What is your Relationship to “Set-backs”?

Yup you got it I’m asking the question, “What is your relationship to “set-backs”? 

So first let’s take this a bit further shall we? What is a “set-back” to you? Is it something that you create value judgments about? Or where the self-critic takes over control for hours, days or even sometimes weeks?  

What if I asked you to consider “set-backs” as an authentic response to the natural lifecycle of a given change or intention you have set in motion? What does this perspective evoke for you?

I’ll share now it’s true, “set-backs” are a natural response and it’s not just me inviting you to consider this perspective, it is documented in numerous research that supports this. Once you begin to shift your relationship to “set-backs”, you ultimately shift your ability to set goals, achieve and even surpass them.

Are you curious? Want to know more?

Dr. Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. supports these findings in her book called The Willpower Instinct. She says, “To succeed at self-control, you need to know how you fail.” As a health psychologist and educator for the Stanford School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program her questioning people’s management of stress and healthy choices lead her to create a course called: The Science of Willpower.

How do these concepts apply to your life right now and how can you be with so called “set-backs”, willpower, management of stress and healthy choices that actually inform you on next steps forward?

I’m sure we all have heard at one time or another the coined phrase, “two steps forward one step back”? What does this mean to you? If you’re a perfectionist like me it means I have to be on high alert to my impulses for self sabotage that arise when I’m not batting at 110%. 

Amongst the numerous definitions one can find in the dictionary, interestingly a lot of them having to due with architecture and building, “set-back” is defined as “a check to progress”. Ah ha!!! Good point to know don’t you think? A CHECK to PROGRESS. So imagine this scenario, “set-back” arrives at the perfect time in a natural lifecycle of your desired intention or goal so you can “check” your progress. This then indicates a mid-course correction is being called forth. Does my ego or mind like this interruption in flow? “Absolutely not.” Can I take inventory and even take “time out” to allow the room for more information to surface about next steps or information that was perhaps overlooked? “Absolutely YES!” Taken as a blessing in disguise these so called “set-backs” are actually informing you in numerous ways, “…on how to succeed.” says Dr. Kelly McGonigal.

Lindsey Vonn, former Olympic skier, in her new book Strong is the New Beautiful shares how she moved through "set-backs" and became the worlds most successful female skier. "When you commit to getting strong, you agree to go on an incredible journey that will transform you."

Thinking of my Uncle Don with reference to “set-backs” is humbling and very empowering. He was one of the most fit 60+ year olds I know, embracing marathons and road races on a regular basis. Over the past years he has been battling terminal cancer and all that comes with that including chemotherapy and numerous other procedures and surgeries. When he finally had to succumb to a major surgery, his daughter, my cousin, a fitness and lifestyle coach, reported to us through Facebook, “ He is up and walking today after his intense operation. Looks like he is training for a 5k in the halls of the Cleveland Clinic. One step at a time…Savannah Bridge Run in December (which is his favorite:) ) !!! Go get’em Strong Man! We are sooo proud of you!” 

So yes my Uncle Don is one of my heroes and when I am in “set-back” mode I gather myself up and think “one step at a time, one step at a time”, even if that step is one step back, I know two steps forward are on the horizon!

So let’s get back to basics and realistic adaptation to goals, change and challenge:

1.     Reconnect to or develop a clear intention with the current change, challenge or goal. We do this so that our actions and environment can line up in support of that.

2.     What’s your relationship to set-backs? Create a few tools you can lean into when set-backs arrive. A few of mine are: Take a break and go for a walk, take a yoga or cycling class, take a hot sea salt bath, take a moment to think about a loved one who is demonstrating strength in the midst of intense change (i.e. my Uncle), have a conversation with one of my mentors. Do mindless work like clean out a closet, home office or garage. Then come back to intentions, including set-back(s) and formulate tangible next steps in the light of new information and perspective. 

3.     Locate what stage of development you are in within your intention, and remember everything follows a natural life cycle. This includes and is not limited to Gestation, Infancy, Maturity and Decline.  This is valuable because if you are operating from a mindset of a Mature stage when in fact you are in an Infancy stage you are setting yourself up for failure. (Referencing Mitch Saunders' work on Understanding LifeCycle Stages, he’s brilliant, especially for you business-minded folks out there!) 

4.    Relax and Breathe. Yes that’s what I said…relax and breathe! Often times if I’m stuck, or in “set-back” mode, I realize my breath is shallow and my mind is doing double back flips. Although double back flips might sound admirable, in this particular context, it’s not helpful at all. This is a great place to notice your breathing and STOP the mind. This practice is being accepted more and more as a valuable tool in the business realm. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, in his keynote speech at Dreamforce16 acknowledged and thanked the nuns and monks that were there to teach folks on mindfulness and meditation, along with many other presenters and speakers on the topic of the value of compassion in life and work including Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic and Eat, Pray, Love and Marc J. Francis who co-founded Speakit.org.

One simple exercise you can practice in support of this is to place both hands on the front side of your body and take three long inhales coupled with three long exhales. See if by simply increasing and watching your breath you can relax into a different posture, one that supports you rather than a shallow breathing posture that is deflating you. 

Here’s an invitation: Allow yourself the luxury of curiosity, openness, elegant listening and generosity with yourself, others and your relationship to “set-backs”. From that place of wisdom connect and move in new directions with flexibility and confidence.

Wishing you all the best and GOOD LUCK!