Turning Setbacks Into Positive Momentum

If you are like me, you hate setbacks. A lot. If you are coming to this site for productivity tips, it is likely you are a goal oriented person. Continually moving forward towards your goal boarders on obsession. When you encounter a setback, it makes you feel like you are actually moving away from the goal. As much as we productivity junkies love to plan and organise and have systems in place to increase our forward momentum, setbacks are inevitable.

Last week was a week of setbacks. In the grand scheme of life, these setbacks are far from cataclysmic. Yet I could not help the feeling like I was failing towards achieving my goals. I had several setbacks this week, but I’ll only focus on two today. First, after two months of solid running – likely the best in ten years – shin splits returned to both legs and have apparently sidelined my running routine for (hopefully) a brief amount of time. Second, my goal of writing two blog posts a week didn’t happen for the first time since I started this site in January. However, as I was thinking of alternative solutions to my running problem, in the process, I created a “Setback Processing Algorithm” that will prove useful in turning setbacks into positive momentum.

Step 1: Identify the setback, take some time to whine (but not much).

Of the three steps in the Setback Processing Algorithm to turn a setback into forward moving energy, Step 1 is likely the easiest. Sooner or later, when working towards a goal and things are progressing nicely, suddenly they won’t be. It quickly becomes apparent that instead of being closer to realising your goal you are actually now further away. Setbacks are painful. In order to start moving forward and regenerating positive energy and momentum toward the goal, you must identify the setback and process the negative emotions associated with it. In my experience, a few close trusted friends are vital to provide emotional safety nets during the first Step of the Setback Processing Algorithm. It is important to release all the complaining thoughts you might have. Process as you must, but don’t stay in the Step 1 sub-routine too long. The most important thing to avoid is giving up a sense of hope and accomplishment towards your goal. Slowdown if we must, but we never, ever, ever quit.

Step 2: Generate positive momentum by identifying alternative options

Now that you’ve done the emotional processing, it is time to start generating positive momentum again. Step 2 is more than having a “plan B”. It is redirecting all of your intensity and focus previously applied to Plan A now on to Plan B. It was at Step Two that I had the idea for this blog post. My inner dialogue went something like this (though the actual dialogue contained significantly more expletives than would be appropriate for howtobeproductive.com).

Self: “So I have to take some time off from running. Just when things are going so well!! AHHHH! Well, let’s step back from this for a second. Look at it objectively. Yes, I have to take at least a week, possibly more, off from running. But what can I do in its place? I can still swim and attend spin, yoga, and Pilates classes. Ok, new goal. Let’s see how much weight I can lose without running.”

And from that internal dialogue, I slowly began to generate simple momentum, simply by asking myself what my additional options were.

The most important thing is to start generating forward energy, no matter how small that energy may be.

Step 3: When the Momentum is Right Switch Back To Original Approach

As you build additional momentum through your alternative approach, when the time is right you can get back on to the original path. Perhaps you had a financial setback. It stung at first, but you determined a few ways you could still improve your financial situation, even if your savings took a massive hit. You decide to live a bit more frugally for a few months, and canceling a few memberships. Finally after a few months of this alternative approach towards your financial goals, your financial setback has been cleared up and you can resume your normal saving regimen. Another example is my goal of posting two blog posts a week. Life happens. Sometimes I can’t the writing time in I need. However, I can still build positive momentum by reading other articles on productivity to generate ideas for my next posting. Then, when I have the time available to write my next post, I can get swiftly jump right into the next blog post.

I will close with this: I will be running again, likely sooner rather than later. And I will be posting twice a week again, likely more. The key is that I never stop moving forward. Ever.

Happy Working,


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