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Finding Flexibility: How to Handle Unexpected Events in Life

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If there is anything that I have learned over the 15+ years as a parent it’s that there will be times when life throws you a curve ball and your carefully laid plans go up in smoke. From kids getting sick, to snow days, to more serious challenges, unanticipated challenges in life will happen and it can send us into a tailspin. But don’t lose hope! There are ways to find flexibility when these unexpected life events happen and, once we do, we can readjust our plans, whether it is for one day or a longer period of time.

spilled milk: finding flexibility in unexpected life events

Why is it Hard to Find Flexibility?

Why is it so hard to remain flexible when life throws a curve ball? Here’s what I think: Our lives are so busy and the stakes feel so high, that in order to stay sane we come up with a set idea of how things are going to go. Furthermore, we oftentimes convince ourselves that the approach we’ve chosen is the only option that will work. Because, let’s be honest, putting on blinders can help us to feel more in control. So, when something that is unexpected or outside of our control occurs that challenges our carefully structured approach, it can feel like all hope is lost and our ability to pivot or to find creative solutions is stymied.

The reality, though, is that there is almost always another way. It may not necessarily be the preferred or the smoothest alternative, but there is usually another way.

Finding Flexibility: How to Handle Unexpected Life Events

In my experience, there are certain things we can do when life puts us through the wringer that help us to find that flexibility and respond gracefully and purposefully in the face of unexpected life events. In my mind, this happens in three steps:

  1. Calm and care for ourselves – before we respond, it is important to move ourselves out of panic mode so that we can make clear-headed decisions (as best we can)
  2. Get organized – take note of what actually *needs* to happen, what can be delayed, and what can be simplified (e.g., sandwiches for dinner), and then make a plan that will work, given the circumstances
  3. Move forward by taking action
calming self down with self care

Calming and Caring for Ourselves

When life throws you a curve ball it can feel like a punch to the gut. This means that before you can do anything else, you need to catch your breath since reacting from a place of panic or frustration is never going obtain the best results. Here are some ways to do that:

Take a deep breath (or ten)

The first step should be to try to slow your panicking brain down. There are various ways that you can do that, but one option that is always on hand is to take some slow, deep breaths. Doing this will signal to your brain that it is time to calm down.

My favorite way to do this is to breathe in for the count of four, hold for a moment, and breathe out for the count of four. I have found that counting while I breathe further helps me to shift away from the swirling worries towards a place where I can think more rationally.

Another, slightly more involved option is called 4-7-8 breathing. For this you breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, and then breathe out for a count of eight. Repeat three to eight times for a wonderful calming effect.

Get some self-care in

When things change unexpectedly, I think it’s important to try to make room for self-care. This one is hard for me, but I’ve learned that if I don’t, the stress from these unexpected moments can lead me to make not-so-good decisions like stress eating or picking fights with my loved ones. So I try to carve out some time that can still be mine.

These acts of self-care can be small, such as making sure to save time for a workout, taking a shower, or making a mug of tea that you drink quietly while reading something for pleasure for 10 minutes. The essential thing here is to purposefully make that small time for yourself so that you can regain your equilibrium.


Getting Organized

Now that you’re calm, it’s time to get organized so that you can determine your best path forward.

Make a master list

For me, the best way to do that is to make a master list of all of the tasks that are eating at me. So, grab some paper and pen (or your phone or computer, if you prefer to make lists electronically) and just write down all of the tasks that are swirling around in your head.

In my experience, even just seeing them all written out can help me to feel more in control.

Prioritize and reorganize

My next step with the list: prioritize and reorganize. What are the things that truly need to happen today and what can wait? Are there tasks later in the week that could be done today to make room on other days? This reshuffling helps me to feel in control and allows me to create my plan for the day and beyond.

ask for help

Take Action

While things may not be able to go as you had originally planned, taking some sort of action, being able to cross something(s) off your list can help to alleviate the frustration and stress you may be feeling. Here are some of my tricks for being able to take that action.

Start small

When you start taking action on different items on your list, I recommend starting with one or two small items so that you can get some quick wins under your belt. Being able to quickly and efficiently cross items off the list will help to switch your mindset from one of frustration to one of accomplishment. Then, once you’ve got some items ticked off, you’ll hopefully have the momentum to keep going with some of the bigger items.

Break bigger tasks up into smaller ones

If your list is full of big items that feel overwhelming or daunting, break them up into smaller sub-tasks that you can accomplish.

Got a big report you’ve gotta write for work? Start with just the introduction. Got a whole house to clean? Start with one room or one task. The rule of thumb here is that big tasks can almost always be broken down into smaller, more manageable ones.

Ask for help

You can’t do it all. And that is OK! So, please, ask for help.

Have your kiddos assist with putting things away or other small tasks. If you have a partner or spouse, call on them for assistance. If you’re flying solo, call upon a friend or family member. There should never be any shame in admitting that you need help and now’s the time to ask for it.

Accept that this is a day for fewer rules

Letting go of some of the regular rules or expectations can help to make space for other things. For instance, let your kids have more screen time than usual if it will give you the time you need to cross some things off your list. Order takeout (yes, I know this is a site dedicated to cooking and meal planning, but we all need takeout sometimes) or serve cereal or sandwiches for dinner. If that will give you more time to accomplish what you need to, then it’s worth it.

feet by the fire: taking a moment

When the day is done, take a moment

Once the day is done, no matter how much you accomplished, there are two things that I strongly recommend: take a moment for gratitude and rest.

Take a moment for gratitude

Try to notice the things that did go well and acknowledge why—what did you do to make that possible and who else played a role? I find that looking for the good helps to take the edge off the bad.


Whether the unexpected event is over or not, you’ve made it through a tough day and deserve some rest. So try to get to bed earlier, or at least on time. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! What do you find helps you in finding flexibility when you have unexpected life events?

And if one of your curve balls in getting dinner on the table, sign up for a FREE trial of The Scramble to see how we can make getting on the table easier for you!

Embracing the Dance of Chaos: Finding Harmony in Life's Playful Whirlwind

Tuesday 20th of June 2023

[…] Being flexible doesn’t mean compromising on what we truly desire or giving up on our dreams. It’s about embracing the reality of the moment and finding alternative paths to reach our goals. It’s like doing a spontaneous dance move when the music suddenly changes. It adds a touch of excitement and surprise to our journey.In life, my friend, there will be moments when our plans may need adjustment. We might face unexpected obstacles or encounter new opportunities that take us off our intended path. But rather than resisting or feeling frustrated, let’s embrace these moments with a playful spirit. Let’s view them as chances to discover new possibilities, to tap into our creativity, and to find different ways to achieve the harmony we seek.So, as we navigate the dance floor of life, remember to be light on your feet and open to the unexpected. Embrace the beauty of flexibility, knowing that it allows us to adapt, grow, and find new avenues for joy and fulfillment. Who knows, my friend, while dancing with flexibility, you might stumble upon something even more incredible than what you had initially imagined. […]

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