(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:
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:
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.
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 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.