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What to do when things go wrong!

by Rob Cross on May 13th, 2010

When things go wrong…

Occasionally in life things don’t always go the way you wanted or expected – yes, sometimes things go wrong! Examples of this include not doing well on an assignment, not getting the job that you desperately wanted, delivering a bad presentation at work, getting bad feedback from your boss, or anything else where you just didn’t get the result you hoped for!

When things go wrong its very easy to feel a sense of despair and to feel deflated by the experience – disappointment is natural and everyone feels it at some stage of their lives and career – every famous or fabulously rich person I know of has failed at some point!

The important thing to focus on when things go wrong however, is not that it has gone wrong. Instead, you need to focus on why it went wrong. Focusing only on the fact that something hasn’t turned out how you’d hoped often results in you unconstructively dwelling on it, rather than constructively using it to succeed in the future!

Understanding WHY it went wrong…

When something hasn’t gone as you’d planned or hoped, whilst it’s ok to be annoyed or upset, you need to take this energy and focus it on understanding WHY it didn’t go as planned. Seeking to understand the ‘WHY’ is important for two reasons:

  1. It helps you stop dwelling on the negative and start focusing on using the experience constructively.
  2. It helps you use the experience to learn and develop as an individual.

How do you understand WHY it went wrong?

To understand WHY it went wrong , grab a sheet of paper and write out a short description of the situation at the top of the page. Then, below your description of the situation, answer the 3 simple questions below:

  1. What did I do well in the situation? In any situation, even if it went wrong, there are always things that you have done well and it’s important to recognise these so that you can focus on using them again.
  2. What did I not do well in the situation? This is an easy place to focus when something hasn’t gone well, but it’s important to stay objective when focusing on what you specifically did to result in it not going well.
  3. What would you do differently in the future? Using the answers to questions 1 & 2, this final question is the most important. I had a mentor once who said, ‘that making a mistake once is a learning opportunity, but making a mistake twice is a character flaw!’ Although I’m not sure I fully agree with the statement, when things go wrong it’s important to look at how you would approach the situation differently in the future. This simple question is where the learning comes from and will help you focus on moving forward.

A Last Thought…

It’s an unfortunate fact that things don’t always turn out how we’d hoped. However, when they don’t, it’s important to take some time to fully consider why and what you can learn from the experience. And, although feeling disappointed is perfectly natural, you will always learn more from when things don’t go well than you will from when things do go well! 

Good luck living and learning…it is a part of life!

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