The Big Idea
There’s no such thing as the “perfect plan.”
Questions I Answer
- How can I plan better?
- What do I do if I get off track with my goals?
- What steps can I take to get back on track?
- Why do I struggle with my goals?
Actions to Take
- Which of the five tips listed in this episode (and below in the Resources + Links section) will you use to lift yourself backup when your plans are derailed?
Key Topics in the Show
Impact Bias: How we naturally think about our experiences – good or bad.
Choosing a positive outlook in the face of hardship so you can move forward.
5 ways we can move forward when everything seems to be going wrong.
How to give yourself grace instead of beating yourself down.
Resources and Links
- Related Episodes: Episode 042: How to Fail Successfully
- 5 Tips on How to Recover From a Setback
- View and reframe your story so that you gain deeper insight, instead of focusing on surviving and not thriving.
- Express your problems without getting lost in anger. Family and friends are there to support you, and we all need this encouragement, but remember not to let anger take control. Start dusting yourself off, too, and increase your social connection with them.
- Take a break, but don’t run from your problems. When you’re standing in a big mess, the best and easiest thing to do is to give yourself some space, calm down and come back to assess from a different perspective.
- Go back over your goals. Sometimes we get so caught up in the process of our goals. Sit down and go over your ‘Why.’
- Plan + Attack. This is the phase where there’s no more moping allowed. It’s time to reset and refocus. Create an action plan to really make your goal happen.
Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on finding success and happiness through the power of productivity. Each season, Tanya focuses on specific strategies to help you discover your own priorities and purpose. Season five is all about investing in you. You can also join Tanya for more interaction and support in her free Facebook group at inkwellpress.com/group. And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, hello everyone, welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWeLL Press, and this is episode 63. Today’s episode is brought to you by the Peak Work Performance Summit, a free five day online summit that I’ll be sharing more about later on in the show.
But let’s go ahead and start talking about today’s topic, when plans get derailed. This happens to all of us in different times in our lives, where we have this idea of where we’re going and the path that we’re meant to be on, but something happens, and the ideas and the plans that we’ve laid in place have somehow gotten off track.
So I want to talk about that today, because for a lot of us, we conceptualize ourselves through our narrative identity, very similar to how you consume a movie. Starting with that first scene, you collect information about your setting, who the major characters are, what their cornerstones are, and where the major plot might be going. With each frame, you subconsciously integrate new information into this existing script. And the more developed your story becomes, the more likely you are to interpret new information to be consistent with the past events, with the things that have been happening all along.
For example, a positive event might be chopped up as good luck, good genes, parenting, or as a reward for good behavior. Negative events might be thought of as a punishment, or misfortune. So think about how, in a movie, the writers are very careful to keep the plot twist based in the reality that they have created. They’re surprising, but they’re still plausible, because they want to keep you engaged.
Now, let’s pretend there’s a movie that you go to, that you think is a completely normal romantic comedy. And then halfway through, where the two lovers are embracing, the man suddenly turns into a giant bird and he carries the woman away. You’d be excessively surprised, right? Especially if there’s no warning from the title or anything about this in the trailer. And you’d be mentally scrambling to make sense of this sudden development. And maybe you would stay because you’ve already bought the ticket, or you’re genuinely curious about how in the world this would turn out, or maybe you walk right out, irritated because this isn’t the story you paid to go see.
And no matter what you choose to do, think about how being completely surprised like this forces you to consider fresh interpretations. This is what happens when a major life event seems to come out of nowhere. How you respond to these
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events dramatically changes the path in life that you’re on, and they provide an opportunity to create more meaning in your life.
As Maya Angelou says, you may not control all of the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. We can choose to see hardships as challenges. Shawn Achor, Harvard researcher and a happiness expert, found that people who are happy and resilient during times of stress, they didn’t see problems as threats, they saw them as challenges to overcome. These people aren’t wired differently, Shawn actually found that this mindset could be taught, which I think is great news, because that means that even if in the past you’ve looked at your challenges as just being these terrible things, you can change the way you’re looking at that.
For example, when Shawn taught stressed out bankers are a huge banking crisis, that they could view stress as enhancing, and as a challenge, instead of as a threat, they saw a 23% drop in their stress related symptoms. They also saw a significant increase in happiness, and a dramatic improvement in their levels of engagement.
So changing the way that you look at these events really can make a difference. The other thing to consider is that these events may not have as great of an impact as you think they will. Social psychologist at Harvard University, Daniel Gilbert, has found that extreme inescapable situations actually trigger a response in our brains that increases positivity and happiness.
Let’s say you were asked to describe the impact a major negative event would have on your life, an event like your house being destroyed by an earthquake, or maybe you losing the use of your legs. You would probably talk about how devastating this would be, but what he found in this research was that when people actually do suffer a traumatic event like this, their happiness levels are nearly identical six months after the event as they were the day before the event.
This is because traumatic events trigger our psychological immune systems, a system very similar to our immunity boosters that we have when we get sick. It increases our ability to deliver a positive outlook, and happiness, from an inescapable situation. This means that extremely negative, and extremely positive events don’t actually influence our long term levels of happiness nearly as much as we expect them to.
This is referred to as the impact bias, we tend to over estimate the length and intensity of happiness the major events will cause. When hardship occurs, we tend to focus on the hardship itself, not the other experiences in life. Greek philosopher Epictetus said “Going lame is an impediment to your leg. But not to your will.”
We can learn lessons when things go wrong, right? When something goes wrong, sure, you can get made about it, you can decide to put a dampener on everybody else’s day because yours has had a hiccup, but then you’ll have moved on without really learning anything. And you would’ve caused negativity in your environment.
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When things go wrong, it’s an opportunity to make a choice. Take a deep breathe, and stop any victim voices in your head. Those voices say things like why me, how come I always have to deal with things like this? Take a hard look at the moment and make a decision, like choosing to see it as a challenge. A challenge that you can overcome, rather than just as a setback.
Plans will always become derailed in some way, shape, or form, and choosing to embrace the challenge as an opportunity to grow and to learn, and to put your skills at work, that will always be your best choice. In actuality, when we’re trying to achieve a goal with multiple complex action items, some of these setbacks can actually be a sign that you’re doing something right.
For example, as I mentioned in my weekender episode a few weeks ago, inkWELL Press is not my first business. I had a successful company that I closed down, because it didn’t fulfill me. That was very scary, because it was the sole income for my family. That could’ve felt like derailed plans, but it didn’t, it felt like part of my journey. And it was, the experience and the knowledge I received through that first business was an amazing springboard when I started inkWELL press. It allowed me to scale quickly and more easily than if this was my first business.
And yes, closing that first business was so hard, there was a mourning process I had to go through as I navigated that time. Yes, I was closing it because I didn’t love it, but at the same time I had invested a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into growing it. And that felt scary that my plans had, well, derailed, in a way I hadn’t expected. Years before I didn’t think I would close that business, but it was all part of that process,
and it actually showed me that I am on the right path.
Pain is sometimes part of the growing process. Marshawn Evans Daniels, my guest earlier this season, she shares in her book Believe Bigger, that purpose is often hidden in a place of pain. And that pain often happens when plans fall apart.
Sometimes our circumstances force us to move forward when we hadn’t planned to, or forces us off the path we had planned for. And just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing. It actually means you’re still moving forward, despite the challenge. Complaining and worrying changes nothing, well except for raising your stress level. Spending the day complaining isn’t going to change things for tomorrow, take action instead, and make a change.
I see this a lot on social media, where people are complaining about different companies, and I often wonder, did they even contact the company? Did they take action to have their issues resolved, or are they just complaining to complain?
True happiness can only come when you stop complaining about your problems, and you start moving forward and taking action, and start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have. Move on from the pain, and don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned through it.
It’s all about showing your scars, not your wounds. Your scars are a symbol of strength, we don’t want to be ashamed of these scars, they mean the pain is over, the wound is closed, and you’re stronger for it. Scars don’t hold you hostage, and they
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don’t make you live your life in fear. You can’t make your scars disappear, but you can change the way you see them. Scars can be beautiful.
The best thing to do is to always keep moving forward. You only fail if you don’t get back up and try again. The best lessons will come from the worst times, and the worst mistakes. There will be times where it feels like everything that could go wrong does. And sometimes you have to go through that to arrive at your best self.
The fact that failure will happen is not an excuse to quit. Giving up because you know you’ll make a few wrong choices isn’t really an option. Trying your best despite this fact, that is how we learn and build resilience.
So I want to talk about five ways we can move forward when it does feel like everything has gone wrong. But first, I want to take a quick word from our sponsor.
If you’ve ever wondered how to take your performance to the next level, I have something I know you’re going to love. It’s an online summit called Peak Work Performance Summit. It’s something I myself have watched for the past two years. Why? Because it features some of my favorite thinkers in the worlds of psychology, business, wellness, and productivity. We’re taking New York Times best selling authors, like Charles Duhigg, Gretchen Rubin, Shawn Achor, Jeff Goins, and Marshall Goldsmith. All names you’ve heard me mention here on the podcast. And there’s about 40 other experts.
For five days, these experts are sharing their best strategies for getting things done. And tickets are completely free, you can claim your free spot at inkwellpress.com/peakwork, that’s peak with an A.
I want to talk now though about how you move forward when you do feel like everything has gone wrong. I get it, it is hard sometimes to pick yourself back up on your feet, I’ve been there, I know it’s difficult. So let’s talk about five ways to do just that.
The first thing you can do is think back to what we talked about with Hollywood stories. Let’s take a cue from that. Some of our most popular movies, the movies that we love, are ones that tell stories of redemption. Research shows that people who view their own story as one of redemption, they tend to have a greater sense of wellbeing, a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. And they tend to view and reframe these difficult life experiences as transformative. Wherein they suffered great, deep pain, but they gained new insight.
You’ve probably noticed that I do this a lot, especially in my weekender mini episodes. I share my stories, and a lot of them share my imperfections, my own stumblings, because that is where I’ve learned my greatest lessons. Having a redemptive life narrative is a major predictor of better moods, of high self esteem, and an overall greater sense of happiness.
The problem is that our minds don’t often construct our life stories in this way on their own. Our natural tendency is to dwell on the negative events, and to fixate over and over on the events we need to do to fix them. And while this fixation does
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help us learn from our mistakes and to move forward, it can be problematic if we really want to move from merely surviving to truly thriving.
I don’t think there’s anyone who is considered successful, who didn’t first have to recover from some sort of setback or failure. The difference is the outlook these people have when their plans do get thrown off track. They get up, they dust themselves off, and they get back out there. And you can do that too.
The second thing you can do is to express your problems without getting lost in the anger. A lot of times we’ll turn to our friends and our family for support when things go wrong, and that’s great, I think it is amazing to have a support system to help you. But it doesn’t mean they should endure our wrath. Take a few minutes to calm down, so you can explain the issues clearly, without letting anger take control over you.
On a similar note, don’t drag your friends down with your problems. Bring up the issues, get their thoughts, and move on. Start dusting yourself off too, right? Your friends have problems of their own they’d like to talk about I’m sure, so try to increase your social connection with them by exchanging advice. Give and take.
The third thing you can do is take a break. But don’t run from your problems. It can be easy to delve deeper into a problem and worry about the solution, and sometimes the best thing is to take a little bit of a step back. When you’re standing in the middle of a mess, the easiest way to get a clear view of the big picture is to walk away and assess the situation from there. Look at it from a birds eye view.
Sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. Giving yourself some space from a problem can be important, no matter how long that space is. But just make sure you’re not treating this as running away from your problems. Instead, actively disengage, calm yourself down, and then come back to assess the problem from a different perspective. I think that can be really, really powerful.
The fourth thing you can do is go back over your goals. Sometimes we get so caught up in the process of achieving our goals, we lose sight of what we’re working towards. Instead of pushing harder, sit down, remind yourself of what you set out to
do in the first place, and why. Why was this so important to you? And get second opinions, or even third opinions, but don’t let others make the decisions for you.
People often feed their egos by coming up with one idea, and convincing themselves it is the perfect idea, it’s the only path for them. And while your idea may be the best one, it is good to get other people’s perspectives to weigh in, especially from someone outside of the situation.
You don’t want to get stuck on this stage, you don’t have to get everyone’s opinions, just enough to help you weigh the situation and move forward. Let others help you, but don’t let them totally take over. You’ll never learn anything if you don’t handle your problems yourself.
And the fifth thing you can do, plan and attack. This is the phase where there’s no more moping allowed, maybe you have already looked back at the situation,
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you’ve taken a step out, you’ve gotten the second opinions or the third opinions. It’s time to reset, and refocus. Once you’ve removed yourself, gotten centered, you’re ready to start making a plan to really make it happen.
Learning from your mistakes means getting back up, dusting yourself off, taking new actions to see what you can change for the better. You can try to solve your problems, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. I always tell my kids the good thing with problems is all problems can be solved. But sometimes we need to step away from it, sometimes we don’t see how they can be solved in the moment.
So, sometimes distance and time is needed for the issues to work themselves out, and that’s okay. Focus on the things you can change and try not to stress about the things you can’t.
What I want you to walk away from this episode knowing is that you have to give yourself grace. That’s investing in yourself. It’s believing in yourself and giving yourself the space to understand that yes, there are times when your plans become derailed, and yes, there are times where you feel lost on your path. But it’s okay, it’s all part of your story.
And even though some of these things we go through may not be things we want to ever relive again, it’s so important in the path to becoming who you really want to be. As a matter of fact, this week in the weekender mini episode, I’m sharing my story of a major time in my own life where I felt that my plans had been derailed, and how I recovered from one of the lowest points in my life.
I’d love for you to listen to that, that episode will be going live on Friday. And next week we are going to be talking about how mindfulness makes you productive. I’m so excited as we’re getting closer to the end of this season of investing in yourself, there are so many lessons I’m pulling together from things we’ve talked about throughout the season. So this is one of the most exciting parts for me, is when we’re getting to this end part, and we have a couple more episodes left for season five.
In the meantime, if you’d like to connect with me, you can find me in my free Facebook group, you can join that at inkwellpress.com/group. I would love to see you there. All right, until next time, happy planning.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join Tanya’s free group, simply go to inkwellpress.com/group.