February 2, 2010

How Easily Do You Come Back from a Setback?

By Jim Tunney

Most of us come pre-packaged with a set of bounce back thresholds. We can only take so much in some situations while we can handle a lot more in others. If you don’t have at least a tennis ball bounce back strategy for dealing with the inevitable rejections, disappointments and frustrations of sales, you’ll never operate at peak performance.

To improve your ability to bounce back from setbacks, remember what Robert Frost once advised: “The best way out is always through.” Although life is often unfair, it’s onward anyway. Never let negative emotions overrule your natural ability to withstand life’s uppercuts. A true story may help to illustrate how negative emotions can stop a good bounce back dead in its tracks.

One day at Stapleton Airport I happened to meet a fellow NFL official. He was downhearted because he felt the playoff game he had been assigned failed to reflect his season’s good performance. He was angry at the hand the world had dealt him. “This may not have been my best year,” he told me, “but I believe I did better than the assignment shows.” I read a certain “I’ll show them” tone in his voice and, sure enough, the next words out of his mouth were, “I think I’ll just quit.”

To me, he seemed to feel embarrassed and rejected by the assignment and, rather than face his pain, he was going to run from it. I asked him, “Do you still like the game?”

“Of course,” he said. “I love it. The walk out through the tunnel, the crowd, the tension, the uncertainty, the pace. I love it all.”

“Do you like the challenge of your job?” I asked.

“Absolutely. That’s why I prefer intense games – rivals really going at it. I like the demand on me for alertness and precision,” he answered.

“Is preparing for the games still challenging to you?” I asked.

“I do what’s required,” he answered this time, with tension in his voice.

“But is your concentration as solid as it was in the first few years? `Routine’ didn’t get you into the NFL. It’s tougher to stay a champion than it is to become one. Victory breeds complacency and the adrenaline tends to fail,” I concluded as I remembered one of the most important bounce back lessons I have learned: It is more effective to change yourself and your thinking than to try to change the world. “Is the passion to give 100 percent still there?” I asked my friend.

“Love for the game got me started in the first place. It’s the reason my wife puts up with me being away all those weekends,” he confided.

“I guess the question is whether the inconvenience of a little embarrassment and the pain of one disappointment is enough to make you put up with the pain you’ll feel after leaving the game you love,” I reasoned.

“Maybe it’s just time for a change,” he said.

“Could be,” I countered, “but I haven’t heard you say anything that suggests you’re looking for a change other than wishing you could change this year’s playoff assignment. Maybe if you changed the way you look at the assignment, your feelings about it will change as well,” I suggested.

“Change my attitude and I’ll change my world, huh?” he mused.

“Well, it’s a good way to change your options, although it won’t change the world,” I answered. Intellectually, he knew I was right. I had walked in the same shoes.

“I know you’re right,” he said, “it just seems hard to do right now.”

“For some of us losing is worse than winning is good, but you can’t win again unless you’re in the game,” I told him.

“You’re right. I know it. All contests are first won in the player’s head,” he nodded. “Thanks.”

He called me a few days later to thank me again. He had decided to swallow his embarrassment, rather than to wallow in it.

The ability to rally after a disappointment is an essential productivity skill. Your bounce back job is to deflect, rather than absorb, frustrations. Your bounce back rate will depend on how quickly you move from disappointment to determination.