Do you become stressed when you don't succeed in achieving what you want? The very reason why failure and setbacks damages so many egos, breaks so many hearts, and steals so many dreams may lie in how resilient you are to pressure.

Resilience is characterized as being able to adapt to, and bounce back from, tough situations without compromising your objective. Being able to bounce back quickly from any setback, instead of dwelling in self-pity, allows you to get on with your life and keep working towards your target.

So, how do you develop resilience to the emotional stress of setbacks and failure?

When you cut yourself, your body instantly goes to work to clot the blood, seal the wound and fight any infection. If you break a bone, you body immediately goes to work on protecting the area with inflammation, healing the bone tissue, and restoring circulation. Your body is innately resilient and bounces back from setbacks because it adapts itself to restore balance and health.

In nature, the willow is a strong, resilient tree that can tolerate strong weather conditions because it bends easily in the wind without breaking. It adapts to its environment in order to not just survive, but thrive.

The degree to which your mind is able to adapt, and rise above, your setbacks, instead of getting sucked into self-pity, will determine how quickly you bounce back and get on with your life. Here's how you can use your mind to bounce back from any setback with glory.

Focus on the upside

Why does a setback hurt so much? Is it because it makes you feel like a failure? Is it because you feel as if you are not good enough, and that no matter what you try you aren't going to succeed? No. Setbacks hurt when you focus your mind on the pain. Have you noticed how well people can cope with pain or injury well until they see blood?

In one study, three groups of participants were asked to soak their arm in a bucket of freezing cold iced water for as along as they could stand it. During the submersion, the first group watched funny movies and told jokes to each other, the second group practiced a relaxation technique, and the third group just sat there in silence. Groups A & B were able to increase their pain threshold by 50%, whereas there was no change to the pain threshold of group C.

By refocusing your mind on the empowering aspects of the setback, instead of the painful ones, you will bounce back quickly without feeling drained by the event.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a renowned plastic surgeon, began research into the human mind. He noticed that with some people, once the bandages were removed after receiving cosmetic plastic surgery, if their internal self-esteem had not changed, then no matter how perfect a job he did, they still felt ugly. What they focused on, regardless of the reality, is what they experienced as true.

What you focus on, regardless of the outcome of the situation, will determine whether you feel confident and self-assured or irritable and depressed.

Tip: Pay attention to the aspects of the situation that you felt good about. Focus on the aspects that did go well. Did you apply yourself well? If so, then be pleased that you did that! Were you proactive and used your strengths? Well, that takes courage, so if you did that then be proud of yourself. Did you give your best effort? Then, that's all you can ask of yourself, so acknowledge yourself for having the confidence to be your best.

Tip: Acknowledge how you feel, but don't dwell on the setback. Why waste your time doing focusing on something that hurts? It won't get you any closer to what you want. It sounds harsh (because it is) but you have to tell yourself "Get up – Get over it – Get on with it".

Is it a disaster or a learning experience?

Dr Rich Allen (Ph.D. in educational psychology) has studied how the brain receives, processes, stores and recalls information. In a leadership program of 80 participants, a 60-second movie clip was shown of a car traveling down a dirt road and then colliding with a barn. Immediately after the clip the group was given a list of questions about what they had just seen. Two different questionnaires were then distributed. Half the participants were asked "How fast was the car moving when the car bumped into the barn?" The other half were asked 'How fast was the car moving when the car smashed into the barn?

The group that was asked to describe the collision as 'bumped' reported an average speed of 42km/hr. The group that was asked to describe the collision as 'smashed' reported an average speed of 67km/hr. The alteration of a single word produced a significant change in the participants' perception of the film clip.

In the same sense, if you describe your 'setback' as a personal reflection of your self worth, then you will probably feel like a failure and give up. Your setbacks feel painful and you feel worthless when you describe them in terms of 'you'. Comments like 'It's all my fault', 'I always achieved what I set my mind to – why can't I just get the darn job?', 'What's wrong with me?' is an invitation for self-pity and misery. Even the word 'reject', which is defined as 'to refuse to accept or use; to throw away; to discard' conjures up images of worthless garbage tossed away into the bin. What a ridiculous way to describe a human being!

Putting yourself down reduces the effort you put into your other aspirations. Research has found that people with lower self-esteem set lower expectations for their performance, underestimate their capabilities and set less challenging or mediocre goals which leads to putting in less effort than those with high self esteem. In short, taking rejection and setbacks personally can lead to not trying as hard in your next life challenge.

However, describing the event in terms of the 'learning' you gained from it, allows you to feel empowered that this situation will make you either smarter, stronger, and one step closer to a 'getting what you want from life'.

Look at setbacks is as a stepping-stone that points out the path to where you want to go. In that sense, the setback is actually a helping hand that shows you the way that didn't work, so that you can find what path that will work. Without knowing what doesn't work, how can you expect to grow and improve?

As a child, you would have fallen over many times before you finally took your first steps. As I watch my own children grow and learn how to walk, I notice how each failed attempt teaches them how to improve, adapt and overcome. Each false step is actually a step closer to the right step. A setback is your arena to learn how to improve, optimize and strengthen so that you can get what you want.

Tip: Describe your setback experience in empowering terms instead of 'put-down' language. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, look at how it is showing you the way to getting what you want. Ask yourself:

'What can I learn from this?'


'How can this situation make me stronger, smarter or happier in my life?'

'What do I know now, that I didn't know before the situation?'

'How will this outcome help me improve in my next challenge?'

Is that being a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky optimist who is less in touch with reality? To a certain degree, yes. Will being positive and optimistic help you bounce back from rejection faster, keep your self-esteem intact and your motivation strong? Absolutely!

Becoming resilient to pressure is a choice of how you wish to react to the obstacles and setbacks that life throws at you. Now it's up to you decide whether you will let failure and setbacks stop you in your tracks and wallow in self-pity, or whether you will see the positive learning and focus on what you have done well, so that you can keep on trying until you get what you want from life.

It's your move.
Michael Licenblat B.Sc.(Psych) is a Resilience Expert who helps people become resilient to pressure in work and life. For a free report on the 'Seven ways to prevent yourself from becoming Over-Worked, Stressed-Out, and Run-Down',