I used to tend to think that I had failed when there was a backward step. I would lose hope and think that I’d never be able to do it. And then I’d stop trying. Another backward step and into the spiral I went. It’s been a lifelong pattern and, even now, it rears its head every so often. I have to be on the lookout for that voice that says “You screwed up so now there’s no point.”
What I have learned is that setbacks are inherent in personal development and transformation. When we want to operate in a different way, we cannot just flip a switch. Nope. We must practice. We make some progress and experience setbacks. We practice some more.
And so I began wondering how to view my setbacks with love and curiosity, instead of shame or frustration.
I grew up playing piano and learned a lot about practicing. As I moved into the higher levels and faced bigger challenges, my teacher, the ever-patient Mrs. Carson, taught me to focus on the most difficult section, not shy away from it. Break it down into its components, play it in different rhythms, try different fingering, feel the movement, and examine the math of it. In other words, the tricky part was a place to go INTO.
And when I knew that whole Bach fugue, what I walked away with was not only the pleasure of the music and the satisfaction of accomplishment but also true knowledge of bars 23 to 39. Deep understanding.
And what does this have to do with personal change?
I’ve met many people who view setbacks as just plain negative. Clients say things like, “I dropped the ball again; how embarrassing... I missed three days in a row and I’m so frustrated with myself… I feel worried because I only did my practice half the time.”
As a parenting coach, I guide them to lean into the setback, with self-compassion and curiosity. What happened when you dropped the ball? What thoughts were running through your mind when you skipped that day? What happened in your body? What emotions were present in the moment? Let’s get to know your internal resistance and sabotaging voices (we all have them).
It is the exploration of our setbacks that their true value lies. Moving toward them instead of brushing them under the carpet or ruminating over them five hundred times. Being willing to investigate. Choosing to examine, question, and learn about oneself.
So that, when that thought pattern arises or that feeling starts to rise from your belly, you can recognize it more readily. That’s a critical component of being able to make different choices for yourself.
There’s a saying that recommends us, when we are being pulled into our old stories and patterns, to remember that an arrow can only be fired by pulling it backward. I like this image. It’s more realistic than things like “Just do it”. We have to expect to mess up. We have to expect to slide back into old habits and auto-responses. That’s part of the change process.
The important questions are: How do you want to view the backward motion, the pullbacks, the missteps, and the setbacks? And how do you want to gather the valuable wisdom they offer?
Take a breath and focus, my friend, because you are about to be shot forward into something new.
With you on the journey,