When Winning Leads to Losing: How to Recover From Setbacks

“I don’t recognize the guy in the mirror,” says top-ranked middleweight boxer Daniel “The Honey Badger” Hayes.

Hayes came out of a winning fight on December 3, 2016 with a fractured left hand that required surgery five days later.

“It’s tough to look in the mirror because I’m used to seeing my confidence and unbreakable will. When I look at myself now I feel a huge sense of anxiety because I want to come back. I don’t feel like myself. I haven’t been able to be active in any sport or exercise. I went from such a high, being at my strongest before the fight [after training camp], to a low. I didn’t know going into December 3 that it would be the last time I’d have that feeling.”

As he acknowledges this loss after a win, Hayes talks about ways that he, and you can recover from setbacks. Here’s what he suggests:

Create a productive environment for growth.
“It’s learning how to appreciate time and to value any time you have competing. Maintain a positive mindset. You can go down a really destructive path both physically and mentally and that will get you nowhere. Keep yourself as busy as possible [incorporating meditation and relaxation]. It’s difficult when relaxation and meditation are not for sport, [but rather] to pass time. The biggest challenge is staying still. It’s important to have positive people around you, people who care about you. When you don’t have a [medical] cast, [others may not] take your injury seriously. Sometimes people try to help you in the way they know how, so be patient if they ask you something you don’t want to talk about.”

Adopt both an intellectual and athletic approach.
“I learned through this experience to think smarter and not over-rely on my brute strength. I knew that struggling on my own would be character building, and a good chance to develop my mental skills. I thought of different ways to get things done rather than making excuses. Along with my right hand, I use my elbow and rib cage to open jars, and my mouth for zip locks. If a lid is too tight, I cup it with both of my feet and remove it with my right hand. As an athlete, it’s easy to become dependent on your physical prowess and your ability to will your way thru a challenge. Setbacks force you to use your intellect more.”

Focus attention on other areas of your life.
“[These almost four weeks of recovery before my post op evaluation] have freed me to work on my documentary and to pursue another certification. I focused more on my business [a boxing and recovery studio]. This is the first time that I haven’t been able to parlay my energy from one sport to another [like when I injured my shoulder and did track cycling]. When I go back into sports, I‘ll be in better place. I won’t rely as much on athletics for energy release.”

Increase Your Accountability.
“I’m using this as an opportunity to be more accountable, I look in the mirror and say, “You will be back and you will be better. Remember the times that you had the ability to do something and didn’t. I want to achieve more in 2017. I’ll be better in a different way.”

Consistent with his history of converting negatives into positives, Hayes’ response to setbacks is a mirror image of his confidence and unbreakable will. When the capabilities that you associate with success seem wiped out, a more expansive vision of yourself can appear. Step back and see.


Outside of the boxing ring, Daniel Hayes is an actor, print model, entrepreneur, and professional speaker. A documentary about him, still in its early stages on the firm festival circuit, has won “Best Documentary Short” for the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards and “Best Documentary Short” for the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards.