Last year, I set a pretty big goal for myself. After many years of relative inactivity (okay, laziness), I decided I would start running. (I know, I know, how original!) I hatched my goal at the end of winter with the aim of running a half-marathon in the early fall.
And so, I made my plans and joined a local beginners’ running group to help keep me accountable to my goal. At first, it went well. The miles and loads of laundry piled up and I was noticing new changes in my life that kept me motivated. I ran short races and made steady progress in training. I pictured myself crossing the finish line in triumph alongside my new crew.
But then came the inevitable setbacks: An ankle sprain, two weeks of brutal summer heat, a big project at work that scattered my schedule. I kept at it, but started to feel like I had fallen far behind. Eventually, I let the running group fall by the wayside.
By the time race day arrived, I found myself exhausted with 4 miles to go and no will to carry on. I walked the rest of the way, watching in disappointment as runners both twice and half my age zoomed past me. For a while, I was crushed. But here’s how I moved on.
1. Declare your disappointment
For weeks after the race, my disappointment simmered and stewed. I had invested so much time and effort and put so many hopes in my plan. When friends and family members would ask about the race, I would shut down the conversation by saying that it had been tough.
Eventually, I realized that to move forward I needed to let everything out and be open and specific about my frustrations. Just giving my disappointment a name made it feel like I was actually addressing it rather than just letting it fester. I immediately started to feel better and sensed that I could move on and try again.
2. Check your process
The next helpful step was to think about what had gone wrong. There were plenty of considerations to take in, both small and large. For example, toward the end of my training, I hadn’t adjusted my goals to match my performance and ultimately pushed myself too hard. Meanwhile, zooming out a little bit I could see that maybe running a half-marathon had been a little bit ambitious of a plan for me and that leaving the running group had hurt my momentum.
Most importantly, I gained perspective. And going forward, I now have a list of lessons learned to keep for each time I set out to make an ambitious change or pick a new goal.
3. Find the good news
By now, you can probably see that the biggest mistake I made in the aftermath of this disappointment was to focus so squarely on the negative outcome. After all, I managed to finish a 13-mile race! I had also built a new habit out of an abstract goal and found pleasure and pride in the process of becoming a runner.
And along the way, I had learned a lot about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, what keeps me motivated, and what can deflate or derail me. No matter how deep a disappointment can feel, there’s always a way to learn and grow from it.
4. Rededicate yourself
I knew I had moved beyond my setback when I was able to set a new goal for myself. I had enjoyed the qualities of a more active lifestyle and so I thought about trying rock climbing or yoga. Ultimately, I decided that I wasn’t finished with running just yet and spent the next several months focusing on running shorter races better and building up my endurance. When the next half-marathon came around, I blew all my original expectations out of the water.
Regardless of the path I chose, the important thing is that I made a new choice. A disappointment, even a small one, can rob anyone of their ambition to try again.
The best strategy is to look a letdown square in the face, figure out what went wrong and what went right, and keep running.