5 Powerful Techniques for Dealing with Setbacks or Total Failure

By Ron Pereira Updated on June 14th, 2013


Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right. -Henry Ford

It’s 9:25 PM on a Friday night and I’m currently sitting in the Seattle Tacoma airport due to my flight being delayed.

Latest estimates have me arriving home in Dallas Fort Worth at around 2:00 AM.

So, aside from being able to catch up on some email my Friday evening has been less than optimal!

At this point, I really have two choices. I can let this negative situation ruin my night, and potentially weekend (due to the lack of sleep I’ll be dealing when my kids jump on my head at around 7:00 AM), or I can roll with the punches.

In the end, the ability to deal with setbacks – or outright failures – is really at the heart of a successful, and happy, person.

So, in this article, I’d like to share 5 techniques that have helped me deal with situations such as the one I find myself in as I sit in this lovely airport.

1. Expect it

The first technique, for lack of a better word, I use to cope with setbacks, or failure, is to expect it!

Now, I’m not saying we should have a negative, or bad, attitude and walk around with sad faces.

Instead what I mean is this… anyone that travels needs to understand that delays are inevitable.

Anyone that runs a company or business needs to understand that there will be bad months.

Anyone in a relationship needs to understand that you will have disagreements.

In other words… stuff happens!  Expect it so when it happens you’re not devastated.

2. Persevere

Next, perhaps the most significant – and no doubt hardest – thing I have learned to do when faced with setbacks, or failure, is to persevere.

In other words, if I’m having a bad day at the office the most important thing I can do is focus on adding value to my customer by creating a new video or article or podcast… or perhaps I’ll focus on enhancing some other aspect of the service we provide. The key is I will do something that will hopefully add value to my customers.

The absolute worst thing anyone can do, when faced with challenges, is panic or bury their head in the sand in an attempt to hide from the issues.

3. Maintain Perspective

The third thing I think we should all do when faced with challenges or failure is maintain perspective.

Sure, sitting in this airport stinks even though I knew, or even expected, something like this could happen. I’m also making the most of it by writing this article.

But, really, in the end, I also need to maintain perspective. Is a plane delay REALLY that big of a deal?

Not really. And even when more serious things like failures in business, or even setbacks in our personal lives occur, I really believe it’s important to keep things in perspective.

I was always taught to count my blessings… which I have been blessed with many… and something tells me most of the people reading this are also in the same position.

So, the next time you’re faced with what you feel to be a bad situation take a step back and ask yourself if it’s really as bad as you’re making it out to be.

4. Realize Failures or Setbacks are Opportunities

My business partner, Kevin, is fond of saying that when life gives you lemons do your best to make lemonade.

Man, is this hard. But it’s so important.

Recently, we had a setback at Gemba Academy that really had me down in the dumps. But Kevin, being the excellent colleague that he is, challenged me to learn from the situation and press on.

I did… and you know what happened? Within 24 hours that negative situation was more than made up for since we were able to find another solution to the problem. And this “new” solution was actually far better than the original situation that didn’t work out.

In other words, we made some awesome lemonade!

5. Quiet Your Mind and Focus

Lastly, I personally find great solace is finding some quiet time to pray as I seek wisdom and guidance for my professional and personal life.

For others, they find great solace in meditating for a few minutes each day.

And even if praying or meditating isn’t something you personally do I’d encourage you to find some way to quiet your mind and focus on what’s truly important in your life.

I’ll once again point to my business partner, Kevin… I know he does his best to meditate every morning and take quiet walks on the beach near his house. This really seems to center and refocus him.

What do you think?

What do you think of these techniques? Have you tried to do any of them before? What other tips or techniques do you personally use to deal with the challenges and failures we all, inevitably, encounter?

  1. Sid Watson

    June 11, 2013 - 8:29 pm

    Meditation has changed my life. I am not overly religious but have found taking the time to focus and quiet my mind to be extremely helpful. It definitely leaves me feeling recharged.

  2. Avery Abbott

    June 11, 2013 - 9:04 pm

    Its all about making lemonade! As simple as it seems the ability to find the silver lining is the key to dealing with bad situations

  3. Dale Savage

    June 12, 2013 - 6:49 am

    Great post, Ron. Thank you for the reminders. Keeping things in perspective is so important. Looking for the larger meaning in our jobs, or lives as a whole, can help us do that. What are our ultimate goals? Prayer and meditation can help us answer that question.

    My 24 year old son owns his own plumbing business and he has a young family. He commented to me the other day that he realizes that his life is potentially almost a quarter over and life seems to be going so fast. In 75 yrs, all that he is working for will be someone else’s and he will be only a memory here. Through this thinking he was putting things in perspective and I think he has a better understanding that, ultimately, how we allow our jobs and goals to effect our relationships – personal and business – is what is important.

  4. Maud Michaud

    June 12, 2013 - 7:24 am

    Brilliant article! Through the many years I’ve been an LSS practitioner the best trainings I’ve had related to the exact same tips you gave in this article. The one advice that changed my life the most is the realisation that you are the only person that can make your life better. You won’t change the things that happen to you, but you can change the way you see/perceive/react to them.

  5. Cluna

    June 12, 2013 - 7:50 am

    I found out how valuable it is to talk with “positive” thinking people in times of adversity. They will help you with different perspectives on the current situation, emerge from feeling like you’re in the “dumps” and learn from a teaching moment.

    • tuan

      June 23, 2013 - 6:29 pm

      Absolutely right.
      Get rid of the negative people.

  6. Bernie

    June 12, 2013 - 10:14 am

    Thanks Ron, you always find words of encouragements. Daily I set some time aside for prayer. Praying for wisdom in understanding in all I do. I’m glad you mentioned your business partner Kevin, much of what we do is about relationships, it’s always good to reach out to a good friend. Thank you and your staff for all the goodness you provide.

  7. Larry

    June 12, 2013 - 2:59 pm

    Ron, excellent piece. I’d add more to your final point. When things go south, never react in haste. Step away from the situation and let emotions die down. As you point out, everything changes, and often quickly. It’s not just reflecting, but removing yourself and others from the “hot” emotions of an event that help. I go for a walk, change my working location, or just wait a day to make a final decision. As you say, thew wisdom can some into that open mental space. Responding too quickly only makes matters worse, IMHO.

  8. Robert Drescher

    June 14, 2013 - 10:15 am

    Hi Ron

    We as a society have just made the idea of failure seem so awful, the reality is that it may some times sting (like when you fell riding your bike the first time), but in the end it builds toward accomplishment. The first shot I took in any sport never went in, but after practise and either seeing what went wrong or being told what I did wrong (analysis) I got better, and they actually went in most of the time.

    Failure only means that you tried, and without trying you will never succeed. When you learn to keep trying the setbacks are far less painful, in fact they often serve to drive you to try again, they do it for me.

    Just because something did not work this time doesn’t mean it will never work, if people thought as negatively about failures as we do today, many of the things we have and enjoy would be here, because most took multiple attempts to work, and some other were accidental by-products of actual failures. Take the stick notes that made 3M rich, the glue was a failed attempt to create a super glue, yet the result was bigger than any super glue ever would have been.

    Taking time to reflect whether through prayer, or some other act is always good, it helps keep you ground that there are more important things than that recent failure. Any successful person has more likely failed more time than they succeeded. Just look at baseball players, they fail at the plate more often than they manage to hit homeruns, but they keep trying.

  9. Ron Pereira

    June 14, 2013 - 11:12 am

    Thanks to all for your excellent comments! I normally try to respond to folks individually but was traveling this week so fell a little behind.

    But hearing thoughts and insights like you’ve all shared helps me so much. So, thank you!!!

  10. Audrey

    July 3, 2013 - 10:09 am

    I really enjoyed these tips, but would have loved more detail on step 4…some things I have done are reviewing unforeseen roadblocks and asking questions that include if we should have seen them sooner, who could have helped us with this, etc. Identifying causes for failure…especially if the cause(s) could becomes systemic, is important. I’d love to see this point be expanded upon.

  11. mark

    April 19, 2015 - 10:55 pm

    I know I’m responding to an article 2 years after it was published, but I was curious, does anyone have any direct experience that they could share how they handled failure from the air force academy or one of the other military academies?

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