Embrace Possibility What NOT to Do When Things Go Wrong

What NOT to Do When Things Go Wrong

Bicycle crash(3 days ago - At the office)

"It's just a corporate basketball league game and I need the exercise anyway."

"What could possibly go wrong?"

(At the game - Whistle blows - Game starts)

Like any other basketball game, you hear the basketball bouncing, sneakers screeching, players yelling when suddenly ...

a loud *CRACK*

... elbow meets face ...

... my face, his elbow ...

... nose breaks.

Now broken noses in basketball are fairly common but what makes this particularly frustrating is that it is 2 weeks before I leave for a 2 month trip around the world. A classic example of Murphy's law:

"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

Has anything ever gone wrong for you?

Perhaps your biggest client left you for someone else right before your performance review.

Maybe your train was delayed on the morning of an important interview.

Or just when you finished paying off your credit card bills, your car breaks down causing you to go back into debt.

In life, things will go wrong and there is usually nothing you can do to stop it (just like there was nothing I can do about my face meeting that elbow) but what you can do is control your actions after.

Unfortunately, most of us react the wrong way when things go wrong. Here is a common list of what NOT to do:


Blame Others

It is common to blame others for our misfortune.  When I was injured, my gut reaction was to blame the other person for being so reckless (who throws elbows during a fastbreak). If your train is delayed, you may naturally blame the city for its poor subway system or the sick passenger who had the nerve to get on the train and then get sick.

This desire to blame others comes from a feeling of injustice when things go wrong. We don't deserve it so why is this happening to us. It's not our fault so why are we being punished. Someone else must be causing this.

This is a dangerous way of thinking because blaming others will not solve the problem. It will actually make it worse because when we see ourselves as victims, we tend to feel entitled. We expect others to fix it and we give up responsibility for the issue. We become jerks to anyone not making us their first priority or sympathizing with our issue. This leads to others not wanting to help us and makes the situation worse.

What you might consider doing instead:

Take responsibility.

Things went wrong because of something you did. My nose is broken because I went to play basketball. You were late for your meeting because you didn't give yourself enough time to account for train delays. Once you take responsibility, you stop acting like a victim and waiting for others to help you. You decide to rely on yourself to make the situation better which in turn will make it better. You become grateful to anyone that helps you which makes them want to help you even more.



When things go wrong, it's very natural to regret our decisions that led up to the situation. As I was waiting at the urgent care center with a bloody nose, I thought to myself,

"I shouldn't have played in this game. Why did I go 2 weeks before my trip?"

I started to blame myself for my poor decision. It's the same when you lose a big client. You may regret not calling on them more often or not recognizing the signs that your relationship with them was deteriorating.

We regret because we judge our actions with hindsight bias - seeing events that already occurred as being more predictable than they were before they took place. We spend all our time in the land of "if only" and thinking of what we could've, should've and would've done differently. This usually makes us feel even more frustrated because the "right" choice always seems so obvious after the fact.

What you might consider doing instead:

Focus on the present moment.

It is a waste of time to think about changing the past because there is no way for you to do so. What matters is what you can do now. Regret can be defined as unhappiness with your past choice. You regret because you've lost sight of one important fact:

You made the best decision you can make at the time you made it.

Of course, if you knew the future, you could make a better decision but you don't and you never will.

Don't waste your time on regrets. Acknowledge that, at the time, it was the best decision you could have made despite the outcome. Now focus all your energy on what you will do next to make the situation better and to prevent a similar situation in the future. Learn from your mistakes but don't dwell on it.


Be Depressed

One of the most common reactions to misfortune is to feel down. This happens because we worry about the future. When the doctor told me that my nose was broken, I was worried.

What if I can't go on my trip?

What are we going to do about all the money we spent on tickets and excursions?

What if my nose ends up looking strange for the rest of my life?

Why does this always happen to me?

If you just got out of financial debt and your car breaks down, you may be depressed because you worked so hard just to end up right where you started. I call this the "dark cloud syndrome" because we begin to take our misfortune personally. We feel that there is a dark cloud following us around and that bad things "always happen to us". We just can't seem to catch a break and it leads us to stop trying to make the situation better.  We resign to our cursed status and imagine only a gloomy road ahead.

According to the American Scientist, Edward Tryon,

"Thoughts lead on to purpose, purpose leads on to actions, actions form habits, habits decide character, and character fixes our destiny”

  • So if you have self-defeating thoughts,
  • your purpose will be to defeat yourself,
  • which leads to actions that will do just that,
  • which form habits where you are constantly defeating yourself,
  • until you build up a self-defeating character,
  • which results in you being repeatedly defeated in life.

Not a very good outlook.

What you may consider doing instead:

Our realities are based on our perceptions and our perceptions are based on what we focus on. When things go wrong, we tend to focus on all the other times where things have gone wrong and we start to generalize that things always go wrong for us. A better approach when things go wrong is to say to yourself,

"That's interesting because things usually work out for me."

Then spend some time thinking about how lucky you are (if you're living in the US or if you're able to read this article, you are already luckier than many people out there).

I was able to avoid worry and being upset because I thought about how lucky I was. I also spent my time focusing on what the next step should be and creating contingency plans if I had to cancel part of my trip due to surgery. This experience made me realize that it's possible for things to go wrong without feeling frustrated, angry, depressed or worried. Handling this setback in this resourceful way created a very positive experience for me and it inspired me to write this article.

I am grateful to experience firsthand the power of changing my thoughts and its effect on changing my actions and my destiny. I hope my articles can open up possibilities in thoughts and actions for you that you didn't realize existed.

Do you have helpful ways for overcoming bad times? If so, please share them below in the comments section.


Photo by BikeRanger

Robert Chen

Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.

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  1. Glynis Jolly October 22, 2012 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    Hi Robert. I’ve been reading many posts that all seem to say pretty much the same thing. It was refreshing to read yours. Although the topic is not new, your slant on it was. Very enjoyable and your advice on how to really take respnsibility was helpful..

    • Robert Chen October 29, 2012 at 11:18 pm - Reply

      Hi Glynis,

      Thank you for reading and for your kind words. I focus on practical advice that I’ve tested using my own life and I find that it resonates with others as well.

  2. tearoomdelights October 29, 2012 at 10:45 am - Reply

    I like your attitude, it’s so tempting to wallow in being a victim instead of taking responsibility for our actions. When these kinds of things happen to me, I usually automatically blame someone else and feel very sorry for myself, but I try to remind myself to take responsibility for it and that helps me to feel better. I have control over some parts of my life, if not all of it, and all I can do is try to make the best decisions I can at any one time. Naturally, sometimes I make bad decisions and I wish I could hit ‘undo’ (I often wish life had this button when I spill a cup of tea all over the carpet or something like that), but it’s just life, things do sometimes go wrong. I think the best thing you can do is exactly what you’re advocating, accept that it’s happened and look for the good things in the present. I can imagine breaking your nose just before a trip would get you down, it certainly would if it were me, but you have your trip already planned and you have amazing opportunities coming your way. I know you’ll make the most of them and I hope you have a fantastic time!

    • Robert Chen October 29, 2012 at 11:13 pm - Reply

      Hi Lorna,

      Thanks for the comment. I used to be a master at making excuses and blaming everyone else when things go wrong but I’ve found that even though it may bring short-term relief, it almost always does long-term harm. I’ve found to take responsibility and to focus on the solutions has always been the fastest way to not only feeling better but also to make the situation better. Let me know if they ever make the “undo” button. I’ll be very interested in getting one.

      Thank you for reading and for your good wishes.

  3. R Hariharan January 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Hi Robert,

    Your article is straight forward and has helped me come out of blaming others and feeling self pity……. Wish you all the best.

    • Robert Chen January 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      I’m glad that this article was able to help you R Hariharan. Happy New Year and good luck!

  4. Angela HicCups January 13, 2013 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    Hello Robert,

    These articles(especially this one) are truly amazing,I am actually able to understand these! I’ve got to be honest when i say I was easily able to relate to these topics with the personal experiences and the lessons we tend to meet up with. And for that I thank you kindly for highlighting the positive outlooks on things like these, I can never think of anyone who hasn’t had something go wrong in their lives without picturing the DARK CLOUD as you mentioned and the pain of depression.I’m sure glad i found this because i have recently had something that didn’t go the way i planned.I wanted to go to a convention to meet and try to befriend my favorite actor of all time,even though he retired from acting awhile ago,it didn’t stop me from trying to accomplish what i thought would be a big change in my usual actions. So, when i went on their website to check in on their guest list, he appeared to have cancelled…I was devastated when i found out, i could hardly bare the tears…That is when i started getting angry at myself,the workers at the convention,and god which i terribly regret doing..i just couldn’t help but to think someone was laughing at me which made me angrier and much more sensitive about the way i acted, it still hurts me to think about it.I don’t know what final task i would do if i were to choose to give up.Anyway thank you again.

    • Robert Chen January 14, 2013 at 7:46 pm - Reply

      Hi Angela,

      Thank you for your comment. What has really helped me to overcome situations that don’t go my way is to understand that it is not personal. Things happen for many reason but rarely if ever does it happen to spite us. It has worked for me so far. I wish you the best of luck.

  5. […] is going to lose readers, my business is going to lose momentum, what is my family going to do if something goes wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t […]

  6. Robert Fernandez April 17, 2014 at 5:01 am - Reply

    A more effective perception of mistakes rather than “when things go wrong,” is by learning to perceive them as great opportunities presented by life in order to increase strength whether emotional and/or physical.

    • Robert Chen April 24, 2014 at 12:51 am - Reply

      Agreed: when things go wrong = opportunities for growth

  7. 101 Ways to Build Trust with an Employer - Dental Hygiene Resumes - Samples, Tips, Ideas and More November 6, 2016 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    […] blame– when things go wrong, don’t point fingers. Empower yourself by taking responsibility and then determining what […]

  8. Wilbur Spivens December 31, 2016 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    When things go wrong, I get angry immediately. Never mind blame or regret or depression. As for “What you may consider doing instead,” it’s a non-starter. I’m already fuming and cursing, and the idea of “consider doing _______ instead” is impossible.

  9. […] Stay positive and be optimistic […]

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