

The point about setbacks is suddenly the world is not as we anticipated. Therefore we can often experience a degree of discomfort. Often people seek desperately to re-establish that comfort. Sometimes they can get very stuck in trying to do this. I remember working with a man who had broken up with his girlfriend six years before. We met because he had realised that he was not going to get her back and that his life had been on hold for way too long. So a more useful strategy is not to try to be comfortable but to aim to feel resourceful. If I feel resourceful I can handle the challenge of the unknown, the uncertainty, or the ambiguity of my new position in this new set of circumstances. So the question really is, what do I need to be resourceful? What is it that will enable me to be more resourceful?

For over twenty years Ian McDermott has pioneered the growth of NLP in Britain and Europe. Ian’s pioneering work and highly popular style have made him a regular contributor to the media. His extraordinary contributions to the field resulted in him being made an International NLP Diplomate.