Not According to Plan

Not According to Plan

Not According To Plan

When I drop my glasses

in the airport and they’re

crushed in the walkway

between terminals, I get to

meet the three kind souls

who help me on my way.

Then I hear you crying

after everyone has left.

So I bring you water

and hear your story.

Ever since the lock on

my door broke, I have

more visitors.

Now the road I always

take is detoured, which

I curse until I see the

heron glide across the

small pond I didn’t

know was there.

– Mark Nepo

Mark Nepo’s re-framing of a minor catastrophe as an opening to a new experience, a new perspective, falls easily under the umbrella of Finding the Silver Lining. A practice I teach in every workshop, included as an exercise below.

Finding the Silver Lining is an essential practice of resilience. Finding the gift in the mistake, finding what’s right with this wrong; turning a regrettable moment into a teachable moment. Responding to every stressor and glitch as an AFGO – another frickin’ growth opportunity.

This finding any possible learning and growth in the broken glasses, the broken locks, the unexpected detours, lays the foundation for being able to see a silver lining even in the larger difficulties and disasters, at least in our more resilient, able to re-frame response to the event: the loss of a job, the death of a parent, racist shootings in public institutions, a war in Eastern Europe. 

It’s a deep practice to be able to see any right in these wrongs. Sometimes, when there is no right at all, the resilience comes from learning what we could have done differently at the time, how we could respond differently even now.

Here’s the exercise as I teach it in Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster:

Exercise: Finding the Gift in the Mistake

Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.

  • John Wooden

Reframing is a process of conscious reflection that allows you to “rewrite” a glitch, a mistake, even a dreadful disaster as an AFGO — another frickin’ growth opportunity. By “turning a regrettable moment into a teachable moment,” as the neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer puts it, you can somewhat redeem the outcome of the experience by salvaging a sense of your own resilience in relationship to the event.

This process is sometimes called finding the silver lining, or finding the gift in the mistake. By finding lessons in your response to the event, even possibilities that you can see more clearly in retrospect, you can strengthen your response flexibility for future similar events.

1. Begin small. Remember a single, not too overwhelming occasion when things went wrong and you were still able to discover something right in the situation: in your response, in other people’s responses, in an outcome you never could have predicted. 

This may be something as simple as realizing,” If I hadn’t missed my flight, I wouldn’t have run into an old college friend at the airport.” Or “If I hadn’t been looking for my lost wallet, I wouldn’t have discovered Timmy’s old teddy bear under the bed.” 

The gift or the right doesn’t have to be as large in scale as the mistake or the wrong — just a small, previously unrecognized beneficial outcome or lesson learned. Sometimes the learning is that there can be gifts even in disasters.

2. Recall another time when things went wrong and you honestly didn’t think any good came out of it at all. Even from this situation, look for lessons you could learn now, and think about what a different response might have been then. Could more response flexibility have changed the outcome or your feelings about the situation? Find the learning in the AFGO, and gain confidence that you can learn.

You can now reframe past events to see more response flexibility in them. Even if you can’t change what happened, you can shift your relationship to what happened, and that change in your response can enable you to can see yourself differently, more resiliently. now.

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