• When life gets in the way of our plans, it's important to be adaptable

  • To be adaptable in the face of unexpected change or difficulties, we need mental flexibility

  • If you find yourself stuck when it comes to managing the ups and downs of life, find a therapist here

Whatever goal or goals you have, whatever you want to do and however you’ve chosen to go about it, your plans don’t need to be fixed.

As you work towards something you want to achieve, you’ll need to be flexible and open to the fact that problems are bound to arise. So being prepared to change course in light of the unexpected means that you avoid limiting your chance of success by focusing on just one way to accomplish it.

Suppose you are planning a meal that you are going to make for your friends. You decide on what you’ll cook for the main course and for a dessert. You write a shopping list and you go to the supermarket. You find all the ingredients except one. It’s a vital ingredient. What to do? Do you cancel the meal? Of course you don’t. You decide what your options are and what you’re going to do next.

Be clear about your goal but be flexible about the process of achieving it.—Brian Tracy

It’s the same approach with setbacks to anything you set out to do – you identify what, exactly, the problem is and then you look for a solution. You might be able to deal with the problem or you might conclude that Plan A isn’t, after all, going to work out. So you abandon that and switch to Plan B.

Whether it’s a meal, travel plans, changing your job, getting fit or improving a relationship with a friend or family member, things can get in the way. The weather changes, a road is closed, someone you were relying on drops out, you fall or sustain an injury, or it costs more money than you expected. But if you really want to get what you want, there’s always a way. And most likely, there’s more than one way.

Plan for difficulties

When you’re at the planning stage, anticipate potential problems and possible solutions. For each step, think about what could go wrong. What’s the worst that could happen? What might the potential problems be? Think how you could deal with that. Who could help? What support, advice, finances or resources could you draw on?

Asking yourself questions like these is not to discourage you and put you off doing what you want to do. On the contrary, it’s making it more likely you’ll be successful. How come? Because you’ve anticipated the potential problems and you’ve already thought through how you would deal with them. Forewarned is forearmed!

If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters. —Author unknown

Have a plan B

If, when you were planning how to achieve your goal, you looked at all your options, you’ll already have identified a Plan B, an option that you can implement if the original one proves impractical or unsuccessful. Furthermore, having a Plan B can also encourage you to go out on a limb and take a risk. Why? Because you’ll know what you’ll do if Plan A doesn’t work out.

Know that it’s okay to change course. Don’t be afraid to admit a decision was a bad idea or isn’t working out. If you stick to Plan A at all costs, you could miss opportunities.

This is an extract from Gill Hasson's Positive Thinking Pocketbook, published by Capstone:

Further reading

Challenging your thoughts: are they helpful?

8 ways to develop emotional resilience

The secret of long lasting change

Finding opportunity in unexpected change

What does creativity look like in the brain?