When Plans Get Derailed: 5 Steps to Staying Positive

It happens to everyone. We have this idea of where we’re going and the path we are on, when all of the sudden, something goes wrong or changes. The plans we’ve laid in place are somehow now off track.

As Maya Angelou says, you may not control all of the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. We can choose to see hardships as challenges instead of setbacks.


You Control Your Mindset

Your Mindset doesn’t control You

Shawn Achor, Harvard researcher and happiness expert, found that people who are happy and resilient during times of stress didn’t see problems as threats, they saw them as challenges to overcome. These people aren’t wired differently – Shawn actually found that this mindset could be taught, which is great news, because that means that even if in the past you’ve looked at your challenges as just being these terrible things, you can change the way you’re looking at that.

For example, Shawn taught stressed-out bankers that they could view stress as enhancing – as a challenge instead of a threat. They saw a 23% drop in their stress-related symptoms. They also saw a significant increase in happiness and a dramatic improvement in their levels of engagement.

So changing the way that you look at events really can make a difference.

The other thing to consider is that these events may not have as great of an impact as you think they will. Social psychologist at Harvard University, Daniel Gilbert, has found that extreme inescapable situations actually trigger a response in our brains that increases positivity and happiness.

Let’s say you were asked to describe the impact a major negative event would have on your life. Such as your house being destroyed by an earthquake, or maybe losing the use of your legs. You would probably talk about how devastating this would be, but what he found in this research was that when people actually do suffer a traumatic event like this, their happiness levels are nearly identical six months after the event as they were the day before the event.


The Impact Bias

Traumatic events trigger our psychological immune systems, a system very similar to our immunity boosters that we have when we get sick. It increases our ability to deliver a positive outlook, and happiness, from an inescapable situation.

This means that extremely negative, and extremely positive events don’t actually influence our long term levels of happiness nearly as much as we expect them to.

This is referred to as the impact bias. We tend to overestimate the length and intensity of happiness the major events will cause. When hardship occurs, we tend to focus on the hardship itself, not the other experiences in life.

Through understanding the impact bias and the way our brains actually work, we can begin to move forward. I shared these 5 tips for moving forward when your plans are derailed in episode 063 of the Productivity Paradox podcast, but I want to share them here with you, too.


5 Ways You Can Move Forward Now:

  1. View and re-frame your story so that you gain deeper insight, instead of focusing on surviving and not thriving.
  2. Express your problems without getting lost in anger. Family and friends are there to support you, and we all need this encouragement, but remember not to let anger take control. Start dusting yourself off, too, and increase your social connection with them.
  3. Take a break, but don’t run from your problems. When you’re standing in a big mess, the best and easiest thing to do is to give yourself some space, calm down and come back to assess from a different perspective.
  4. Go back over your goals. Sometimes we get so caught up in the process of our goals. Sit down and go over your ‘Why.’
  5. Plan + Attack. This is the phase where there’s no more moping allowed. It’s time to reset and refocus. Create an action plan to really make your goal happen.


What’s Next?

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves about how we’re perceiving events in life… I recommend writing these 5 tips down in your planner, in a journal, or just bookmarking this page.

I think I have a few more episodes that will really help you out: episode 042: How to Fairly Successful and episode 045: the Power of Choice.

Know that ‘failures’ are really just learning opportunities (I’m sure you’ve heard that one before!) and that no matter what, we always have a choice.

Comment below about a time when plans were derailed for you in your life.

How did you get through that tough time? Did you get support from others? Change your mindset? How did you take action? I would love to hear from you about your personal experiences!


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  • Patrice

    To get through a tough time, I have trained myself to let out my feelings so that I can move forward to process what is going on and my next move. In the past, I have held in my emotion and that led me to staying “stuck”. In order for me not to stay stuck, I let to out. I often repeat this same thing to my staff so that they can work through challenges. It has really helped me.

    January 18, 2020 at 8:12 am

Tonya Dalton
Tonya Dalton