Some Days All We Control Is Ourselves: How to respond when things don’t go to plan

Earlier this week I made a post about wellness programmes and the problems I have engaging with them. I did say however, that I don’t discount the fact that sometimes we need to take some personal action to manage the situation we are in, even if that is to just to survive to the next encounter.

What kind of situation am I talking about? Well this post was prompted by something that happened a couple of weeks ago. I gave a talk, it was supposed to be inspiring, but I felt it didn’t land. I followed a really amazing speaker who everyone really engaged with and so it felt really clear to me that I didn’t get a similar response. It was my second talk of the day, in the middle of a week where I was running conferences on the Monday and the Friday. Needless to say I was feeling more than a little tired.

Why is the fact that I was tired important? What kind of impact does that have on my perceptions? Was the outcome, in terms of talk impact, a real failure or just a perceived one? Also it was just a talk so does it really matter?

The truth is that maybe the circumstances in this case didn’t have significant outcomes. However I think this is just an example of how fatigue and tiredness can alter our perceptions of performance. In some cases this altered perception can lead to more consequences for us as individuals, in terms of stress etc, and also change the way we do our jobs, therefore impacting on others.

So, I was curious whether it is just me that feels this way. Are others more likely to feel like a failure, or that they have failed, when they are tired. So I ran a poll on twitter and I was pretty surprised by the results:

I’ve always felt really alone in this and that my response to tiredness, increasing levels of self criticism and feelings of failure, was a ‘me thing’ and probably a weakness/fault. I don’t know therefore whether I was pleased or saddened by the results. It seems like most of us feel this way at least some of the time, so why don’t we talk about it more? In a world where the focus is being placed on us to to find ways forward and when, I suspect, many of us are feeling broken, stressed and tired, what can we do to support ourselves and others through these periods where we are feeling like our own harshest critics?

So having said that wellness sessions don’t really work for me what can we do? Some of the lovely people who responded on twitter gave some great advice, which I’ve combined with some my random thoughts to try and help us all in finding a way through when everything feels too much. All things won’t work for all people but hopefully there is something that could work for everyone as a piece of support or way forward.

Try to be self aware and remind yourself of the cause

By identify the route cause you can start to distance yourself from it, you’ll also hopefully be able to find an intervention that might help. Tired, try and find a window to sleep. Stressed, try and be kind to yourself and find some time to do something you enjoy. Know that you can re-evaluate once you’ve given yourself some time/space/sleep. It’s worth considering what your interventions in different scenarios might be when you are in a good place so you have a plan for when you need it in order to alleviate how you feel.

Try to not make decisions and react when aware you are in a hyper reactive mind set

Leading on from being aware of how you are feeling, a key suggestion was knowing what not to do when you’re not feeling quite yourself. Don’t send emails, make decisions or react during a time when you’re judgement may not be truly reflective of your normal thought processes. In these periods I tend towards being overly apologetic, submissive etc, others I know will tend to be the opposite and come across as less collaborative. Wait until you can find your way back to the middle ground.

Try to change your inner dialogue

If you find yourself spiralling (see my previous shame spiral post) do something to put yourself in a different mindset, read a book, go for a run, make a to do list with some things that are easy to tick off. I find shame spiralling slightly different as it’s linked to a specific event rather than a general feeling (which my mind can sometimes hook onto things). Often when I shame spiral it’s because I’ve actually failed, rather than just perceiving I have, but the response is similar. For most things in life, tomorrow offers a re-do. If what has happened is non critical, or even if it is critical but is fixable then tomorrow will arrive and with it some level of distance to support reflection plus hopefully with the benefit of sleep and relaxation.

Reach out to trusted advisors and get a reality check

Try to be kind with yourself by thinking how you would respond to someone else in your situation and use that as a benchmark. I often find this impossible to do by myself and so that’s where checking in with my friends really helps. I’m lucky enough to have wonderful colleagues who I also count as friends, who are always willing to have tea, catch up via WhatsApp or provide support via twitter. Know who your trusted people are and be open and honest with where you are at. As the poll showed me you will be surprised at how many people have experience of what you’re going through and how they can support you through it.

Know tomorrow is another day

This doesn’t help everyone, but one thing helps me quite a lot. When the going gets tough, the tough get planning. To tide me over to the point where I can make actual decisions or feel more like me, I find daydreaming about plans for that future helpful. I start to plan holidays or pleasant experiences, anything that draws my mind from the present. I try to consciously be aware of the fact that the way I feel now won’t last and think about what could happen when I’m refreshed.

Remember the good times

Quite a few people have said that it is useful to keep a success/achievement list somewhere. It is all too easy when feeling this way to only focus on our failures, be they real or perceived, but keeping a list in a drawer/computer folder can be a useful prompt. This doesn’t have to be a work related list, it should cover the whole of your life and remind you that you are more than just a job/situation and of everything you have to offer. As Laura said ‘more roses, less thorns’

Do something you love

Sometimes it’s not about addressing the problem, sometimes it’s about treating yourself, or as my wellness colleagues would say ‘self care’. In my case I go back to movies/TV series as that bring me comfort or cook. I watched a Christmas movie a couple of weeks ago as they are a place of comfort and joy to me. Other people suggesting singing, going to the spa, reading a favourite book. My friends and I often talk about making our pit of despair comfortable if we’re going to be there for a while. This is what this is to me. I acknowledge that I may not just snap out of it, so how do I make myself feel better whilst I get through it.

Put your feelings into context

As stated at the start I tend to focus my feelings of failure, linked to tiredness, onto different scenarios. These are often for me perceived issues rather than actually knowing that something has happened i.e. thinking I gave a bad talk rather than receiving the evaluation that says I gave a bad talk. Similar I know, but I think the way out of it for me is different. If like me you start to obsess I sometimes try to make myself take a step back. If it didn’t go well, does it really matter. In my case this week the worst case scenario here is that I am not invited back to speak, and some people might feel slightly less of my skill set. Now this hurts as part of my sense of identity is that I’m not a bad public speaker and I quite enjoy it. That said, does it matter? I don’t believe I am the best public speaker in the world, so as part of that I have to acknowledge that there will be people who do a better job at it than I, it’s not going to cost me my career. If it is something that matters, then know that once you feel more yourself, that is the time to make plans about recovery. Definitely not whilst you are in the midst of it.

Stop fighting it

This may be the 90s goth in me but sometimes you just need to sit back, ride the wave and enjoy the rain:

One thing you have all taught me is that feeling this way is not a failure in itself, it’s not a weakness, it is life and so lets not beat ourselves up about it, lets watch a movie, bake a cake and know that it will end.

All opinions on this blog are my own

One thought on “Some Days All We Control Is Ourselves: How to respond when things don’t go to plan

  1. Some days things just don’t go to plan and that’s all ok because other days things are better than expected.

    Slightly off topic, but I got distracted by the extra snippet of “forswunk”. It fascinates me that someone in the 13thC would be able to succinctly describe how I feel most days in the 21stC.


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