• Keith Shaw

How To Manage Setbacks.

You are crushing it! Things are lining up, results are spurring you on, building confidence that you can do the thing…and then suddenly, without perception, like a shift in the wind, they are not. You stop leaping out of bed with purpose in the morning. You don’t know what to plan, so you stop planning and self-doubt creeps in, poisoning your creativity and boldness. Like a ship in fog, you are drifting, not sure which way to go and knowing the rocks are out there somewhere.

Setbacks are never welcomed. For many, sadly they can spell the end of a new project, dream or relationship. There are a few simple mindset shifts that can help you cope with setbacks so you can keep moving your dream forward. It all begins with the anticipation that the setback will come, it’s a certainty.

1. Know that setbacks will come. We all have the best intentions. Exercise regimens, drinking less alcohol, reading more, the list goes on (what’s your thing?). We also tend to know what we should be doing but don’t do it.

Take, for instance, the well-intentioned person that starts a nutrition/workout regimen with the goal of losing some weight for summer. Their plan includes the following:

Block off time during the week to exercise

Shop with online service to reduce temptation to buy treats at the store

Set up a non-food reward system for milestones reached

Connect with a buddy for accountability

Get some new workout clothes to be excited to get sweaty in

The plan goes well for a while then work gets busy, family plans mess with the workout schedule, and their workout partner was ‘injured’ in the third week of the first month. A look in the mirror and it is clear the work thus far is not paying off yet, and the scale confirms it too. Rain and weather changes come and motivation wanes.

The story can go two different ways here. The predictable outcome is for our hero to fall off the wagon, and revert to normal. Another is for the hero to have anticipated setbacks and prepared for them. With a plan for setbacks, when they are recognized, the deviation from the goal can be addressed early, before real damage is done. For those who recognize a setback or regression in progress, my first and best advice is point two.

2. Stop the flooding! When I was in the Canadian Navy, we were trained (and this should not be a surprise I hope!) that if we were to discover the cold ocean flooding into the ship, we were to sound the alarm by yelling as loud as we could “FLOOD, FLOOD, FLOOD!!” Similarly, when a setback is discovered, and that could be upon waking and not getting the shoes on, getting the pen out, etc. set off the alarm in your mind to mobilize the team to fight the enemy. Just like the flood threatens to send the ship and all its crew to the bottom of the sea, your setback requires alarm and attention.

3. Mobilize the crew! You may be a crew of one or have a strong network of friends and family. Sharing (remember, when you notice the setback you need to sound the alarm), your struggle is hard but powerful. By sharing what’s going on you allow people to support you, cheer you on, and potentially offer tools and learning that can help you get over the obstacle. I find it helpful to imagine what my hero’s would tell me. I have leaders I admire in life and in history. When I suffer a setback, I imagine a conversation with one of my hero’s and what they would tell me. This advice helps me strengthen and pick myself up to get moving. I am reminded that I am not the only one to have a setback. Like others I can recover and write my story of success.

4. Know the setback makes you stronger…if you learn from them. When I counsel clients to quit smoking I remind them that each setback is a chance to learn what went wrong. Perhaps it was the old high school buddy that dropped by for a few drinks or a stressful period at work or just a pack of cigarettes unexpectedly found in the pocket of an old jacket.

Whatever the cause, if you can learn from the current setback, you can be better prepared for obstacles in the future. Once the flood has been recognized, we need to stop it. So many ships have been damaged in the past there are established processes for dealing with most eventualities. Take time to write down how the current situation came about. This process can help objectify the obstacle and make it less about you and more about a situation you need to manage. Be kind to yourself here. You are doing something difficult and comparing yourself to your friend on Facebook or at work is not going to help you if you are already self-critical about your setback. Know you have discovered a weak spot in your plan and so now you can correct it and move forward.

5. Create a standard operating procedure for future setbacks. Of course, any standard plan starts with recognition that there is a problem so creating markers for you to be able to recognize a problem are important but sometimes setbacks come in quietly, without a notice, like a hatch left open on a ship, vs. a crash into the rocks. Whatever the cause, as soon as recognized, escalating the urgency (think FLOOD, FLOOD, FLOOD!!) can help you make addressing the setback a priority. After the alarm’s been sounded, phoning a friend, debriefing the setback cause (as in points 3 and 4) are critical to successfully getting over the obstacle without beating yourself up too much first.

6. Take swift decisive action. I’ll add that in addition to the points above, you need to set a deadline for getting back on track. It is easy to say, “I fell off, I know why, so next week I will take action”. NO! If you have recognized the FLOOD, you need to take action now to stop further damage and build your power back. For our hero at the start of the article, that could mean throwing out the snacks and fake foods that made their way into the house after the birthday BBQ and heading out for a run. For our smoker that could mean a call to a friend and a journaling about why the important decision was made in the first place. Whatever action you take, it needs to stop the slide and create the platform from which to start moving forward again.

7. Keep things in perspective. Above I describe that you’re not the only one to have suffered a setback. You are alive, reading this, and that means things could be worse. Our world is full of examples so I’ll spare you those. Instead, I encourage you to think of the growth that will come. Think of the power and confidence you’ll create as you, as Churchill said, “bugger on”.

You are striving and trying to do great things. I’m cheering for you! Remember that what you are trying to do is difficult, otherwise it would not be worthwhile. With anything difficult, challenge presents and can make you question yourself. If you accept that you are not perfect, if you accept that setbacks will occur, you’ll be in a stronger place to recover quickly and keep moving towards your dream. The world needs you at your best! Keep at it! Don’t give up…and don’t take yourself too seriously!

If you want to learn about my coaching it’s simple! Contact me on Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn or at my email ( Coaching is fun, and can change your life! I’d be happy to chat with you about how I can support you reaching your next level. We all have more to contribute, let me help you make your greatest difference!

©2018 by Proudly created with