Goal Setbacks: How to Keep Going When Things Go Wrong

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 18 seconds

How do you keep working toward your goals when you have setbacks and things go wrong?

It’s easy to feel good about your goal when you’re humming along, and things are going well.

It’s a lot harder when you run into bumps, obstacles and setbacks.

The journey to achievement of any goal is going to have bumps and problem, like when a step you take or decision you make doesn’t turn out quite like you expected.

Maybe you set yourself a goal to get a new job this year. And you’ve been faithfully networking, searching, and applying. And nothing is happening. You feel like you are spinning your wheels.

Or worse yet, you had an interview for a job you were really excited about and you didn’t get an offer.

When you work hard and don’t get results, it is frustrating and discouraging.

You might feel like giving up on your goal. Setbacks can do that.

Don’t Make a Setback into a Failure

For most people, failure is a scary word. For most, their mental map on failure is loaded with negative connotations and fear.

Your mental maps are groups of mental shortcuts. We all have them. In fact, we each have an entire atlas of maps. We build them for things like driving, going to school, living in families and working in companies. And these maps contain unwritten rules and assumptions that once learned, we rarely question.

It’s important to recognize that many of these unwritten rules and assumptions you did not even consciously choose. You learned them from other people–parents, teachers, coaches, and friends.

The failure map often says that failure is not just a bad thing; it’s a personal flaw. Only winners have worth. Only winners are good. Winning is their reward for doing all of the right things.

On the other flip side, this same map says that if you fail, there must be something wrong with you. Failure is a judgement of you and your worth. It’s the opposite of winning. If you fail, the map says, you must have done something to deserve that failure. You must not be good enough to succeed.

So, if you turn a goal setback into a failure, and your mental map says failure is a judgement on what you deserve, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to pick yourself up and keep pursuing that goal.

No Plan Survives Full Contact with Reality

Setbacks happen. If you’re not expecting them, you’re not thinking realistically about what it’s going to take to achieve your goals.

A better way to handle goal setbacks is to not just accept that they happen, but expect them to happen. Make them part of your plan.

Think about the last time you learned a new skill. Or when you learned how to ride a bike, ski or skate. The first time you attempted the new skill you were likely pretty awful. In fact, you might have been awful the first few times. You were also very likely afraid, not only before and during your initial attempt, but also before and during each subsequent attempt, again for quite some time. You might have fallen, or even hurt yourself.

So, learning any or all of these new skills was, in the beginning, a series of setbacks.

Then, something unexpected happened. You started to master the skill. You went from stumbling and awkward to graceful and swift. You felt exhilarated. You succeeded.

If you had let your fear, awkwardness, or embarrassment stop you when you were learning, you would have missed out on the success you ultimately achieved. Instead, you persevered. You learned to treat your setbacks as part of the journey to success.

Bring that same mindset to your current goal setbacks.

Being able to endure setbacks, and even expect them, will go a long way towards making the journey of achieving your goals faster and easier.