Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it: I am a planner. And when I say planner, I’m talking type-A, firstborn, plan out every detail and schedule it down to the minute type of planner.
Here’s the crazy thing: There are these things in my life called….wait for it…PEOPLE! People have the ability to mess up the perfect plan, don’t they?
Take my life, for example: I am married to a wonderful man who does not adhere to the same philosophy of planning that I do. He takes a much more “go-with-the-flow” approach to life as opposed to my “every moment must have a plan” approach. (Honestly, we’ve learned a whole lot from each other over the years, which has been good for both of us!)
And then, these little people joined our life and we call them children. I don’t know if you ever knew this before, but children have this way of throwing the perfect plan out the window!
So what do you do when your plan gets run over by a truck?
What do you do when the way that you hoped to spend your day gets completely derailed by a thousand little things that you never saw coming?
Have you ever heard the saying, “expect the unexpected and then only the truly unexpected will take you by surprise”?
I love the philosophy behind that saying, but, let’s be honest: It’s exhausting to try to expect every little thing in your day! I would use up all my energy just trying to plan for the expected and the unexpected and then need a nap before my day even began!
So how do you deal with wanting to plan knowing that it’s only gonna get messed up?
How do you learn to roll with the punches, with the interruptions, with the unexpected twists and turns that life inevitably hands you?
Who is in control?
First of all, you need to come to grips with one important thing: You are not in control of the world. Ouch. Yeah, that one hurts to hear, doesn’t it?
I get it! You love to think of yourself as this amazing superwoman who has it all figured out and is directing this incredible show called life, reserving the starring role for yourself and pulling everything off effortlessly, all while keeping your hair, nails and makeup perfect all the time!
Can I give you some tough love, my Friend? That’s just not reality! (And, don’t worry, I’m talking to myself on this one, too!)
Reality tells us and shows us that life is messy. Life is unexpected. Life throws twists and turns at you that will challenge you and throw you into unexpected emotional states. More than anything, reality shows you that you are not the one in control of it all!
Oh, it’s easy to readily admit that there are things that you cannot control, like the weather or traffic, but there are so many things that you think you can control. But can you really? Can you control what someone else says? Can you control the actions of another person? Can you control what time other people arrive at an event? Can you control whether or not someone gets hurt? I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to control whether or not I stub my toe!
Now, before you check out on me here and think, “Well, if I can’t control things, why bother to plan anything?” Hear me out, that’s not what I’m saying! I’m saying that you need to come to grips with the fact that you are not in ultimate control of everything. There are things that are under your control that you need to take responsibility for. On the flip side, you need to recognize and let go of the things that you have absolutely no control over. Get’s confusing, doesn’t it?
Reacting verses Responding
After realizing and recognizing that everything in the world is not under your control, you do need to realize that there are things that you can control. Now, I’m not talking about the big-ticket items that you may be thinking of. If you’re looking for justification for controlling when a friend who is always late arrives to your next get-together or controlling the attitudes that your family has while doing their chores, you’re not going to find it here.
But there are things under your control. These things are your responsibility. You can control your words and our actions. You can choose to show grace and kindness to others instead of verbally ripping their heads off or shaming them in more subtle ways when their actions did not match your plan for their actions.
You can control whether you react or respond to a situation. Don’t know the difference? Here’s an easy way to look at it: When you react to a situation, whatever you think or feel right when something happens is what comes out in your words and actions. Spoiler alert: Many times, this is exactly where you can get yourself into so much trouble! You say things you don’t mean, you do things that you regret later. It’s a world of trouble because reacting is essentially acting without thinking.
Responding, on the other hand, is pausing first. It’s not letting words or actions fly without thought. It’s taking a moment to intentionally take a deep breath, quickly think through what your reply or actions should be, and then speaking or taking action. So many times, situations have come up in my life – someone has said something that really made me mad or did something that just rubbed me the wrong way – and instead of jumping into the fray with words or actions, I chose to pause. I chose to ask myself the question, “Should I really say that?” When my own internal answer was ‘NO!,’ I didn’t say anything or I chose different words to say. Looking at times that I’ve reacted and had to go back and apologize and do my best to rebuild a relationship that I damaged with hasty words or actions compared to times when I paused and responded thoughtfully to a situation – the difference is incredible!
When you react, many times there is damage done in a relationship.
When you respond, you can be honest but do it in such a way that the relationship is strengthened.
Learning how to control your words and actions, learning how to respond and not react is just that – a learning process. I don’t know of anyone who can say they have this mastered 100%. So for those of you who like to tackle something, get it right, and then move on to the next thing, you’re going to have to give yourself grace on this one! They key is not perfection, it is progress! Are you doing better than you were last year? Last month? Yesterday? Are you making continual progress in the right direction? If so, then you are succeeding, my Friend!
How do you do it? How do you learn to control your actions and words? Some of the most effective tools I’ve found for this are some of the simplest:
- Pause and take a deep breath before opening your mouth to speak. Count to 10 before saying anything if you’re fighting your emotions. This gives you a chance to calm down and let some of the initial steam blow off before you respond to someone, reducing the chance that you will damage the relationship with hasty words or actions.
- Sometimes simple actions can help ground your emotions. Things like going to get a drink of water or a cup of coffee (or taking a drink of the one you have in your hand). It’s so simple, yet it has a wonderful way of making you pause, focus on something else for a second, and bringing you back to reality.
- If the situation is really bad, walk away for a moment. Sometimes you need a bit of geographical separation to gain some mental separation. Please understand, I’m not saying walk away and avoid the situation entirely! I’m saying that you might need to take 5 minutes, then come back and calmly respond to the situation.
- Be honest with the other person. If you’re struggling to respond and not react, yet you know that if you say anything, it won’t be good, tell them! Keep it simple, but be honest. Try something like this: “Look, what you said or did really upset me and right now I’m really angry/hurting. I know we need to talk about this, but I know I’m not in a place where I can talk about it right now. I’m gonna go and calm down, but I know we need to talk this through. So, I’ll be back in 15 minutes.”
This also goes back to realizing that you cannot control others. If you walk into situations with the mindset that everything is going to happen according to your plan, you set yourself up for disappointment. Things never happen exactly as you want them to in your head or in your plans. However, if you walk through life knowing that you are dealing with other people, holding your plans loosely, it is much easier to roll with the punches.
Why bother planning?
So is this to say that you should plan absolutely nothing and just go with it and take whatever life throws at you? No! I don’t think that is the answer.
First of all, if you are a planner, this approach goes against every fiber of your being. It goes against how your brain is naturally wired. In the long run, this approach will cause you a great deal of grief and anxiety.
Secondly, if you don’t know where you’re going, how on earth are you going to get there? Think of it like a road trip: If you’re starting in Colorado and trying to get to Tennessee, you pack everything in your vehicle and start driving east. True, your route might be altered due to construction or a desired side trip, but you know that the general direction you need to take is east. If you get in your vehicle in Colorado and start driving north to get to Tennessee, you’ll never get there. Oh, you could end up in some amazing places, to be sure, but you’ll never end up where you originally wanted to go.
It’s the same way with planning. You need to know where you’re headed, where you want to go, what the end goal is if you expect to get there at all! You need to have a direction to aim for. If you just “go with the flow” eventually you will get frustrated because the things you want to happen aren’t happening.
You see, if you want something to happen, it’s not going to happen simply by you wishing for it happen! You need to make a plan. You need to set a goal. But in creating that plan, in setting that goal, you need to remember that while you work towards it and plan for it, you cannot control all the factors around it.
Things happen. Life happens. People are late to events. There is traffic. Messes happen and must be cleaned up. Other people’s attitudes and actions slow down our progress in getting tasks done.
This is what expecting the unexpected is all about: Creating a plan, knowing where you’re going, but at the same time holding that plan loosely and responding (not reacting!) with grace when things do not work according to your master plan.
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Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.