Self-help gurus, sports coaches, and the media tell us that we should minimize our setbacks, overcome adversity, and quickly bounce back from failure. That should we miss our mark, make a mistake, say the wrong thing, wear the wrong clothes, or show up to the wrong meeting – all things quite possible – we should not waste any time getting right back on track. These mishaps should be reframed, filed away, overcome, or – whatever self-help lingo we may want to insert here – moved past. Even catastrophic events – the kind that shatter our very fundamental beliefs and assumptions about ourselves, the world, and everything we know – should be quickly overcome. Our resilience depends on it, or so we are told.
However, even when we do recognize a setback for what it is, trying something new is often not our first response. Rather, many of us simply do more of the same. We redouble our efforts, put in more time, and invest more energy. The tendency to avoid changing strategy can be partly accounted for by what behavioral economists call “sunk costs.” Sunk costs account for all of the time, energy, and money we have already devoted to the task.
Perhaps we have spent several years trying to start a business. Maybe we have invested several years of schooling and have considerable student loan debt only to be faced with the harsh reality that we cannot secure a job in our field. Situations like this play to the natural tendency to “get out what we have put in.” Which means staying the course. We may also exhibit “loss aversion,” which is the desire to avoid any further losses. Once we know we have already suffered a significant loss, we hesitate to try anything new—for fear of losing more than we already have. Yet adapting, as we know, depends on being willing to alter the strategy without any guarantee of success. In short, we are going to have to be willing to take a measured risk, or several, until we find what works.
We are also going to have to be open to new experiences, because they offer the chance to discover something that we didn’t realize we enjoyed. To help your client do this, you are going to have your client do what I call “taking a mental detour.”
Take a Mental Detour
To begin, you will instruct your client to recall five happy memories from his/her childhood. These can be anything from family vacations, summer pastimes, hobbies, playing sports, or time with friends. Next, you will ask your client to elaborate the memories with as much detail as he/she can remember. Your client should write who was there, what he/she was doing, and where he/she was, describing each component of the memory as completely as possible.
When your client is finished, he/she should have five experiences that include some sort of activity, in a specific place, with or without others. For most people, these memories will usually involve some sort of shared experience that revolved around a mutually held goal. Common themes are things like organizing a party with friends, playing on sports teams, building something with others, or taking a class. However, there are no right or wrong answers. The goal is simply for your client to recall five activities that he/she used to enjoy and found himself/herself immersed in.
Next, you will instruct your client to try each of these activities again. For example, if one of your client’s memories is playing on a softball team as a kid, you will instruct your client to find an adult softball league and give it a try. Or if your client recalls enjoying building forts in the living room with a sibling or friend, you will instruct him/her to build something again with somebody he/she enjoys spending time with. The experience may not match exactly what your client described in his/her recollection; however, the general theme should be the same. Similarly, you should remind your client not to worry if he/she feels that his/her skills are not what they used to be. The point is not for your client to measure his/her success at remembering how to do things from the past; the goal is to become comfortable with trying new things, and perhaps to find something he/she enjoys doing again.
Setbacks, in many ways, are like roadblocks. And adapting depends on the ability to try something new, to be willing to take a detour—even through unfamiliar territory. Yet detours also offer the chance for your client to see things differently, remember a road he/she might’ve traveled before, and perhaps rediscover something he/she loves. Taking a mental detour, just like a physical one, encourages your client to be open to changing course—to navigate around the roadblock (in whatever form it takes)—for the chance of finding something better.
Course excerpt from:
Leveraging Adversity: Turning Setbacks into Springboards is a 6-hour online continuing education (CE) course that gives clinicians the tools they need to help their clients face adversity from a growth perspective and learn how to use setbacks to spring forward, and ignite growth.
While clients can seek the help of a psychotherapist for numerous reasons, one thing that all clients face is adversity. Whether in their own lives, or within the training program itself, adversity and setbacks are inevitable. And how clients handle adversity often colors not just their ability to move past it, but also their success in therapy. Packed with the most recent data on post-traumatic growth, behavioral economics, and evolutionary psychology, this course begins with a look at just what setbacks are and how they affect us. Clinicians are then introduced to the concept of “leveraging adversity,” that is, using it to make critical reconsiderations, align values with behavior, and face challenges with a growth mindset. The course then addresses the five core strengths of leveraging adversity – gratitude, openness, personal strength (growth mindset), connection, and belief – and provides numerous exercises and skills for clinicians to use with clients. Included are 25 separate handouts clinicians can give to clients to cement core concepts from the course. Course #61-03 | 2018 | 92 pages | 35 posttest questions
Our online courses provide instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion. Click here to learn more. Have a question? Contact us. We’re here to help!
Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).
Target Audience: Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapist (MFTs), Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs), Occupational Therapists (OTs), Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), School Psychologists, and Teachers