Unplanned Diversions

Life is full of surprises. Some are good, some are not so good. But every diversion has the potential to be an opportunity to change direction or for growth. Diversions both large and small enter into our lives every day. From the heat breaking down to the 20 minutes spent comforting a frightened cat, we start out with a plan for our time that must be endlessly adjusted. We have to make choices about what is most important when we run out of time to fit it all in. Some people are strict about trying to avoid diversions and although this probably doesn’t save any time in the long run, it does give us a feeling of being in control about what happens. The nice thing about diversions is that they give us a chance to be entirely spontaneous in our life and have the potential to shift us to a new perspective when we embrace them. In some strange way as well, a diversion presents us a chance to rest and go with the flow by surrendering to the moment. As the old saying goes, “a change is as good as a rest”? Well, maybe not quite as good but still an option worth considering.

In situations where we have no choice or there is no other option but to change course, we have an explanation for those around us who may be expecting us to do something else. It’s not always nice to have a sudden change but for most people in most situations, we find empathy and understanding rather than anger. We can always help our friends in this situation by trying our best to be kind so that when it happens in reverse, they will remember your kindness to them. In less serious cases, a change of plans can actually be fun. Running into a bad traffic jam, for example, allows you to think of different routes you could take and potentially change your plans to go in a direction less travelled and possibly less stressful. If the situation is more serious, then a change in plans may require a lot more thought and planning. In very serious cases, it may require you to entirely rethink how you live your life.

In all situations, large and small, the key determinant of our success will almost always be in relation to our attitude and outlook. Our reaction to changes that we have not instigated can make the process of adapting to the change either more or less pleasant. Of course, in difficult situations, it is perfectly ok to allow yourself a small amount of time to react with strong words and allow your emotions an appropriate outlet so that these thoughts and feelings do not get in the way of the most important second step. Once these difficult feelings are out and given their moment, it is absolutely imperative to shift gears into a positive mode (whether you feel like it or not) to figure out how you will proceed. It is so easy to make bad decisions when we are feeling low. If we are in a crisis situation where we are overwhelmed, it is also important to take steps to protect yourself against making bad decisions.

There are a couple of ways to ensure you make the best decisions possible in a difficult situation. You may not have a lot of time but make sure you are taking care of yourself as best you can by reducing what you have to cope with, ensuring you are getting some rest, ensuring you are eating and drinking healthily, and trying as much as possible to clear your mind of negative thoughts. Our instinct is to try and carry on as normal but if it is very serious, taking time away from work or other commitments may be required. You will not focus on your work anyway if you are seriously distracted. Trying to push through and cope “come hell or high water” could compromise your health which would be detrimental in the longer term.

Another way to ensure you make the best decisions under stress is to seek help from a trusted friend or family member to help work through the thinking with you and to check that your logic and thoughts make sense for you. In some situations, it can also be helpful to seek out the opinion or advice from a disinterested third party just to have a completely unbiased opinion particularly if those around you are also caught up in the situation or will also be deeply affected by the outcome. Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult to completely remove your bias about a situation especially if it involves someone you love and care about.

When we are under stress to make a decision that might change our lives, it is easy to be tempted to look for a quick and comfortable solution. Our survival mechanisms are designed to encourage us to use strategies that have worked for us in the past in order to ensure that we don’t come to any immediate harm. This makes a lot of sense in a basic survival situation but the modern world is full of dilemmas and problems that trigger our survival mechanisms but in situations that aren’t immediately life-threatening. In these situations, we need to use our higher cognitive functions to overcome the immediate reaction and analyse the best course for us in both the short and longer term. This may involve making a decision that creates a bit more stress for us right now but that in the longer term will result in a happier life. Being aware of these survival-based feelings, thoughts, and sensations can help us to use our higher brain to soothe and comfort our survival brain allowing us to focus on the bigger picture for the long term.

Change itself is not good or bad. It is the net effect of change that should be judged. If there is a good outcome for us, then that change was good. We should not be afraid of change. If we are presented with an obstacle or unplanned diversion that requires us to change, this may be a good opportunity to consider making a change. Our instinct might be to immediately dismiss the idea and work hard to get back onto what we see as the road but it is entirely possible that allowing yourself to welcome a diversion and taking the time to explore what it might mean for you could make your life much happier and richer. It is also completely valid to review the facts and your feelings and decide not to change. The choice is entirely up to you. Once you’ve decided, either way, commit to the choice and move forward without looking back.

There is an excellent book called “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday that explores this phenomenon of life. Ryan is particularly good at collecting examples across history to elucidate his points and this makes for a great reading experience. I highly recommend Ryan’s books.

Remember to choose silence regularly to keep your mind free of noise and negative thinking. Clear your thoughts, breathe, just be, and when you are ready, venture forth in whatever direction you choose.

When not to choose silence