Dealing with setbacks: positive opposites

Dealing with setbacks: positive opposites

The heavy stuff

I’ve had plenty of setbacks in my life, as I’m sure you have too. Generally speaking, I’m a pretty positive person, and I like to see the good in any situation, but there have been times where it’s been really difficult to maintain that optimistic outlook. I lost my brother when I was in my early 20s at a time where I was only just learning who I was as an adult. Losing a close friend or family member is nothing you can really understand unless you’ve experienced it. My mother referred to it today as an almost literal tearing of the heart. That grief is so powerful it really does feel like your heart will pull itself apart; it is a thick and heavy weight like someone is pushing your chest in, and your breath just won’t come. Even though it’s been nearly 18 years, it still feels that way if I let my guard down. The grief remains ever-present, threatening to well over at any moment, but I’ve learned to keep it at bay (most of the time). Since that day, I’ve experienced other losses but that is the one that really that defined my attitude towards life.

How I deal with the ups and downs of life involves an attitude that is a mixture of plan-oriented and spontaneous. As you can imagine, this can make for an interesting inner dialogue! I am a sensitive person and I am comfortable talking openly about my emotions. Despite my losses over the course of my life, I’ve kept up a pretty good emotional resilience. But there was a period of time that really threw me a curveball. In the larger scheme of life, perhaps it shouldn’t have hit me so hard, but that’s how things sometimes go. And once you’ve had a big hit, it can take a long time to feel you have that emotional fitness back. I’m only now starting to feel like myself again.

During that time, you may find that comparatively-less traumatic setbacks can be really tough to deal with. Things like not getting that job you wanted, a relationship breakdown, projects stalling or getting caught up in red tape… these can feel overwhelming when your resilience is low. If that’s you, don’t wait until you are at rock bottom, speak up and get some help. Depression is a real risk when your defenses are down, and it’s okay to not be okay. Talk to your family, friends, doctor or psychologist. There are lots of great support services that can help. Here are just a few good Australian ones:

Okay, so that’s the heavy stuff. Now I want to talk about how to deal with those sorts of setbacks when you are doing okay (mostly). If you have a planner personality – someone who thrives off lists and following a decided path – these things can really hit you for six.

Some home truths

First things first, know this: you can’t control everything. In fact, a lot of what happens to us is completely beyond our control. Anyone who thinks otherwise is probably kidding themselves! So be kind to yourself. Do your best, and know you have given it your best shot, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s not your fault.

Next you need to listen. Really listen. Listen to your friends, your partner, your manager – hear them when they say ‘You did a great job! You gave it your best! I still think you are awesome!’ This is the time to ignore your own inner critic. Sure, it helps you be a high achiever, and work hard and aim high, but when your plans don’t go your way, it can be an absolute confidence killer. In this case, tell it to shut up.

When life gives you lemons…

Get some tequila!

Don’t let these setbacks define you. See them as an opportunity: an opportunity for something you may not have considered or expected.

Take those setbacks and turn them into positive opposites! Didn’t get that job? Something else will come up (maybe it would’ve been an awful place to work!) Girlfriend broke up with you? She wasn’t the right one for you anyway (horrible taste in music!) Home renovation project has been delayed again? Oh well, don’t need to pay that deposit yet!

Maybe these seem a bit cliché and trite, but the more you can teach yourself to do this, the easier it will become to deal with setbacks of this nature. I challenge you to give it a go next time something doesn’t go to plan. Instead of getting caught up in a whirlwind of negativity, try this five minute reboot:

  • Take a minute or two to feel and acknowledge your annoyance (or sadness, anger, other emotion). It’s okay to cry, or yell, or scream internally
  • Take a long breath in, and let it out slowly
  • Now spend another minute or two to look for some kind of positive opposite to the situation (no matter how much of a stretch it might seem!)
  • Write it down or say it out loud
  • Now try a five by five exercise to reinforce that positive feeling

Tell me in the comments if this technique works for you! It does for me – I missed out on a job this week that I really wanted, and while I was sad initially, I took on board the feedback I was given, and then thought that perhaps I’m where I need to be right now. Opportunity presents in odd ways, and it’s important to being open to that – even if in this instance,  it means an opportunity to stay where I am now. Positive opposite!

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