A lesson from Roger Federer: Four ways to handle setbacks

Someone on the Unclutterer team is an avid tennis fan (that would be me) and though she isn’t a player herself, she does enjoy watching well fought battles on the court, especially when one of the players is Roger Federer. Unfortunately, Federer was ousted a few days ago in the quaterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open. Since he went into that event as the defending champion, there was high expectations for him to perform well. As the result was less than desired, Federer offered some insights on how he planned to deal with this setback — a lesson that even non-tennis players would do well to pay close attention to.

Look for things that worked

In his post-match interview, Federer reflected on the things that went well during the tournament. Though he acknowledged that he would have liked to have played differently, he also talked about specific things he did well (like fighting from behind to ultimately win one of his matches and serving well). 

When faced with a disappointing situation, finding things you’re proud of is probably not the easiest thing to do. But, give a try anyway. Doing this may help you feel better and lift any negative feelings you may have. Take some time to think about (and perhaps write down) the specific things that worked in your favor. Remember what you need to continue doing when faced with similar situations and build your confidence.

Focus on long-term plans

Federer often talks about his plans over the long-term when he loses a match (stay on tour for several years, stay healthy, win tournaments), and that was a consistent message in his last presser. That’s not to say that he ignores short-term improvements (like how to better deal with balls sent high to his backhand), but he realizes that he can’t get so consumed by the emotions of a disappointing perfomance that he loses sight of his ultimate plans.

Looking at the big picture and your long-term goals will give you the chance to channel your disappointment in a constructive way. By keeping your eye on the ultimate prize, you take your mind off how you’re currently feeling so you can forge ahead and make strategic adjustments to your plans. Remember that your goals give structure to your planning and remind you why you embarked on the journey in the first place. 

Manage your schedule well

One of Federer’s main goals is to stay injury free, which means he needs to be very particluar about which events he plays. As he mentioned a few days ago, a packed schedule will simply increase the opportunities for injuries to happen and decrease available time for training and recovery. In preparation for the clay court season, he will spend more time training aggressively before his next event in May.

What does this mean for you? If your schedule is always full and there are no straegically placed breaks (or time for refining your plans), you’ll quickly find yourself running on empty and not performing at your best. Before saying “yes,” to the next project that comes your way or adding more voluntary items to your task list, be certain that you will have the time to complete them. And, you should also consider whether or not any new opportunities align with your long-term plans.

Surround yourself with a good team

For a long while, Federer played without a coach but now he has added a coach to his team with positve results. In fact, Federer has acheived success (like reclaiming the number-one ranking and winnning Wimbledon in 2012) that is not typcial for most 31-year old tennis players. I suspect having a coach has also helped him to manage the sting of losses in a more constructive way.

Whether you have large goals or incremental changes you’d like to make, you may need help. Working with a planning partner, coach, or colleague can help you see different perspectives, refine your direction, and maintain a positive attitude. Carefully select someone whose personality and workstyle complement yours, and set up regularly scheduled meetings to assess your progress.

Setbacks are inevitable and happen to everyone, even popular tennis players like Roger Federer. And, like Federer, you can take specific action steps to manage them well. Begin by tuning out negative talk (from yourself and others) and incorporate some of the suggested strategies so you can stay focused on your larger goals.

Five things you can do to succeed at keeping your New Year’s Resolutions

As you start creating your New Year’s resolutions and thinking of ways to productively usher in the new year, you might have in the back of your mind some of the challenges you might face. It’s been well publicized how difficult resolutions are to keep, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up on them. The new year presents an opportunity for change and there are particular things you can do to sustain the changes you’d like to make.

Keep a positive attitude

As with any project, you may meet upon a few roadblocks or things you didn’t anticipate. Don’t let these setbacks stop you from moving forward. Instead, try to adopt a realistic and positive mindset, both of which can help you cope well when things don’t go as planned. If you find yourself a bit turned around, grab your action plan and start anew. Remember, your overall goal is to be persistent, not to achieve perfection.

To help start you off on a positive note, studies have shown that up to 46 percent of people who make resolutions are successful at the six month mark. When compared to the success rate of people who didn’t make resolutions (4 percent), this statistic is remarkable. So, even if there are a few hiccups along the way, keep in mind that you have a very good chance of succeeding.

Build a strong support system

Surrounding yourself with people who can see you through some of the bumps in the road will give your positive outlook extra mileage. An accountability partner can help keep you motivated, will talk through solutions and strategies with you, and celebrate your successes (both large and small). This person will also hold you accountable for the actions you commit to doing. You’ll want to set up regular check-in meetings with your partner so that you don’t lose sight of your next steps.

Choose the right tools

Part of your support system should include tools that work well with your personality and learning style. For instance, you might choose to keep a journal to record your progress or read/listen to a book that gives you specific instructions and action steps, like David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Websites geared toward goal setting (like 43Things.com and StartaResolution.com) can also be helpful. Check out 20 apps to help you keep your New Year resolutions over at TheNextWeb.com for applications on your mobile devices.

Work on one goal at time

Here at Unclutterer, we’ve often mentioned that single-tasking helps you to get more done. The same principle applies to your goals. While you might have several goals (and be very enthusiastic about achieving them), if you attempt to work on all of them at the same time, this can become very overwhelming, you may lose focus, and all of your goals can ultimately fall off your radar. Consider focusing on one goal per month and attend to it every day before moving on to the next one.

Focus on ambitious goals over the long-term

Do you have a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) on your list? This term was first coined by Jim Collins, co-author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. You don’t have to be a corporation to have a BHAG, but you do have to approach it in the right way.

Some key features of a BHAG:

  • Stimulates bold, radical improvement
  • Generates tremendous excitement for future change
  • Has clear and specific outcomes
  • Is a long-term endeavor

BHAGs are not your average goals. They are large and meaty and achieving them can have a huge impact not only on you, but also those around you (those in your inner circle, colleagues, and your community at large). Because of their size, ambitious goals won’t necessarily be completed in 365 days. But, once attained, they can be extremely gratifying because of the effort you put in to getting to the finish line. Since you won’t see immediate results, keep your vision of progress in line with long-term planning. Chip away at your BHAG systematically and routinely and seek support from others so that you can have a better chance at successfully completing it. Go ahead, get excited about your big, hairy goals, but be sure to keep the right perspective.

As you think about the steps you need to take to bring your Resolution Action Plan to fruition, don’t rely solely on motivation and willpower. Arm yourself with a few tools and strategies that will help you succeed at a keeping your New Year’s resolutions.