Everyone Faces Setbacks — Adopt a Resilience Regimen Today


Setbacks are an unavoidable part of life, especially in your career. If you don’t learn to deal with them properly, you may end up with a lot of regret — and you may even make the setback harder to overcome.

When it comes to setbacks, the sooner we learn to deal with them, the better. Whether a setback is personal or professional, one thing is certain: Building resilience is critical to overcoming whatever comes your way.

The ‘Resilience Regimen’

Setbacks bring up a lot of emotions. They can make you feel deflated and even helpless. They can rob you of your sense of control over your own life and career. Once you start feeling that way, the setback may start to look positively insurmountable.

When faced with a setback, the key is to quickly shift to a solutions-based mindset. This is where the “resilience regimen” comes in.

Formulated by Harvard Business School Professor Joshua D. Margolis and PEAK Learning CEO Dr. Paul G. Stoltz in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article, a resilience regimen is “a deliberative rather than reflexive approach to dealing with hardship” centered on asking questions to “reframe negative events in productive ways.”

When we look at setbacks, we have the option to see them through various lenses. For instance, we might examine the event in terms of the control we have (or no longer have) and how long the impact of the setback will last. While some of us have a natural tendency to blame ourselves and get stuck in the sea of negativity, others quickly focus on how to turn things around. They triage the situation, conduct some kind of postmortem evaluation, and are able to learn from their mistakes. These people use the setback as an occasion to find ways to move forward and to prevent the situation from happening again.

For those of us who need more help when trying to shift from a blame-focused to a solutions-focused mindset, all hope is not lost. We, too, can practice resilience. We just need to ask the right questions. That way, we can clarify for ourselves how to push through the setback and get back on track.

It is important to realize that you are not powerless in the face of adversity. You may not be able to control everything, but you can control some things. These should be your starting point. Toward that end, Margolis and Stoltz recommend you ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What aspects of the situation can I directly influence to change the course of this adverse event?
  2. How can I make the most immediate positive impact on this situation?
  3. What can I do to reduce the potential downside of this event by even 10 percent? What can I do to maximize the potential upside? (If you look hard enough, there may be an upside to focus on. For example, getting laid off is certainly a setback, but it could also be the catalyst that causes you to find a job that ultimately makes you happier.)
  4. What do I want life to look like on the other side of this event, and what steps can I take to get even a little closer to that end?

Adopting any habit takes practice, and a resilience regimen is no different. Practice this type of evaluation as often as you can. It’s just like working out a muscle: The more you try resilience, the stronger your resilience will grow.

Another thing that helps is to write your answers down. When you write down the answers to these questions, you force yourself to be more specific than you would be if you had just thought about the answers in your head. Writing your answers down also allows you to revisit them at a later time. According to Margolis and Stoltz, studies show that writing your answers down can better support your emotional and physical well-being and offer you a stronger sense of control over the situation.

It’s also critical to seek support, especially if you tend to isolate yourself when dealing with a setback. That said, don’t confuse support with finding other blame-focused people with whom you can commiserate. If you’re building resilience, that’s the last thing you need. Instead, look to people you trust who aren’t too emotionally invested and can really be objective. Someone like a mentor or trusted advisor would be best.

Finally, remember that you’re not alone. Everyone, even those who are wildly successful, experiences setbacks. Research your heroes and learn from the stories of how they overcame various challenges. You’ll find the most successful people in the world are those who have mastered the art of reframing failures. They know failure leads to growth. Instead of simply pushing past failure, they embrace the experience as a learning opportunity, and they look forward to putting what they learned from their mistakes into practice.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Atrium Staffing blog.

Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing‘s resident career expert.

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