Lately I’ve faced quite a few (professional and personal) disappointments, and during these periods of dejection I’ve come to realize it’s really difficult to stay positive and present when you feel disappointed. A lot of emotions challenge positive, present living (sadness, anger, frustration, etc.), but disappointment is one of the most difficult to cope with, at least for me, which is why I find it essential to write about how to handle it.
The literal definition of disappointment is “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations,” but I don’t know if that simple phrasing really captures the way it feels to be let down, to be hurt by something that has changed or that has not lived up to what was expected. It hurts. It feels really rotten to think something is going to happen — and in some cases to have every reason to believe it will happen — and then to be let down.
But it happens. Disappointment is a part of life and if we don’t learn how to cope with it properly, it can cause a lot of extra resentment and hurt, both in our relationships and within ourselves. (Because, let’s face it, we all let ourselves down sometimes.) Avoiding disappointment completely isn’t an option, but learning how to handle it as positively as possible certainly is.
I feel like I’ve become a bit of a disappointment veteran lately, and as a result, I’ve had to cultivate some skills to make the most of letdowns. Here are some of the tactics I’ve found to work best when it comes to facing disappointment in your personal or professional life.
LOOK CLOSELY AT EXPECTATIONS
Disappointment rears its ugly little head when your expectations being met. It might sound like good advice to suggest lowering or letting go of expectations, but expectation is a complex concept. On one hand, it’s important to have expectations — both as something to look forward to and as a way to receive respect and appreciation. But on the other hand, the wrong expectations (or those that are unrealistic) can lead to unnecessary disappointment. The trick, then, isn’t to let go of expectations, but to look closely at them. Earlier this month, I wrote about loving without expectation, which is a great place to start if you need to examine your expectations. Most importantly, it’s useful to look at why you’re expecting what you are and whether or not those expectations are really essential to your happiness. If you find they’re not, it’s a good idea to try to let go of them. If you determine that your expectations are reasonable and valid, proceed on to the next tip.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS
Okay, so you’ve determined that your expectations are completely necessary and vital to your happiness, but that doesn’t exactly solve anything, does it? This tip won’t necessarily solve the problem either, but it’ll certainly help: acknowledge how you feel. This might sound basic, but we’re all so busy with our lives that we often don’t stop to really think about how we feel. How does this disappointment make you feel? (I know it sounds like a cliche therapy question, but it’s a good one!) Do you feel sad? Angry? Frustrated? Do you feel powerless? Wounded? Left out? Depending on the disappointment (personal or professional, big or small), the way you feel may be different. Digging deeper to uncover how you really feel can be super helpful when it comes to coping positively with the dejection or hurt you might be experiencing. Acknowledging your feelings is the first step to healing them, but you can’t acknowledge them if you don’t know what they are! When you feel that pang of disappointment, take a deep breath, pause, and look closely at what you’re really feeling.
KEEP THE FEELINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
You are entitled to feel exactly how you feel as a result of being disappointed. There is no right or wrong way to experience the pain of being let down by someone or something. You’re allowed to feel sad or angry or heartbroken. BUT. It’s important to keep these feelings in perspective. The emotions are real, but they don’t need to consume your reality. Yes, you feel hurt, but consider the situation from a big-picture point of view. Is this disappointment something that happens all the time? (For example, did your boyfriend let you down this weekend, but there was a good reason and he’s always there for you, or is this just another example you can add to the long list of ways he’s let you down?) If the disappointment is a repeat offender, it might be time to get rid of the person or get out of the situation. If it’s a one-time deal, it might be time to forgive and move forward. Also, it’s important to ask yourself the question: Will this matter a month from now? A year? Five years? If you think about it that way, you might find that, much as the disappointment hurts, the pain won’t last forever, and just knowing that can really help.
EXPRESS TO OTHERS HOW YOU FEEL
When it comes to speaking my mind about disappointment, I’m really good at doing this professionally and really bad at doing it personally. No professional disappointment will slip by undiscussed, but I have a difficult time speaking up when it comes to personal disappointment (especially in the romantic realm). This is perhaps because the personal stuff is more difficult to discuss and is more likely to ruffle feathers than work-related confrontations. But do as I say, not as I do. Talk it out. I’m not talking about having a screaming match, venting all of your anger and frustration at the one who’s let you down (though that does sound very tempting…). I’m talking about having a calm, reasonable chat about how and why you felt let down so that the other person (or persons) knows how you feel. Your disappointment might be very obvious to you, but others may have no idea. And how are they supposed to avoid disappointing you in the future if they don’t even know they’ve let you down?
ADJUST YOUR THOUGHTS + BEHAVIORS
After you’ve assessed your emotions and discussed your disappointment, it’s time to look at how you might want to adjust your thoughts and behaviors in the future. This is one of the hardest tips because it’s not always easy to change the way you think or behave when it comes to certain people and situations. But if you want to have some control over avoiding future disappointment, it’s important to adjust your thoughts and actions where necessary. You might need to tweak your expectations. Or, if your expectations are perfectly necessary and reasonable, you might need to tweak how you think of someone else (maybe, for example, you might not want to think of your flighty friend as your go-to lunch partner if she’s always canceling lunch dates) or you might need to change your own behavior (for example, cancel your contract with a vender that never follows through). You can’t control people or situations, but you can control the people you interact with and the situations you put yourself in.
TRY TO LEARN SOMETHING FROM IT
As with all not-so-great experiences, I’ve been really trying to learn from the disappointment I’ve experienced recently. It’s sometimes difficult to see the silver lining when things aren’t going well (like when the publication date of my book got pushed back not one but three times!), but I really do believe that there is a reason for every disappointment and setback. As Thoreau so wisely put it in the image above, “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” It might take some time for the disappointing situation to make sense, and that’s okay. Just try to be open to the idea that something good will come out of the bad because, in my experience, it usually does (even if it takes awhile to show itself). At the very least, facing disappointment can make you a stronger person who is honing his or her skills at looking for the positive in even the most difficult of situations — and that really is one of the best lessons you’ll ever learn.
Less than a month until my new book, The Positively Present Guide to Life, debuts and I’m SO excited! The book is all about how to stay positive and present in various areas of life including: at home, at work, in love, in relationships, and during change. I’ve turned back to it often this year as I’ve gone through major changes and it’s been tremendously helpful. The book is filled with inspiring images that make it even easier to stay positive and present. You can learn more about the book and find out where to buy a copy here. (You can also get a sneak peek at the book, access a free download, and watch the book trailer!)