Editor’s Note: This article by Morey Stettner originally appeared on May 20, 2022 in Investor’s Business Daily.
After setting a goal, you’re off and running. You’re making good progress. But you hit a speed bump — and now you’re stalling.
The way you react will largely determine whether you can regroup and regain momentum or give up in frustration. Just because you care about the goal and try hard to attain it doesn’t mean you won’t slip up and regress.
“As you go from point A to B in pursuit of a goal, you need to anticipate there will be some setbacks,” said Jonathan Kirschner, founder and chief executive of AIIR Consulting, a Philadelphia-based leadership development firm. “Change is never a linear process. It’s two steps forward, one step back.”
Yet some people are unforgiving when they backslide. They berate themselves for their poor choices or sloppy execution. Others, by contrast, are too lax. Facing failure, they succumb rather than push themselves harder to excel.
So what’s the best way to respond to setbacks?
Pursuing a goal shouldn’t be smooth sailing every step of the way. Treat obstacles as positive signs.
“A backslide is actually healthy because it shows you’ve set a good, strong goal,” Kirschner said. Struggling to stay on course indicates that you’ve set an ambitious, powerful goal.
Think like a scientist and connect cause and effect. Analyze why you veered off track and what triggers may have led you astray.
“It’s an opportunity for learning,” Kirschner said. He suggests posing questions such as, “What conditions or stimuli in that moment created the vulnerability to backslide?” and “What precipitating events created the backslide and how can I learn from that?”
Your guilt or disappointment can immobilize you. If you’re upset at yourself for derailing your goal attainment, you might serve as your own worst enemy.
“Guilt and shame and other negative emotions are a double-edged sword,” Kirschner said. “The good edge is you feel bad and never want to feel that again, so you’ll try even harder. The negative edge is you let it completely take over and defeat you.”
Left unchecked, backsliding can cause stress. Instead, maintain your composure and adopt a constructive mindset.
Gita Matlock, a coach and co-founder of Herd Spirit, a Calif.-based leadership education and consulting firm, suggests telling yourself, “Stop, Breathe, Choose Again.”
“It’s important to pause for a moment, recollect ourselves and make a new choice,” she said. “Don’t make that choice from a place of fear or when you’re freaking out. If you do, you’ll only see limited options and you won’t be as creative” in identifying better strategies to resume your goal pursuit.
As soon as you sense you’re backsliding, Matlock says you should ask yourself, “How do I feel right now?” and “What do I think right now?” Write down your answers.
“Look at how what you’re feeling and thinking is influencing your decisions,” she said. For example, you may feel anger at your colleagues for impeding your progress or doubt your ability to perform. And you may think that changing conditions affect how you reach your goal.
From there, adjust how you feel and think to your advantage. Replace misguided beliefs with empowering ones.
You’re more apt to bounce back if you accept your negative emotions rather than deny them.
“Experience the emotion, call it out and accept that’s your current state,” Kirschner said. “By accepting it, you can move beyond it, engage your faculties of logic and reason and chart a new course. If you don’t do that, the negative emotions stay with you.”
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