I recently had the chance to sit down for half an hour with Marshall Goldsmith, who is widely regarded as one of the top executive coaches in the world. Marshall’s clients include top CEOs, the Presidents of the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation, top athletes, and the list goes on and on. My friend tells me that an hour of coaching with Marshall costs thousands of dollars, so what I am about to tell you is worth big bucks….
Marshall and I were talking about one of my failures. I was trying to improve myself by asking myself questions every day, such as “did I try my best to meditate for ten minutes today” and “did I try my best to eat an apple today.” I had 20+ questions like this, and after two days of trying to score myself, I had given up because I felt depleted.
“Depleted huh,” he asked. “I think that’s bullshit.” “Bullshit? I asked.” “That’s right, total bullshit, he said with a laugh.” “You’re not depleted by the questions because they only take 2-3 minutes to complete every day. You’re depleted by the existential reality that you’ve failed at the very metrics you decided for yourself.” I was silent for a minute before admitting that he was right, and we talked about that for a while. It stung for sure.
Why am I telling you this? Because we all have setbacks. Sometimes we get into an accident, or we lose a job, or deal with a divorce. Maybe we fail an exam or lose money in stock market, or otherwise come up short. I’ve had a few big setbacks in life for sure, and this little failure on my daily metrics is a surrogate for bigger failures. I am going to tell you what Marshall did to help me through this setback, and in doing so I will unpack a series of best practices that can help you bounce back from any setback. Here goes…
First off, we got clear about WHY I was having the setback. Knowing why can be a very powerful antidote for future failures. In this case the why was fairly straightforward. I could not blame anyone else or my environment because I set my own questions, I knew why they were important, and all I had to do was TRY. If I did not try, I would not pass my own test. My setback was happening because I did not want to take responsibility for failing to try.
After all, I was well-educated. Marshall helped me understand that my credentials (UCLA undergrad; Georgetown law) meant that I had taken thousands of tests and done pretty well at them. I was groomed to feel smart and special, and to dislike failure. And here I was, staring a failure in the face that was completely my own doing and to which I had to take full responsibility.
So there’s a second point for you. Taking responsibility for the failure – to the extent you are responsible – makes you a player rather than a victim, according to Google’s VP of Leadership Development, Fred Hoffman. When you are a player, and when you take responsibility (response-ability), then you start to take back control over what you can control, and that is a very powerful thing when it comes to bouncing back from a setback.
There is my third point, to focus only on what is in your control. Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius said this best, in that we just should not spend any time worrying about things not in our control. Focus on what is in your control, and you can bounce back better.
Next, Marshall said the following: “My name is Marshall. I am cowardly, I am undisciplined, and I need help.” He then asked me to take a breath and repeat after him, “My name is Vik. I am cowardly, I am undisciplined, and I need help.” He did this to prove a point in that sometimes we have to suck it up and ask for help, and to know our limitations. Did your setback happen because you overcommitted on something, or ignored someone’s advice? Were you too slow or too quick to act? Sometimes we need to know our limits and we need to know when it’s time to ask for help. That is my fourth point – to find the right help at the right time for the right reasons and in the right way.
And finally, the biggest gold nugget of them all. My fifth point is about forgiving yourself and forgiving others, but primarily about forgiving yourself. You see, when you forgive yourself, you bounce back faster and you prime yourself to “fail forward.” How do you forgive yourself? You can find Kristin Neff’s self-compassion meditations online, you can do some “mirror work” as described by Louise Hay’s book of the same title, or meditate or journal your way to it. Or you can do what Marshall did with me…
Close your eyes while sitting down and take a deep breath. Get into a very relaxed state of flow. Now, imagine all the different versions of yourself – all the past Viks (in my case) that had to struggle, and win, and fail, and live, in order for this current Vik to be here right now. Just imagine all those Viks, from the beginning of time until now, all the versions of yourself that got you to this point now. Once you have a strong vision of all those versions of you, open your eyes. What do you want to say to all of those versions of yourself?
I wanted to say, “Thank you. I love you.” And that is the point, he explained. All our prior versions allow us to be here today. We needed those wins but we also need to accept all the losses too. We need to be grateful that we are human and that we get to fight again tomorrow. Every time we breathe, we are new and whole again.
I know it’s a little esoteric, but the way he framed it really helped me realize that the best way to treat ourselves is to just breathe into the new you right now. This version of you is just a tiny bit better than the version of you that was there a second ago, and that’s a powerful thought. If you want to mull this over some more, reach out to me and I would love to talk to you about it.
To recap, you can absolutely bounce back from any setback, by using the following five steps:
In my case, I am “back on the horse” as they say, and trying those daily questions all
over again. On Monday, I will be asking for some help from a friend or a virtual assistant, to make sure I do not miss another day. I took Marshall’s words seriously. When he asked me what my takeaway was from our coaching session, I very confidently said, “that in some moments I can be full of shit.” He laughed and said “very good”…we talked a bit more about self-compassion, and he hung up. There it was, a key evening in my life no doubt, and I am glad to share some of it with you. I hope it helps you bounce back from your next setback, and please drop me a note if I can be of further service to you.