Fear and worry, overwhelmed and stuck, exhaustion and confusion: these are the big common terms that self-help leaders discuss at length. However, one of the most insidious killers of successful living is that quiet, subtle, dangerous beast: disappointment.
The majority of us experience disappointment with regularity, and some of us experience it almost every day in relationships, careers, and experiences that are not fulfilling. Cancelled plans, constant excuses, small results on a big project, no payoff for plenty of effort, lack of communication, lack of whatever you need most: all are experiences that can create those pangs of disappointment. The sad reality is that most of us don’t take any time to manage this, let alone capitalize on it.
When it arises, disappointment creates a lot of havoc in our daily lives, but it’s usually a quiet type of upheaval. The results are more akin to termites eating away at the foundational structure of your home than a tornado flattening your whole house. It happens within, and the damage can be long-term and costly.
When our hopes and, more often, our expectations are not satisfied, the feeling of disappointment can overcome us so completely that we stop fully living in the present. Instead, we fixate on what didn’t go right, what should have been, reliving that moment over and over. Sometimes we disappoint ourselves with our choices and actions, and sometimes we allow other people to disappoint our expectations of what we wanted of them.
Either way, allowing anger, bitterness, sorrow, or shock to consume or even stop us in our tracks is not something that needs to happen. We don’t need to let disappointment keep us from feeling successful in our daily lives and relationships. We have the power to make this happen less and less and start to embrace our real circumstances more honestly and joyfully.
“Stuff happens” is a term I hear a lot (and it’s more colorful, expletive-laced version!). But it tends to dismiss disappointment as a luxury, or even a “spoiled” reaction to unfortunate things that happen to us. It denies the actuality that when we want more, reach for more, or attempt to create better in our lives, it doesn’t always happen for us immediately. Charles Stanley said, “Disappointment is inevitable. But to become discouraged, there’s a choice I make.” Discouragement may be the worst effect of disappointment. It reduces our confidence, fills us with sorrow, and stops us from moving forward and trying again as soon and significantly as we might.
We need powerful tactics to manage disappointment. Keeping it simple is the key. First, acknowledge the disappointment for what it is when it happens. Everyone registers this with different variations: feeling let down, bummed out, dissatisfied, annoyed and sad are all aspects of this beast of disappointment. When you feel any of these, remind yourself that although your hopes or expectations were not met, you are still whole and undamaged at your core, what I call “Well at core.” This is the key to keeping perspective when dealing with the shock of whatever has disappointed you.
Next, choose one of two empowering options, based on the intensity of your disappointment. For the smaller, less devastating disappointments, take immediate action. Do something powerful and proactive to move forward. Do not fall into the “pity wallowing trap” under any circumstances! When little things that are out of our control happen to disappoint us, it’s far too easy to feel bad for ourselves and really let that self-pity slow us down and stop us in a state of complaining or even bitter seething. I witness this all the time. Instead, do something immediately after. Once you’ve acknowledged that you’re disappointed but still “Well at core,” immediately refocus your attention to something forward-moving and positive. By making your period of dealing with the disappointment productive, you won’t feel like you got waylaid by circumstances outside of your control.
For the larger, heavier disappointments, I like to engage the 24 hour rule. In case you don’t know it, this is a common practice of many high achievers, and the principle is simple: for any win or loss, give yourself 24 hours to either celebrate your win or mourn your loss, and then proceed with your plan and general routines. Big disappointments often need to be mourned as losses in this way. Sometimes it is simply not enough to refocus and take action, but rather go inward and care more deeply for yourself. Take the day off, have a satisfying meal, go do something that always brings you pleasure or joy, and boost yourself with that little extra while you process the sting of the disappointment. Throughout, remind yourself that you are always and still “Well at core.”
Finally, once you have managed the immediate effects of the disappointment, capitalize on it by exploring its source. Ask yourself: What is this disappointment bringing to light? What can I do to prevent it from happening again? What have I learned or gained from it? What will I do more of in future? Start taking action on your answers.
You always have the option to either change your circumstances or change your beliefs. If you don’t have the means to change your circumstances just yet, you can always change your beliefs about them so that disappointment does not appear again and again. Yes, it can and mostly likely will be challenging, but that is why disappointment comes into our lives. Disappointment can be not just a sneaky beast, but a beaming light that reminds us to create the best circumstances that sustain us, and adopt beliefs that serve us to be more joyful and more whole.