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Do You Have a Setback Strategy?

Here’s what I know for sure: If you are a human being who has lived more than five minutes on this planet, you are going to face some adversity.

Challenge is a part of our experience. As a friend, a former Buddhist monk, says, “challenges are what we call the things we just aren’t as skilled at dealing with.” No wonder it feels hard to have to adapt, adjust, cope.
But if you are brave, adversity can also provide great opportunity for growth, knowledge, wisdom, connection, and positive change. And we can create a setback strategy to help us deal with the adversity that comes our way.

In my new book, How to Live an Awesome Life (Viva Editions, 2015), I lay out the plan I use when I feel like things are too hard to handle. Here are four of my favorite setback strategies:

  • Adopt a growth mindset.
    Research by the renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck shows that when we believe we can improve, we do. It doesn’t always feel comfortable in the beginning. While we learn what we need to do to get through the upset, our brains have to form new neural pathways to make those skills a habit. This feels as though we are not making any progress, but we are. When you believe you can get better at something, you will. That can help you persist when you feel like hanging it up.
  • Be accountable.
    When challenges and adversity hit, it can feel hard and scary to own up to your role in the mess. But accountability is key to resilience. When you acknowledge your role in the challenge, you are in position to change it. When you don’t see your part in the setback, you are stuck waiting on others to do something. Accountability leads to acceptance, which provides the clarity and insight you’ll need to take action to move through the difficulty.
  • Create a new narrative.
    When we are buried in the frustration and fear that adversity can provoke, it’s hard to remain optimistic. But you can change the story around what is happening, and that can help you bounce back.

    Social psychologist Gregory Walton asked students who were facing adversity to write about the experience as a way of helping future students. When they believed their letters would help others facing adversity, they tended to have greater perspective and felt less alone.

    Write your own narrative. Reflect on what’s happening. Describe the challenges and opportunities contained within. You’ll move through challenges with greater ease.

  • Connect with others.
    Too often we are so busy dealing with drama and putting out fires that we don’t seek the support we need to reboot and cope. This can leave us feeling sad and alone. When you are feeling challenged, seek out supportive family members and friends. Find a support group, others who know what you are going through. Find those people who can buoy you during difficult times. And remember, others have bounced back from adversity and challenge. With a setback strategy in place, you can, too.


Walton, G., Cohen, G. (2011). A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students. Science, Vol. 331, no. 6023, pp. 1447-1451.

Fired employee photo available from Shutterstock

Do You Have a Setback Strategy?

Polly Campbell

Polly Campbell is a sought-after motivational speaker and the author of three books, How to Live an Awesome Life: How to live well, do good, be happy; >em>Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People and How to Reach Enlightenment. She blogs at and writes regularly on personal development and wellness topics for national publications.

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APA Reference
Campbell, P. (2018). Do You Have a Setback Strategy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.