No one saw it coming

Understanding unforeseen events and how to cope with them

None of us deliberately invite a bad situation in our lives unless we are hoping to see some good come out of it or if we are sadistic or suicidal. However, there are many times when bad situations just pop up unannounced and leave you shocked and scattered. Say, for example getting hit by a car on the sidewalk or a sudden loss of money in a promising deal gone wrong. There is no way to trace how and why such events occurred as they happen so suddenly and look bizarre. All one is left with is to accept the situation, make corrections if possible and just let it be.

Interestingly, coping mechanisms are not required when a surprisingly pleasant situation occurs unannounced in our lives. We don’t just let it go when something pleasurable happens with us. For example, if you won a lottery that a friend had registered you into for fun, or when you received a surprise gift from a company just because you were their 100th customer, the excitement is so high that one doesn’t question the Why’s and How’s. “How did these occur?” if I ask, “Who cares,” will be your response. Such stories become anecdotes for dinner parties and office gossips. People love to tell others, “Look I am so lucky.”

A series of such events took place with a colleague and good friend of mine this year. Donna had a rather rocky year of 2018. She is into real-estate and was doing really well until last year. In 2018, none of her business deals made money. She lost customers and one of her clients remarked that “Donna is losing her Midas touch”. Donna went into a day of shock and sadness but like all other entrepreneurs and ambitious human beings, she pulled up her socks and starting building up her business again.

Two months later she left her new phone on a billing counter in a mall and never found it again. She lost all contacts and important business photographs. The new handset she bought also had to be exchanged because it was faulty. A month later, she felt sick with viral fever. As if the tragedies weren’t enough, a trip to France that she had planned to cheer herself up fell flat because her son met with an accident a week before departure. To compensate for the series of tragedies, the universe probably gave her a good luck charm and out of nowhere an old investment of hers matured and she received a bulk amount of funds. The bank also released her mortgages and she won a lottery in the city. Her son recovered faster than the doctors predicted and she gained three new customers in business. Life remained neutral for a while when this week her laptop fell and broke. Donna has taken a silent retreat for a while.

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So, the real question is that how do unforeseen events occur? Do we intend for something to happen but are aware of our own intention and so something occurs or is there some higher power governing such situations and doling it out to people randomly? Is there really a science behind this?

There are many theories propounded by many experts – mystics, spiritual guides, scientists, psychologists and even the general working population consisting of entrepreneurs, homemakers and doctors.


Psychologists suggest that before delving into the analysis of why unforeseen events occur with all of us, it is important to correctly label an unforeseen event. “Any event that did not have your intention behind it, has occurred for the very first time in your life without any of your emotional, physical or financial involvement, and does not include any other person’s intention either, is likely to be an unforeseen event,” says entrepreneur Tony Reynolds.

However, author Phill Ball goes a step ahead in explaining what unforeseen events are. “There are NO such things as unforeseen. And there are NO accidents,” says author Phill Ball. “We label something as unforeseen because we didn’t anticipate it to happen. It is simply the lack in our anticipation and ability to foresee, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves over it.”

Ball explains this by taking the example of a tsunami. He says that if you go to a beach and the tsunami hits the area, which you weren’t expecting, it is not an unforeseen event because there was always the possibility of it happening geologically.

Naturalist David Attenborough says that on one occasion he had cut the top off from a termite nest and watched the busy insects going about their business. Insects are blind. He said the insects could have had no conception, outside of their particular world and its limits and habits that a human being was looking down on them. If Attenborough had swiped them all with a stick the circumstance for the insects would have been ‘unforeseen’, both literally and metaphorically.

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In this sense, he says that there may be something that human beings of the 21st century for example, who are at a particular stage in the species’ cognitive development, cannot perceive or comprehend everything like the termites. And therefore circumstances out of the cognitive understanding is always termed as ‘unforeseen’.

This theory has been propounded by a former US Congressman, Donald Rumsfeld that there are no real ‘unforeseen’ circumstances. They only appear to be ‘unforeseen’. Two of his famous theories are that of the ‘known unknowns’ and the ‘unknown unknowns’.

Known Unknowns refer to the risks you are aware of, such cancelled flights. Unknown Unknowns are risks that come from situations that are so unexpected that they would not be considered. “For example, prior to the invention of the personal computer, manufacturers of typewriters probably didn’t foresee the risks to their business,” he was quoted.

Known unknowns result from phenomena which are recognized, but poorly understood. On the other hand, unknown unknowns are phenomena which cannot be expected because there has been no prior experience or theoretical basis for expecting the phenomena.

5 steps to handle unforeseen event

No matter which profession you are in or even if you are a homemaker, unforeseen challenges are going to constitute the bulk of time. If you are an employer, you might face something like a long-committed employee suddenly deciding to quit. If you are an entrepreneur you might have a new competitor. Wherever you are in the world and whatever you are doing in life, the truth is that facing and overcoming challenges without losing your cool is a necessary trait you will have to master over and over again.

We all think that foreseeing the worst and planning may help but personalities who prefer to plan tend to have a harder time dealing with unforeseen challenges than those who go with the flow and improvise the situations. By nature, unforeseen events are unpredictable and often arise in sudden, unanticipated ways. They may disrupt previously existing plans or increase the amount of time, money or effort necessary to complete an otherwise straightforward task.

But whatever it is, there are five ways you can minimize the loss, the next time.

  1. Do a damage report

Your first job is to determine how significant the unexpected challenge truly is and assess how much loss you have incurred. How much bearing does it have on your future and what are the steps you need to take. Then understand the scope of the new circumstances which will direct your next course of action and calm down.

  1. Control your emotional response
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No matter what the results of your damage report were, you’ll need to control your emotional response. Be silent and calm. This may be exceptionally hard but will help you. To come up with an effective, logical solution to the new challenge, you’ll need to remain in a steady, neutral state. Negative self-talk will only bring you further down. It is okay to say or feel that, “I can’t believe this happened,” but don’t let it fuel you with panic. Take deep breaths and focus only on the objective qualities of the situation.

  1. Focus on long term goals

Remember all your long-term goals, and ditch the short-term thinking. This will help you effectively prioritize your needs to address the given situation and help you objectively distance yourself from the problem. Don’t worry about the short-term problems like working extra hours or lacking a voice of expertise in meetings, or having lost reputation etc. Focus on yourself and start building your life again.

  1. Clearly communicate the challenge

Once you have a clear grasp of the situation, start communicating it to the people around you. For example, let your client know that you’re going to miss the deadline and that you’re working on a solution. The more upfront, straightforward, and transparent you are, the easier it will be to take the news. The calmer, more informed and more objective you are, the better people will be at helping you find a solution.

  1. Collaborate or settle on a solution

This is the most important step, but it’s only effective if you’ve followed all the steps above. Come up with two or three different courses of action, then select the one that offers the most advantages. Stay calm, stay focused on the big picture in life or your work and keep everybody involved in the loop. Nothing can devastate you.

We don’t give ourselves enough credit that we have tremendous capacity to deal with any shocking circumstances and remain balanced. Unforeseen or not, no circumstance has any power unless we give it any. The storm shall pass, and leave you bolder and stronger. So relax. Until next week.

Aditi Raman Shridhar is an Indian journalist, therapist and health instructor.

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