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5 Ways to Cope When Things Don't Go as Planned

Ruminating over past mistakes limits your satisfaction with the present.

Learning when to let something go can be a challenge for those of us who feel pressured to “get it right the first time,” no matter what the setting.

In my role as a clinical supervisor, I have worked with many new counselors who are working hard to help clients resolve their concerns. New counselors may be overly invested in finding the “perfect therapy” or “best intervention” for a client. They may obsess about a client’s problem as they try to brainstorm a “solution.”

When this happens, I tend to ask them, “Who is spending more time trying to resolve the client’s issue — you or the client?” If they acknowledge that they are more worried than the client, I remind them that losing sleep over a client’s problems is not going to help the client at all — only inconvenience the counselor and compromise his own well-being.

So, how do you know when it is time to “let it go” in your own life?

1. Learn to Concede a Loss

If you know that the cause is lost, quit fighting. Your ex-lover has moved in with a new romantic interest and has asked you not to call or text? Assume the cause is lost and just let it go.

2. Turn Anger/Resentment/Jealousy Into a Motivating Force

If you are carrying anger or resentment or any other negative emotion about the past, but are doing nothing to work through these emotions to resolve them, quit stewing. Your boss gave credit to a colleague that should have been yours, but addressing the matter head-on might result in the loss of a job? Then take action by sprucing up your resume, and focus on forward momentum. Don't dwell on past disappointments.

3. Forgive Yourself If It's Too Late for You to Be Forgiven

If it truly is too late to apologize, ask forgiveness, or make up, then it is time to acknowledge this and make peace with yourself. Someone you loved passed away before you had a chance to make amends or acknowledge your feelings or regrets? It may be too late to turn back the clock, but you can take personal responsibility and action right now to let yourself off the hook. Write that letter you should have written, journal your feelings, or share your feelings with someone who was important to the person who is gone.

4. Let Past Mistakes Be Bridges to Better Choices Now

If you hurt people through words or actions whom you do not know or never see, own your responsibility, seek to change, and let it go. You feel guilty about actions you took when you were younger, dumber, or immature? Make a mental catalog of the dumb stuff you have done, the hurtful things you have done, and the mistakes you knowingly made, own these as learning opportunities, and challenge yourself to show mastery of the lessons by not needing to make the same mistakes twice/thrice/etc.

5. Turn the Chance That Slipped Through Your Fingers Into a Grasp on the Future

If you let a chance slip through your fingers and know that the chance is truly gone, let it go. Did you have the ground floor opportunity to make a million dollars, a chance to confess your love before a beloved got on a plane and flew out of your life, say “thank you” to a stranger who helped you? When the opportunity is gone, wasting time wishing that you had done things differently will only take your awareness away from the real opportunities before you today.


Some people have no trouble letting go of things that keep others up at night or obsessing about what “could have been.” Truly, there is no one alive who will not make some mistake or let something slip through their fingers that they will wish they had held onto. Life is full of opportunities and regrets. However, when regret becomes an obsession and you lose sight of what is in your present due to what you did in your past, this becomes the biggest obstacle to a fulfilling future.

Give yourself a pass, forgive yourself and others for being human, and learn from the lessons of earlier experiences. You will become much more likely to create a present that leaves less opportunity for future rounds of the “what ifs” and “why didn’t I’s” that keep us from being satisfied in the moment.