Five Steps To Take When Things Go Wrong

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated March 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

It’s baked into the very nature of life: Things don’t always go as planned, whether it’s a relationship, a job opportunity, a cross-country move, a friendship, a trip, or any other anticipated event. Even if you’ve planned a situation down to the last detail, or pictured every element of it going perfectly in your head, it may work out differently than you thought. Accepting this truth instead of dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about what you cannot change can be a healthy way to handle scenarios like these. Read on for five steps to take when something bad happens to you.

Getty/Daniel Allan
Trying again after failure isn’t always easy

1. Analyze what happened

Sometimes things go wrong for reasons that are entirely out of our control. Other times, it happens because of a mistake, misstep, or misjudgment on our part. In many cases, it can be helpful to reflect on the choices we made and why and think about what we could’ve done differently. First, gaining clarity on how things ended up the way they did can give you a sense of peace. Second, you might learn something in your reflection that you can use next time, making you feel more confident going forward. As a simple example, missing the flight for your vacation because you were late to the airport can teach you the valuable lesson of leaving earlier next time, setting multiple alarms, checking the traffic beforehand, or parking by a different entrance, so you can be more likely to make it next time.

2. Focus on the good

In tough situations, it's easy to feel angry or sad about what went wrong. Instead, focus on managing your reaction and finding practical solutions. Reminding yourself of the positives and seeking the silver lining is essential. Making this conscious effort in a situation can help you have a more positive perspective on current and future challenges. What did you gain by things not working out? What other negatives may you have avoided in the future by things having gone this way? For instance, if a relationship you were excited about ended, you could ask yourself: What did you learn from this experience? What other positive connections might you now be open to? What supportive friends and family do you have to lean on during this time?

Research has found that positive thinking may have a wide range of health benefits, including lower rates of depression, increased life span, better cardiovascular health, lower levels of pain and distress, and more. In addition, other research has shown that practicing gratitude can increase happiness. Jotting down any positive outcomes from a situation that didn’t go your way or making a list of other good things in your life despite this setback can be a helpful exercise.

Some research has even found that “gratitude journaling,” or listing things you’re thankful for, may be linked to positive outcomes like better sleep, lower stress, better interpersonal relationships, healthier eating, lower risk of heart disease, and fewer symptoms of depression. Plus, it gives you a physical reminder of the good in your life that you can refer back to next time you’re facing a challenge.

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3. Ask for advice

Dealing with difficult situations can be overwhelming, making it hard to think objectively, especially if we’re emotionally attached. Asking a trusted friend, family, or a mental health professional for advice can be a helpful next step. They might be able to point out other factors that contributed to the situation that you hadn’t thought of, or share advice about what to do differently next time. A friend might even commiserate with you about a time when they faced a similar scenario or made similar mistakes so you can feel less alone.

If mental health conditions are causing you to make decisions that aren’t best for you, a therapist can help you identify the underlying cause, develop strategies to manage symptoms and overcome future challenges. A therapist can help you uncover the deeper reasons why you may have made the decisions you did, or equip you with tools for weighing your options and making healthier choices in the future.

Some people who choose to seek the support of a therapist decide to connect with one virtually. Research has found that online therapy offers similar benefits to in-person therapy for the treatment of conditions like depression, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, as well as support for other life challenges people may be facing. Since a virtual meeting may be a more accessible, convenient, and cost-effective method for some people, online therapy has become another option on the table for those who are looking for treatment.

4. Prepare yourself to move forward

A situation not going according to plan may leave you feeling angry, upset, confused, afraid, hurt, or a combination of these. While it’s healthy to feel and move through your emotions rather than bottling them up or trying to ignore them, it will eventually be time to move on. Wallowing in your feelings for too long can prevent you from moving forward to new life experiences with potentially better outcomes. Likewise, spending too long considering how to approach the situation differently next time can lead to “analysis paralysis,” which can also keep you stuck. Try to recognize when you’ve been caught in one of these phases for too long, and look for the courage to move forward. Remember that challenges are a part of life and are often vessels for learning and growth, and try to cultivate optimism for even better outcomes in the future.

5. Try again

One key element of emotional resilience is the ability to take the lessons you learned, adapt, and move forward. Emotional resilience involves learning from past experiences, adapting, and trying again. If you let disappointments hold you back, you'll miss out on potential opportunities and growth.

If we let hardships, challenges, or disappointments keep us down, we could miss out on all kinds of helpful and interesting life experiences in the future. Remember, it's important to rest and regroup when facing setbacks, as these tough times will pass. The best way to grow is to embrace the one thing we can control—our response to adversity—and keep moving forward, refusing to let disappointments kill our enthusiasm for life.

Use the lessons you've learned to try again with confidence and optimism. That way, you can evoke change and increase the chances of a better outcome. If you’re having trouble motivating yourself at this stage, some of these quotes about trying again might give you a boost:

  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –Thomas Edison
  • “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” –Michael Jordan
  • “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” –Beverly Sills
  • “Failure is the only opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” –Henry Ford
  • “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” –Confucius

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Trying again after failure isn’t always easy

Takeaway

It’s inevitable that life will confront us with difficult situations where things go wrong, despite our best-laid plans. Setbacks happen and are a part of life, but your ability to adapt and learn from them is what truly matters. The five steps outlined here can help you make sense of what happened, deal with adversity, and be able to move forward. The guidance of a therapist can also assist you in gaining perspective on the situation and building your skills for potentially better outcomes next time.

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