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How Our Setbacks Can Help Us

Setbacks Can Help Us

When we muster our strength and put in our best effort, it can be hard to recover when something discourages us.

Hard as it may be, we have to find a way. If we expect things to proceed in an orderly fashion, without need for determination, flexibility, and sacrifice, we will end up frustrated and disappointed.

There will always be setbacks. It is only because of adversity that our accomplishments are meaningful.

We need to be prepared for adversity, despite its myriad forms. Where do we find this kind of courage in ourselves?

Reframing our Setbacks

The first step is to consider what a setback actually is. This may seem unnecessary, but it’s not. Most people see their setbacks in an emotional, negative way; these people need to reinterpret the purpose of their setbacks.

Fundamentally, setbacks are feedback from the world around us. They tell us how our mental image of reality needs to be adjusted. They tell us when our choices may not lead to the outcome we expected, prompting us to investigate and find out why. They are opportunities to learn a little more about how the world around us responds to our actions.

It is true, then, that setbacks prompt us to adapt. They exist to tell us that there is more work to be done. Despite this, setbacks are not judgmental or unkind. They do not occur to remind us that our innermost hopes and efforts are misplaced, or that there is something wrong with us.

Setbacks are impartial, and they are necessary. Without them, our efforts exist in a vacuum in which nothing is ventured and nothing is gained; nobody grows, and nothing really changes.

The sooner we start seeing our setbacks as valuable, the sooner we overcome our emotionality and begin using them to our advantage.

Setbacks in Context

Knowing what setbacks actually are, it is still necessary to put them in perspective. Most of us tend to view our lives on a micro-scale. The significance of anything that happens during our day tends to be inflated, as though our lives are only 24 hours long.

There is a good reason for this: new problems require new action and adaptation. Nevertheless, this bias makes it easy to get swept up in anything that goes wrong.

It is difficult to consider our current misfortunes in the broader context of our entire future; we don’t have access to this context because it hasn’t happened yet.

But it will. We know this, because we do have the context of the past, in which we can see a record of ourselves learning to cope with (if not resolve) our misfortune.

We need to believe in this process. It is generalizable, and we can (and should) extrapolate it to the future.

When we know the role of our setbacks, and we know their true significance in the chronology of our lives, we develop a sense of perspective. We view new setbacks from outside; because we are confident that we will adapt to them, we feel as though we already have. It is like these setbacks already happened a long time ago.

Changing Course

Discouraged people who abandon their goals risk squandering their potential. These people may insist that there is no point to their efforts. If their efforts are half-hearted, their pessimistic premonitions may come true.

Those who are resilient to their setbacks, however, can make a sensible evaluation of when they need to try a different strategy. There is always a time and place to decide that something is not working, or it is not right for us.

This is not the same as quitting; when we make these decisions, it is true that we are abandoning a specific goal, but we are doing so in deference to a broader goal. Our specific goals only exist to serve our broader goals, so nothing is lost.

The broader goals we pursue can be broad indeed. For some, they will be as broad as “living a happy life”. We can find legitimate success in whatever we do, so long as our perspective is flexible.

The Fruit of Our Labour

When we encounter setbacks, it is often true that the more effort we put in over time, the more discouraged we become.

The other side of the coin is this: the more effort we put in over time, the greater the value of the ensuing adaptation. In other words, our efforts will be rewarded, even if that reward is the one we needed rather than the one we wanted.

Because of this, there is no such thing as wasted time. Our efforts either result in success, or adaptation that brings us closer to future success.

When we aim for success, we should expect to encounter struggles that are beyond our prediction or control. We should carry this knowledge with us: though the road may be long, winding, and full of detours, conscientious effort does ultimately lead to success.


About Superspective

The goal of Superspective is to provide a support system and to encourage introspection; when we use these tools to self-actualize, we can each contribute to the world in our own unique way.

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