Sun | Sep 23, 2018

When things do not go as expected

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2016 | 12:00 AM

I get calls from individuals and organisations all the time when things have not turned out the way they desired.

We do not have total control over our lives. However, while we can determine how we respond, many of us have countenances that shout 'life is hard and unfair'. Others shake their heads in despair or disbelief and ask 'Why?'

When things do not go as desired, we find it challenging to resist negative thoughts.

I want to share a three-step action when something is not going as desired for you - in your relationship, at work, or in your family. If we fail to be brutally honest with ourselves, our problems will remain and we will not develop the capacity to cope with difficult situations.


Step 1: Seriously analyse what our role has been in the situation


This step requires a hard-nosed, dispassionate look at what influence we have had or failed to have in the situation. Lay bare what we have done or not done that may have produced or influenced the situation. This examination is the foundation for meaningful resolution.

We get comfort from believing that situations are out of our control. We also take comfort from thinking that we have done our very best or that nothing more could be done.

When we look deeply at what part we played or could have played in preventing a situation, it helps us to identify how to fix the problem in a fundamental way.

I am not saying that we have total control over what happens to us!

Having the courage to undertake piercing, objective examinations of how we may have influenced the situations in which we find ourselves is the best way to find lasting solutions for the issues that confront us.

If we are willing to hold ourselves accountable when things do not go as expected or as desired, we put ourselves in a position to deal with the issues.

I had a health issue even though many think that is outside of our control. Yet doctors point out that what we eat and think, and how we live, determine the type of health that we enjoy. I was forced to accept that the medical condition was a result of things that I did and did not do. My doctor was clear about my role in what was happening to my health.

If we know what the root cause of a problem is, we can plan to deal with it. We get a head start in finding answers and move from innocent victim to active player.

No matter how innocent you have been, work to find something that you did or did not do that could have made a difference.


Step 2: Identify what needs to be done


The second step is to find out what ought to be done for improvement.

It requires us to mercilessly look past what we call 'realities'. Calls to be 'realistic' rarely encourage transformation and creativity - that intent is usually acceptance of the status quo.

This step requires us to avoid being limited by 'reality thinking' and focus on what ought to be done. Resist being blinded by history, resource limitations or other obstacles. Be innovative!

Focus on what could be done ... OK ... 'in theory'.

While you can't see any realistic solution, what do you think could be done if the people and the circumstances were different?

The things that were laid bare in Step 1 must be at the front of our minds in Step 2 if we are to find lasting solutions. The behaviour modification must include us.


Step 3: Implement the 'OUGHT'


This is now going downhill. The hard part of identifying where we could have influenced a different outcome and identifying what ought to be done is behind us. Now, we need to exercise the discipline to implement what needs to be done. Step 3 is simply having the discipline to implement the OUGHT.

• Trevor E. S. Smith is a behaviour modification coach with the Success with People Academy, home of the certified behavioural coach. Email: