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Dealing with the unexpected: Now what?

Something you did not predict happens. Welcome to the unexpected! Imagine this thing that you really want – it can be a promotion, a car, a new job, a family vacation, a date night with your spouse, your first sale. You have worked for it, planned it, put the time and the effort. You are about to hit a home run. Suddenly, something unexpected happens and you no longer get what you so badly wanted.

Building up inside, you can feel the frustration, the disappointment, the injustice. You start wondering why me?, why now?, I worked so damn hard for this!. I feel you. I have been there. Not once, but several times. First the disappointment hits, a feeling of unease causing a knot in the stomach. During this state you are still in shock trying to make sense of the situation. Right after the anger starts to settle much like a poisoning spreading all over the body. It is quite common to feel wronged and attribute blame in this phase, to yourself or to others depending on your behavioral patterns. Next stage represents the reaction, how you express yourself in the face of the unexpected. This reaction is much dependent on the previous phases.

Now if you come from a state of anger, what do you think will be your reaction? Most of us act on these angry feelings and keep feeding from it almost unconsciously. If you show a tendency to blame yourself when something goes sideways, then you are turning all this anger inside which will likely lead to a state of paralysis or depression. You may feel powerless and incapable to deal with the situation, to look for alternatives, to find solutions. Once down the guilt trip, it takes a great amount of energy to climb up.

On the contrary, if you usually place your blame on the outside, this may give you a temporary sense of control. Only until you realize that no one but you can get yourself out of the situation. Before you notice, you have wasted a bunch of energy pointing fingers instead of finding a solution or seizing new opportunities.

Looking closely at both scenarios it seems that none of them is a winner. How to stop this vicious cycle then? If this is common behavior for most of us, how to change our inner script?

Below are 5 strategies to help you break the pattern and deal better with the unexpected however it may present itself to you.

1. Accept the situation: Often we spend a considerable amount of time in denial after something unexpected has happened. We get caught up by the initial shock trying to make sense of what just happened, clinging to a moment of enlightening. Well, it may never come. Some things are just outside our control, they happen against all odds without notice. As rational beings, we like to be in control. We seek reasons and explanations which are sometimes way beyond our understanding. Alternatively, you can do your best to accept the unexpected. Accept that there is a new reality even if way different from the one you pictured. When you cannot change the situation, the next best option is to welcome and embrace it.

2. Take a step back: Do you know that dizziness feeling when you stand up too quickly? When something unpredictable happens we usually let ourselves get drawn, not only fast but also deep. Emotions run high, we are strongly invested, in many cases with a lot at stake. One of the reasons why we take the situation personally, making it about us even when it is not. No matter how hard it gets, do your best to take a step back. Being deeply involved makes it harder to see the situation from different angles. Go ahead, take how many deep breathes you need, go for a walk to clear your head, talk to someone close to you. While doing so, you are creating room in your mind, allowing your brain enough room to shift perspectives.

3. Keep a positive mindset: Are you kidding?! – you may be wondering. How is it possible to stay positive when something completely ruins our plans! This one takes a bit of practice, but you can start small. Think about a situation that despite making you upset, was not a part of a major priority or goal. Perhaps a friend who cancelled lunch plans last-minute, or an item you have been saving for went out of stock. At first, you may feel disappointment or frustrated. After all, it was something you were looking forward to. In that moment, your mind is flooded with negative thoughts leaving you in a more agitated state. But at the end, what can you do? If you are not able to change the outcome, the best you can do is to adapt and perhaps try to see the bright side. Now that your friend bailed on you, you get one free hour to do whatever you feel like doing – me time! That item out of stock you really wanted turned into money you can spend on something else, maybe a gift to yourself or your loved one. Remember that there is always the other face of the coin, a more positive side of every situation.

4. Make it a learning moment: That moment when we realize that what we wanted or waited for will not happen the way we imagined, hits us like a hurricane. Plans down the drain, time and energy wasted (sometimes money lost), expectations ruined. Yeah, the scenario does not seem pleasant nor advantageous in any way. But if you take a closer look, I am pretty sure you will find something different or interesting about the situation, often also about yourself. The same way we learn from our mistakes, we can turn the unexpected into a learning moment as well. Surely going through a challenge will make you more resilient. What else? What knowledge are you acquiring? Which new skills are you developing? What is the major takeaway from this unexpected experience? Taking the humble road and open yourself to new learnings makes you evolve; it makes you grow. Apart from the new opportunities it brings along.

5. Talk to others: Remember when I told you about our tendency to take things personally? Well, this is what we do most of the times when something unpredictable happens. You probably start thinking that others do not have this kind of bad luck, that good and positive things happen more to others than to yourself. This is your brain playing tricks on you, trying to make you captive of negative thoughts and emotions. Next time you feel you are caught up in your own train of thoughts, just reach out to someone you trust. Open up to other people about how this unexpected situation is affecting you and your ability to bounce back. You will not only realize that they are more than willing to support you, but also that some of them relate to what you are going through. They empathize with the struggles and the stress, being open to listen to you and hold the space for you.

There are situations and situations. If we consider the completely unpredictable global pandemic that hit us almost two years ago, we felt unprepared. The whole world felt unprepared. Yet we turned it around, we survived, we kept going, we reinvented ourselves. Some unexpected events are indeed more impactful leaving a scar that takes its time to heal. Nonetheless, unforeseen situations will continue to take place way beyond our control or comprehension. Although being 100% equipped for the unexpected may not be doable, developing strategies to deal with it more efficiently is definitely under your reach.



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