3 Common Setbacks and How to Overcome Them

Setbacks.

We all have ’em. Nobody wants ’em.

They often arise when we least expect and leave us reeling, wondering how we’ll ever recover and get back to where we were.

The great thing about setbacks is, if you can learn how to truly overcome them, you often end up better than you ever were before. It’s funny how things always seem to work out that way.

But as comforting as that is, that knowledge doesn’t help us overcome these setbacks, only once we’ve come out on the other side and gotten past them can we realize the strength of having risen up above these challenges.

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You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.

– Johnny Cash

Below are three very common setbacks along with things you can do to overcome them.

You’ll notice very quickly that much of what I talk about focuses on internal struggles and associated setbacks. That’s because, while we often focus on the external, the majority of setbacks arise spontaneously from us internally due to long-held conditioning.

Also, the solution often exists in internal methods as well. If you can master these methods you’ll know how to attack the issue from the source and always have a way to overcome it whenever it springs up.

Setback #1: Loss of motivation

This isn’t something you might consider a setback, but by definition, it’s something which hinders our efforts without notice. You never plan to lose your motivation to do something, do you?

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A loss of motivation holds us back more often than anything else. It can be very difficult to maintain motivation over long periods of time, so if you can master this you’ve given yourself a huge advantage.

But how do you do that?

Answer: Get back in touch with the source of your energy + optimize your environment.

To combat a loss of motivation, not just now but well into the future whenever it arises again, you need to get very clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing, keep those reasons in front of you constantly, and get back in touch with the source of that energy whenever your motivation wanes.

Once you’ve done that, use what I call “The Path of Least Resistance” to optimize your environment for success and reduce the chance of losing motivation in the future. The principle is simple:

  1. Make what you’re trying to do easier to do: Get your exercise clothes ready the day before. Put your bag in the car and place your shoes next to your bed. That way, all you have to do is wake up, put your shoes on, and be off to the gym.
  2. Make distractions harder to get to: Hide your T.V. controller, delete apps on your smartphone, and delete pin tabs on your browser for news and social sites that tend to distract you.

Setback #2: Self-sabotage


I hate to break it to you, but, there was a mole on the inside this whole time. And it was you.

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The truth is, we sabotage ourselves almost as much as outside forces hold us back. The reasons are numerous, from a fear of success to the belief that we don’t deserve success because we think we aren’t worthy.

So, how do we out the mole and get rid of it?

Answer: Make friends with yourself (Notice, and work through, the inner dialogue).

Luckily, the reasons why we sabotage ourselves generally come down to one single source: the inner dialogue. This makes our form of self-sabotage very easy to identify.

The inner dialogue is our negative self-talk, it’s the mechanism we use to sabotage our own efforts. By constantly telling ourselves, “you’re not good enough”, “you’ll never be able to do that”, and, “you’re not as smart as them!”, we slowly begin to believe it.

Unfortunately, by the time it matters, we’ve generally been telling ourselves these things for years and the conditioning has already reached deep into our subconscious.

But the solution is simple: learn to identify the inner dialogue. The reason? These thoughts we tell ourselves tend to be pretty irrational, so when we uncover them, there’s a kind of natural healing that takes place. Often, uncovering our inner dialogue is all that’s needed to work through it. This is most notably done through the practice of developing self-awareness through something like mindfulness meditation.

Setback #3: Curveballs

In some ways, setbacks are by definition curveballs. However, many times setbacks are things that weren’t exactly surprising. We lost an important tournament, didn’t win that promotion, or just failed to hit a mark we were trying to reach.

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These are all common setbacks where we’ve fallen short, and there’s nothing we can do in that case but work harder, smarter, and come back better than before.

However, curveballs are different. They’re when your partner all of a sudden leaves to start their own deal in direct competition with you, when a product release that was expected to succeed but totally bombs, and when we’re fired suddenly from a job we thought we were essential at.

These are much harder to overcome, but fortunately, there’s much you can do here as well. And learning how to overcome these curveballs will serve you indefinitely for the rest of your life.

Answer: Learn how to adapt to life’s curveballs masterfully, understand that you’re never fully in control, and mitigate future risk.

I know how depressing the first part of that might sound. However, this isn’t something to fret about, as realizing you’re never fully in control can actually be quite liberating and enjoyable once it sinks in. And doing so in no way hinders the success of your endeavors because it’s simply a fact of life which you can either choose to ignore or dance with gracefully.

Once you’ve begun working on leaning in to the constant changes that are inherent in life and have had the time to contemplate an all of the above points, the last step is to work to mitigate future risk.

Past experiences always offer gems in the way of lessons we can apply moving forward to reduce the chance of failure. If you were suddenly fired from your job, maybe it’s time to start your own business so you can never be fired again. If your partner betrayed your trust, maybe you need to take it slower next time until the other person can prove their loyalty. Or, maybe there are signs you can pick up on next time – which you missed before.

Whatever it is, there are always things you can use to help mitigate future risk, reducing the chance of future failures, and further helping you adapt to life’s curveballs.

Setbacks are inherent to the human experience. But we don’t have to lie down and take them. There’s much we can do to adapt to these setbacks and prevent them from happening in the first place. Take this knowledge and apply it to your own life the next time you experience a similar setback and do what we as humans do so well: rise above.


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