How to cope when life doesn’t go as planned.
Life rarely goes according to plan.
I used to think I could make a plan, work hard, and accomplish what I’d set out to do.
I’m a planner. I like routines and consistency. I like to know what’s going to happen. I like it when my life goes according to plan! Don’t you?
But, often, life doesn’t go as we expect: You lose your job. Your spouse files for divorce. Your mom’s diagnosed with cancer. Your son drops out of college.
Accepting the things we can’t control.
It’s hard to accept unwanted and unexpected challenges, whether they’re due to a global pandemic, car accident, or the end of a relationship.
Pause for a moment and think about how you feel when life throws you a curveball or things feel out of control. You might feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or afraid.
You also might feel embarrassed, guilty, inadequate, or like a failure. These feelings are the result of judging and blaming ourselves for things we can’t control. That isn’t fair!
Not everything’s your fault. Some things are, of course, and it’s important to take responsibility when you really do something wrong, but I’m talking about all the things that happen in life that catch you off guard and send you into a tailspin because they aren’t what you expected or wanted.
No matter how hard you try, or how good you are, or what you do, there are simply some things that you can’t control.
Acceptance helps us move forward.
Trying to control everything and everyone, trying to make your life go perfectly, is tiring. It’s a huge burden to carry – to expect that you can keep everything running smoothly, never make a mistake, always know the right thing to do, and be able to prevent tragedies. You can’t and shouldn’t be responsible for controlling and fixing all that.
Accepting that life is unpredictable and, at times, out of control allows us to move forward. Otherwise, we keep fighting hopelessly against reality. We remain caught up in the suffering and struggle of trying to control, fix, and change things we can’t control, fix, and change. Unfortunately, trying harder, having more self-discipline, or being perfect, won't necessarily change what’s happening (or has happened) and create the outcome we want.
You can hold tighter to what you wanted, what you expected, or you can release your expectations and embrace what is. Accepting what you can’t change doesn’t mean you’re stuck and doomed to misery. You may not be able to change the situation or other people, but you can change how you think, feel, and behave.
Accepting that many things are out of your control, isn’t giving up or giving in. It’s not weak or passive. It doesn’t mean someone else wins and you lose. It’s simply knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. It allows you to put your effort into what you can control.
How to cope when life doesn’t go as planned:
- Identify what you have control over (your thoughts, feelings, and actions), what you have influence over (perhaps your child’s beliefs), and what you have no control over (the weather, your mother’s drinking, or your brother’s snide comments).
- Notice when you’re trying to control people or situations that are out of your control.
- Pay attention to your thoughts; they may not be accurate. In which case, you can challenge your distorted thoughts and replace them with more helpful thoughts.
- Grieve your losses and disappointments. They are real and deserve to be acknowledged.
- Remember you’re not alone. Nobody’s life turns out exactly as they planned. We don’t need to compare our hardships, just know that we all have them and try to support each other.
- Look for the positives. Eventually, you may be able to see something positive even in life’s most difficult challenges. (But don’t judge yourself if you’re not to this point yet).
- Remind yourself that sometimes good things are unexpected, too – like an unexpected raise, an unplanned, but very much wanted pregnancy, or changing careers at mid-life.
- Enjoy the freedom of not being responsible for what others do and how they feel.
- Focus on what you can do -- and do it well.
I know it’s not easy to let go of expectations and the desire to control things, but I also know that we are truly free when we accept the things we can’t control.
©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Adapted from an article originally published on Psych Central.
Photo courtesy of Canva.com.
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