How to pick yourself up after a setback


For every athlete who crosses the line first or wins, there are another 10, 30 or more who ‘lose’. By its very nature, sport has ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Learning how to cope with losing can be a key to future success. Annemarie Coulson shares her thoughts.

Losing, failing, and things not working out as we hoped, sucks. It can be gutting when our best efforts and hard work fall short of what we hoped.

These setbacks can make us doubt ourselves (“Am I good enough?) and cripple our motivation (What’s the point?) So how do you pick yourself up when you have the heavy feeling of failure in your heart?

Allow yourself to feel the pain
Are you are telling yourself things like… “I am too sensitive, I should be coping better, I should be over this?”

Remind yourself that it is a perfectly normal and valid response to feel gutted, humiliated and disillusioned after a setback. Instead of trying to squash these feelings, it can be incredibly healing to stop judging yourself or your feelings as defective. So rather than pretend you are not hurting, allow yourself to feel and express it, so you can move through it.

Don’t add extra pain
It is painful enough to deal with a disappointment without rubbing salt in the wound by making it personal and speculating on what this means about you. E.g. you had a failure, but you are not a failure. If your negative judgments are making you even more miserable, ask yourself
What stories do I believe about myself and/or my future?
Am I sure they are accurate?
Is believing this in any way helpful or motivational?
It is such a relief to drop our stories and just deal with the primary disappointment and hurt.

Remind yourself of your strengths, not weaknesses
Are you trawling through your past to dredge up other experiences of failure to confirm that yes, you truly are the world biggest loser? Instead, remind yourself of times in the past when you successfully overcame obstacles and got through difficult times. What strengths, skills and resources do you have that would help you now?

Reframe the failure      
Instead of making this experience a personal “I suck so bad” statement, see this experience as valuable feedback. It’s not a failure of you as a person, just a failure of your method. Which means you need to change your method.

Change your method
Failure is a necessary step in learning, growing and improving. Every worthwhile achievement is a process of act, fail, learn, adjust then act again. So keep adjusting your plan, try a new method. Keep learning.

Ask for help
When you are struggling with something, it’s not always easy to figure out a better way. So reach out to trusted friends, family, coaches or experts and ask them. They can provide perspective, advice, inspiration, encouragement or accountability.

Remind yourself why it’s important
It’s easy to give up on something, because not doing it is always easier. But giving up means you’re losing something important. To renew your vigor and perseverance, reconnect with the bigger vision and values that got you excited in the first place. Take the first step.

This is not easy when you are feeling deeply discouraged and don’t feel like it. So choose something small and achievable and just take one step, any step. It shows you that things aren’t insurmountable or impossible. It starts to dissolve the discouragement, sadness and pain, and is the antidote to the soul-tearing effects of failure.

Perhaps the first step is to seek the support and encouragement of a life coach.

Annemarie Coulson is a Hamilton-based life coach. She specialises in supporting struggling, sad or stressed clients to make choices and changes that lead to greater happiness and life balance.  For more information visit or phone 021 076 5450.


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