How to Transform Setbacks into Possibilities

BY Sally Anne Giedrys        August 28, 2017

For most of us, there comes a time when life is not working out the way we envisioned, when setbacks throw us off our game, or when the unexpected comes knocking on the door and it’s not a welcome visitor.

Setbacks and challenges come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve been through plenty of examples of that, and so have many of my clients. As a result, I firmly believe that how we respond to each setback plays the largest part in our experience of what comes next.

Sometimes, getting to the other side of change can seem like a journey – even when you trust that, eventually, you’ll get there. Here are a few things I’ve learned about how to navigate that journey in a positive, empowered, and effective way.

Awareness + choice + practice is what transforms setbacks into possibility.


1. Be honest about what you’re feeling. 
Emotions provide a lot of great information. Acknowledging the many emotions that come with change (especially unwelcome change) is the first step to creating a strategy for moving into what’s next. It doesn’t serve you to shortchange yourself in gathering this information.

2. Follow your train of thought. 
Often, how we’re feeling has a lot to do with what we’re thinking about. Acknowledging how you’re truly feeling allows you to backtrack to the thoughts that are eliciting those feelings. Can you find the connections?

3. Open up some space.
Clarity is hard to find in a cluttered mind. Carve out space in the ways that work best for you. (Now is also a great time to experiment with new ways.) Meditation is one that is well-backed by research. You might also choose prayer, a daily run to clear your head, walks in nature, yoga, journaling, or simply sitting quietly for 10 minutes.


1. Choose love (or joy, or inspiration, or amusement).
In her research on positive emotion, psychologist Barbara Fredrickson found that we can naturally create more positivity in our lives by choosing activities, experiences, and interactions that elicit positive emotions. It’s an upward spiral. Seek out those opportunities as much as possible - the awe you feel while standing on a mountaintop, the movies that make you laugh, the warmth of tea with a close friend. The more positivity you invite in, the more upbeat you will feel.

2. Reframe authentically.
There’s never one right way to see things. When you tell the story of what’s gone wrong and why, and where you are as a result, listen to yourself. Do you absolutely know all of it to be true? How do you know? What other ways might you – or someone else – view the same events? Could there be a lesson in it? An opportunity? Could the opposite also be true? Try on a few potential perspectives and find the ones that feel the most energizing and empowering.

3. Set your vision. 
What are the possibilities you’d like to see open up in your life and work? Choose to dream and allow yourself to expand your options wider than you might have previously. Don’t set limits or go by what’s been previously happening for you. Ask yourself: What's possible for me now? 


1. Experiment with new ways of being. 
Find one daily practice that reflects an empowering, inspired perspective. Nail that. Add another. Find small ways to expand your comfort zone, until it becomes easier and easier. Say "yes" more often, and see what possibilities start to emerge.

2. Nourish yourself. 
Feeling good creates its own momentum. Know what nourishes your body, mind, and spirit, and practice those things as much as possible. Care for yourself at a deeper level than you have previously. Set a higher standard. Set good boundaries. There is always room for improvement, and the investment in well-being always pays off.

3. Connect to what’s possible every day. 
Your vision won’t be doing much good hidden under a stack of papers or stashed away. Bring it front and center. Write it out and read it regularly. Create a vision board and hang it where you’ll see it. Find talismans that remind you of what’s possible and keep them visible. Create a mantra, a theme song, a playlist. Make a checklist from your vision board and start checking things off. Set a few related goals and put them on your calendar. Share your ideas with the people you trust.

4. Embrace mistakes and missteps. 
Don’t worry if things aren't working perfectly or if you're not “doing it right.” Perfection is the enemy of forward progress. Trust that you know enough for the next step. Take that one step, and let the next ones reveal themselves slowly with time. Be willing to fall. You’ve already proven that you can get back up.

How else might you put awareness + choice + practice to work in service of what’s possible for you? 

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Sally Anne Giedrys

Sally Anne Giedrys is a life/career coach, consultant and strategist — and a freedom-focused advocate for dreaming, designing and creating lifestyles and careers that are fulfilling and adventurous. She helps clients reinvent, reinvigorate, reimagine and redefine the status quo to achieve their personal vision of success, balance and fulfillment. She splits her time between Portland, Oregon and Christchurch, New Zealand.

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