What do you do when things don’t go according to plan? Ask two questions

Ever have a day that doesn’t unfold the way you had planned?

(I’m kidding, of course. What day does unfold the way you planned?)

There’s never a question of if things will go according to plan. The only question is when will we encounter the first “glitch”?

Will it be waking up to find that there is no oatmeal when you had decided the night before to start the day with a healthy bowl?

Will it be your youngest son spilling grape juice on himself at the last minute when you were all set to leave on time?

Will it be getting called into an emergency meeting just as you were finally getting your head clear to work on that big project?

Something unexpected will happen. You can’t do anything about that. What you can do is choose how you will respond.

In any given moment, we can either take what Stephen Covey calls response-ability, or we can passively go wherever the circumstances of life take us.

When my own plans encountered a “glitch” a few days ago, I found that pausing to ask myself two questions helped me to make the right choice…

My wife had a dental procedure scheduled for this particular morning, and because she would be sedated, I knew I would need to take some time off to be her chauffeur. That part was in the plan. What wasn’t in the plan was her taking longer than expected to recover. She ended up being unavailable for the entire day, meaning I would have to watch our son for the afternoon since our babysitter had another commitment. Glitch!

Now, just to be clear, I love spending time with my son. But I do have to work, and I had envisioned a productive afternoon to make up for the morning.

I could feel the frustration coming on as I realized that the day wasn’t following my script… but I also heard a voice in my head — my own voice — reminding me, this moment matters.

That’s when I paused, took a breath, and asked myself these two questions:

First, “What is the absolute in this moment?”

In other words, what could not be changed?

In this case, I had to take care of our son. I couldn’t go to the office. There was no way around that.

Second, “What is the variable in this moment?”

The variable was how I would respond to the absolute. I could fret about everything I was (or might be) missing at work. Or could I accept that I wasn’t at work and be fully present with my son, enjoying this unexpected “bonus” time I had to spend with him.

Thinking about it that way, the decision was an easy one, and I can say I enjoyed a great afternoon with our son.

Make no mistake: I’m human just like you and I don’t always get it right. But in this moment, I knew that I did, and I walked away happy.

I encourage you to give it a try the next time life doesn’t go according to plan:

  1. Pause.
  2. Take a breath.
  3. Ask yourself, what is the absolute in this moment?
  4. Accept it.
  5. Ask yourself, what is the variable in this moment?
  6. Make the choice that is most beneficial to you and those around you.

Applaud yourself when you get it right, and remember the feeling so you can encourage yourself to do it again the next time around.

Forgive yourself when you get it wrong, and think about what you could do differently to achieve the desired outcome next time.

2 Responses to What do you do when things don’t go according to plan? Ask two questions

What do you think?