How you can use setbacks to propel yourself to greater things

February 22, 2021 Kelsey Webb

Most of us aren’t strangers to setbacks, especially in the last year. But setbacks don’t have to mean quitting. From college and high school athletes with canceled seasons, to pro-teams with adjusted playing guidelines, nothing in the sports word is quite the way it was expected to be.

Our daily lives are similarly affected with restrictions on our movement and an uncertain work situation. When you’re faced with a challenge, applying an athlete mindset can be the key to finding a way forward. Brazilian author Paulo Souza might have explained it best: “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.”

Here are three ways setbacks can actually propel you forward.

Setbacks can provide purpose and shift your motivation.

For Jeff Okudah, the third pick in the 2020 NFL draft, losing his mother to lymphoma profoundly affected his life, but her memory reminds him to hang in there when things get tough. When faced with difficulties, his approach is to “keep pushing forward. Put one step in front of the other and keep going.”

So, when you get injured, sick, or an unexpected turn of events happens in your job or relationships, pay attention to how setbacks can peel back the layers and reveal what’s really important. Then you can look inside and find out what drives you, what you’re passionate about, and what you want to focus on. As a result, commitments become even stronger and goals are more meaningful.

Setbacks test your grit.

We all get knocked down, but getting back up is the true show of strength. Grit is the ability to persevere in the face of uncertain outcomes, and often those outcomes aren’t the positive ones we’re hoping for. When you keep at it, you can experience that exhilaration that comes when you overcome that voice in the back of your mind that tells you to quit.

For a look at what grit can do, just check out Carol Reeve, an avid runner in her 50s. Despite the fact that her walk was barely a shuffle on the day of her first physical therapy session at EXOS, she said, “I’ve got the Chicago marathon in three months and I’m going to run.” And with her hard work and dedication, she made it to her 82nd marathon in Chicago, and has run more than 100 marathons to date.

Setbacks allow you to guide others.

When Ray Wells was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he soon had to give up things he loved, which anyone would consider a setback. But he fought back and was able to get back to his passion of practicing martial arts – and even better, he’s begun leading exercise classes for others with the disease. “My highlight of almost every day is going to my classes,” he says.

When you’re facing a setback, nothing is more powerful than to have someone in your corner who’s been there before. That level of empathy and understanding only happens through true life experience. And once you’ve dug yourself out of a hole, you’re better equipped to help others find their way too.

Get ready for your next setback.

When you hit a setback, or a setback hits you, try these steps from Tiffany Grimm, director of recovery at EXOS.

  1. Pause and assess all the implications. Look deeper into the meaning of the setback. Do you need to slow down for a reason? What is it trying to teach you? What can you gain?
  2. Reflect on where you were going. Was it the right path after all? Was it aligned with your values? Was it taking you away from something more meaningful in your life?
  3. Look to the future. What should be different next time? What do you need to change in your journey to your goal? What needs revision so that you can maximize your outcomes? How can you approach it in a new way, with the lessons you’ve learned from the setback?
  4. Evaluate your support system. If the people you hang around don’t support you getting back on track, get a different support team. Connect with people who have been where you are and engage in mutual motivation.
  5. Decide to move forward. Setbacks can either make or break you. Even if you physically can’t do what you did before, what can you do? Make a list of the ways you can mentally and physically improve yourself given the setback and circumstances.
  6. Take action. Now put it into play. Once you accept the setback and understand that it’s here to help you grow, take the action that serves your highest intention and deepest values. This is your time to get back up and try again.

Your setback is your story, tell it with pride. Looking for more accounts overcoming obstacles? Check out our Stay Inspired collection.

This article first appeared on adidas gameplan a.

About the Author

Kelsey Webb

As an editorial assistant at EXOS, I'm eager to help others improve every aspect of their lives through healthy living. I enjoy bringing effective strategies and information to light by working with experts in all fields.

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