Think back to the last time you experienced a crushing setback.

You probably remember where you were and what you were wearing.

You likely recall the overwhelming sense of agony you felt.

A break-up.

A job loss.

A failed business.

The mental anguish felt as bad or worse than physical pain.

You wanted to run away from everyone and everything.

You lost all hope in your ability as a mate, a worker, or an entrepreneur.

Maybe the experience caused you to quit. And you swore you’d never try to find love again or have any ambitions of achieving a successful career.

However, enough time has passed and you’re wondering if you should try again.

But you’re struggling to believe in yourself. The old wounds still feel fresh. You don’t quite know where to start.

You are not alone

If you feel stuck in a rut because of past experiences due to setbacks, know that you are not alone.

Life deals each of us our fair share of challenges, failures, and setbacks. The first step to getting out is to understand that you are not alone.

It is an inescapable reality of life. The only difference between those who remain stuck and those who grow and improve is how we respond to our setbacks.

But in order to develop more healthy responses to setbacks, we need to internalize one important truth…

Setbacks are illusions

Here’s why.

If I asked you to provide an illustration of your life’s progression so far, I’d bet it would be horizontal (or vertical) timelines with markings to represent the high points in your life.

If you’re feeling particularly courageous, you may represent your life as a linear graph with peaks to represent the highs and troughs to represent the lows.

In these types of linear models, setbacks are scary. They represent the stalling or reversal of forward (or upward) progression or momentum.

It’s like driving a hundred miles east only to realize that you’ve actually driven a hundred miles west. It’s demoralizing and an incredible waste of time and resources.

However, if you think of your life as cyclical, or in cycles, you’ll begin to see the illusory nature of setbacks.

Would you ever consider nightfall to be a setback? No. You already knew it was coming as it has every other day. You simply live according to this reality by winding down your daytime activities and preparing for a night of rest.

Similarly, everything in life is cyclical. True, the downturns of life are not as predictable as day cycles, but they come with enough regularity that we can reasonably expect to be faced with more than a few challenges in our lives.

Setbacks are illusions because they are simply part of the cycle of life, not some fatal disease to be avoided at all costs. They come and go as surely as day follows night.

Reframing the meaning of your setbacks

However, given that the word “setback” is ubiquitous in our culture, we’ll seek to reframe the meaning of the word rather than get rid of it altogether.

What is a setback? Something to be avoided at all costs? Or is it an inevitable part of the cycle of life?

The first option is a feature of a linear mindset while the second is a feature of a cyclical mindset.

How cyclical thinking will help you overcome setbacks

If you’re haunted by your setbacks, here’s how learning to think cyclically will help you thrive, regardless of what you’re going through:


1. You’ll be better prepared for them

When you see life as cyclical, you’ll stop reacting to them the way you would if you discovered that you’ve driven a hundred miles in the wrong direction.

You wouldn’t be surprised when they happen. Are you surprised when winter comes?


You simply pull out the winter clothing and start up the fireplace. Again, this is not a perfect analogy because our setbacks don’t follow predictable schedules.

But if we learn to expect them, even when we don’t know when they might strike, we’ll be more accepting of their reality and focus our efforts on finding solutions rather than railing against them.

2. You’ll be kinder to yourself

Because you understand the cyclical nature of life, you’ll be kinder to yourself when you’re faced with the inevitable setback. You’ll stop blaming yourself or others for the circumstances of your life.

You will understand that setbacks are simply a part of life, not the result of your ineptitude or bad luck. This self-compassion will help you survive difficult periods.

It will also increase your empathy and understanding toward others because you understand that everyone goes through these cycles.

3. You’ll become more resilient

When you’re able to prepare for adversity and be kind to yourself, you’ll eventually become more resilient, able to bounce back more quickly from tough times.

As you draw on lessons you learned during past downturns, you’ll more readily apply them to your current situation in order to grow and become stronger.

This is when you’ll begin to see our common notions of setbacks as false. You’ll be able to look back and see your setbacks as the building blocks to a brighter future.

Most importantly, you’ll be less willing to sit on the sidelines of life after a setback.

Get back in the ring of life

If you’re currently sitting on the sidelines, know that you don’t have to.

You too can grow your resilience by shifting your thinking and getting back in to  the ring of life.

Who knows what wonderful opportunities await you on the other side. 



Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, and busy dad of seven. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People - sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone) You can also purchase his book Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally

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