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Setbacks. Learning to honor the struggle

This is not the blog I intended to write. I had every intention of writing about being consistently back in the gym and finally in a groove with my exercise routine. It turns out, the Universe had other plans.

After struggling to get in a regular winter exercise routine, and with the number on the scale moving in the wrong direction, I decided to take it back to the gym. The first couple of months were a challenge as my body was not used to being pushed that hard. But after a string of great workouts recently at Wilcox Wellness and Fitness,  things were starting to gel. I began to feel stronger and more capable.

The cool thing is that I know what comes next! The next phase includes me pushing myself even harder, feeling even more capable and stronger, and then actually starting to enjoy it, and finally craving it! Yes, I’ve been here before and I will be again. But I know you can’t get to that level without working through the more challenging phase one — which is where I have been.

It has taken months to move from my goal of getting back in the gym to get this extra weight off — to feeling like I was in a regular groove and could actually see strong and fit again! Finally, I was ready to claim progress, if not momentum.

Enter – setback.

Setbacks can be motivational killers

A week ago Sunday, I fell on the ice when I was out hiking. I fell hard, bruising my ribs and seriously jarring my neck and spine. That evening, I started to feel worse and over the course of the next few days started having debilitating headaches. I couldn’t sleep. And I certainly couldn’t get to the gym.

This setback killed my motivation and of course my momentum in the gym. I had a tough week last week, in part because I felt so crappy, and in part because I was worried about the headaches. My mojo just wasn’t there.

Have you ever been in this place in life? You had big dreams and goals, only to experience a setback that killed your motivation and mojo?! Most of us have, and it can suck.

Lucky for me, I’ve been there too and I know what to do. Trying obstacles and turbulent waters come up for all of us. I’ve learned with practice that it’s how we react to them that determines our outcomes. And that I have control over!

So while the temptation is to wallow in pain and feel sorry for myself, I am positive that won’t yield the outcome I want or get me to my goal. Certainly, no one would blame me for wallowing for a while, but it’s not who I am or how I want to live. I don’t want to be defined by struggle, and I certainly don’t want to quit! Enter internal voice: “I will not quit no matter what!”

Instead, I am learning to honor the struggle as a key part of the journey. I say learning because it’s definitely a work in progress. I didn’t get -200 lbs off in 18 months, or keep it off for six years, by everything working out and going smoothly. Nope, I had serious challenges and setbacks. And what was different for me this time vs. every other time I tried to lose weight was that I was able to feel the emotions of the setback and then pick myself back up and restart. I persevered despite the struggle. And trust me, when you do, it feels good! There is triumph in that act alone.

I know the same is true of this small setback that has stalled my rigorous workout classes for a week or two. In the meantime, I’ve been walking outside and on the treadmill at the Blue Hill YMCA. I’m working on getting help to heal the injury. And, I’m getting even more practice at honoring the struggle.

How to honor the struggle?

The exact phrase “honor the struggle” came up last week (serendipitous timing) while listening to a podcast by Brendon Burchard.

Burchard studies high performers and what helps them excel at life. His book High Performance Habits lays out those very habits, including how t “embrace the suck” or honor the struggle. When you suffer a major setback, he says, and avoid it or focus on it in a negative way, it grows into a monster. So he offers mindset tricks for pulling yourself out of that place.

I’ve found his work, and Brene Brown’s, Rising Strong, most helpful on navigating this place.

Here’s what I do to honor the struggle when I am actively in it.

1) Recognize and honor the setback as part of the process. Most successful people know to expect setbacks. Any time you are pushing outside your comfort zone and trying to get to the next level, there are bound to be setbacks. It’s part of the process. I’ve learned to think about setbacks as a badge of honor — an indication that I am living bold and brave and am right where I need to be!

This active recognition and acceptance of a setback is actually a huge win. It’s the first step in moving on. And it beats the alternative — throwing in the towel or quitting! 😉

2) Feel the feelings, but set a time limit. I am an emotional person, so I most often react to setbacks with emotion first and logic second. I don’t think there is a thing wrong with that – it’s how I’m built. But it’s important to know this so that when I’m knocked down I can set a time limit before I pick myself back up. If I didn’t, I would wallow and want to live there. At least the old me did.

Brene Brown’s Rising Strong acknowledges that when successful people have setbacks they need to experience the emotions and the “story” they are telling themselves about that, and then pick themselves right back up and start again.

3) Let the logic in. Emotions are important, but so is the logic. I have to actively train myself to integrate the logic button when setbacks happen. If/when I allowed the emotions alone to drive, I’m at risk of wallowing and/or quitting.

So instead I work to objectively assess the situation/setback and look for the lesson. This helps me plot my next move, and also helps me move more quickly out of a purely emotional place so it doesn’t define me.

How do you do this? I’ve learned to get curious and ask myself questions in exploration. So what really happened? What are the facts? What can I there from this? What is the takeaway that will help me most? This usually leads to my next move.

4) Manage your self-talk. This is a critical one. I’ve finally learned to talk myself through the setback rather than let it define me. This is related to allowing the logic in and focusing on the facts of the situation, rather than the dramatic story I make up in my head out of pure emotion.

Setbacks and disappointment can easily create self-doubt. This is when the Gremlin voices and limiting beliefs take over. When you learn to sort out the actual facts from those limiting beliefs, you can talk yourself off the ledge and focus on the future.

Famous motivational speaker, Willie Jolley, has a podcast about turning setbacks into comebacks. I like to think about the setback as a learning opportunity and a chance for a comeback. And, with practice, I’ve learned to talk myself off the ledge and to a better place. You can too!

5) Focus on what next. Ask yourself, now what? This is your path to progress. Remember, it is about progress not perfection. Perfection paralyzes you. Progress is forward movement toward your goal – whatever that goal is.

There are many tips for how to do this, but I make a list of options for what next. This helps me sort it out in writing and almost always the right answer, or a viable answer, surfaces. For example, in the case of my exercise setback (a small setback in the grand scheme of life), here are the facts: I am limited by what I can do in the gym right now for a few weeks, but I can walk outside, walk on the treadmill, and, as I learned this week, lift light weights without aggravating the ribs. There are my next moves.

I hope this blog resonates with anyone struggling or experiencing a setback – whether big or small. As always, I’m here cheering you on and would love to hear from you if you can relate.

Cheers! Happy and health striving.



If you liked this blog or found value in it, here are others on this topic:

Check out these amazing resource links for more on honoring the struggle and rising strong!


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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anne Strub #

    I needed this today. Am struggling to the point I do NOT want to buy another wardrobe.Need to have left knee replaced in May, so sitting around too much. So sorry about your fall and hope you recover quickly. Will you be up for owners ‘ weekend? Jessica wants our new unit in the tour. Take care. Anne

    March 26, 2019
    • Hi Ann, one of my favorite things to read in the comments here is, “I needed this today…” I am sorry you are struggling and I hear you on the not wanting to buy another wardrobe comment. Sorry to hear about the other knee but maybe you’ll be much more mobile and feel better on the other side. I am not traveling back to MN for Owners Weekend as I am coming in May for a photo shoot. Maybe we can connect up there around Memorial Day. How can I help support you getting back on track/ Shoot me an email or a PM. Sending hugs. Snowing here today that just about kills the motivation. I think it is coming your way from the coast. 2-3 days of snow here forecast.

      April 8, 2019

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