Three Easy Ways to Deal With Setbacks and Failures in Life

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A life setback is an event or experience that can negatively affect a person’s mental and emotional well-being. These experiences can range from the small, like having an idea rejected at work or failing an exam, to the biggies, like losing a job or going through a divorce.

How to Overcome Life Setbacks Quickly and Easily

Setbacks are inevitable, but it is possible to pick yourself up and move forward after facing one!

The definition of a setback: to slow, to hinder, to delay progress.

Overcoming Setbacks in Life Is A Journey

By the time we are independent adults, we know about the frustration of experiencing a life setback. We are all looking for ways to handle obstacles in life, to deal with the inevitable failures that force us to dig deep to overcome the unexpected.

Main Ideas In This Article:

  • Everyone experiences setbacks in life. The important thing is how you deal with them.
  • You will struggle with negative emotions, but it is possible to find a sense of empowerment.
  • Remember that setbacks are an opportunity to develop patience, wisdom, and emotional growth.

Learning to Deal With Setbacks Starts In Early Childhood

Remember when you were a little kid and something frustrating would happen? Maybe you screamed in a rigid toddler stance, maybe you stomped your feet in a red-faced rage, heck- maybe you threw a Hot Wheels car across the room in anger!?

I remember slamming a dresser drawer in a fit of middle-school frustration. The force of my anger swiftly knocked all my ceramic horses off the top of the dresser! I stood by in wide-eyed shock as each one fell, legs snapping off and sprinkling all over the floor like grisly toothpicks. Defeated, I dropped to my knees and cried.

Life Setbacks Can Be So Frustrating!

And like most setbacks in life, I had multiplied my problems by reacting without thinking! Thankfully, as I got older, I learned to slow down and think about my circumstances before making a decision. .Developing the ability to be slow to react is vital to recovering from unexpected setbacks.

Making a reactive decision can cause a life setback to turn into a life-long regret. Slow down, analyze your circumstances, and make an intentional decision to solve your problem.

What Is A Life Setback?

A life setback is an event or experience that causes you to become temporarily derailed from meeting personal goals and aspirations. It can be caused by a variety of internal and external factors, such as natural disasters, loss of job, divorce, or health issues. This can make you feel sad, angry, or disappointed. It can also hinder your motivation and productivity.

No One Ever Taught Me How To Overcome A Setback

If one thing is true about being human, our families teach us our first lessons about how to navigate life. Some families have a built-in “bootstrap “gene. (get (oneself or something) into or out of a situation using existing resources.)

No matter what life hands out, they absorb the body blow, stagger a bit, and then keep moving forward. Everyone in that family has the same middle name: Resilience. The rest of us are in awe of their fierce ability to take a licking and keep on ticking!

Maybe you came from a family that didn’t have the “bootstrap” gene. It might be more familiar to hear folks in your family talk about how unfair life is. Some families teach their kids to be victims, learning to blame others for life’s setbacks and discouragements. These are the people who spend their time making sure everyone knows that they have been treated unfairly, and as a result, they are unable to move forward.

You Choose How To Deal With Life’s Uncertainty

One of the best things about being an adult is the ability to choose your beliefs and emotions. So, if you were raised in the “go-getter” family, you might not struggle with overcoming life setbacks. In fact, you might laugh in the face of adversity and eat obstacles for midday snacks. If that is you, be thankful you had people who did an excellent job of preparing you for life!

If, on the other hand, you were raised in a family environment that rewarded or encouraged “victimhood”, you might feel angry that you have setbacks in life. And in a sense, you are right; life isn’t fair! But it does reward those who stand back up after being knocked down. It might take you a while to create momentum, but life favors those who fight back!

Consider this your invitation to choose to overcome setbacks. Take the time to challenge your beliefs about your ability to bounce back. Remember: As an adult, you can choose your beliefs about yourself and your abilities to persevere.

Do You Feel Like You Are Dealing With A Setback?

Does it ever feel like setbacks and failures are regularly scheduled in life? Like there is a bullshit calendar that keeps track of your progress, and then- WHAM– a setback slams into your nearly perfect life and scatters all the pieces?

Yes, friend, I have my suspicions as well!

Remember that you are learning important lessons during a life setback.

When Life Takes An Unexpected Turn

Maybe you feel like choosing to ignore a setback and accept the new limitation in your life. Setbacks sting, and it might feel to draining to get back up again.

Please be aware that accepting more limitations in life could result in a very small life. Thomas Edison could have just given up after he had multiple “setbacks” in inventing the lightbulb. I mean, he had to make a choice…. Just like you have the choice to pivot and persist past setbacks or accept your new limited life.

Small Setbacks In Life Can Have Huge Effects

And that is the HUGE cost of setbacks, they seem minor and yet, they can change the trajectory you have plotted out for your life. We all know the story of the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly flapping its wings has a global effect when it is multiplied by the other natural reactions to the movement of the wings.

It is the same with minor setbacks. You could decide that it isn’t worth it to pursue that goal or chase that dream. However science has proven that the slightest nudge in any direction can result in either long-term improvement or downward decay. Don’t let a setback stop progress toward your goals!

Setbacks Happen To Everyone

If you are a regular around here, you might have read about my dislocated shoulder adventure. Well, last month, I tore a bit of my bicep on my right arm, picking up a suitcase and swinging it with too much force. Cue the arm sling, the ice pack and the endless supply of Advil. Thankfully, it was nowhere near as bad as my dislocated shoulder injury.

But, it has been a serious setback for me. Here is a list of things I like to do that need healthy biceps: weightlifting, knitting, casting a fishing line, vacuuming, carrying groceries, push-ups, and propping up my body while watching Netflix.

Life Has Plans For You On The BS Calendar

So, I am in another opportunity to practice choosing my mindset despite my circumstances. The hidden gift of a setback is the sudden opportunity to test your beliefs. The beautiful thing about working on your mindset is that life will give you many chances to test your new mental strength!

Why Are Setbacks Necessary In Life?

Here are three things that are helping me in this season of a setback:

Be Honest About Experiencing A Setback

Admit the setback. Denial is the worst thing you can do when life has served you the poo-poo platter. Express appropriate anger if you need to, call your best friend, and whine if needed, but do not ignore the problem! Accept, then intentionally release the pointless, draining anger that can keep you in a frustrated feedback loop.

Focus On Small Steps To Help Manage Your Feelings

Take inventory of what is left: After a setback, spend some time focusing on what is still possible. Write a list of the ways that you can work around the loss. For example, my torn bicep still moves in specific ways, so I focus on what is possible in the gym. No matter how small, consider the opportunity that exists in the limited space.

  • Take it one step at a time: After experiencing a life setback, it’s normal feel completely overwhelmed! Breaking down each step into manageable chunks makes it easier to handle the challenge. Don’t try to solve it all at once, that will be overwhelming!
  • Focus on taking it bit by bit to make progress, developing a better understanding of what exactly needs to get done to recover from this setback. Doing small steps will eventually add up!
  • Keep an open mind: Everyone experiences setbacks differently, but we want to avoid destructive outcomes. Stay true to yourself and choose actions that support your determination. Approach new opportunities with curiosity, and be open to other perspectives to help you grow.

Believe That You Will Overcome The Setback

Plan for a better future. Yes, of course you can recover from a setback. The larger question is- are you willing to do what it takes to build again? The future will look different, and most likely, it will be better in some ways.

  • Rely on emotional support networks; don’t go it alone! Managing your emotions may seem empowering at times, but remember, it’s normal to need support during a setback. Make sure you have a close circle of folks that can provide genuine words of encouragement or helpful advice.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Maybe your setback has shown you areas where you need to focus on self-growth. Our most valuable lessons can come from our disappointments. As humans, we have the gift of hindsight; use it to help you make positive adjustments.
  • Try to move through disappointment while keeping your eyes on the valuable lessons you have learned. Look for insight and build your self-confidence while navigating the setback. Don’t spend time beating yourself up; it drains you of the energy you need to keep going.


Back to the dislocated shoulder story: After I healed, I built my shoulder back up again. It is stronger than ever, and there is no evidence of my previous debilitating injury. But time and effort are two of the most important ingredients a successful comeback. If you lack patience and faith you will struggle to create a successful future outcome.

Life is full of setbacks; some are annoying and others feel more devastating. In those moments, the only thing that you can choose is your mindset. Making adjustments, finding small victories and getting back into the flow of personal power will help you build a better future.

Life Setbacks Can Make You Stronger and More Resilient

Lastly, believe in yourself! You will have doubts, but remember, you have gained wisdom from solving this problem. Don’t overanalyze your next step forward, just lean into the belief that you have the strength you need to overcome any obstacle. Work on developing your self-confidence, choosing to believe you are stronger and more prepared for life than before.

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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