How To Stay Positive When Things Go Wrong

I’m willing to bet that everybody reading this blog has had a recent situation where things have not gone as you’d expected – either in a major or a minor way. Feeling disappointment, frustration, loss, and even anger is a common byproduct of this. And when all these powerful emotions surface, the trick is finding how to stay positive when things go wrong.

I do want to clarify here, that I am not endorsing the societal pressure to always seem positive and happy. I know that when life happens, it can be really tough. And it’s so important to allow space for the real and ugly emotions to take their place, so that you can move through them. But, we must move through them. And even when you are lamenting the loss, challenge or defeat, one must keep placing one foot before the next. This blog is about learning to see the beauty, to find the opportunity, and to cultivate growth and gratitude so that through it all, you can still find the positive.

Chaos is all around us. From torrential rain and flooding (yes KZN, we’re in it knee-deep, aren’t we?), to petrol prices, wedding cancellations, companies closing, and plane tickets being cancelled…we have, at large, been dealt the harsh hand of inconvenience and disappointment several times. 

Sometimes, the biggest challenge is knowing what to do. There’s a way to learn how to stay positive when things go wrong. But it does take a little digging, a lot of honesty, and the recipe of action, acceptance, and perspective.

Learning To Have Perspective When Things Go Wrong

This should always be the first step you take. It will help you determine whether it’s action, acceptance, or both that needs to take place.

Perspective allows us to ensure that before we are making any decisions, we have contemplated and considered every angle there is. This dilutes the possibility of getting a nasty surprise from something you didn’t think about or the frustration of missing a great opportunity. So how do you create perspective?


    • Create alternate viewpoints
      Have you ever noticed how if you turn a picture upside down, you see things you didn’t notice before? Creating alternate angles with situations does the same thing.
      So, take a step back from it, turn it upside down, shake it up a bit. Ask questions, even the ones that might seem ludicrous, and see what surfaces. Let creative thinking rule this step, so try to put your inner critic aside. 


    • Centre yourself in your values
      Once you’ve explored the possibilities and before you decide what route to take, let’s make sure it’s centred on values. Whether you’re making decisions for a multimillion organisation or your personal life, values need to be the pillar at which our choices swivel around. Without this, how can you be sure it’s the best action to take?

      Consider your values against the ideas you’ve come up with and whether they compromise any of them.


    • Receive input from others 
      We shouldn’t make our own decisions based on others’ opinions. But the opinions of those you trust can act as valuable insight and open you to things you might not have considered before. Invite a few trusted people into your circle and confide in them. You might be surprised at the input and perspective they can create.
How To Stay Positive When Things Go Wrong

Choosing The Right Action When Things Go Wrong

Innovators are born under the light of unprecedented challenges. It’s the drive to solve a problem that really gets you thinking out the box.

The way to move forward is always by making a start. The trick here is to ask the right questions:

    • “Today’s actions shape tomorrow’s reality.”
      What’s the next right thing to do? This should be the question you ask the next time you find yourself stumped and staring at a brick wall. The answer to this question is completely dependent on the context – there is no formula. In one of our cards from Resilience In A Box, we say that, “Sometimes, the answer is to be tough. And sometimes you need to be gentle.  Sometimes you need to go, and sometimes you need to stay.  You  might need to sacrifice something, or you might need to give. But it is always honest and accountable.” 
    • Find your reasons to believe
      Taking action in untethered waters can be very daunting. And yet, you can take comfort in knowing that whatever the circumstance, someone has walked a similar road. And even within our own lives, you’ve most probably already come across situations in the past that have called for similar resolve or skills to what you are needing now. Name these, and write them down. Let them remind you that you are capable. Do you know anyone you admire that’s overcome similar obstacles? What did they do? Name them and let this also be a reason to believe.
    • Ask others for support
      The people around us are our greatest asset. When you’re needing particular knowledge or skills, be brave enough to ask others to journey with you and share theirs. You might even be surprised at the willingness they have to give. 

Releasing And Accepting When Things Go Wrong

What do you do when it’s out of your control? When no action or alternate angle can change what has happened? This is perhaps the hardest of all these steps to take, as it requires absolute surrender and release of that which cannot be changed. It requires you to let go.  

    • Time for release
      We wrote a blog some time ago where we ask the question, ‘what closed door do you need to trust?’ Here, we share a fantastic quote from Lesly Odom Jr.’s book, Failing Up, where he says, “Over time I have come to realize that try as we might to knock down the barriers, every now and then we might need to trust the closed door.” 
    • Finding attachments that don’t serve you
      The danger of holding on to something long after it needs to be let go, is that it turns into an attachment. In this case, you might be desperately clinging to an idea, habit, or notion that no longer serves you. In fact, after creating perspective you might find it’s negatively impacting you. Check out our podcast on “Letting Go Of The Remote” to go deeper here.
    • Look for opportunities within the challenge
      Let’s look at Polaroid as our case study here – a well-known, iconic brand. Unfortunately, it’s also well-known for a very sad and unnecessary fall. Polaroid was the leading brand in photography for many years. But their challenge came when digital photography started emerging. It was not a lack of awareness, or even research into the emerging digital field – but rather, it was adamance from top decision-makers. They firmly believed that digital photos would never overtake the popularity of instant photos. And so, they chose not to invest in it. For this reason, and a few other related ones, the corporate giant went down.

      What can we learn here? Challenges are opportunities for innovation, and they demand adaptable mindsets. If only Polaroid had seen the challenge of a door closing for instant photos, as an opportunity to progress.
How To Stay Positive When Things Go Wrong

Key Take-Aways

We’ve had quite a conversation here. There are many viewpoints to consider, lots of emotions and so many contexts. But I think, regardless of all these variables, some key takeaways that can be applied to most situations and hopefully bring something valuable to the table when considering how to stay positive when things go wrong.


    • Give your emotions space to be present – validate them and move through them. It’s never easy to face a loss or defeat of something we hoped for. In other words, it’s incredibly helpful if you learn how to embrace your humanity.
    • Create perspective. Find ways to view every alternate angle, inviting others to share insight, but always centring yourself in your values.
    • Decide if the situation calls for action. And if it does, start by focusing on doing the next right thing. Remember that failure does not always mean defeat. And defeat does not always mean it’s the end of the road. Dig deep into your reasons to believe, ask others to rally behind you, and don’t be afraid of facing the hard part.
    • Accept and release what needs releasing. It’s easier said than done; but by surrendering to that which you cannot change and letting go of unhealthy attachments, you can seek new opportunities, you can make sure no efforts are wasted.

Some Inspiration For You

We all need to be reminded that through challenge, there is always hope. Here’s a powerful story from Jason Redman about focusing on positive responses to challenges and how it got him through a crisis: 

And, here are some CAFE Life resources to help you on your way, and add some supportive tools to your belt:

It’s hard to accept, but there isn’t one right response to challenge. It takes resilience, support from others, and a willingness to grow and learn in order to move forward. The fact that we are alive, means we face challenges and hardship. May you find the positive within it and allow this to create your silver lining.   

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