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5 Ways to Make the Best of a Bad Situation

Nothing is over until you decide it is.

Source: savageultralight/Shutterstock

Do you need some simple, practice tips for how to cope when things go wrong—or when everything goes wrong? For example:

  • You're anxious to start your vacation but your plane is stuck on the tarmac for three hours.
  • You buy expensive ingredients to cook for a dinner party but it turns out inedible.
  • You go to a show with your partner for a long-overdue date night and everything that could go wrong goes wrong.

Here are some tips for managing the worst days and getting your groove back.

1. Put it in perspective.

Whatever is happening, will it matter a year from now? For some situations, the answer might very well be yes—e.g., a job interview at your favorite company that goes badly—but in many cases, it will be no.

2. What do you need to accept?

Accepting reality helps you cognitively and emotionally move on. For example, if your plane is already very late, do you need to accept that your prebooked transfers at your destination are going to go to waste? Make a judgment call about when you need to mentally switch from hoping Plan A might still work out to thinking about how Plan B will definitely work.

3. Be flexible.

In the date night example, once you've accepted that the play you're sitting through isn't likely to get any better in the second half, what are your options? You could sit through it, but maybe you'd have a better night overall if you bounced and went out for gelato instead? And if the recipe you tried for your guests is a dud, what's your next-best option? Picking up takeout might not be such an impressive display of your culinary skill, but your guests may have just as pleasant an evening together as if the exotic dish had come out as planned.

4. Shoulda, coulda.

It's easy to beat yourself up and ruminate after something goes wrong. You may find yourself mentally playing out alternative realities, and what you could have done differently to avoid the mishaps or disappointments that occurred. If there are lessons to be learned, it usually doesn't take long to identify them. For example, you might decide that the next time you plan to see a show theater, you'll pay more attention to the reviews first. We all do things we later regret. But once you've thought about the most obvious thing you could've done differently, it's usually time to move on.

5. What do you have to gain by taking this approach?

In the vacation example, you can either spend the first couple of days of your vacation feeling resentful about the delays you experienced, or you can move on. Which option has more advantages for you? If you're someone who tends to feel very irritated when things don't go according to plan, or you're highly self-critical, what do you have to gain from becoming more willing to just put things down to experience? What do you have to gain by being mentally flexible enough to pivot between your ideal scenario and a valid Plan B?

Sure, sometimes it's hard to break free of rumination and ongoing feelings of regret, disappointment, or irritation. But mentally projecting ahead and thinking about how you'll feel if you do that can help.

There are lots more practical tips in my book and in my other PT posts.

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