When things go wrong

It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.
55 – 135 A.D.

We all have things that go wrong, each and every day. Most of the time, we only experience minor snafus. But sometimes, major things go wrong in our lives. How do you react when problems arise?

Unfortunately, too many people do a poor job of dealing with things that don’t go the way they should. I want to share a technique that can dramatically change how you respond when events take an unexpected turn for the worse.

But first, let’s look at some specific examples so you’ll have better understanding of what I mean. Here are a few things that recently went wrong in my life.

  • We were dining out and the server got the order wrong.
  • I was driving on the freeway and an inconsiderate person cut too close in front of me.
  • A friend forgot to keep an appointment.
  • I was dealing with an employee at a government agency and the person was blindly following nonsensical rules without trying to solve the problem.

In each case, something went wrong. Too often in these situations, we instinctively respond in an emotional manner. We feel angry or hurt, and our emotional reaction has an impact on the outcome. We can see this causality more clearly using the following diagram.


We let our response or reaction dictate the outcome. When the server messed up our order, an emotional outburst would have put a real damper on the rest of the meal. When the driver cut me off, a typical response of a few choice words and hand gestures would have left me in a bad mood for some time. And feeling hurt or neglected when a friend forgets a meeting can result in an emotional conflict which might damage the relationship.

Our reaction when things go wrong can negatively impact the outcome: we often make things worse. So here’s the technique to get a better result. When something goes wrong, reverse the diagram so that it reads this way:


Before you react, consider the outcome you want. If you’re dining out and the server messes up the order, what outcome do you want? Do you really want to berate the server, or is your ultimate goal to get what you ordered and have a pleasant meal?

When something bad happens, the first thing to do is to stop and take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “What outcome do I want?” Then ask, “What response do I need to make to improve the odds of getting that outcome?”

Letting your desired outcome determine your response will greatly improve your reaction to unexpected calamities. Be sure to try it the next time something goes wrong. You’ll be amazed how much this little technique can improve your life.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Viktor Frankl
1905 – 1997

Copyright © 2021 John Chancellor

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