What should you do when your life isn’t working out the way you thought it would?
Is your life the way you imagined it would be at this point in time? I can tell you that [thankfully] mine isn’t.
So many of us lay out a carefully crafted plan for our futures. We think we know what we need to do and get in order to be happy, and that if we don’t follow that plan our lives will be disastrous.
The problem is that life is unpredictable, and at some point it’s going to throw a wrench into all of our wonderful plans. And then it’s going to do it again and again. And then again.
It’s kind of like birth plans.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided against a birth plan. By that time in my life I had learned that plans don’t always work out. I thought I was up for whatever type of labor and delivery I was going to have.
Except that I wasn’t.
On the day I went into labor, everything went incredibly smooth – right up until it was time to push. I pushed for 2 hours, and no baby. I was told that I needed to have a c-section, and as soon as I heard this I began crying.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I was supposed to push the baby out, and the doctor was supposed to lay him on my chest while my husband gazed down on us.
I felt like something was being stolen from me. I was devastated. And I was also surprised at how devastated I was. I didn’t make a birth plan for this very reason!
The point of this story is that even when we don’t think we have a plan for how our lives are supposed to go, on some level we actually do. Whether that plan is top of mind or tucked away in our subconscious, if that plan doesn’t work out, it really, really sucks.
So the next time life throws you a curveball, here are some tricks I’ve learned that help ease the pain.
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Why Do We Make Life Plans?
We like to feel like we’re in control, and plans give us a sense of control.
Imagine if you never thought past today. You had zero expectations for your future. You just woke up each morning and rode the wave.
It would begin to feel like life was happening to you, right?
So instead, we decide what we want out of life and we make a plan on how we’re going to get it. Then we execute on that plan. Some people have super detailed plans, and others just have a general outline.
There’s nothing wrong with life plans, dreams, goals, and expectations. In fact, they’re great motivators. Where we get into trouble is when we’re inflexible and stubborn. We want to be seen as successful by others.
What Happens When Life Doesn’t Go According to Our Plan?
When we hit a roadblock in our life plans we tend to feel discouraged, afraid, disappointed, angry, or anxious. Sometimes we become bitter or pity ourselves. We might think, “What did I do wrong to deserve this?”, “Why does everyone else have this except me?” or “That isn’t fair”.
But here’s the thing, we are where we are and the circumstance that we’re in just is. We can’t change the fact that our loved one was diagnosed with cancer, that our relationship ended, or that we lost our job.
The only thing we’re truly in control of is ourselves. So here are some ways to cope with life when it doesn’t go the way we were expecting it to.
How to Cope When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned
When we’re going through an unexpected difficult time, we often try to figure out why this is happening. We wonder what we did in the past that got us here, and where exactly it started going all wrong. We wish we could go back in time and change it.
On the flip side, we begin to worry about our future. What now? What about the rest of the plan I have for my life? Is everything ruined? How am I going to get past this? Will I ever be happy?
Remember that we can’t change the past, and the future doesn’t exist. All we ever have is right now.
Bring yourself into the present and come to terms with what you’re dealing with. Work through it as you need to, and then decide what to do next. One step at a time.
Notice when you’re trying to control people or situations.
It is so natural for us to try to control others when something happens out of the blue. Can we really blame ourselves for that? When life feels like it’s starting to spiral out of our control, it’s understandable that we’re going to start grasping at straws to feel like we’re back in the driver’s seat.
Be aware of how you’re reacting. Are you blaming someone else for what you’re feeling? Are you trying to change someone with an ultimatum? Are you trying to change something that just can’t be changed?
Feel relieved that you don’t have to carry the burden of controlling others
If you notice that you’re trying to control someone or a situation, remind yourself that not only is it impossible to do so, but it’s also not your responsibility.
Let that be a weight off of your shoulders. Trying to control things that we can’t is exhausting and it gets us nowhere good. Find comfort in the knowledge that you have control over yourself, you don’t have to take the burden of responsibility for other people’s behavior, and that it’s up to you where to go from here.
Sit with your feelings when life doesn’t work out.
We know crappy feelings accompany the lemons that life sometimes hands us. For many of us, our coping mechanism is to avoid dealing with those feelings. We do anything to distract ourselves from them. We overeat, we drink alcohol, and we get lost in social media, all the while hoping that these feelings will disappear with time.
But they don’t disappear until you come face to face with them. You’ll probably dread doing it, but once you quietly sit and really feel your emotions, you’ll find that it’s actually very therapeutic. Journaling is an excellent way to process your feelings.
Don’t beat yourself up for anything you’re feeling. Just allow it and accept it. Then keep moving.
Take your power back.
We may not be able to change people or the situation, but we always have a choice in what we do from here on out. That is where our true power lies.
After sitting with and processing your feelings, you should be level-headed enough to evaluate what’s going on from an objective point of view. From there you can decide where you want to go next and if you need to change direction with your life plan.
Remember that you always have a choice. If you’re in a relationship that you’re not happy in, you have the choice to leave or stay and work on it. If you’re doing a job that makes you unhappy, you have the choice to leave or work to move into a different role. If a loved one was diagnosed with cancer, you have the choice to show up strong and positive for them or to stay in bed and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
It is up to you. Circumstances are often out of our control, but we get to decide what meaning to give them.
Have a plan, but be flexible. Know that life never goes exactly according to plan for anyone, and it’s not supposed to.
It’s like birth plans – the real life experience doesn’t follow our plan down to the detail. The end goal is to have a healthy baby, even if that means going off course. It’s the same thing here – the end goal is a happy you and, because we’re always growing and changing, that means you’ll have to adjust your plan at some point.
Be kind to yourself.
It’s tough dealing with the realization that your life went off the rails. Blaming and talking negatively about yourself isn’t useful. Give yourself a break!
Maybe that divorce was your fault. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, learn to love and forgive yourself. Failing has a lot of valuable lessons to offer you, so look for them.
You’ve probably had someone say to you at one time or another that they know you better than you know yourself. But that’s not true – no one knows you like you do.
No one knows your inner most thoughts, feelings, dreams, and goals. When it’s time to make a decision, trust yourself to make the right decision for you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it.
A Few Good Reminders
- Real life is messy. We can’t control a lot of it which makes it difficult to stick perfectly to a life plan. Have dreams, goals, and a general idea of what you want your life to be like, but understand that as you change and grow and the world around you does the same, so should your life plan.
- The beautiful thing of this is that good things happen unexpectedly, too.
- Contrary to what many of us have been taught to believe, there’s no wrong or right way to do life.
Be open to the ride that life wants to take you on. You might find that it has grander plans for you than you had yourself.
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