“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Clever reframe but adjusting to disruptions in life isn’t that easy. Frustration, disappointment, resentment are typical emotional reactions to disruption. While negative reactions to disruption are common, there are perspective alternatives to lessen the burden. COVID has clearly created disruptions. Let’s consider taking back some control.
Consideration – Cancelled vacation
Opportunity to make new plans
Chance to console others who are equally disappointed
Invest the money you won’t be spending so you’ll have more for your next opportunity
Create a miniature golf course in your home
Legitimate reason to complain
Invent the non-vacation-vacation, market it on social media, make a fortune
Time available to write the novel you have been putting off
Life’s good when a well-designed plan plays out just the way it was intended. A challenge comes when our plans are disrupted – what to do with the emotional energy created by the disruption.
Ever had your vacation plans disrupted? Cruise disrupted by a hurricane. Road trip disrupted by a vehicle breakdown. International travel disrupted by a world crisis. Family reunion disrupted by a personal crisis. Beach vacation disrupted by COVID. Things happen that throw our plans out of balance. Most of appreciate having things under control. Knowing what to expect and how we plan to deal with it. Most of us also struggle when something upsets our apple cart. When our plans become disrupted we experience an emotional reaction. Typical reactions are frustration, disappointment, anger and resentment. Atypical reactions could be elation, excitement or a sense of challenge. When it comes to vacationing, the more elaborate the plan combined with a greater degree of disruption, the more intense the emotional reaction.
Interestingly, it is not the vacation plan that creates the emotional disruption, it is the loss of what the vacation was intended to fulfill for the vacationer. Vacation plans are intended to have emotional impact, to fulfill a perceived need or meet a desire. Consider a vacation that you have planned. What you looking for in the vacation? Adventure, fun, relief, discovery, escape, bonding, reward, revitalization, magic, memories, fulfillment of a life long dream, bucket lister, …
Examples. People who plan to scuba dive are looking for discovery and will not be satisfied by a chance to read by the pool. Those looking forward to a family reunion generally like their family members (at least some of them) and are looking to share memories and create future ones. Folks seeking to get away from their work environment are looking for relief and they aren’t considering a working vacation. When a vacation plan is disrupted there is a partial or complete loss of the emotional fulfillment expected from the event which triggers their emotional reaction.
Most vacation plans focus on the details of the event rather than achieving the desired fulfillment. That is why when the vacation goes off as planned it can end up feeling like a disappointment. By concentrating on the event rather than what we desire to achieve we can miss opportunities to adjust to meet our goal. Example – If I am looking for an adventure by scuba diving, if something prevents me from diving I can look for a jungle to explore.
Consistent with the theme of perspective management – “when you can’t control the circumstances you can always adjust the way you look at them,” let’s explore some categories for dealing with disrupted plans.
In graduate school I wrote a journal article which identified four levels of personal responsibility: victimization, blame, ambivalence and personal responsibility.
Individuals who experience victimization expect things to go wrong for them. Expecting the worst, they are unlikely to plan a vacation. Occasionally someone talks them into making a plan. If the plan disrupts, their reaction is “I knew this would happen and now not only are my plans ruined but I messed up everyone else’s as well.” It’s not a big deal for them they expect disappointment.
Blamers have little tolerance for disrupted plans. Blamers can become incensed when even a single day of rain disrupts their week-long vacation. When a blamers plans become derailed, they experience an intense emotional reaction and they look for a target to vent their negativity. Blamers range from firing a laser at what they consider to be the cause to scatter shot at anyone or thing in the vicinity. Curiously, blamers are rarely comforted by the reassurance of others and generally resent the attempt to improve their mental state. Blamers are firm believers that “misery loves company” so if you are in their company expect to be miserable.
Ambivalence is a common reaction to disruption. A long-awaited family vacation to a theme park venue gets disrupted by COVID. Even though the vacation planner is greatly disappointed, their response is “things happen, sometimes it just doesn’t work out, we’ll have a great time next year.” Ambivalence appears admirable until you consider that there is no relief from the emotional disappointment and the person rarely makes new plans to try to fulfill the missed fulfillment.
The personally responsible individual is conscious of that the best laid plans can get disrupted. They also recognize that their goal is to fulfill a desire, so if a plan A fails, it’s on to plan B. If my goal is to escape from the pressure of the job, if I can’t go cruising, I’ll head for the beach, the woods or my own back yard. It’s up to me to take care of me.
How about an example. You have wanted to see the Grand Canyon for most of your life (bucket lister). You book and pay for your hotel accommodations overlooking the canyon six months in advance. You arrive at the resort and you are informed that there is no record of your reservation, the resort is full but they can accommodate you in an obscure area in the park. What would you do?
Victim – “Why does this always happen to me? I’ll just sleep in the car.”
Blamer – They yell at the clerk like this was intentionally created, demand to see the manager, threaten to sue the resort for this personal violation, accept free accommodations in the obscure area and refuse to participate in any of the attractions in the park.
Ambivalence – “Boy this really sucks. I guess things happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. We’ll take the remote location and try to enjoy what we can.”
So, what did Paula, Patrick and I do? We took a harrowing flight through the canyon in a prop plane during a 40-knot wind and headed to Vegas.
Test out your range in perspective management. Consider how you think various types would react to the following scenario. Write them down. I’ll share my thoughts in entry 5.
You have saved $2500.00 over the past two years to vacation with your friends in Cancun. A month before you are scheduled to leave your car breaks down on your way home from work. The engine needs $2000.00 in repairs. How do you think victims, blamers ambivalents and personally responsible people would react?