The Value of Setbacks

“Don’t let your setbacks set you back,” Stacy Abrams, the Democratic candidate for the Georgia Governor role shared in a recent TED Talk. There is so much wisdom in that line.

So many times, we give up, give in and retreat when we’ve experienced a setback. We get the wind knocked out of us – figuratively or literally – and we run away, focused on our hurt, disappointment or frustration. We use our energy to justify that whatever didn’t go our way wasn’t really worth it anyway. It is easier to give up instead of to get up.

But whoever said anything about work or life would be easy, especially about the meaningful things?

A setback is really something that didn’t go as planned. It could be a promotion that is given to another. It could be your best employee just gave her notice. It could be your largest customer decides to shift his business to your competition. It could be someone in your family becomes ill or hurt. It could be the offer you placed on your dream house was rejected.

Every setback has valuable information for you if you choose to see it. Reflect on how you view setbacks. Do you see them as opportunities for disappointment and despair, or opportunities to become better, wiser and more resilient? Same situation, different outcome. You choose how you are with what work and life sends you.

Questions you can ask yourself when faced with any setback include:

  • What does this setback tell me about me, my approach or my effort?
  • Why did this setback happen?
  • How can I make a success out of what has happened?
  • What would someone courageous and resilient do here?

I regularly share in both my coaching and in the programs I teach to CEOs that life sends us two things: successes so we learn to celebrate, and setbacks so we learn how to be resilient in a world that constantly changes. Both are necessary, but the real progress happens in the setbacks. That is, if you have the courage and tenacity to see and use their value to be better in the next moment.

Take Action
Stop and notice a recent setback. Reflect on how you responded and why. Now, remind yourself that a setback is just new information. Reflect on what this setback taught you about you – and how you can use it to be better. Consider sharing this approach with others who matter to you in work and life.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading How to Succeed in Changing Times

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Life is the Ultimate Teacher

By Jay Forte

Few of us loved spending time in school. The homework, the studying, the tests – not high on most of our lists. But the daily lessons at school weren’t just about the subjects we were learning. School was also teaching us how to learn from the greatest teacher: life.

Life is the ultimate teacher. Day in and day out, life shares lessons with us, each of which serves as a learning event that teaches us to ask what should I do more of? And what should I not do next time?

In learning this, I believe that life sends us two things – successes and challenges.

Successes come to help us learn how to celebrate. Challenges come to teach us how to connect to larger and more significant things in us. Though the successes may feel better, the real lessons in life come from the challenges. It is as we work through those challenges that we can see life as the ultimate teacher.

So how do you learn to welcome the challenges instead of becoming resentful, aggravated, disappointed or frustrated?

  1. Understand that life is as life is. It isn’t personal when things go or don’t go your way. Life is neither good or bad – it just is. We have been told that good things happen to good people. Sure they do. And sometimes tough things happen to good people. That is how life works. It just comes at you.
  2. You add the meaning and understanding of what is happening. You choose how to be in and with each event of life. You can choose to resent or accept what happens in life. Choosing to accept or approach life’s events with a positive attitude and outlook does two things. First, it improves this moment, preventing you from seeing yourself as a victim of what is happening. When you focus on the negative, the quality of this moment diminishes. If the quality of your life is made by the quality of each moment – choose to focus on the good in each moment. Second, being upbeat opens you to use your energy to actively learn and grow. Don’t fight with the moments because the more you fight, the more they fight back. Instead, catch and release. Catch and learn from the situation, then release it to make room for more celebrations and more learning.

Life is an epic teacher. And as with teachers, though they may have things for you to learn, you choose whether to learn them. No one can make you learn from life – you have to see that by being open to life on life’s terms – to see and appreciate whatever comes your way to celebrate or learn – you become more fully engaged in life. That is, after all, what life is really about: being fully engaged in each of our moments. Anything else isn’t really living.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. Stop and notice: do you fight with life as it sends you lessons?
  2. What is one thing you can do today to be more open to life’s lessons?
  3. How can you look at each moment of life as important and essential to you discovering, developing and living the best version of you?

 

Consider reading Expect the Unexpected: What’s Your Plan B?

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Don’t be A Fixer. Be A Guide.

By Jay Forte

Your friend complains about a challenge with a colleague. You tell your friend how to solve the situation.

Your son complains about how unfair one of his teachers seems to be with the amount of homework she assigns. You tell your son what he should say to the teacher about the volume of homework.

Your spouse complains about putting on some weight and you tell him to stop eating after dinner.

We are natural-born fixers. It seems to be in our DNA to swoop in with our superhero capes to resolve any unacceptable situation or solve a challenge. We shift into “tell mode” and outline the solutions.

Though “tell mode” may be done with the best intentions, there are two reasons why this is routinely unproductive.

  1. Your solution is likely not their Your ideas are your ideas, not theirs. What often seems reasonable for you can be ineffective for them. All solutions must be in the context of who the person is. This is why the best solutions should be suggested by the person with the challenge.
  2. We must each own our solutions. Unless we feel ownership in the solution, it becomes someone else’s idea, which can make us less committed or vested in it as a solution.

So, what do you do when someone comes to you asking for help or guidance? Here are three tips I find to be most effective to move from “tell mode” to a coaching and guiding mode.

  1. Help the person feel heard. Validate their feelings and reflect what you are hearing. Get the facts straight. Sometimes they’re just venting and not looking for a solution. Get clarification from them by asking if they want help and, if so, how they want that help to look. Don’t wonder; ask them. Let them know you understand and are available to help if they want it. After hearing them out, consider asking: “What is it that you need from me?”
  2. Ask empowering questions. Fight the urge to tell them what to do. Instead, ask for their ideas. Consider asking: “What ideas do you have to solve this?” or, “What has worked in a situation like this before?” The request for ideas generally initiates their thinking and talking. They can then start to sort through their ideas and their options. You act as a guide to get them looking at their situation (after all, it is their situation).
  3. Ask how you can support them in implementing any idea they decide to implement. Asking “What do you want to do and how can I support you?” returns the entire challenge back to the person who is experiencing it. They need to own their solution and, by offering to support them based on what they choose to do, you can guide and coach them into finding their solution while ensuring they feel supported and valued.

Though it may come from a good place, our habit is to solve others’ problems; we think we know what they need. How often have you said, “Here’s what you should do”?

And, how often have you heard this and resented the advice that follows?

Help others take their brain out for a spin and be an active participant in solving their challenges. This is a skill that will serve both of you for life.

Don’t be a fixer. Be a guide.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. How often do you try to solve someone else’s problem(s) instead of guiding them to a solution?
  2. What can you do in your next conversation to avoid stepping in to solve unless specifically asked?
  3. How can you help those you care about take accountability for solving their own challenges?

 

Consider reading Asking Empowering Questions: Engaging Employees

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What is Life Teaching You?

By Jay Forte

You didn’t get the promotion you wanted. Your kids didn’t get good grades. Your flight was interrupted by bad weather. Though it may seem like life is working against you, the truth is that it’s just life. How you interpret and use the information in life is up to you. Knowing this, how can you learn to see life as your best teacher?

I believe life really only sends us two things – successes to help keep our resilience, energy and happiness up, and challenges/obstacles/problems to help us learn what we need to do to be better tomorrow. If we can see the events in life as less personal and just events that present us with information, we can more efficiently use the information to be better and move on. However, many of us get stuck in ineffective emotional states.

Let’s look back at the three situations in the first paragraph.

You didn’t get the promotion you wanted. Stop and notice why. What’s not working about your performance that may have influenced the decision? What is one thing the situation tells you about you that can help you improve your performance to lead to greater opportunities tomorrow? Stay calm to learn what life is teaching you.

Your kids didn’t get good grades. Stop and notice why. What’s working and not working in their study habits? What does this information tell you and them about their abilities and interests? What does this tell you about their adaptability and resilience, two critical life skills? How can you help them learn from this to be better tomorrow? Stay calm to learn what life is teaching you.

Your flight was interrupted by bad weather. Stop and notice your reaction. How can you appreciate the fact that life is in constant motion and adaptability is required in order to be successful? What does your reaction tell you about how you handle challenges and disappointments? How can you use this information to be better tomorrow? Stay calm to learn what life is teaching you.

Life is a brilliant teacher. Like with most teachers, it offers both difficult and easy lessons. Though you may look forward to the easy ones, you will always learn more from the difficult ones – the challenges, obstacles and difficulties that force you to think critically – and sometimes creatively – to find a solution you can own to be better tomorrow.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. How will you stop and notice the events of life and your response(s) to them?
  2. How will you get in the habit of asking yourself, “What is life teaching me here?”
  3. How will you use today’s life lessons to be better tomorrow?

Life is here to make you better, wiser, more grateful and more amazing tomorrow than you were today. But for that to happen, you need to show up to class.

 

Consider reading What defines success?

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Expect the Unexpected: What’s Your Plan B?

By Jay Forte

You have a plan. You did your work, but the results you wanted did not happen because something interrupted it. How do you feel about it? Frustrated? Annoyed? Able to shrug it off and try again?

I, like many people, can easily get upset and shift right into acting like a victim if things don’t go my way (think: “why does this always happen to me?”). Regardless of the situation – a new client that doesn’t materialize because of their budget restriction, a winter storm that delays or cancels my flight, an illness that makes me miss a well needed vacation – I have to remember that it’s just life. Despite your best intentions, there are too many variables in life that are out of your control.

But you can control your response. 

By learning to expect the unexpected, it helps you let life be as it is while you go along for the ride. This approach means you spend less time fighting what life sends you and more time understanding that life is fluid, and as such, you should be as well. Knowing this can help you relax more about life.

True, there are disappointments that happen when life doesn’t go as planned. But can you learn to accept life on life’s terms and to zig and zag as you keep moving forward? Yes. Can you learn to not take things so personally by realizing that you will never control every outside force in life? Absolutely.

By accepting that life’s formula is to expect the unexpected, you can tune in to life differently, be less stressed and less angry. Losing these negative emotions and energy makes life’s experiences more enjoyable because you are more optimistic. This, in turn, presents you with greater opportunities.

This improved outlook can help you see or create a plan B, move there calmly and continue to see life as amazing and remarkable.

I have finally learned to be ready with my Plan B so I can keep moving and not lose my stride when things don’t go as planned. This gives me peace of mind knowing I have other options if the first one doesn’t pan out. I don’t need to have a meltdown; I can sanely and calmly consider what to do next.

Life is not yours to control, but it is yours to engage with, accept and appreciate. Learning to expect the unexpected reminds you that you are not in charge of anything but your response to the events of life. Learn to roll with it, bounce back and expect you will sometimes need a Plan B.

Sometimes the Plan B can actually be better than your original plan.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. Where in life are you rigid and inflexible?
  2. What is one thing you can do today to be more adaptable in those areas?
  3. What event in your life can you develop a Plan B for in order to maintain a calmer and saner approach to life?

Consider reading The Energy Funnel Explained: Catabolic vs. Anabolic

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2017: What Worked, What Didn’t Work?

By Jay Forte, Coach, Author, Educator

The end of another year has arrived. When you take the time to stop and assess 2017, what worked and what didn’t work? What does this tell you about how to proceed in 2018 to have a successful year?

When you take the time to tune in and notice what’s happening in your world, you give yourself information about your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Then, by assessing this information, you are better prepared to do more of what worked and to improve on what didn’t work.

Be aware that it’s habit to label events as good or bad, right or wrong, especially when we assess the past year. This can inhibit our ability to see the real information available to us because we get stuck in the emotions and feelings associated with each event. We lose what the event or moment can teach us.

Learning to focus on what worked and what didn’t work helps to direct your attention to productive information that you can use to better understand your world and make better decisions.

To get started, tune in to the key areas of your life, like work, relationships and finances, and create a sheet to summarize what worked and what didn’t work in each area. Ask yourself questions like:

  • In 2017, how well did I manage my money and spending?
  • In 2017, how successful were my personal relationships?
  • In 2017, how did my career progress?
  • In 2017, how well did I take care of myself / my health?
  • In 2017, what progress did I make in understanding my unique talents and abilities?

Be honest with yourself as you reflect and record your thoughts. What went according to plan, why and how can you do more of it in 2018? What didn’t go according to plan, why and how can you learn from it and improve in 2018?

Summarize what you notice without a right or wrong, good or bad judgment. Just gather information. Remember to look at life’s events as productive and unproductive. This information is like gold – it guides you in what to consider going forward.

So, as 2017 comes to an end, stop, notice and reflect on what worked and didn’t work. From that information, consider how you can do more of what worked and how you can improve or address what didn’t work. You now have a starting point to make a remarkable 2018.

Wishing you a most successful personal and professional new year.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. How will you make time to review 2017 to learn from your successes and challenges?
  2. How will you stop labeling things as good or bad, and shift to what worked and what didn’t work?
  3. How will you let the information you learn about 2017 better prepare you to make wise decisions in 2018?

 

Consider reading What Will You Do To Make Your Year Amazing?

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Learn To See The Good

By Jay Forte, Coach, Author, Educator

Despite the challenges we may face – whether it’s at home, at work, with our family, at school – does it seem hard to believe that there’s more right in your world than wrong?

As a coach and speaker, I find that most of my clients and audiences are tuned in to what’s not working instead of what is working. Why is that when there is clearly so much more right than wrong?

First, our brains are programmed to watch for danger. Our fight or flight response is designed to help us survive. That part of the brain isn’t interested in loving life, doing great things, seeing the best in others – it is just there to help us be aware of anything that challenges our survival.

Try this: change your mindset. Though you may have been programmed to watch for the negative, learning to be more self-aware helps you start to notice your emotions and energy. You can’t control or change what you don’t notice.

During your day, start to ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” If the answer is a negative, unhappy or unproductive feeling, know that you have the ability to change your mindset just by noticing the negative. With this awareness, shift your mindset to being more open, optimistic and opportunity focused.

It takes practice but it can be done. You choose your emotions and energy level. You choose how you want to relate to that challenging boss, that upset customer or the long line at Starbucks. You don’t have to be upset. You could be calm, happy, content. Tap into these emotions by being more aware.

And second, we are surrounded by negative news. Terrorism, politics, conflicts, hacking, security, divorce, reality TV, wars. We are confronted with a 24-hour stream of negativity because, as the media outlets know, bad news sells.

Try this: control what you listen to. Remember, you are the owner of your life. It is your choice to tune out when you need a break. Switch it out for something that is empowering, engaging, supportive, entertaining and educational. Replace it by spending time doing what you love and enjoy. Limit time on social media, choose reputable and news-focused organizations to stay updated on your world, or listen to music or mind-engaging podcasts.

Just because the world talks loudly doesn’t mean you always have to listen. For a good essay about this, check out George Saunders’ The Braindead Megaphone.

You have to learn to see the good. Your world has made you cynical and part of your brain has made you defensive. The benefit is that life immediately changes when you first look for what’s working and what’s good, instead of what’s not working and what’s bad.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is very negative and 10 is very positive, where are you now? Where were you yesterday? Where are you on the important things in your life?
  2. What is one thing you could do today to change how you look at yourself and the world around you, to watch for the good, the successes and the opportunities?

We can’t always control the situations that life sends us, but we certainly can choose how we see them. Learn to see the good.

Consider reading Tune Out to Tune In

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