The 1 Question We Forget to Ask in the Face of Change
July 27, 2018
Achange in plans can be anxiety-inducing. Cue the negative thoughts:
But I was looking forward to this! But this was on my calendar for weeks! But this wasn’t how the day was supposed to go!
I’ve cycled through this pattern over and over again, especially as it’s so easy to look to plans—to-do lists! agendas!—as essential structures that can help corral the wild tornado of our whirling lives.
So when there’s a shift in your plans, whether it’s a big deal, like, that vacation isn’t happening after all, or a smaller one, like a canceled dinner with a friend after work, it takes a minute or two to wrap your head around the new reality. “This is the worst. Now what?” you might ask yourself.
But I’ve found a new question that cracks open so many wild possibilities—and it’s made me look at change in an entirely new light.
Now, when something doesn’t go exactly according to plan, I ask myself:
What are the benefits of changing your plans?
The key word here is benefits. Because there are some! Always! Even if your instinct is to look at how things are thrown off or worse off because they’re not going according to your schedule, asking this simple question is like putting on rosé-colored glasses. (Yes, rosé—a little bubbly makes everything look better.)
My friend Alina was the one to give me this advice recently. She told me a story about how she once had to move her volunteering trip to Rwanda to a different time of year. Instead of worrying about not sticking to the original plan, she asked herself, “What are the benefits of going in the spring and not the fall?” Lo and behold, she found a bunch of reasons why the new time was actually a better season after all.
Here’s how to apply the question to your own life—and see where it can take you.
When something unexpected happens.
Change happens all around us. Maybe you’re suddenly laid off, or passed over for that promotion you were gunning for. Instead of thinking about a future that is no longer relevant, asking yourself “what are the benefits behind this?” can flip the situation on its head.
When I moved to New York 10 years ago, I cold-emailed and interviewed and finally got a job as an editorial assistant at a website. I was over the moon—and then, thanks to the financial crisis of 2008, was laid off seven weeks later. Of course, I was devastated. But consider what happened next: I found an internship at another website, and that job gave me more experience, more money (overtime, baby!), more connections, and just more, period. That wouldn’t have happened without unexpected change—and me wanting to prove to myself that I could find something even better.
The same lesson held true four years later, when I was laid off (again). What were the benefits? Total freedom, the ability to really consider where my career was going, and more freedom.
Now, circumstances don’t have to be as drastic as losing your job. Say your friend cancels your long-awaited catch-up drinks. Do you immediately jump to “well, I would have planned something else for tonight if I knew I was free!”? Instead, think about the benefits of suddenly having an evening off—can you take yourself to a movie, have a quiet night in, call your mom, try out that new face mask?
If you're stuck in “fear mode.”
Along with change comes its fun little friend—fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success. When something changes, we can often think, “But I’ll never get this opportunity again!” or “This was my one chance!” Is this really true, though?
Let’s say someone reschedules the job interview you were prepping for all week. Of course, you wanted to get it out of the way and move on the next step. But when you stop to consider it: what are the benefits of having this meeting pushed back? Well, you can have more time to prepare, get some extra sleep. Work on your answers to prospective questions. Distract yourself with some junky TV.
For people who live and die by their Google Calendar, a change in plans is one of the most frightening prospects of all. “But but but…this wasn’t on my radar! I’m not ready!”
But looking towards this question of what are the benefits of changing your plans can force you to be a little bit more flexible. And when we’re less rigid with what is coming in and out of our lives, we can more fully embrace the wide array of what the world has to offer. Who knows, whatever you are leaving behind might actually be better left behind, and what you’re about to step into could change your whole world.
So the next time you are tasked with a big change, look for the benefits, and your reaction might change from “Oof, this is the worst,” to “OK, actually…could this be for the best?”
Read next: How to Make Peace With Your Fear of Change
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