Have you ever paused to reflect upon the sliding door moments in your life?
Life is made up of a sequence of moments and there are small moments that you don’t notice.
Sliding door moments are the seemingly insignificant everyday moments that make or break your most meaningful relationships.
These are the times when you make seemingly insignificant decisions or actions. Over the span of days, weeks, months, and years, these decisions or acts may have life-changing consequences.
But what does “sliding doors” have to do with these seemingly inconsequential moments that can alter the trajectory of your life?
Seemingly insignificant incidents that change the course of future events are known as “sliding door moments.”
The metaphor for the sliding door comes from the film of the same name. This British-American comedy drama from 1998 depicted the two possible life paths of Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow), the lead character. The course of her life will depend on whether she boards a train or not.
In the first version of the story, Helen managed to catch a London Underground train on time. The outcome of being home earlier than usual was the unpleasant surprise of witnessing her boyfriend cheating on her.
So, she left him, got a new hairstyle, established her own PR firm and fell in love with John Hannah.
The second version of the story found Helen missing the train. By the time she got home, her boyfriend’s lover had already left. She did not have any clues about his infidelity.
In this alternative timeline, she could not land a new PR job. And she needed to support her penniless cheating partner. As a result, she opted for a job at a sandwich shop.
As the doors slide open and closed, she comes to the crossroads of catching or missing her train home. Hence, the term “sliding doors” was created to express the notion that life consists of close calls and what-if scenarios.
The sliding door of the train served as a metaphor for lost opportunities and new possibilities. This movie conveys to us the idea that those seemingly inconsequential incidents resulted in Helen leading two completely different lives.
So, what made this 23-year-old film such a cult classic of pop psychology?
Perhaps the movie has helped us to realize that nothing is insignificant. Tiny moments or decisions may have a huge impact on our lives. The sliding door moment represents the threads of our daily existence.
In a UK poll on life-changing unexpected events and split-second moments, eight out of ten people said they had experienced a “sliding door moment” that transformed their lives forever.
16% expressed sadness about losing the phone number of someone they genuinely believed could have been their soul mate.
Another 5% said that coming late on a date compromised their chance of meeting their potential future life partner.
8% of individuals polled claim to have forgotten to buy a lottery ticket, only to have their customary numbers come up.
The survey also revealed that people’s perceptions of having missed a fantastic chance were significantly influenced by their punctuality.
One in every 20 people reported that they were unable to secure their desired job. Because they were late for the interview due to traffic or delays caused by public transportation.
The proverbial “road not taken” is a question that we have probably asked ourselves about a million times in our lives.
Writer and director Peter Howitt’s inspiration for the movie came about after experiencing his very own sliding door moment.
Peter was debating whether to use a pay phone to call his friend when the incident occurred. He came inches from getting struck by a car when he decided to cross the street to a pay phone.
Even though nobody was hurt, Howitt was worried by the episode and its potential ramifications for him. “We have millions of sliding door moments in our everyday,” he says. Naturally, some are more significant than others.
An insignificant decision like getting to a pay phone, has a profound impact on his life and future. Because it causes him to rethink his choices:
“Now, what would have happened if he had hit me?”
Think of the tiny decisions and chance encounters in your daily life. You would be astonished at how many people you consider insignificant have unknowingly propelled you into a different orbit.
Going to a party instead of watching a game at home. Taking a flight instead of going on a road trip. Leaving work early in order to avoid an accident during your regular commute.
Turning left when you should have turned right. Even the late George Michael had an extraordinary sliding door experience that he immortalized in his song, “A Different Corner.”
The singer-songwriter confessed that this song was the “most honest” and personal:
“I think you can tell that ‘A Different Corner’ is genuinely the sound of a man whose heart’s been broken.”
A note on the back sleeve of the album states: “This record is dedicated to a memory.” And from the lyrics, you can tell that he had a painful sliding door moment:
“Take me back in time, maybe I can forget. Turn a different corner and we never would have met.”
Everything you think you know about your life could be transformed in an instant. Depending on your decision in the sliding door moment, that outcome can either be positive or negative.
I have had the experience of declining an invitation to a casual meeting that I realized (much later) was a missed business opportunity.
On the flip side, I have also blindly accepted requests to attend social functions. And that ended up with a few newly made acquaintances, which later turned into a great business relationship.
A sliding door moment also exists in every relationship.
So, these sliding door moments occur all the time, and most of the time we are oblivious to them.
The majority of the time, sliding door moments occur without our knowledge. But the ones that do, can lead to regret and shame.
Particularly if you spend too much time pondering “what might have been if things had gone differently.”
Many regrets are small and insignificant – so much so that they are soon forgotten. But some regrets last a lifetime. These are the key moments in your life when you wish you could go back in time and change things. In psychology, this is known as “counterfactual thinking.”
Many people find imagining an alternative outcome to what has actually happened in their lives very enticing. Even if it makes them sad to think about it.
When you start to speculate about how your life could have turned out differently, you’re engaging in counterfactual thinking. These are your mental representations of alternatives to past events or actions in your life.
If you had not split up with your college sweetheart, would you be happily married with children today? And, in retrospect, you ended the relationship over what now appears to be a petty squabble?
Your counterfactual thinking will be more acute the more serious the event in question is.
Where would you be today and what kind of life would you be leading if you had accepted that job offer instead of staying in your current position?
What if I had stayed at home to study for my finals instead of partying with my pals late into the night?
From time to time, we engage in counterfactual thinking. It’s impossible to avoid because it appears to be a part of our psychological makeup. Somehow, we are just hardwired to do it.
You tend to imagine how things could have been better when your counterfactual thinking is directed upward. This is where you develop mental simulations of better-than-real-life scenarios.
However, you may feel unhappy or disappointed as a result of these thoughts. Because you will be thinking about how things could have gone better.
A downward counterfactual thought happens when you are contemplating your sliding door moment and you experience positive emotions. This mode of thinking may benefit you simply because it enhances your attitude in a positive way.
If you are a person with a high self-esteem, you would most likely construct more downward counterfactuals thinking. And you will be comforting yourself with the knowledge that things “might have been far worse.”
You can regard this way of thinking as a self-improvement approach in response to negative situations or moods. It’s a method of healing a bad mood brought on by a bad event.
One of the benefits of counterfactual thinking is that it can help you regulate your emotions and help you become more resilient. A number of psychologists believe pondering the “what-ifs” improves your ability to make more prudent decisions in the future.
Every day, you will make approximately 35,000 decisions as you go about your life. I’m guessing this is only a ballpark figure, but I got it from what I consider to be a reliable source.
You are where you are today as a result of a slew of decisions you made yesterday. Self-help guru and best-selling author Wayne Dyer once said:
“Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made.”
The sliding door moments in your life are the result of a myriad of choices you’ve made. Most of them are tiny insignificant ones.
Even a seemingly insignificant decision like watching TV means that it had taken away your time from doing something else. Every action you take is a decision not to take another.
Whatever you do, no matter how insignificant you believe it is, will have an impact. Once you understand the ramifications of a sliding door moment, you will have a new realization That a seemingly insignificant act can have a significant impact on others’ lives as well as your own.
This is similar to the butterfly effect, a term coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who commented that:
“One flap of a seagull’s wings could change the course of weather forever.”
Everything in life, according to Lorenz, is a component of a bigger system. Hence, even trivial events can have significant impacts on other things. He later switched the metaphor to a butterfly, leading to the term “butterfly effect” being used to describe the phenomena.
When the American colonies were at odds with the English Parliament in 1758, Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanack:
“A little neglect may breed great mischief.”
He also included an adage from the 13th century that serves as a serious reminder that seemingly insignificant acts or omissions can have disastrous and unanticipated consequences:
One missing horseshoe nail could be insignificant, or it could result in the defeat of a war. It’s impossible to know which outcome will occur.
Because those sliding door moments can have such far-reaching consequences, it’s important to be aware of your daily choices. Decisions help shift your current reality.
So, if you are not happy with where you are right now, make the decisions that will change your life trajectory for the better. But before you do that, it’s important to know where you are right now and where you intend to go.
That way, you will be sure that those sliding doors are doorways to your happiness. Like the old adage:
“One door closes, another door opens,”
The sliding door phenomenon forgoes one outcome in favor of another. All because of a seemingly inconsequential decision.
Like this article? Then you might want to read this: