Photo by Randjelovic

“The comeback is always greater than the setback,” so says the cliché—one of those things that’s easier said than done. Because let’s face it: When you’re dealing with an injury, or you’ve suffered an unexpected loss, or the big idea you had flopped, the one thing all setbacks have in common is that they can send you into a major downward spiral that’s more likely to have you in the depths of feeling like crap rather than raring to get back in the ring.

And living in that negativity is no joke. It can make you feel like you’re worthless, powerless, and incapable of seeing the light ever again. But even if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel right now, let us be the first to tell you that we can see it for you. Because no matter what punches you’ve taken recently, you can get back up. You can fight again. And this time, you can win.

But it’s not by joining in on the pummeling session yourself. If you’re consumed by the setback or failure, you may be tempted to beat yourself up and “tough love” your way through it. But we propose something a little different: Giving yourself a break, reframing your thoughts, and becoming your own biggest cheerleader. After all, the journey to your comeback might not be the easiest road you’ve ever travelled, and a long road trip is way more fun with someone you get along with.

Not sure how to get there? Keep reading for tips on re-evaluating your comeback story, releasing old habits to make room for new ones, and embracing a refreshed plan for a healthier, happier you.

Separate Your Identity from the Setback

Setback Mentality: “I am such a failure. I’ll never achieve success.”

Comeback Mentality: “I may have failed to accomplish something, but it doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It just means I need to try again.”

Laura St. John, co-founder of Strong Confident Living, a wellness movement that offers mindset classes and fitness coaching, says a comeback can be recalibrated by choosing not to let our setbacks define us. The truth is, everyone fails at some point, and everyone experiences setbacks. Oprah was fired from her first TV anchor job, for goodness sake. But setbacks and failed attempts don’t change who you are as a person, and they don’t make you a failure. “If you separate the setback from yourself as a person, you will be quicker to see it as an event that happened rather than a personality trait,” St. John says.

Lean into the Unknown

Setback Mentality: “I should be doing better by now. What I’m doing isn’t working. Maybe I should give up.”

Comeback Mentality: “I’m going to let go of my expectations and keep pushing forward, even if I have to try something I’ve never done to achieve my goal.”

Tiffany Lee Gaston is a wife and mother of three, a fitness expert, magazine cover model, and the author of From Broken to Badass. During the pandemic, she felt isolated and fearful, and she turned to alcohol more than she should, gave into negative thoughts, and shied away from self-care practices. Her body reacted negatively. By the end of 2020, Gaston, 43, had debilitating back and sciatic nerve pain, potentially facing an invasive surgery. She devised a game-plan that went far beyond her comfort zone to heal herself and avoid surgery. In addition to physical therapy and mobility sessions to strengthen her body and therapy sessions to strengthen her mind, Gaston embraced the unknown, and she began meditating—a lot.

It took some time, and there were tears, fears, and frustrations along the way, but ultimately, it paid off. In May 2021, she was cleared to resume all normal activity and has spent the last several months rebuilding her body. No longer in pain and no longer needing surgery, she said the experience has left her feeling empowered. “When you can generate this type of progress and result for yourself, it is most empowering,” Gaston says. “A massive part of my return from this weaker version of me is the knowledge of my achievement and the goal to encourage others to never give up trying to work through injury or setback.”

Baby Step out of Your Comfort Zone

Setback Mentality: “I can’t do that. It’s going to be too hard or too much work.”

Comeback Mentality: “I may not like change and it might be hard, but I’m willing to get uncomfortable and take the necessary steps to get there.”

Change and growth often can’t happen unless we’re willing to step out of our comfort zones, says Christian Koshaba, personal trainer and owner of Three60Fit. Koshaba’s tip? Rather than jumping headfirst into something incredibly hard or uncomfortable like quitting smoking or getting back to working out six days a week, take incremental steps. Be uncomfortable, for sure, but not to the point that it stops you.

“If people took daily, incremental steps, they would surprise themselves with how fast they can accomplish tasks,” says Koshaba, an Air Force veteran who was inspired to start Three60Fit after suffering through his own setbacks and injuries. “I have multiple clients who have completely reshaped their lives [because they were willing] to make minute changes to their everyday lives, even if it was as simple as smoking one less cigarette per day or going to the gym one more time per week than they normally would have.”

Find Motivation Within

Setback Mentality: “I have to do this or else my spouse will leave me, or my family will see me as a failure.”

Comeback Mentality: “I’m doing this for me. Not for the perception of others.”

Too often, many of us base our comeback story on outside motivation. Maybe a significant other or a relative told you to lose weight or stop dreaming big. Maybe your fear of what other people think is driving you to make certain changes. But according to Darren Lumbard, a consulting psychologist for the Sports Health program at Atlantic Health System in NJ, whatever change you want to make, make sure it’s for an intrinsic reason and not an extrinsic reason. Meaning, do it because it feels good, it’s fun, and it’s what you want, instead of because someone told you to, or you’re trying to live up to others’ expectations. “Intrinsic motivation is typically the more effective long-term method for achieving goals,” Lumbard says. “Extrinsic motivation may be helpful to start with but can lose effectiveness over time with the absence of sufficient intrinsic motivation.”

Brittinie Wick, an Air Force veteran turned health and fitness coach from Las Vegas, suggests repeating a motivational mantra that speaks to the core of why you want to do something. This can help change your mindset, increase your personal drive, and ultimately boost your motivation and add power to your determination, she says. For example, when you’re ready to start your comeback journey, say this mantra yourself, “I’m doing this for me. Not for the perception of others, but for myself, by myself, to be the best version of myself. And I will succeed, not just today but every day.”

Be Kind to Yourself

Setback Mentality: “I’m too dumb. I’m too weak. I’m worthless.”

Comeback Mentality: “I permit myself to let go of what’s holding me back. I have everything I need to move forward.”

Wick shares that being kind to ourselves when making a comeback can help us bounce back from negative experiences and live an overall healthier life. Don’t be so hard on yourself or talk down to yourself. Try to treat yourself like you would your best friend. “Showing yourself kindness and self-compassion when faced with difficult life struggles and failures when working towards a goal is a more effective approach than motivating yourself with shame and self-criticism,” Wick said. “Shame and self-criticism lead to inner rebellion and giving up, while self-compassion gives you hope and helps you trust the process of change.”

Enlist Help

Setback Mentality: “I don’t need anyone and I’m not asking for help. Asking for help shows weakness.”

Comeback Mentality: “I don’t know everything, and I don’t have all the answers. I’ll ask for help to get where I want to go.”

When making a comeback, you may need more than yourself to get it done. Maybe you don’t know where to start, or maybe you need help making a game plan. Having someone like an accountability partner, life coach, or therapist to guide you and offer support is a great way to help you achieve your comeback story, says Helen Terry M.Ed, Exercise Physiologist, and Nia Teacher and Trainer.  “It can be the hand beneath your foot to help boost you over the fence of limitation,” Terry says.

LaRue V. Gillespie
LaRue's journalism career has taken her from being a features reporter with a newspaper group to the editor-in-chief and creative director of a fitness magazine. She's currently a freelance writer with a passion for penning investigative health reports.