Every high performer experiences painful setbacks during their career. While unwelcome and distressing, the big question is how you deal with them. Will you recover or fold? Recovery is not just about trying again, but bolstering your skills to become more resilient than you were before.
Professional athletes draw on games that they lost to win the next match. They accept that mistakes and setbacks happen, but focus on the lessons learned, rather than the pain of the outcome. To achieve this, you must have the right mind-set. So how do you toughen up and get back in the game when everything you were looking to achieve seems to be in shreds?
Face what went wrong
Objectivity is key. Identify where your plans failed and focus on the elements you can control. Worrying about what could have been won’t help, but taking personal responsibility for the two to three key mistakes or poor decisions that you made will be crucial to moving on. Boris Becker, a former number one tennis player and Wimbledon great, says, “it’s how you take failure, it’s how you take losing. I learned my best and hardest lessons after a loss, and obviously you don’t want to lose too much. But the proper evidence of whether I was wrong in my approach to a tennis tournament was if I didn’t win the title, and that hurt the most – so I wanted to do better the next time.”
Thinking back on your own personal experiences of resilience can provide useful clues and perspective when you are in the middle of a set-back. Looking back at your mind-set at the time, your support network and the small steps you took to recover from previous challenges will help you to replicate that again. This isn’t about ignoring what is going on, it’s about trying to find small actions that you can do today to move on.
Learn to retain your ambition
Maintaining your hunger to achieve is vital, even if that means recalibrating the goal. Often, our biggest regret isn’t the loss itself, but losing our minds in the heat of battle. Talent is not always enough. You need that ability to think clearly under pressure. Being self-aware is the start – what are your strengths and where might your skills be exposed? Once you know this, your preparation should focus on maximising your strengths and covering your Achilles’ heel. These factors combined will give you the confidence you need to start again – this time, more wisely.
Allow time to recover
Giving yourself some downtime is vital to recovering from emotional toll. Your brain acts in the same way as your muscles after being worked to overload. John Coates, senior research fellow in neuroscience and finance at the University of Cambridge, says “acute stress followed by recovery is a beautiful pattern for building resilience. But in a period of chronic stress, suffering these stressful situations with no recovery period, the stress response can be acting like acid on your body, and have the exact opposite effect to acute stress”. Coming back after a setback will take time, so a balanced strategy will be key to your long-term performance. Working harder won’t solve the problem, but keeping your perspective and reconnecting with your support network will ensure that you are able to talk things through and gain fresh perspectives from those who want you to succeed the most. Every champion has a failure on their CV. Rather than turn your back on it, use it as your motivation to prove your doubters wrong.