3 Steps to Take When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned
We’ve all been there…that moment where all of your hope drains into the pit of your stomach. Maybe the person you thought was the one turned out to be another lesson who broke your heart. Maybe the reality of the job you’ve been dreaming of for years doesn’t live up to the fantasy. Maybe it just feels like stressors are being piled on one after another and you think, “Is it even possible for me to handle one more thing?!” while secretly hoping you don’t have to find out if you’re strong enough to take on any more.
It’s easy to let these moments of fear, anxiety, or frustration take over. Life can feel unfair or like your happiness was stolen from you at the last moment. I remember the first time I heard the quote, “Obstacles are detours in the right direction.” I was on a spiritual retreat that I really couldn’t afford at the time. It seemed like everything in my life was falling around me. How could all of the trauma, misfortune, and pain that I had endured be a step in the right direction? Strangely, it actually was. But we’ll come back to that later. At the time, all I could feel inside was defeat and deep despair. It felt like every rock bottom had a trap door and the light of hope was no where to be found.
So what do you do when you are in this place? How can you possibly start moving in a more positive direction when it seems like all the odds are stacked against you? Here are three strategies that have worked for me and countless others to shift your perspective and, in time, your circumstances.
Change Your Focus
Have you been banging your head against the same wall over and over hoping that the situation will change? Sometimes we create a rut in our own minds that we’ve become so used to that we can’t see our distorted perceptions. Take a step back from the problem at hand. If possible take a few minutes out in nature, meditate, take a bath or a nap, allow yourself to have a little fun. Look at how far you’ve come. Every single time in your life that you’ve thought you were at the end of your rope, you’ve endured. You’ve gone through so much to get to exactly where you are today. Honor and be kind to yourself for every experience that has led you to where you are. Look at what is working in your life as it is now and not when it has reached some idealized version that will be the answer to all of your problems. Be grounded in the present moment and see what you do have going well in your life.
What do you currently have to be grateful for? It doesn’t have to be a massive blessing to deserve gratitude. Even the little things like greeting a wiggly puppy or having a warm shower can be a catalyst for feeling grateful. If we want to manifest new opportunities into our lives, we’ll create more easily from a place of joy and abundance. Even if you feel the furthest from being abundant you can shift your negative self-talk. That doesn’t mean you go from feeling poor to a millionare in one day or from feeling lonely to blissfully in love. It does mean that you start to see where you are fortunate in your life. Maybe you have an awesome group of friends or even one person in your life who just gets you. Do you still have $5 left in your wallet after the week is over that you didn’t have last week? Celebrate. Even if it’s dancing around the kitchen to a happy song, allow yourself to feel abundant with what you do have in your life. Once you’ve changed your focus and started to see your life from a different perspective, you’ll be open to creative possibilities and solutions.
Process Your Emotions
Most of us were taught to push down or at least temper our emotions in order to make it more comfortable for those around us. What happens is that we have layers of pain and emotions that are packed and stored away. The stories of our pain and misfortune become a kind of subconscious operating system, constantly looking for anything that reminds us of the circumstances that led to us getting hurt. We can make automatic decisions from this place in an effort to protect ourselves. Similarly, we could unconsciously be trying to heal the root cause of the pain by attracting similar situations in an effort to find a resolution. For me it was usually the unavailable crush or friend that triggered my childhood abandonment wounds. When I finally decided that I was tired of attracting the same types of people into my life, I started to process my emotions. That meant getting comfortable in the uncomfortable feelings I had been pushing down. Allowing myself to journal, cry, discuss with my therapist, and get angry.
There are healthy ways to process emotions so that they aren’t accidentally directed at those who love us. Writing letters to people or situations that have hurt us and safely burning or ripping them up rather than sending them can be powerfully cathartic. I also highly recommend anger workouts to process pent-up anger in a healthy way. I have a plastic and foam baseball bat that I use to hit a pillow while expressing my emotions out loud. Saying “No” or "You have no power over me" while doing an anger workout can help you to find your voice and let anger dissipate. Another anger workout is just wringing a towel or laying on your bed and throwing a tantrum like a toddler. I know it sounds strange, but allowing anger or any emotion to be vented in a productive way that isn’t harmful to others is life changing. When I’m actively trying to process emotions as they come up, or even process older emotions I’ve repressed, I have better relationships with less arguments or frustrations because I’m not projecting my wounds onto anyone else.
Assess Your Expectations
Whether you had a traumatic childhood or a great one, we all have times when we allow ourselves to believe in unrealistic expectations. When we set expectations that are nearly impossible for anyone to live up to we are setting ourselves up for resentment. Take a step back from the situation and assess whether or not you have clear, measurable expectations. We can sometimes fall into magical thinking where we assign a person or objective an unhealthy amount of importance in our lives. Have you ever found yourself thinking that if a certain person would just realize they are in love with you all your problems would be solved and you’d live happily ever after? Maybe you’ve decided that reaching a goal or getting the next external piece of validation will help everything fall into place so that you can finally be happy and relax. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. There will always be challenges and things that we need to work towards. That person, job, goal, etc. won’t suddenly resolve all of the problems in your life.
Now after taking them off the pedestal, you can realistically assess how having unreasonable expectations has contributed to some of your own pain. I’m not asking you to take the blame for everything in your life, just merely to see that we do have a role in the trajectory of our lives. Own your part and move forward with the knowledge that all the love or success that you are looking for is already within you. Next time you find yourself thinking that if you only had this one thing all of your problems would be solved, take a step back and honor that creative part of you that is getting caught in a fantasy. Then look at the situation realistically and see where you’ve been placing expectations that could never be met on others. Focusing on small achievable goals that we are able to meet while loving ourselves along the way creates space for joy.
It can take time before the techniques I’ve listed start to impact your life or they could cause an immediate shift. I often notice by allowing myself to heal and process emotions, invest in realistic expectations, and focus on what is working in my life, that things begin to feel lighter. The disappointments and pain of the past no longer become the driving force for how we feel and interact. From that place we can have gratitude for all of our experiences because they’ve led us to what we do love about our lives. I mentioned that strangely all of the detours in my life really did lead me to exactly where I was meant to be. If I hadn’t encountered roadblocks or obstacles in stubbornly plowing ahead with what I thought I wanted, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Maybe the person you’ve been dreaming of is just a way to heal a repeating pattern that will lead you to a new joyful, healthy relationship. Maybe the job you thought you wanted was just a stepping stone to real career satisfaction. We don’t always see it at the time, but as the Dalai Lama once said, “Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” Allow your dreams to be flexible and take the time to heal. Even if that means not dating while you search for more self-love or not driving forward as hard with your goals while you process the past. I promise with all my heart that it’s worth the wait and the self-growth work. Just start making small shifts in the right direction and you’ll have changed your life beyond recognition before you know it. Sending you so many blessings, love, and light.