The Art of Overcoming Setbacks
“Fall down seven times; get up eight.” -Japanese Proverb
We’ve all experienced some form of disappointment. We thought we’d be further along by now. Things aren’t going our way. Other people let us down; our bodies don’t perform the way we want them to. We fall short of the expectations we set for ourselves. There are a million ways life slaps us around.
As part of the Running is Rad campaign, we’ve focused on staking out new challenges, creating plans that support these dreams, and stoking our motivation along the way. But the reality is, any journey worth pursuing will include its fair share of setbacks. It’s how we respond that reveals our character and increases our resilience.
So, to close this campaign out, here are 3 things to consider as we’re bouncing back from disappointment:
Give Yourself Permission to be Sad
It’s okay, go ahead and sob into your craft beer. Turn your broken heart inside out and dump its contents onto the pages of your journal. Binge watch This is Us with a pint of Ben + Jerry’s. What you’re feeling is normal.
“I allowed myself some serious time to mourn Boston,” explained Jen Van Otterloo, an Olympic-trials marathon qualifier. “My first Boston. Elite Start. So excited. And ‘bam,’ I can’t straighten my leg because I tore my meniscus. There was no fix besides surgery. Boston was gone. And I had to allow myself some serious time to mourn the loss.”
We all wear grief differently. Step 1 begins with admitting your disappointment and unpacking all the emotions that come with the loss.
Modify + Adjust the Goal
When you’re ready, baby-step your way to a place you can adapt your goals to the new reality. If it was just one bad day, you won’t need to dwell too much on this point. But if life’s thrown you a curveball that really alters your path, you’ll need to take into consideration your new landscape and, potentially, new limitations. Don’t worry, many times this is temporary.
Danna Herrick, member of the Hansons-Brooks elite running squad earned a new personal best at 2:32:19 at the Frankfort Marathon last October. Unfortunately, five weeks prior to race day she had to withdraw from Boston’s professional field after suffering a gnarly heel bruise. “My initial emotion upon feeling the physical pain was frustration, annoyance, and sadness,” explained Danna.
“I was frustrated that my body broke down and that I, a physical therapist, wasn’t able to keep myself healthy. I was injured. And wasn’t going to be on the start line. Once I stood up and saw the real reflection in the mirror, I focused on the next step. I adjusted my goals and modified the plan. I believe the mind cannot perform fully without the body. And the body can’t heal without the mind on board. If I wanted to move forward toward in my healing, I needed to align my mind and body to be on the same path. I did this by writing out a new, modified version, determining small steps I could perform daily, and returning to my ‘why’ horizon. I reached out to additional medical resources for physical therapy, massage, body mechanics work, and rehabilitation options. I rode my triathlon bike on my husband’s trainer (while watching Downton Abbey!), spent more time with my husband and dog, traveling to new places and seeking new adventures. I read books that challenged my mental game and opened my eyes to the secret weapon of injuries.”
“I focused on keeping my eyes up and my heart strong,” concluded Danna.
Refuse to Give Up
Prior to reading Grit, by Angela Duckworth, I (Janel) use to think passion was the key to success. But Duckworth argues: “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” She explains, “grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity.”
That ability to learn from setbacks, opting to see them as instructive, rather than fatalistic, that’s the special sauce of which champions are built.
As Danna notes, “I believe that as an athlete, as a human being, we get to grow through challenge. If we’re strong enough to surrender to our new realities and embrace a new plan, we WILL come out stronger mentally, emotionally, and spiritually than had we never suffered the setback in the first place.”
A few months back I stumbled upon this definition of perseverance. “It’s the ability to bear up under difficult circumstances not with passive complacency, but with a hopeful fortitude that actively resists weariness and defeat.”
That “actively resists” bit gave me pause. It means I don’t have to just weather tough times, but I can play a role in resisting discouragement.
Jen concludes, “It’s not always going to be easy to stay positive, but if you have a bad day, don’t linger too long. Get up and keep going. I’ve steered myself away from the people who tell me that my knee will never again be the same after surgery. My knee is not their knee and my journey is not their story.”
So there you have it: stay positive, learn from the disappointment, then get back in the saddle. Because we don’t give up.