How to deal with setbacks in personal development

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I just came back from a fun and interesting dinner with a course participant.

I coach him, and in return, he gives me feedback on our material.

We talked about group conversations. He told me about how he’d made great progress at first but then felt like he was back to square one. He asked for advice on what to do next.

It’s a great question. It’s something I’ve struggled with, too.

Luckily, by knowing what the curve of self-improvement looks like, we learn that those setbacks we experience are a natural part of what it takes to improve.

Let me show you how I deal with dips and setbacks.

dealing with setbacksThis graph is from our flagship program Confident in 60 Days. It shows how many of our community members experience their progress. At times, it feels like you’re back to square one, but that’s a temporary feeling. As long as you keep at it, your curve of improvement will keep going up.

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At the very beginning of the diagram, you see a steep curve. When we first start working on ourselves, a lot of things happen. This is because we can pick the low-hanging fruits.

I, for example, saw big improvements in my social life when I showed more interest in others and their world.

After this initial boost, we continue to make progress, even if it’s not as fast. I had, for example, learned a few clever ways to improve my conversations, but it took longer to improve my confidence.

Then, something usually happens that makes us feel like we’re back to the dreaded square one.

For me, it could be going to a social event and freezing up.

I couldn’t come up with anything to say, I couldn’t connect with anyone, and if anything it felt like people were annoyed with me.

This was a critical moment in my journey.

Here’s where thoughts come up like:

“This is evidence that I’m just not capable of improving” or “All this energy I’ve put into this, and it took me 5 minutes to lose months of progress”.

Here’s where we need to remind ourselves of two things.

  1. We have improved in the past. We are capable of improving, and it’s likely that we’ll see a similar improvement in the future if we just stick to our plan.
  2. It feels like we’ve lost our progress. But our experience and knowledge are still there. In fact, we’re not back to square one at all. It just feels like that in the moment.

We need to trust our system and continue just like we did before. Some, however, believe that all their progress has truly come undone. If they give up because of that feeling, their journey stops here.

But if you continue to work on yourself and do what you know works, you will notice that you quickly get back to where you were before your dip.

The reason we get back so fast now is that we have all this experience and knowledge that we didn’t have before. In reality, no progress has come undone. It’s just that you messed up just like Tiger Woods and Usain Bolt mess up sometimes, too. It’s not lost progress, it’s part of the process.

I’ve been through so many dips on my journey that I feel comfortable with them. I know that they are a natural part of improving and happen for everyone.

Sometimes, when the going gets tough, I need to remind myself of the following: It’s not lost progress, it’s part of the process.

Read more:
How to deal with self-doubt.

Write down your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to hearing what you think.

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (7)

7 thoughts on “How to deal with setbacks in personal development”

  1. Earlier this year I was doing Confident in 60 days. I stopped because I lost interest and did gave up. But I have seen a difference between from when I started C60. And now, thanks to this post, I have continued to learn more in C60. And yes, it is very difficult to remember, but IT IS a part of the process.

    Thank you

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this David. I too can relate very much with this topic. Reading this was very useful & meaningful for me. You’re doing such an awesome job.

  3. This is great stuff and it immediately resonated, although I don’t recall seeing this graph from the Confident in 60 Days course… It certainly applies in such a broad sense too… I just printed out the graph and showed it to both my son and wife who were a bit down earlier this morning about exactly this sort of thing- after working hard they both feel like they are in the dip..


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