3 Scientific Ways to Recover From a Setback

To paraphrase Mark Twain, good judgement comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment.

Mistakes enable growth. Setbacks are a given, but that you will handle them well is not. Do you let the problem paralyze you, or do you use it as learning experience? There are coping mechanisms and mental approaches that are scientifically proven to help you better handle missteps. Here are three tips that will help you bounce back from setbacks and even use them to your advantage.

1. Be an optimist.

If you weren’t born one, fear not: optimism can be taught.

Dr. Jacinta Jiménez is a Stanford-trained psychologist and head of coaching at BetterUp, a company that offers executive coaching to people at every level of an organization, not just the C-suite. She says that research from Martin Seligman, a well-known psychologist, professor, and author, shows that if we can adjust our “explanatory style”–the way in which we explain to ourselves why we experienced a particular event–we can learn to stay positive in the face of adversity.

Next time you are eye-to-eye with a setback, Dr. Jimenez suggests thinking about Seligman’s 3 Ps: permanence (how permanent is the setback?), pervasiveness (will the setback affect your whole life or just part of it?), and personalization (is the setback really something you caused?).

Optimistic people do a good job of recognizing bad events as temporary, compartmentalizing them so they don’t seep into other aspects of their lives, and externalizing them rather than completely blaming themselves for what happened.

2. Use healthy coping mechanisms.

Resist the common urge to throw a pity party on the couch and binge-watch TV while you overeat in isolation. Active coping, in which you use your resources to manage negative emotions and improve your situation requires more effort but will help you feel better in the long run.

Active coping methods include engaging in social activities and exercising, which releases endorphins, the chemicals in our brain that make us feel good. Recent research from Princeton even suggests that exercise reduces anxiety and helps people better deal with stress.

Doing something creative can also make you feel better, offers Susan Peppercorn a career and life coach and CEO of Positive Workplace Partners. She says that people who take part in a creative activity they enjoy have higher levels of well-being, and there is research to prove it. “Especially after a disappointment, engaging in a creative activity can restore your sense of self-control and broaden your perspective,” she says.

3. Learn from your mistakes.

Another healthy thing to do in the wake of a setback is to reflect. Peppercorn suggests trying growth-oriented thinking, in which you focus on what you have learned and how this knowledge can help you advance your career, rather than fixating on the perceived failure.

“Failure can make you feel so discouraged that you lose perspective. If you shift to figuring out what you can learn from the experience and determine how it will help you grow, you can short-circuit the shame-blame thought process,” she says.

Your mistakes can even help those around you. Ash Norton is a chemical engineer and founder of Ash Norton Engineering Leadership. She says she’s made lots of mistakes throughout her career, but she never let them hold her back. In fact, she made a conscious effort to share them with those around her, which helped her whole organization improve.

Norton notes that Amy Edmondson of Harvard University observed something similar when she researched learning in hospitals: “She discovered that the highest-performing nursing units were the ones that reported the largest number of mistakes. Her research indicated that errors are a critical input to organizational learning. She found that these high-performing teams did not make more mistakes than other teams. The just felt more comfortable sharing their mistakes, which allowed the whole team to reap the learning benefits.”

There probably is not an entrepreneur among us who hasn’t faced a setback. It is how we handle those challenges that determines our success. Luckily, we have science on our side.

This piece was originally published by Inc.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.