Ever Wonder: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Me?

by Alli Polin on August 16, 2016

bad things happen

If you’re superstitious, and even if you’re not, you’ve probably heard an axiom or two about bad things and the way they unfold. In fact, you may have collected years worth of evidence proving they’re true. However, if you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why do bad things happen to me?” the answer likely much simpler than you think and has little to do with “threes” or being caught up in a roll of bad luck.

This week my daughter hurt her hand at school and came home with swelled fingers that quickly turned black and blue. Of course, it makes sense that she’d bang her leg walking past a chair and no surprise that she smashed her hip sitting down for dinner. She lamented her terrible luck and asked, “Why? Why me?” Sigh.

Yeah. Getting banged around sucks, but she was ready for the next bad thing to come because she was cursed by an evil sorceress. Oh, hold-up. No, she wasn’t.

Here’s what’s really at play when bad stuff keeps happening – you’re looking for it and are hyper-attuned to it.

Wait! What? That’s it? No way.

You may be thinking that you don’t want this bad stuff to happen, and you’re not making it up. I believe you, that it’s one crappy thing after another, but that you’ve got blinders on to the good things that are also present. Those blinders cause you to dismiss positive experiences because they don’t align with the bad.

I’ve written before about the art of holding both and in this case, that’s allowing for bad things to happen in your life without it becoming mostly bad or your default expectation. Yin and yang are always at play, and where there is darkness, there is also light – you just have to look for it.

Here’s a quick exercise to illustrate seeing what you look for:

What kind of car do you drive? OR What kind of car do you plan to buy in the near future?
When you bought it, (or now, right before your purchase) did you suddenly see many more drivers on the road with the same make and model?

There’s some good news; you’re not cursed or ill-fated, and you’re definitely not doomed. You’re just looking in the wrong place.

Bad Things Happen. Stop Working So Hard to Prove Yourself Right

You look for things to prove yourself right. We all do it.

When my daughter getting banged and bruised, for example, she surmised, “I’m clumsy.” (she’s not) She also decided that bad things happen to her far more than the average person which is also not true.

When bad things are coming your way (didn’t get the job offer, lost wallet, dropped your lunch before you could eat it…) what do you tell yourself? Bet it sounds something like: “It figures.” Not a powerful or positive message to send yourself. That one thought encourages you to gloss over the good even when it’s in your face.

Stop convincing yourself that you are in a crap vortex and it’s pulling bad things your way. While you’re at it, stop working so hard to prove yourself right that you deserve the bad or that you brought it on – you don’t and you didn’t. Mounting evidence doesn’t make it true.

disappointing things

Want your bad day, week or month to go poof?

Be intentional and look for facts that back up your opposing perspective. Bad stuff going on? Look for facts that prove the good.

Not every day is going to be your best, but chances are, even in the worst, there’s a glimmer of good waiting for you.

BREAK THE FRAME ACTION:

It’s up to you to shift your mindset from looking for the next bad thing to looking for the good. As we discovered with the car exercise above, you find more of something when you look for it.

Good/Bad Yin/Yang Exercise:

  • Take a piece of paper and fold it in half and on one side label “good” and the other “bad”
  • Number each column 1 – 10
  • Reflect on your week and let your mind key in on some of your most memorable moments
  • Take 30 seconds and fill out the “bad” side
  • Take 30 seconds to fill out the “good” side
  • If you’re in a  “why do bad things happen to me” place in your life, chances are the “bad” side flowed easily. However, once you forced your brain to see the good, they started to flow too.
  • If you’re in a “my life is awesome” place in your life, the flip is likely true for you.

If this silly LEGO video set to one of my favorite Weird Al songs of all time doesn’t put things into perspective, I don’t know what will.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ August 16, 2016 at 6:41 am

Hi Alli,
You have touched on one of the most common human temptations — the “me” syndrome. It is so easy to fall into this. And the title of your blog is the answer to this challenge: Break the Frame! Else you stay in the “me” syndrome.

Here’s a mindset that breaks the frame for me: Instead of “why me”, ask “What’s next for me?” It pulls you out of helpless mode and into action!!

Great blog post!
Kate

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Alli Polin August 16, 2016 at 7:38 am

Thanks, Kate! Yes, even when something isn’t about “me” at all, people who are suffering from “me” syndrome find a way to twist it.

Totally with you on learning to break the frame 🙂 Focusing on me, me, me and bad, bad, bad is no way to live a fulfilling life or inspire others to follow your lead.

Great question too. Reframing our self-talk is powerful.

Many thanks for forwarding the conversation!

Alli

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Jon Mertz August 16, 2016 at 8:02 am

Alli,

Wonderful insights! We build blinders that only see what we want to or feel what reality is like for us. We need to remove them and see the bigger picture of our life – filled with opportunity, risk, and success!

Jon

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Alli Polin August 16, 2016 at 9:40 am

Blinders – yes! Until we figure out ways to take them off, we live life with tunnel vision and it’s not always pretty.

Here’s to opportunity, risk and success!

Thanks, Jon!

Alli

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Terri Klass August 16, 2016 at 8:54 am

Your post is so on point, Alli when we feel things are out of our control.
I love both your gathering of the facts as well as your exercise suggestion and will definitely try. We can empower our minds by reflecting on the facts and seeing that often only a tiny piece of our lives is out of whack.

When I work with team leaders and they share a litany of imperfections about their teams, I try to help them see some of the positives and strengths too. Then they can move things around and try a different more successful approach.

Once again, thanks for getting us thinking today Alli! I will definitely share! Excellent post!

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Alli Polin August 16, 2016 at 9:42 am

Every time I get insight into your leadership workshops, I’m inspired. I’ve coached more than a few leaders who are filled with complaints about their team and direct reports. Helping them to put that aside, even for a moment, to identify and reflect on the good and on strengths is powerful.

Thanks, Terri! Always appreciate your insights!

Alli

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LaRae Quy August 16, 2016 at 4:27 pm

Love this, Alli!

This is so true: “Be intentional and look for facts that back up your opposing perspective. Bad stuff going on? Look for facts that prove the good.” We see what we’re looking for…that’s the bottom line. And if you are convinced that crap is coming your way, guess what? It is! Even if good stuff is mixed in there, you won’t see it because you will be so focused on the junk…

Will share this one!!!

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Alli Polin August 17, 2016 at 3:16 am

So true, LaRae. Amazing how much good stuff gets missed when our mindset says “life stinks.”

Grateful!

Alli

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Ingrid August 16, 2016 at 8:19 pm

Great post Alli! I loved the accompanying song and video. I’d send it on to my mother, who’s mindset is persistently stuck in the negative, but she wouldn’t understand why I sent it! The song could have been about her.

We danced in the TasOpen Championships on the weekend in Launceston. Great competition, and we danced well all day, but for one dance (out of 25). We failed to make it out of the first round of the open ballroom because I had a major brain fade in the quickstep and forgot the choreography. (I had been injured leading up to the event and was amazed I could dance at all.) I’ve never seen my partner react so negatively to anything, and had to walk away from him while he calmed down. I looked “for the facts that proved the good”, and told him that one dance doesn’t make a bad round. BTW we made the final of the B Grade New Vogue and finished 4th, a good result for a couple of newbies.

Best wishes from the far south. Ingrid

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Alli Polin August 17, 2016 at 3:28 am

Appreciate your story, Ingrid. First of all, I’m very happy to hear that you were able to compete and congratulations 4th place finish! Luckily, you were smart enough to walk away from your partner while he calmed down instead of letting things escalate. Your approach clearly worked because you were able to move forward and make a strong showing instead of letting the mess-up rule the day. I’m still hoping that I’ll get a chance to see you dance in person someday!

I love that song. Sometimes I find myself humming it and not only do I like the tune (which gives me a positive jolt) but also it helps me to get a grip. Too bad that some people are more likely to relate instead of seeing the crazy humour in it 😉

~ Alli

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Chery Gegelman August 17, 2016 at 8:38 am

Alli – Your post showed up in my feed yesterday and the first thing I saw was the part about bad things coming in three. Immediately I remembered the first time I’d heard that. And how true it appeared to be in that environment.

Today I read the entire post, and nodded thinking of bad days and people that chronically think bad things happen to them at higher level than anyone else, and have thought that their entire lives. (Now I want to play the video for them!)

Seriously – I appreciate the reminder that there are times we all need to shift our focus. This week as I’ve watched dear friends in Baton Rouge deal with the flood they have modeled that. Some admitted grief and fear about what they will ultimately deal with. Some admitted struggling not being able to get home to be with their family because they had been traveling for work. But all expressed gratitude for the safety of loved ones, for people that had come to rescue them, for places to stay, for emotional support, and for the way complete stranger were rising up to meet each other’s needs.

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Alli Polin August 17, 2016 at 9:27 pm

It’s so easy to forget that while I may be having the “worst day ever” because I dropped my sandwich on the floor that there are people who have lost their homes, are afraid for their lives, have lost family…. on and on. Looking for the good and opening your heart with gratitude is a powerful remedy for a self-centered sad existence.

When my aunt was very sick and could do little for herself, she never said “why me?!” she took the most from every moment and every interaction and was grateful. From the outside, it was hard to believe that someone who looked like she was suffering could have gratitude – but she did and not only did it change her life but the lives of those around her.

Many thanks for sharing a small window into the lives of your friends in Baton Rouge.

~ Alli

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Gary Gruber August 19, 2016 at 7:46 am

Good stuff, Alli. I often reconciled a bad day, even a bad moment, like a bad cold – temporary and depending on severity and symptoms, a little discomfort.
I had a friend who, when something bad happened, put it into perspective and often said, it may be a dilemma but it’s not a tragedy. Some people seem to over react to the event(s) and get stuck on being in that “negative” mind set as you point out so well.
Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the perspective, the outlook, the attitude. Other times it requires some other kind of change if you can recognize a pattern of repeated behaviors that are counter-productive.
Thanks for a thoughtful and provoking blog.

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Alli Polin August 22, 2016 at 8:07 pm

“It may be a dilemma but it’s not a tragedy.” Love it.

I also appreciate that you can’t simply change your perspective until you’re aware of the pattern. That’s why trusted advisors who are willing to tell us the uncomfortable truth are essential – even when we don’t want to hear it. Change starts with awareness – even before action.

Hope more people looked at bad days as passing – because they are. Thanks for sharing your perspective and insight, Gary!

~ Alli

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Sage September 12, 2016 at 8:04 am

I couldn’t agree more ~ but it sure helps to see it in writing!

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Alli Polin September 12, 2016 at 8:08 am

Thanks, Sage!

~ Alli

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Ray February 12, 2017 at 8:01 pm

Just recently crashed my car last thing i neded but i thank u for this i needed this thankkk u

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Alli Polin February 12, 2017 at 8:46 pm

Thanks for your comment, Ray. I’m so sorry that you crashed your car! Glad you found this helpful 🙂

Alli

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