Something that happened a few weeks ago made me think of a principle that’s been a part of my life for a while now – the meaning behind so-called “failed” plans. And as if to reassure me of the air quotes, in the next weeks the universe offered several other instances, where a plan did not turn out the way I thought it would.

In my experience so far, “failed” plans are always great lessons on how my reality is being shaped by my perceptions. So I combined personal experience with my training in psychology and the viewpoints of two exceptional women, to create this article. I hope it will inspire confidence, as a source of support and perspective, whenever you need it. 

How can failed plans turn into opportunities? What can we do with the barriers of our own consciousness that keep us from seeing new opportunities? 

These are some of the questions we will try to answer through psychology, and two interviews – with inspiring women, mothers, and humans connected to both their inner and outer worlds. Borislava Yakova is a psychologist and relationship coach, and Tsvety Mitova is a traveler, as well as a small business owner. The two of them are fountains of knowledge so I am very happy that they are a part of this article. 

Why “Failed” Plans Are Actually Opportunities

“When a door closes a window opens”, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, you’ve probably heard cliches of the sort a thousand times. But whenever I come across a cliche, I can’t help but think that it’s been repeated so many times precisely because it’s true. From overuse, we might have forgotten the true meaning of these phrases. Much like an old carpet, that’s cushioned many feet and stood in the sun for long years, could have lost its initial bright colors and intricate patterns. But they are still there, we just have to look closer. 

Why “Failed” Plans Are Actually Opportunities
Photo: Matthew Rader

Really, the meaning of these two cliches overlaps with holistic psychology. Meaning the combination between contemporary science and traditional knowledge. If you open up a textbook on cognitive-behavioral therapy, a Buddhist text, or even a manual written by a healer, you’d probably notice some similarities. For example that everything we think, feel, and perceive, is a result of the perspective that we choose for ourselves. Most of the time, this choice happens in the subconscious mind. Yet we can bring it up to the surface, where it’s easier to look and play around with it. Then, we can channel that choice towards alignment with our goals, needs, and values. 

How to Make More Conscious Choices 

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that one event unlocked my motivation to write this text – I missed my train. 

Why “Failed” Plans Are Actually Opportunities
Photo: Kyryll Ushakov

As a result, I can react in many different ways. For example: 

  • Blame myself and say something like: “You’re terrible! Just look at what you did!”
  • Blame others. For instance: “The damn taxi driver doesn’t know the city and got me here late!”
  • Get angry, frustrated, and take it out on the ticket sales officer or another bystander. 

What would be the outcome of these reactions? I would probably feel even more overwhelmed, guilty for hurting others and myself, while my train would be just as departed as it was before. 

Many types of psychotherapy, for example CBT and ACT, talk about how we have no control over our emotions but we can choose our reactions to these emotions. Anger and disappointment are a normal, natural part of the human experience. However zen and self-aware we may be, we can’t avoid these feelings. What is within our power is to go through them consciously and to give ourselves a bit of time to choose a reaction that coincides with our values and goals.  

Why “Failed” Plans Are Actually Opportunities
Photo: Morgan Housel

Let’s look at my missing the train again. Some of my values are empathy towards myself and others, being gentle, mentally flexible, and basing my behavior on love. When I’m angry and disappointed, because I’ve missed my train, I can give myself a few minutes to experience these emotions for what they are, allow them space, and remember what my values are. Then, it’s a bit easier to choose a behavior that would correspond with these values. For example:

  • To be kind and reassuring with myself: “Right now, I am having the thought that I’m angry. But things like these happen, it’s nothing unfixable, and I did the best I could.”
  • To open myself up to alternatives: “I feel disappointed because my plan didn’t work out the way I imagined it. But what alternatives do I have now that the train is no longer an option?”

With this simple technique (which requires practice nonetheless) we create opportunities in place of failed plans. There are always more options than just the one we planned but what keeps us from seeing them are our own self-limiting thoughts. As any therapist would tell you – we are a lot more than just our thoughts. 

Have you ever tried to see your failed plans as opportunities? What happened? Would you do it again? I would love to hear about it. 

Two Women’s Personal Experience

In the meantime, I would encourage you to read what two wise women, beautiful inside and out, told me about their experience with failed plans and new opportunities. 

You can read the interview with psychologist Borislava Yakova here. 

And the interview with traveler Tsvety Mitova here.