How well do you handle setbacks?

How do you respond when you’ve stuffed up on a task? Or when you’ve planned to walk part of the way to work –  and it rains? How about when you get some criticism from a colleague? The chatterbox in our head has a huge bearing on how we feel, and therefore on our resilience to what life throws at us. If you’ve got negative self-talk going on, attributing all kinds of setbacks and obstacles to yourself, all the time, everywhere, it’s time to stop and take stock. We spend some time doing this on Zoomly’s ‘How to handle pressure’ workshop – this post aims to help you get started.

“I always stuff up”, is different to, “I stuffed up that time” (if indeed it was only you who did), and, “It always rains when I feel like walking”, is different to, “Rain! Right, Plan B: I’ll walk part of the way home instead.” This self-talk gives us a clue about what’s called our explanatory or attribution style, or in plain English, how we explain to ourselves (and anyone else who’s listening) and to what we attribute the everyday stuff that just happens.

Our explanatory style can show up in three significant ways: Do you take setbacks personally, such as “Just my luck”? Do you see setbacks as something that always happen, in other words, are they a permanent feature of your life, such as “Just my luck; this always happens to me”?  Are setbacks pervasive, “Wherever I go, this happens”?  Over time, this self-talk can strengthen until we think it’s a universal truth. Soon, our internal chatbot (we’ve all got one – they come as standard) can default to pessimism. Negative self-talk about ourselves can destroy our resilience in the face of everyday setbacks.

That’s why it pays to pay attention to your self-talk, because if anyone can change the track it’s you. Positive self-talk can be learned. The first step is to listen to your self-talk when setbacks happen, and stay curious about what you’re saying, how you’re explaining the setback to yourself. Create the habit of noticing if your explanations are personal, permanent, pervasive – one, two, or all three. Then you can examine the evidence and challenge your internal chatbot’s explanation: are you the only employee who’s ever stuffed up? Was it really just you who got rained on?

Next, notice your self-talk when you succeed. Do you brush off congratulations with “I just got lucky”? Or attribute it to “right place, right time” – everywhere and all the time? Now you can examine the evidence to support your successes. Did you do your own research and prepare for that presentation?  As your awareness grows, you’ll notice how you explain those everyday successes and setbacks and aim for a healthier balance between cautious pessimism and upbeat optimism.


You may find this post useful: 10 resources to build your self-esteem

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’

Copyright Zoomly





Image credits:
Cheerful woman on pedestal -Rastudio-Depositphotos
Business woman looking at road sign dead end Rastudio–Depositphotos




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