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5 Tips to Get Back on Your Feet After a Setback (With Examples)

by Maili

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As the adage goes, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up again. It’s a reassuring sentiment, but most people know that getting back up isn’t that easy.

Setbacks, falls and failures are a part of life, just like progress and success. It would be nice to be on the upward swing all the time, but unfortunately, that’s not possible. One of the keys to getting back on your feet after a fall is realizing that setbacks and negative experiences are rarely fatal and can instead signal the need for change. When one door closes, another may open.

In this article, I’ll take a look at falls and failures, as well as some tips on how to get back on your feet.

Falling does not equal failure

It’s rare for plans to work out perfectly. Most times, the journey to your goal is not a smooth escalator ride to the top, but rather a rocky hillside where you may end up taking two steps back for every step forward.

And that’s okay! Life is unpredictable and there are plenty of reasons why the best-laid plans don’t work out. Sometimes there are personal losses that set you back, sometimes there’s a  global crisis that disrupts your plans. 

Often, though, we tend to perceive obstacles and lapses as complete failures. While it’s important to know when to cut your losses and stop pursuing an impossible goal, it’s also essential to realize that not every obstacle is a sign that you should give up.

For a good chunk of my teens and early 20s, I suffered – and still occasionally do – from the so-called former gifted child syndrome. While I wasn’t a straight-A student, I rarely had to try very hard in school to do well. I hadn’t developed any study skills to speak of, so when things no longer came naturally to me in high school, I quickly gave up. I expected good results fast, so when I didn’t excel immediately, I stopped trying.

This pattern followed me to university and I still haven’t completely gotten rid of it, but seeing the journeys of my clients and students has helped me to realize that not every fall is a failure. Often, I’m the one who has to remind them of just that, so in order to avoid being a hypocrite, I’ve trained myself to apply the same knowledge to my own journey.

Why failures aren’t final

Occasionally, we do fail, whether through our own fault or because of our circumstances. It’s often during these times that our thinking becomes black-and-white. In this all-or-nothing mentality, each failure is a catastrophe.

  • The end of a relationship may leave us feeling like we’ll be alone forever.
  • Losing our job seems to be the start of a slippery slope to homelessness.
  • A failing grade seems to define us entirely and mark us as stupid and lazy for our entire lives.

But just like falling doesn’t mean failing, failure does not spell the end of everything. The end of a relationship can help us focus on ourselves for a moment. The loss of a job can mean a period of financial uncertainty, but it doesn’t mean that all jobs are suddenly gone. A failing grade usually means a retake, not that we are stupid.

Furthermore, when one door closes, another may open. There will be new relationships, jobs, and opportunities. Things will turn out alright, even if it doesn’t look like that at first. Take a little time to mourn your losses and change your perspective, and look for the silver lining or the light at the end of the tunnel.

You deserve a new chance, but it’s up to you to take it.

How to get back on your feet

It doesn’t matter how many times you fail; what matters is how many times you get up again. However, it’s not always the easiest task to get back on your feet after you’ve been through some tough times.

Then again, while it may not be easy, it’s not impossible. If you’ve recently fallen on some hard times, here are some tips on how to get back up again.

1. Timing is everything

It’s understandable if you want to be back on your feet as soon as possible, and generally, it doesn’t do you much good to wallow in misery and self-pity. However, depending on the nature of your struggles, it’s better to let yourself grieve and be angry. Sometimes, it’s okay to not be okay.

Rushing yourself after a breakup or the loss of a loved one can do more harm than good in the long run. Negative emotions are a part of life and it’s better to let them run their course.

Don’t rush yourself, but don’t get too comfortable in your misery. It’s a fine balance, but trust yourself to know when the time is right.

2. Find your why

According to William Damon’s book The Path to Purpose, people are the most satisfied when they know why they’re doing what they’re doing; when they have a purpose. Finding a  purpose is often what pulls people out of the deepest of holes.

The purpose can be a lofty goal of remedying world hunger or fighting climate change, as long as you have an actionable plan to do it (more on that in the next tip), but it can also be something simple and specific.

A few years ago, a family I know experienced the sudden and unexpected death of their young daughter. It was a shock to the family and everyone who knew them; the holidays were a subdued affair that year. The thing that helped the family deal with the grief was their youngest child, who was only a few months old at the time. The baby gave the parents a purpose – there was someone to feed and change, someone to hold it together for.

It’s an extreme example, but it illustrates the importance of having a purpose.

3. Set goals

A purpose without an action plan is a dream. Dreams are good to have, too, but the only way to get back on your feet is by doing. Like your purpose, goals can be big and lofty, or simple and concrete.

Daily, weekly and monthly goals are your friends, especially if they are varied. Set a daily step goal and a monthly savings goal. Start small and work your way up, and don’t forget to reward yourself for progress.

4. Seek support

You don’t have to handle everything alone. Don’t be afraid to lean on others, be emotionally vulnerable, and express your feelings and needs. Confide with friends or family, or seek professional counseling.

If opening up is hard for you, try writing about what’s on your mind, or ask for simple things. Help with getting groceries might not be what you really need, but it can still be helpful for you. If you’re not finding the support you need, seeking out people who have been in a similar situation can be helpful, too.

5. Be ready to change

In the animal kingdom, the species that survive are either the strongest or the most adaptable, and humans aren’t that different.

Strength is needed during hard times, but I would argue that adaptability is the source of the strength. In psychological literature, it’s called resilience – the ability to recover quickly after an adverse event.

Sometimes, the toughest times in your life signal the need for change. Maybe it’s your outlook, habits, or environment that needs to change and in order to get back on your feet, you need to accept it.

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Wrapping up

Not every setback is a complete failure, and not every failure is final. Sometimes, it’s a  sign of much-needed change, and a chance to reorient yourself. The key to getting back on your feet lies in recognizing just that, and finding your meaning and purpose in life. Use your purpose as a guiding light to climb out of your hole, and don’t forget that you’re not in this alone. It’s okay to lean on a friend while you’re finding your feet.

What do you think? Did I miss any tips that have helped you in the past? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Maili Tirel AuthorLinkedIn Logo

School psychologist, teacher and internet counselor from Estonia. Passionate about coffee, reading, dancing, and singing in the shower, much to the neighbors’ dismay. Counseling catchphrase: “It’s okay!“

2 thoughts on “5 Tips to Get Back on Your Feet After a Setback (With Examples)”

  1. This was very helpful. I’m currently going more then I would like to explain. I’m working on my plan of action now. Thank you. I hope you have much success as a journalist


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