Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Taking control when plans fail

This is the column that I wrote for the York Press in November.

So far this week, I have one friend who went into hospital unexpectedly, one friend's flight was diverted due to bad weather, my daughter is poorly and there's problematic snowfall in a resort that a niece is visiting. The news isn't providing much joy either. 

I read this quote from Eisenhower today, " In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensible."

I wish you all well for the next week, plans, no plans and serendipity.


John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” 

Are you making plans for Christmas and perhaps 2015?

I wonder how many plans work out exactly how we thought they would? We have expectations. When these expectations are dashed, sometimes smashed into smithereens, it’s how we manage and take control of our reactions, that will help us and others affected by our behaviour. These emotional reactions range from mild disappointment, irritation, frustration, anger to life-changing, perhaps catatrosphic consequenses. 

The sooner we can come to terms with changed plans, the easier it will be. At first we may lose control, but then we can gain control. Blaming others instantly removes any self-control we may have. Continuing to blame others over a period of years can cause great unhappiness.

We all know people who appear unable to manage deviation to their plans. They are more likely to say, “such and such has ruined my day, event, life…” I suggest that we can all say that something has “changed our our lives.” because it will have done. But ruined? Only if we allow it. Changed plans can often bring new opportunities.

Another statement often heard is, “I knew that would happen.” That’s an interesting one, because it signifies that we have been mentally rehearsing a negative outcome.  A pessimist may say, ‘if I imagine the worst, then it’s a pleasant surprise when it works out okay.” My mother was one such person. As an optimist, I would tell her that I’d enjoyed imagining the best, whether it worked out or not.

I’m writing this in a quiet moment while running an information stand at a large conference.  I have a bird’s eye view of what happens when people’s plans go awry. It doesn’t always bring the best out of people. Similar behaviours can be observed at railway stations, airports and in shops. As the emotional arousal level rises in the brain, so there is a corresponding lessening of logical thinking. In situations of high emotional arousal, there is little or no access to the logical brain. We can’t think straight. Hence the term, being ‘unbalanced’. It’s why IQ (Intellengence quotient) is different from EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

Using positive visualisation of a forthcoming event can be useful, but never foolproof. I imagined postive outcomes to some major, joyful, future events last year. A sudden, major illness in the family led to a cancellation of all plans and major uncertainity on a daily basis. As well as managing the family situation, I had to manage my personal shattered dreams. It was a difficult time. I could so easily say that the family illness ruined everything, but I didn’t. Changed my plans and expectations? Certainly. Ruin them? That was in my control, so no, it didn’t.

The Greek Philosopher, Epictetus, was writing about the subject two thousand years ago.
“It not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” 


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