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How Setbacks Can Wake Us Up

5 questions to ask yourself to make the most of the unexpected.

The recent wildfires in California have disrupted many people who had to evacuate, not to mention those who lost their homes, businesses, or loved ones to the fires. Even hearing about it can throw us off-kilter as we contemplate, “What if that happened to my loved ones or me?”

Well over a million people were impacted with the loss of electricity for multiple days on end. Most of us have experienced a disruption like this when we have had to adjust our regular pace and routine. Perhaps it came with an injury or illness. Just when things were going so well, a sprained ankle or a wrenched back threw a curveball into your normal pattern. It’s frustrating and disruptive to the daily rhythm, throwing regular habits off track.

How can we live life fully when unexpected events get in our way and slow us down?

Although we have less choice regarding what happens to us, we have more leverage in how we respond. It is normal to feel frustrated, sad, or scared, and yet possible to stay open to what else may come with the loss. There may be a small gift that accompanies the unplanned change, even if it is not our first choice. A setback can cue us to pay attention better, view things from a new perspective, or even launch us to change directions entirely.

If this road is closed, I could wait for it to open, find a workaround, or change my destination altogether.

Cedric Fox/Unsplash
Source: Cedric Fox/Unsplash

My pace is slowed as I hobble with a broken foot; I can notice the leaves and bugs crawling nearby that I usually miss. I spend longer talking to my neighbor. It takes me more effort and planning to bathe and dress with an injured shoulder; I can appreciate the extra-slow breath I would have otherwise missed. While the power is out, I walk cautiously through the cold, dark house with my flashlight; I appreciate the walls and creaky floor of my home in a new way.

We rarely want to hear from someone, “It could be worse,” so let’s not even go there. Instead, ask yourself these five questions when you feel stuck in the middle of setback:

1. Setbacks are a normal part of life: Is this one likely to be temporary or more permanent?

2. How can I best take care of myself during this unexpected life twist?

3. Can I allow myself to feel increased compassion for others who may also be suffering?

4. Is pushing through best right now, or might I benefit from a looser grip on my ultimate goals?

5. What would it be like to slow down and notice things I normally cruise right past?

Much of the suffering of a setback is due to the uncertainty of the situation—how long will it last, and how it might impact the future. Notice the uncertainty and how uncomfortable it is. Lean into the slowdown, and, well: Slow. Down .

Pay attention differently as you now have to walk with crutches, use your less dominant hand, or read by candlelight. Adjust to a slower rhythm for a time, knowing you can change your pace again later when the time is right.