Dealing with Setbacks: How to Bounce Back from Failure

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Congratulations! If you’re reading these words that probably means you’ve made some important change in your life but then had a setback.

Setbacks should be celebrated as important growth opportunities, not used as an excuse to beat yourself up.

So, regardless of whether you’re a dieter who just downed a half-gallon of ice cream or an ex-smoker who just burned through two packs of cigarettes, here are for 4 tips for seizing the opportunity in setbacks:  

1. Plan for bumps in the road.

Setbacks are part of the change process. They happen. What’s most important is how we respond to them. Come up with a plan for yourself to prevent setbacks using our ‘Turning Setbacks into Comebacks’ exercise, which guides you through the process.

Keep in mind that the first version of the plan you create won’t be the last. As you hit more bumps and learn more, the plan will evolve and mature. So, treat it as a living document that you’ll want to revisit periodically.

EXCLUSIVE – Have You Had a Setback in Life? Try Our Relapse Prevention Plan Worksheet 

2. Avoid the shaming trap.

After falling short of your goals, it can be tempting to beat yourself up. ‘Maybe that will teach me to never let this happen again,’ so the thinking often goes. Though taking responsibility for your actions is certainly important, constantly berating yourself for your failures only serves to lower confidence and zap motivation further. Be honest with yourself but also be compassionate.

 READ RELATED: How to Stop Negative Self Talk and Tame Your Critical Inner Voice in 5 Steps

3. Learn from the experience.

The most valuable part of a setback is the important data that it reveals about yourself. It tells you where your weak spots are right now and reveals clues about what parts of your plan might not be working.

For a moment, take step back and look at what happened as if it were a puzzle to be solved. Go back in time and retrace your steps. What led up to the setback? Where did things start to go wrong? See if you can pinpoint the triggers that led up to it and revise your setback prevention plan with ideas for how to manage these situations in the future.


4. Be mindful.

Mindfulness involves cultivating a calm awareness of the present moment. To get a feel for it, try our free Beginner’s Mindfulness Meditation Audio Guide. As you become more mindful in your everyday life, you’ll get better at slowing down and responding in moments when you might be tempted to revert back to old habits.   

EXCLUSIVE: Beginners Mindfulness Meditation Audio Guide


Give these strategies a try and start embracing setbacks as an essential part of the change process. And in the comments below, let us know what kinds of setbacks you’re dealing with. What has helped you to bounce back?



Bowen, S., Chawla, N., & Witkiewitz, K. (2014). Mindfulness-based relapse prevention for addictive behaviors. In R. A. Baer’s Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Addictive Behaviors: A Clinician’s Guide (pp. 141-157). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Daggenvoorde, T. H., Goossens, P. J., & Gamel, C. J. (2013). Regained control: A phenomenological study of the use of a relapse prevention plan by patients with a bipolar disorder. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 49, 235-242.

Marlatt, G. A., & Donovan, D. M. (Eds.). (2005). Relapse Prevention: Maintenance Strategies in the Treatment of Addictive Behaviors. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Marlatt, G. A., & George, W. H. (1984). Relapse prevention: Introduction and overview of the model. Addiction, 79, 261-273.


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