“What are you going to do about it?” It may sound a little standoff-ish, but I am learning that it’s exactly the sort of check needed to maintain focus. When I’ve been frustrated, let down, or feeling negatively about the direction something has taken, this question can mean the difference between falling into despair and finding the action that brings the problem to an end.

On being organized…

The problem I’ve seen with the complaint “things aren’t going to plan” is that it’s passive and is often a lie. Saying that repeatedly is acting like you have no control over the situation and you’re simply a victim of circumstance. Secondly, for something to fail to go to plan there must have been a plan to begin with. I know that for me, and I suspect for a lot of people, often when I’ve said this there was no plan (or a weakly put together one). There may have been an outcome I was hoping for, but without actually creating a path for that to happen it became a scenario of business as usual, with fingers crossed for luck to change.

If I’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s that knowing what you want is important. Without this part there can be no plan. Without a plan, we either do nothing or throw a lot of energy around inefficiently. We succeed by happy accident. So when something doesn’t seem to be going to plan, what are you going to do about it?

As obvious a question as it may seem to ask, if you’re like me it’s still one that hasn’t been asked enough. It’s easy to get swept up in what seems to be missing, what no longer seems likely, or how good it would’ve been if it’d worked out better. It’s more productive to ask some other questions. What is going on right now? What do I have going for me and who do I have that can help? What is a good first step? These are the path forward and out of a rut.

Work toward a personal solution. If it can’t be solved, cut it out of your life. Here are some quick examples.

If you’re stuck personally with an issue stemming from another person, an event, or a circumstance, how can you overcome it or change your behavior to avoid that issue in the future? If you feel it can’t be avoided with that person or thing, and you feel it’s not fair to you to have to tiptoe around it, how can you rid yourself of that person or thing? We can hold ourselves back by surrounding ourselves with negative people and/or continuing to put ourselves in toxic situations. I’ve read a lot of articles and talked to positive, successful people about what works for them. They’ve all agreed on some common points, including staying clear of negative people and focusing your thoughts on outcomes and solutions rather than excuses or blame.

If there’s a person, a rule, or a process at work that’s an issue, how can you resolve it? Can you behave a different way around this person or in deference to this process that will prevent the problem from rearing its head? Even if it’s not strictly your responsibility, is there a way you can refine the process or clear up a misunderstanding? Or, if it feels unavoidable and unlikely to stop, maybe it’s not the right job for you. Easier to say than do, I know, but that doesn’t make it untrue. And if you determine the latter, what steps are you going to take to change your situation? Changing people’s minds is as easy as changing careers (read: not easy), but if it’s important to you you’ll need an organized approach.

So if I find myself saying “Dammit, this isn’t working” or “this sucks” etc., I’m holding myself to that question. What are you going to do about it? And if you’re feeling lost or burdened by circumstances, my humble advice would be so should you.

Further reading: