Photo of a person putting up positive affirmations on sticky notes.

No matter what goal you set out to achieve, chances are you’ll encounter a few obstacles along the way. Setbacks and failures happen for all of us. It’s a part of what makes us human. 

While this is a deeply shared experience, we can easily forget just how normal failure is, especially if it seems like everyone around us coasting by with ease. 

Here are some tips you can use to manage and overcome setbacks this semester.

1. Adjust your mindset

Have you ever held yourself back because you were worried you might fail?

It’s more common than you think. Holding onto fears and assumptions about how a situation will turn out can make it feel impossible to start. In fact, when we think we may fail at something, we often do everything in our power to avoid it.

If this sounds like you, try some of these tips:

 Challenge your assumptions. It’s common to make assumptions about situations that feel daunting. For instance, you might assume that you won’t be able to complete a project because it feels overwhelming or you don’t have enough time. However, it’s important to challenge these assumptions. Instead of focusing your energy on worst case scenarios or things you can’t control, think through things you can control like visiting office hours or teaming up with other people in your class.

 Take some time to reflect. If you’re worried about failing, it can be helpful to take a step back to reflect. Ask yourself: is this truly a “failure” or is it something that didn’t go as you planned? Is it something you can bounce back from? Chances are good that you can and will bounce back. Remember that experiencing setbacks is a normal part of life and they won’t define you.

 Expand your timeline. If you’re worried about failing or are struggling to cope with a recent setback, it can also be helpful to expand your timeline. For instance, is this particular setback going to matter in 7 days, 7 months or 7 years? Perhaps some things that feel major now will turn out to be less important down the road.

2. Tap into your insights

Learning how to recover from setbacks isn’t always an easy process. It can take time.

That’s why it’s important to reflect on the things that didn’t go so well, past or present, and write down any lessons you learned. Some lessons may seem small or meaningless, but they could help you learn how to do things differently in the future. For instance, you may have learned that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it or that your friends will have your back when things don’t go as planned.

Take some time to think through a some of the times you have experienced a setback or failure in the past and ask yourself:

  • What helped you overcome this setback?
  • Did anything make the situation worse or better?
  • Who can you reach out to for help?
  • What resources were the most helpful (e.g. tutoring, office hours, etc.)?
  • Are there any resources you haven’t tried yet?

3. Get out of your comfort zone

Our best piece of advice: Go after the things you want, even if it scares you.

Getting out of your comfort zone can lead to new opportunities and experiences you may have never considered before. Facing our fears can help us rethink how we approach a project or problem and find new ways to achieve our goals. Working through fears and overcoming obstacles can prepare us for the next mishap that comes along so we are able to bounce back quicker. While this may feel difficult in the beginning, it gets easier with practice. Facing our fears of failure is a great way to build resiliency and venture beyond our comfort zone.

Academic resources

Grade Replacement Program

This program allows degree-seeking undergrad and graduate students to retake a course in which they earned a low grade in an attempt to improve their cumulative GPA. 

Writing Center

The Writing Center offers one-on-one support for CU Boulder undergrad and graduate students. Their consultants are available to help you with papers, presentations and more.

Tutoring services

Students can access tutoring services across campus through the residence halls, academic programs and other departments.

Health and Wellness resources

Disability Services

Disability Services is dedicated to providing students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in university programs, courses and activities through reasonable accommodations and services.

Let’s Talk

Meet with a counselor for a 15-20 minute consultation. Let’s Talk counselors can help address concerns related to relationships, academics, finances and more. They’re also available to provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources.

Feel Better Fast

This free workshop series is designed to help you make positive changes in your life. You will learn how to calm yourself in stressful situations, take a step back from your thoughts and make decisions that feel right for you.

Peer Wellness Coaching

Peer Wellness Coaching is a free service available to all CU Boulder students to help you set and achieve your wellness goals.

Mindful Monday

This weekly program provides an opportunity for you to learn about and engage in mindfulness practices.

Wellness Wednesday

This weekly program lets you take a break from your day to engage in self-care activities and meet one-on-one with an emotional wellness peer educator to create a personalized self-care plan that works for you.

Personal training services

The Rec Center’s nationally certified personal trainers can help provide motivation, education, guidance and instruction to help you improve your overall fitness and achieve your goals. They are also here to support you through assessments that can help maximize your workout while minimizing risk of injury.

Nutrition Services

Schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to get support with a variety of nutrition needs, including nutrition assessments, food allergies and sensitivities, body composition analysis, sports nutrition, intuitive eating and more. You can also access food assistance programs through Feed the Stampede.

Adventure Resource Center

The Outdoor Program’s Adventure Resource Center (ARC) is available to help you plan your next adventure, big or small. The ARC provides a welcoming space where you can plan a trip or get assistance and recommendations from knowledgeable staff.