How to Make a Setback Work For You

I am horrible when I get sick. I absolutely hate it. I throw a pity party. I panic about the work I’m missing and how behind I am going to be once I recover. I wish I were someone who could binge watch Netflix while reveling in the comfort of my bed, but for me, sickness signals anxiety.

Last weekend, I got sick.

At 2 o’clock in the morning on Sunday, I found myself awake with a fever, dwelling on thoughts of doom. In the midst of my personal pity party, I started thinking about why being out of commission for a period of time—whether it’s an illness or an injury—can be so challenging. I think for some, like myself, what compounds the adversity we’re facing are the emotions and thoughts we hold about the situation.  It can be easy to become mired in thoughts about the worst-case scenario, which can lead us into a maze of anxiety. We start to feel powerless and like the injury or illness is in the driver’s seat and our destination completely out of our hands. 

But what I’ve learned—and what I realized a few hours into my illness this past weekend—is that we actually hold a lot more control over the situation than we realize. We have the ability to make any setback work in our favor, and here’s how—

Look at the Facts

I think it’s important to give yourself permission to throw a small pity party and feel whatever negative emotions your illness or injury triggers—but only for a set amount of time. After that, turn to your rational mind and assess the facts. 

For example, if you just found out that your ankle is broken, you may start thinking that you’ll be out for the rest of the season, worry you’ll never recover or panic about how much better than you your competitors are going to get while you’re off the ice. A little bit of this is normal, but when these thoughts start to consume you, it can completely alter your view of reality.

To fix this, write down only the concrete facts of the situation. This enables you to see clearly what you’re facing without the emotional “noise” taking over. 

  • Ankle is broken
  • Off the ice for 6-8 weeks
  • Physical therapy 4 days a week
  • Once I’m back, 5 months before my first big event
  • Need to get a short program choreographed
  • Want to get another triple, and now have 5 months not 6

Once you see the facts laid out, you’ll start to feel more grounded. You'll be able to see that while the situation isn’t ideal, it probably isn’t as dire as your automatic thoughts and emotions may have initially led you to believe. Assessing the facts allows you to keep things in perspective, which will ease the anxiety associated with whatever adversity you’re facing. And, often, that anxiety about the time you’re missing becomes even more debilitating than the actual injury or illness. 

Choose Your Frame and Check Your Attitude

Reframe your injury or illness as an opportunity to come back stronger, an opportunity to gain some much needed rest and an opportunity to accomplish more once you’re back on your feet

Once you have the facts laid out, now you get to choose the way you frame the story you're telling yourself and others. So often, we view an illness or injury as something negative. We may unintentionally create a story where the adversity we’re facing has made us the victim; this can rob us of our power in the situation.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

You have the ability to write whatever story you want about the facts of your life. You’re allowed to feel angry, frustrated, the full gamut of emotions you’re experiencing, but also make sure that you’re allowing yourself to see the good. Something good can come from every experience—if you choose to tell yourself a more inspiring story.

Reframe your injury or illness as an opportunity to come back stronger, an opportunity to gain some much needed rest and an opportunity to accomplish more once you're back on your feet. When we shift to a more positive frame, we start to feel our power again. Coupled with this, be mindful that your attitude matches the story you’re telling. It can be easy to tell a great story in public but privately still feel like a victim. The story you’re telling and your attitude must be in alignment for you to truly feel better. 

Define your “WHY”

We live in a society that values productivity, and because of this, we rarely get to take time out of our busy schedules to take a step back and look at the big picture. When you have to press “pause” for a little bit, use this as an opportunity to examine and assess your goals for each area of your life. Sometimes a few days, weeks or months of slowing down can really open up your eyes and allow you to more fully understand what you're getting and giving from your relationships, work and activities.

Strengthen other parts of your body/skating/mind

Part of framing your story in a more positive light requires you to look for the silver lining. Being out of commission for a bit provides a great opportunity to strengthen parts of yourself that normally don’t get a lot of attention. For example, if you can’t jump for a few weeks, work on your spins; learn new positions and make spinning your new project. If you’re stuck in bed with the flu, use it as an opportunity to read a book about a subject you’d never have the time to read normally. Build yourself up in new areas. 

Learn your triggers and grow

We all have our own immediate reactions to adversity. For some, like myself, it can spark anxiety; for others, possibly sadness or anger. Taking the time to assess your immediate reactions when a setback hits allows you to better understand yourself and work on your triggers. Setbacks can yield tremendous growth and understanding, leading you to develop better ways of responding to adverse emotional states.

We will all face adversity at some point in our lives. Everyone will get sick from time to time, and every athlete will get injured.  When anxiety or any negative emotion takes over, it's easy to forget how much control we actually have. But remember: you have the ability to choose how you respond to adversity—whatever form it may take. Realizing the power you hold in the situation is your greatest asset.  And, often what looks like a setback is actually a blessing—if we choose to view it that way.