Your vacation plans fell through at the last minute. You didn’t get the promotion at work. Your best friend betrayed you. Disappointment comes in many shapes and sizes but regardless of how it manifests in your life, one fact holds true: it will show up. So, how do you deal with it? How do you limit disappointment to a moment in time instead of letting it overwhelm your life? Here are some steps to overcoming disappointment that have seen me through, time and time again. I learned most of these lessons by handling disappointment in what can be described as less than useful ways.
From my experience, the first step in dealing with disappointment is to fully acknowledge what you feel. Confide in a trusted friend about how you’re feeling, cry, do whatever it takes to get it out of your system. Have you ever heard the saying, “Pain buried alive never dies”? That’s so true when it comes to disappointment. If you push down your feelings and tell yourself you’re fine, those painful emotions will fester and intensify. Eventually, the emotion you buried will manifest in your life, usually at very inopportune moments. I have found that when I overreact to a situation, I can always trace that reaction back to some painful experience I pushed down and ignored. While it’s good that I finally got the emotion out of my system, it’s not so great for the poor person who ends up paying for what someone else did to me a decade ago. So do yourself (and innocent bystanders) a favor by acknowledging how you feel and dealing with your emotions right away.
Another necessary, albeit unpleasant, step of dealing with disappointment is to tell yourself the truth about what happened and to accept that truth. Sometimes I try to scrutinize the disappointing event from every possible angle in the hope that I can analyze it into oblivion. Unfortunately this approach has never successfully erased a painful past event. Instead this tactic drags me along the emotional roller coaster of needlessly reliving every hurtful detail. Imagine, for a second, that our lives are movies. When you rewind a movie and then play it over and over again, does the movie change? No, it doesn’t. The same events unfold in the same manner because they are part of the movie’s script. And, like it or not, the past events in your life won’t change, regardless of how many times you replay them in your mind. These events are part of your life’s script. So don’t tell yourself a fictionalized account of the disappointing event. Take it from someone who spent years crafting elaborate, imaginary accounts of how things could have been, this mental time warp is not worth your precious energy. Accept every part of the event for what it was. To move past the disappointment, you need to face the truth of what happened.
Now that you have told yourself the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you can learn from your disappointment. You summoned the courage to face the facts, so you are standing in the ideal place to see clearly and grow wiser. This is the moment where you want to analyze the event. Not to nitpick and dwell on every detail, but to look at the situation and figure out what lead up to the disappointment, who contributed and how you can adjust your actions in the future. One of the beautiful things about gleaning wisdom from disappointment is that this helps lessen the sting. When you realize how much you have grown and how much wiser you are because of the storm you just weathered, it almost makes the disappointment worth it.
The next step is to move on. For me, this is one of the most challenging steps. I have to remind myself that disappointment is meant to be a moment in time, not a daily burden that I pointlessly carry around with me. How can we enjoy each day and explore all of the uncharted pathways in our lives if we choose to pitch a tent and camp in a moment? Pitching a tent and journeying onwards are mutually exclusive (I know this because I have metaphorically tried to do both at the same time). There’s so much of this world to see, why would we want to stay stagnant, stuck in a moment? You already know what disappointment feels like. Why not move on and experience some more positive emotions?
Through trial and error (mostly error 🙂 ), I have learned that part of moving on is refusing to make present decisions based on past disappointments. Trying to “remedy” the past will never work. This will only cause you to make poor choices because you’re basing present decisions on past information that, while still painful, is no longer valid. You can, however, use what you learned from past disappointments to make better decisions. Just don’t try to right the wrongs of your past by overcompensating. It’s kind of like adding twice as much cayenne pepper to a soup recipe because you forgot to add it last time. By making your present soup twice as spicy, you won’t be able to make your last soup any less bland. Overcompensating will just set your mouth on fire. Instead of trying to remedy the past, just hit the reset button. Take the lessons you learned with you, but leave the disappointment behind.
Here’s the final (and my favorite) step: look ahead to the future with excitement! Just because one event (or even many events) went poorly, that has no bearing on how future events will unfold. Don’t allow the negative emotions involved with disappointment to become a permanent part of your demeanor or outlook. There are wonderful experiences and challenges waiting for you just around the corner. So keep walking! Every day arrives with untold possibilities; we just need the eyes to see them. Optimistic, hopeful eyes certainly spy out opportunities that pessimistic eyes can’t even begin to detect. Your future is so bright that it will outshine any past pain. I promise you, the work of overcoming and moving past disappointment is so worth it!
Here’s the Cliff Notes version of how to move past disappointment:
Fully acknowledge what you feel. Tell yourself the truth about the situation (own your part in it). Draw every last ounce of growth you can from the disappointment. Let it go. Look ahead with enthusiasm and move forward. You are worth it!