You see it on the horizon like an ominous storm and it’s not long before light and hope are hidden behind the dark clouds of disappointment. Frustration, sadness and dismay wash over you in huge drops of defeat, leaving you hopeless.
Disappointment is defined as, “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one's hopes or expectations.” Even though it is a natural part of life, this definition doesn’t capture the despair that one can feel in the pit of disappointment. When not managed well, disappointment can be devastating. It is the consequence of pushing yourself to achieve goals or accomplish something that stretches your abilities. However, not all disappointment is destructive. There are healthy types of disappointment as well as unhealthy types.
Healthy disappointment is acute or temporary. It is the result of clear and reasonable expectations you place on yourself that push you to grow and progress.
"When you feel healthy disappointment, it is uncomfortable, but at the same time it motivates you because it is evidence that you see greater potential in yourself."
Unhealthy disappointment is the result of unclear or unreasonable expectations that you place on yourself. When these expectations are more than you can handle, they may linger for long periods of time. When they are unclear, they amplify frustration, because there is no distinct path forward.
Fortunately, there are five steps (Five R’s) you can take to productively deal with disappointment. They are 1) Recognize what is causing it, 2) Redefine those things that are unhealthy, 3) Recommit to those things that are healthy, 4) Reward yourself for progress and 5) Regroup through planning and action.
The first step is to recognize what is causing the disappointment and distinguish between healthy and unhealthy items. One way to do this is to ask the question, “What set of conditions must exist for me to feel happy or successful?” As you consider the answer, make a list and prioritize the conditions you identify. Also, consider why these conditions will make you feel happy or successful.
Once you have a prioritized list of conditions, it’s important to recognize which items on the list are healthy and which are unhealthy. Ask yourself “would I require this of someone else?” If the answer is “no”, it indicates that the condition is unreasonable. If you wouldn’t require it for someone else’s happiness or success, why do you require it for your own? Next, ask “is it within my control?” Again, if the answer is “no”, it indicates an unreasonable condition. If you cannot control it, it makes no sense to hold yourself accountable to it. Anything that you wouldn’t require for someone else and/or you don’t have control over is an unhealthy condition. It is unhealthy because your ability to create that condition is severely limited.
Whenever you identify a condition that is unreasonable or unhealthy, work to Redefine it in a healthy way.
"A healthy condition is clear, is something you would reasonably require of someone else and is within your control."
You can start by revisiting why you believe that condition will make you feel happy or successful. Then focus on that reason and redefine your condition in reasonable (reasonable doesn’t mean easy) and clear terms. Let’s say you are disappointed because you didn’t achieve the six-pack abs you’ve been dreaming about. Instead of a condition of “perfection”, which is something you wouldn’t require of someone else, you may redefine it in this way. “I feel happy and successful when I exercise 3 times a week”. This is clear, meaning we can evaluate our progress, it is also reasonable and within our control.
Once you have identified and/or redefined healthy conditions, it’s important to mentally recommit to them. This is most effective when you write your commitment down.
"An important point is that you’re not only committing to the action, you are also committing to the response. "
In our previous example, you are not only committing to “exercise 3 times a week” you are also committing to “feel happy and successful” when we’ve done that. This is important, because without that commitment, you may default to unhealthy disappointment. The commitment to the response is what will help you avoid and quickly manage disappointment in the future.
Your commitment to feel happy and successful based on healthy conditions is the first step to rewarding yourself. All to often people feel disappointed about something they should reward themselves for. So you didn’t get those six-pack abs, but you started exercising for the first time in three years, consistently did it 3 times a week and lost 10 pounds. These are all things that should be rewarded as progress, not punished because of an unhealthy condition you set for yourself. Disappointment is productive when it drives progress, so its vitally important to reward healthy progress, no matter how small. This is why redefining your conditions is so important, because by redefining your conditions, you give yourself permission to be rewarded.
The last step is to regroup through planning and action to immediately start making progress. Regrouping is what ensures that your recommitment doesn’t get lost and you find yourself disappointed in 3 months. This is where you get intentional about your commitments. Simply plan for how you will create the healthy conditions for happiness and success and immediately get to work creating them.
In the end, the storm of disappointment can either pelt you or it can water seeds that will grow. Don’t allow yourself to be chronically disappointed by unreasonable and unhealthy conditions. You need to Recognize what they are, Redefine them, mentally Recommit, Reward yourself for progress and Regroup through planning and immediate action. When you do these things, you will find power in your disappointment and regain the control to make progress.
The decision chart attached is a useful tool to walk through this process
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