No Means Think Bigger - The 3 Kinds of Setbacks and How to Respond

March 21, 2013 by John Andrew Williams

You know the feeling when you have something in mind you really want to achieve and it seems so close, yet something gets in the way?

It happens all of the time with high school students as they try to get good grades or pursuing their passions. It also happens when you are a Life Coach for teens, as you build your practice and sustain the work.

Parents know all too well that the journey between successes, with setbacks and disappointments along the way, causes frustration.

As a Life Coach working with teens, I’ve been fortunate to see an insider’s point-of-view from all three of these perspectives and pinpointed a few patterns in how people approach setbacks. It turns out that the initial assumption about the nature of the setback – whether it is permanent, temporary, or systematic – matters a great deal. It matters because the assumption drives our response.

Permanent Setbacks

Permanent setbacks are extremely rare to the point of non-existence.

The problem is that in our current education system, grades reinforce the idea that judgement on performance is permanent. Grades imply that a bad score on a Math test just doesn’t go away. Even if you take the time to learn the material better than anyone else in the class, the grade stays there. Menacing and mean, one poor grade can severely pull down the average.

Adults… don’t think that we’re immune! Most of use have been conditioned to have an unrealistic fear of failure which squelches creativity and puts undo pressure on achieving perfection. Of course, reaching a certain benchmark of performance is important. It doesn’t pay to botch a networking meeting by having an embarrassing typo on your proposal and feeling ruffled. Missing a deadline for a report or filing is certainly a big deal, but it’s still rarely a permanent setback.

You can recover.

Consider the example of Ben Underwood. He lost his sight at the age of 3. He later discovered that he could “see” with his ears. He made clicking noises with his tongue and used echo-location to understand his surroundings, similar to dolphins. By the time he was a teenager, he could ride his bike and basically do everything a normal teenager does, including Karate.

See, you can recover.

Temporary Setbacks

These setbacks are more common, but don’t occur as often as you think.

Temporary setbacks don’t require you to change your habits. It’s just a bit of bad luck.

So, better luck next time!

The key here is to accept the setback and to keep moving forward. Stay the course.

Systemic Setbacks

Systematic setbacks are quite common. This type of setback happens again and again. It may feel permanent because it’s continually happening. The setbacks happen because the system you are using is designed to be successful enough often enough to provide reliable results. The way to overcome systemic setbacks is to look at the system.

That bad grade on a Math test seems permanent. The grade is permanent, but your performance in the rest of the class and building academic skills are still within your control to improve.

Fear can seem permanent too, but not pursuing a dream you want to achieve because of fear is a problem in the system.

New Academic Life Coaches come up against systemic setbacks they don’t create a plan to market themselves to families and share the incredible benefits offered by Academic Life Coaching.

School administrators run up against systemic setbacks when they don’t have the tools to approach their staff and equip them to work with students one-to-one in meaningful ways. A system that integrates life coaching concepts and skills into classrooms can avoid setbacks.

So where do you start? The mantra “No Means Think Bigger!” comes into play. When you experience a setback, look at the systems you are using. “Thinking bigger” means a creating a system that can be more sustainable and more reliable. Concepts of scale come in to play. Ask yourself a question: Is the work that I’m doing now going to solve this problem?

The real challenge is understanding the difference between a temporary and systemic setback and to decide whether to stay the course or work on the system.

Also read: The Magic of Little Steps and the four letter ‘J’ word

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