The 3 Skills That Can Get You Past Setbacks and FailuresNone By Homaira Kabir
Life rarely goes as planned. No matter how well we structure the upcoming week, there’s bound to be an unexpected turn of events. However well we rehearse our awkward conversations, something quite small can be just the trigger that totally throws us off.
Why do we let little setbacks become huge hurdles that close us down in shame and blame? It’s because the three-pound organ sitting atop our bodies craves certainty. It’s constantly trying to connect the millions of data points stored in our subconscious in order to predict the future. When it does so correctly, it rewards us with a dopamine rush, like the high we feel when things go as planned. And when it doesn’t, like being caught totally off-guard with Uncle Harry’s uncalled-for comment about our partner, it dumps stress hormones that disrupt our thinking patterns and increase the chances of depressive thoughts.
If our ability to get past setbacks and failures lies in letting go of control, what are the skills that we need to hone?
#1 Stop Trying to Connect the Dots
You know that flurry of racing thoughts that consume us after a confrontation or floods us before something important? The ones that go like “If only I had said…”, “I wish they would stop…”, “What if she decides to…” That’s our brain desperately connecting the dots to make sense of the past or gain control over the future. None of this is very helpful though. Rumination leaves precious little energy for positive thoughts that can improve a situation and help us bounce back. And “What if” thoughts simply throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry by announcing impending doom.
When things can go in a million different directions, the best we can do is consciously press down on the brakes of our thoughts. Research psychologist Sonya Lyubomirsky suggests holding a stop sign in our minds. A technique I learnt long ago was to pluck the thoughts out of my mental garden as though they were weeds destroying its beauty. Both these practices build our mental agility and allow us to get past setbacks and failures with ease and speed.
#2 Focus on Increasing the Positives
It would be unnatural to not think about the past or the future at all. After all, failures hold a lot of lessons, and planning can save us much distress. But given our inherent negativity bias—yes, we all know those wandering thoughts are mostly negative—it’s important to purposefully focus on the positives so that we hold a healthy perspective of the situation and take decisions that do not lead to regret. Otherwise, the negatives stick to us like Velcro and engulf us in a sea of doom and gloom.
Given life's constant stresses, and the little that we actually do to consciously boost the positives in our lives, it’s no wonder that many of us struggle to get past the regular setbacks that are part of any human interaction. Saving some “me time” every day, expressing gratitude, and savoring positive events are all great ways to recharge. So are music, pets, exercise and nature. Find yours and indulge!
#3 Pay Attention to the Present Moment
Mindfulness is more than a meditation practice to lower stress and increase focus. It’s a way of being that allows us to be present in the moment, and mindful of what is happening within us and around us. As we strengthen this ability, we learn to take a third-person perspective of life that releases us from the ego-centric emotions that cling onto setbacks and failures.
It’s not possible to live every moment of our lives in this state—after all, the ego is also the fuel for our achievements that bring us much happiness. But in moments of connection, we can safely remove it from the driver’s seat and enjoy the moments for what they are—laughter, tears and all. And when we learn to accept our outer world non-judgmentally, we begin to do the same for ourselves. What better way to let go of the inner chatter that beats down on us and reminds us of our failures again and again and again.
So why are building these skills so essential? There will be unforeseen obstacles on the way to reaching our goals, and we may struggle and stumble many times over. How well we handle the uncertainties by climbing over our hurdles and standing back up after a fall is what will determine the success of our goals.
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach and a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist whose practice is founded on the science of positive psychology. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. To sign up to her free course on Finding Your Life’s Direction, visit her at www.homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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