Coming Back From a Setback

Looking back on how I got out of my past struggles, it’s instructive in my current struggle. I’ve always gotten out, and these are some of the things that worked.

Embrace Reality

So my ideal/fantasy didn’t materialize…so what? The reality of life has always been perfectly fine, great even, only bad if I compare it to the fantasy. An example: my grandfather died, which was immensely sad for me … but actually the reality of my life with him no longer alive wasn’t bad unless I compared it to the impossible fantasy of him still being alive.

The reality was that I still had my life and health and a job, I had wonderful kids and a great wife, I had my amazing grandmother, mom, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends. And that’s just the start of how amazing the reality is. Now, reality isn’t always full of “Hooray” … sometimes it has unpleasantness. But you can embrace that too, rather than wishing it matched up with your fantasy.

Embrace Who I Am

Self-doubt plagues me because I desperately want to be somebody I’m not. I want to be perfectly disciplined, for example, and I doubt my ability to be that person. Well, fine … but the person I actually am is pretty great. I just need to see that, and embrace the reality of me. I’m not disciplined as I’d like, but I’ve had some successes. I am kind and loving. I am human and I make mistakes. I get angry, but I make amends. I struggle, but I learn. I ache, I play, I read, I cook, I run, I lift, I get tired. All of these things are me, and they’re not all “good” … they’re just the reality of me. And I embrace them.

Embrace Feeling Bad

By not wanting to feel bad, I make my bad feelings worse. By allowing myself to feel bad, and realizing we all feel bad sometimes, I give myself space to feel this way. I give myself permission. In fact, I embrace it as part of being human. Too many people want to feel happy all the time, positive 100% of the time, but that’s not reality. We all feel bad sometimes, and that’s OK. When you give yourself this space, and embrace the suck, you aren’t fighting with it. It happens, then it goes away, like a cloud.

Realize It’s Just Temporary

Setbacks have inevitably been short-lived, in my experience. They happen for a day or two, maybe a week or two, but never forever. Even when I was going through a divorce, and feelings of depression would come off and on for months, that went away. It would come and go on a day-to-day basis, so each little bout was temporary. It’s easy to get caught up in a bad situation and think, “The world is over!” But actually, this bad feeling, this bad situation, is just a passing cloud. It’s just part of a constantly-changing experience, and while it’s not always pleasant, it will pass like everything else has passed.

Find Gratitude

This always sounds corny, espousing gratitude as a solution, but it has always worked for me. Every time. I often make a list of the things I’m grateful for, going from big things like being a live and having loved ones, to little things like I’m glad I can smell chocolate, or see sunlight shafting through my windows, or read Hamlet, or have a computer with access to the Internet (!!!). Holy crap life is great.

Help Someone

My setbacks are usually about me, wallowing in self-pity. That doesn’t sound great, but we all do it, even every day in small bits without noticing it. I don’t wallow in self-pity a lot these days, but it does happen. And when I see it, I now know that the best antidote is to get outside myself, stop being self-centered, and become other-focused. I try to find a way to help someone else. It inevitably, infallibly, makes me feel better.

And so, in this struggle I’m having now, I embrace the reality of me and the reality all around me. But then I find the reality of someone else who is struggling, and see how I can help them.

That’s why I drank nothing but bad-tasting shakes yesterday. Not because I’m super-disciplined, but because struggling with it might teach me something that will help someone else in their struggles.

And so, if you’re struggling with a setback today, know that you’re not alone. I’m there with you, struggling, so that we can do it together. And it will pass. We’ll get through. And this getting through: it’s making us stronger. It’s worth it.

Written By Leo Babauta