Dealing with Disappointment? Here’s How to Stay Positive

Sorry to bum you out, but there’s no magic trick, meditation app or fancy new diet that will eliminate disappointment. And although most of us accept it as one of those universal facts of life, not everyone deals with it the same way. Some folks can work through disappointment and move on quickly, while others struggle to get past it, which, if left to fester, can lead to self-doubt, complacency and even depression.

But disappointment doesn’t have to be a total negative experience. By dealing with it effectively and turning it into a teaching moment, you can learn how to set more reasonable expectations and build up your resiliency so you’re able to handle future fails more easily. Plus, a disappointing setback might motivate you to try harder or maybe work smarter.

To help you deal with disappointment and bounce back when bad news hits, here are some expert-recommended coping techniques as well as ways you can stay positive through it all.

1. Feel all the feels

To deal with uncomfortable emotions such as disappointment, psychologist and counselor Dr. Victoria Shaw teaches her clients “to simply allow and acknowledge the feeling. Oftentimes, acknowledging what we are feeling, without judging either ourselves or the emotion, helps that emotion to shift…Judgment is a form of resistance and what we resist tends to persist. The more we can accept both the emotion and the circumstances that brought it on, the more likely we are to find some peace.”

Sometimes, though, we’re too quick to shut down these emotions. “Many of us have been raised to fear and avoid our feelings,” Dr. Shaw explains. “As children we may have been told that we did not have the reason to feel hurt or disappointed when things didn’t go our way, or if we did, we should quickly ‘get over it.’ But pushing our feelings away or trying to rush the process of healing usually backfires. The more we suppress our feelings, the stronger they get, and the more likely they are to return with a vengeance the next time they are triggered.”

She also explains that emotions have their own internal logic, so what you think about a certain situation and what you feel about it may be two totally difficult things. “What might seem like ‘no big deal’ to your brain may feel overwhelming to your emotional self,” she says. So even if it really is a small setback in the big picture, take the time to recognize those feelings of disappointment so that you can move on successfully.

2. Don’t take it personally

When things don’t go as expected, we have a tendency to blame ourselves. And while it’s normal to replay negative thoughts in your mind, telling yourself that you aren’t smart enough or deserving of success, Dr. Jeff Nalin, founder and executive director of the Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center, says “it's important for us to transform these toxic thought patterns into positive ones. Instead, we should tell ourselves things like, ‘I am deserving, and with some perseverance I will find the solution,’ or ‘My efforts will lead to success.’ Shifting our mind-set will help us build resilience and drive us toward positive action.”

These positive affirmations can help you get over the bump in the road by rerouting your mind to focus on your strengths. Licensed psychologist Dr. Erica Rojas, of Broadway Psychological Associates ,suggests writing down the affirmations on sticky notes and posting them in areas where you’ll see them first thing in the morning, like the bathroom mirror. Or try reciting these affirmations out loud to yourself daily or when you feel the need for a quick pick-me-up.

3. Figure out the lesson

While you might not see disappointment as a good thing, you can get some good out of it. Dr. Shaw encourages folks to look at the experience from a fresh perspective and treat it as a possible life lesson. “For example, you may discover that that dream job was not so dreamy after all or gain important insight into why you were passed over. You might discover that the friend who betrayed you had her own valid reasons for making the choices she did, or that your love interest simply had different expectations for the relationship than you did.”

By doing this, not only will you be better prepared in terms of setting goals, but you’ll also strengthen your ability to bounce back more easily from future disappointments. Dr. Nalin explains that “without failure we can't improve ourselves nor develop the resiliency required for future success. When disappointment comes knocking at our door, we can reframe our negative experience into a positive one and focus on what we have learned and what we can do differently in the future and appreciate the strength we gained from going through this challenge.”

4. Manage expectations

Is it possible that you were disappointed because you had unrealistically high expectations? Acknowledging this can help you reassess and figure out what is actually doable. “Setting expectations helps guide and motivate us to achieve our goals,” Dr. Nalin explains, “but we must also understand that some expectations may not necessarily reflect reality, which is why each one should be flexible and realistic in nature.”

But that doesn’t mean you should set your expectations too low either. “I have so many clients who say, ‘I don’t want to get too excited,’” explains Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York. “I always tell them that they cannot control their feelings. They can let themselves get excited about something, but they must always remind themselves that they can handle it if something hard happens. They need to be able to remind themselves of times when they handled disappointment and that they lived through it.”

So remain mindful of your expectations and remember to keep adding a little flexibility. “Life doesn’t always go as planned. When the roadblocks come along—because they most certainly will—we must be ready to meet them head-on with a flexible and resilient roadmap,” Dr. Nalin says. “Our goals will be a lot easier to achieve if we incorporate an adaptable plan.”

5. Take a break

Disappointment can sometimes translate into feelings of anxiety, anger or sadness or all of the above. To cope with these emotions, you may need to step away for a moment to regroup. “Removing ourselves from the situation, even temporarily, can do wonders for our mind-set,” Dr. Nalin says. “Sometimes, all we need to do is take a brisk walk or practice mindful meditation. Taking some healthy time to recharge our batteries can help calm our brain, lower our anxiety and empower us to tackle the situation with renewed energy and vigor.” Even simply taking a few deep breaths can help relax your mind.

6. Count your blessings

Of course, it always seems easier to focus on the things that are going wrong, instead of all the stuff that went right. So if you’ve been hit with some disappointing news, try to think about the parts of your life that you’re grateful for, those that make you happy (even if it’s just that morning cup of coffee), or something you did recently that you absolutely nailed. You can keep a running gratitude list to help you redirect your thoughts when things don’t go the way you had hoped they would. Or, if that sounds too complicated, something like a Panda Planner can get you started on the whole gratitude thing.

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