Setbacks are inevitable in life. We should be prepared to set them aside and use them to our advantage. Highly successful people, who in fact, experience the most setbacks, have acquired this knack of setting aside setbacks in order to achieve their success. Unfortunately, nobody talks much about their setbacks and struggles. We are taught to admire successful for their successes and we are left to compare ourselves with their achievements. This in turn makes it hard for us to validate our mistakes and problems and we start questioning our abilities.


This pattern of thinking has made the world be afraid of setbacks. Even from a young age we have been taught that being wrong and making mistakes are bad. Our mind gets conditioned to use these memories to provoke negative emotions like fear and anxiety which might make us repeat the same errors today. Award winning author J.K. Rowling advocates that we should learn to embrace setbacks and failures. She states that “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default.” If we live so carefully to avoid failure, we’re also never teaching ourselves how to manage it effectively when we experience it.

The question now is “Can we train ourselves to set aside the setbacks and use them to our advantage? Yes. These are the things anybody can try to turn negative experiences into positive outcomes


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A setback is what happens when something doesn’t go as planned. Setbacks are often unexpected and beyond our control. Failure is a decision you make in response to a setback. If things don’t go as planned, you should develop a new strategy to accomplish your goal because failure is usually not an option for anybody. So, practice making the distinction between a setback and failure and make a choice to quickly bounce back from both.


One of the most frustrating things we hear from somebody when we are experience a setback is “stay positive”. The concept of positive thinking has been misused, misconstrued, and abused by all. Staying positive does not mean smiling and being happy with everything that happens to you. Positive thinking means learning, growing and evolving from our experiences in life. Positive thinking implies an understanding that setback or failure is not anybody’s final destination. It is a stepping-stone in your journey that is getting you to where you need to be. When we do experience difficulties in life, it is okay to get down on ourselves. It is okay to get upset and disappointed. Our goal, however, is to not stay down.

Vent Out Your Frustration

If you have experienced a setback or failure, take some time to walk it off and clear your mind. The initial emotional rush resulting from a setback will eventually dissipate and you can then slowly return your focus back to the issue at hand.

BE severely HONEST

This is the most critical part of the process. Nearly 90% of people do not reflect on what happened. They would respond by turning to distractions (usually substance abuse) or developing deviant responses (blaming others, indulge in self-harm activities). What is actually required is being honest with oneself on why it happened. We must learn from our setback or we would end up risking more of the same. Albert Einstein famously said it was insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. If we don’t learn from our mistakes and failures in life, then we are doomed to keep repeating them, whether we realize it or not.


Failing forward means learning from setbacks and making the necessary adjustments to succeed. Every change we make, every person we meet, and every bit of information we absorb is coming together so we can create a different outcome.



In conclusion, we must accept that we cannot stop obstacles from appearing in life, but we can choose how to handle them. Setbacks may block our vision temporarily, but if we persevere, we can discover opportunities that have always been waiting for us on the other side. As we get more efficient with this process, we enable ourselves to see the positive side in even the toughest of situations.


Prof. K. Madhu

Wellness Hub, Visakhapatnam


Prof. Madhu Kosuri

I have completed 30 years of teaching and research in psychology at the Department of Psychology and Parapsychology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, India.

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