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Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: How to Handle Disappointment

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

"We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment." -- Jim Rohn (1930-2009, entrepreneur, author, and speaker)

Have you ever suffered a disappointment or a setback? Of course you have! We all have. Disappointments are a part of life. Unfortunately, disappointments are not easy for anyone to bear. We experience anger, grief, and sometimes hurt. Our emotions are strong, and we have difficulty containing them or subduing them. Yet, disappointments are inevitable. What we need is a way to understand them and handle them. Here I discuss unproductive and productive ways of handling disappointment, and in the process, I hope that I shed some light on what disappointment really is and how we create disappointment.

Here is a list of unproductive ways to handle disappointment:

Rant and Rave: It is natural to feel hurt and consequently anger when things do not go our way or turn out as we expected. Hurt and anger are negative emotions, however, and take a physical and emotional toll on the person who experiences these emotions as well as on the people who surround the venting person. Expressing hurt and anger will likely lead to broken relationships and burned bridges. The other people in our life may be negatively affected by our negative expression. We do not want to cause others pain intentionally.

Strike back or seek revenge: It is natural to want to hurt someone who has hurt us or to want that person to experience the same emotional pain that we feel. Again, this type of response is negative and will result in more destruction than solution.

Be mean, spiteful, or petty: When someone or something causes us disappointment, we are tempted to respond with mean behavior. We could easily return the favor with spiteful comments or petty vindictiveness. This type of response is likely to escalate the negative direction of a particular situation, which is not going to help us feel any better in the long run. In the process, we are showing others that we lack the strength of character to weather life's storms. Others will not trust that we will behave well in times of trial, and this may affect our ability to achieve future employment or secure desired personal relationships.

Complain or blame: Our first responses to disappointment are generally to complain or to blame (pass the buck). Lodging a complaint might be a viable option if the complaint were valid and made to someone who had the power to address the complaint. Blaming encourages us to abdicate any responsibility we might have in the cause of the disappointment. In other words, it is someone else's fault. This type of thinking actually takes away any feeling of power that we might have. We place the blame on someone else, and that then leaves us with no power to do anything different. We render ourselves helpless and incapable because we have given away our control over the situation or outcome to someone else.

Wallow and grieve: It is natural to mourn our disappointment, but if we spend too much time in this emotional swamp, we will weaken our ability to pull ourselves out. Mourning is a natural action; languishing is not. Languishing places us in a quagmire; we will not move forward with ease.

Focus on the negative: When we focus on the negative side of a situation, we are hindering our efforts to improve things, because we are placing our focus on the disappointment rather than on any possible solution.

How should we handle disappointment? Here are my suggestions to get back up on your feet and to handle disappointment productively:

Embrace and experience. Embrace the feeling and experience the emotion. Do not try to block, ignore, diminish, or numb the feeling. The disappointment is real, and you have to deal with it. Learn how to experience what you are feeling so that you can learn how to endure discomfort. Too many times people get lost in useless denial exercises or fall prey to addictive behaviors that are designed to minimize the emotional pain. It is better to explore your feelings about the situation rather than to stuff them away or cover them over with a blanket.

Get some distance. Step back emotionally. Give yourself some time to process what has happened. This distance and time will yield an opportunity to gain a different perspective about the setback or disappointment.
"If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment." -- Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862, writer and poet)
Choose your response. One of my favorite Stephen Covey quotes from his book The 8th Habit is: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness." If you follow the previous step of getting some distance, you will have widened the space between stimulus and response, and you will have given yourself a greater opportunity of choosing a wise response to the situation.

Handle it with class. Someone once gave me this valuable advice about how to handle disappointment and any type of setback. This simple suggestion has stuck with me for years and influenced most of the decisions I have made concerning my work relationships and my job choices. When we picture our choices as examples of how "classy" we are, then we will make choices that will steer us in a positive direction and keep our relationship bridges intact and functioning.

Know what your core values are. You want to make choices that speak to others about who you are. Be sure you know what your core values are so that your response reveals the true you.

Accept the disappointment and learn from it. Do not fight about the disappointment. Look it squarely in the eye and accept it. This is reality. Your disappointment is mostly about a misperception in your head. You thought that things would be a certain way, and things did not turn out as you expected. This is a misperception. This is not reality. What actually happened is reality, so you need to figure out what went wrong in your thinking and correct that. Learn from the experience and move on.

Look to the future. Focus on the solution rather than on the disappointment. How can you resolve your current situation? What can you do now to make things go in the direction that you want?
"Anytime you suffer a setback or disappointment, put your head down and plow ahead."-- Les Brown (1945- , author and speaker)
Recharge yourself. Renew your focus and your commitment, and do the best that you can from this point forward. Recall what your underlying desire was and focus on that rather than on the disappointment you feel because you did not get the outcome that you expected. If you focus on your initial desire, you will remember what your first criteria were. Most likely you are disappointed now because you are focusing on your expectations rather than on your desire. There are many different ways to satisfy your initial desire. Instead of focusing on your disappointment, focus instead on your initial desire (what do I really want?) and then consider the ways that you can satisfy your desire. Do not get bogged down with the fact that things did not turn out in one particular way.
"The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality." -- Conan O'Brien (1963- , TV host, comedian, writer, and producer)
Focus on the solution. If you focus on your initial desire and renew your commitment, you will focus positively on the solution. This type of thinking will spur you to action, and this action will help you to gain energy and to experience a sense of positive control. Figure out solutions and alternatives and take action.

Recognize an opportunity for growth. Your thinking is flawed at this point. You expected something that did not happen. This is a misperception in your thinking. Recognize now that the disappointment you feel is pointing out this misperception to you. You now have an opportunity to grow from this experience.
"There's always failure. And there's always disappointment. And there's always loss. But the secret is learning from loss, and realizing that none of those holes are vacuums." -- Michael J. Fox (1961- , actor, producer, and author)
Disappointment is a hard lesson. Disappointment teaches us much about who we are, how we think, and what our character traits are that spur us to behave in particular ways. Rather than fight to discourage moments of disappointment, we should welcome these moments when we find them because of the many lessons we learn. I do not enjoy the experience of disappointment, but I have learned that I can gain many insights and benefits from handling my disappointments wisely.
"Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal: it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it." -- Eliza Tabor Stephenson (1835-1914, author)
Today is the 11th Monday of 2014, so remove the 11th penny from your penny jar (What is this?).


  1. Your blog is helpful to me as a fellow teacher. I couldn't find another way to contact you, so this will have to do. I was wondering whether you have any tips to share on helping students to memorize. I have a 7 year old student who has had almost 2 years of lessons. She is on the slow side musically, and has a hard time comprehending things, but she enjoys the violin. Her mom has asked me more than once if they should just give it up because she is getting nowhere, but the child wants to continue. I think there will eventually be a break through if they stick with it, and encouraged her to keep it up.

    She has learned all the Twinkles, after much effort, and we've moved on to Lightly Row, but try as I might, I cannot get her to learn it w/o having to prompt her several times with what comes next. I have written songs out with note names for her, (she and mom cannot remember what they are supposed to practice unless it's written out that way ie. ECC DBB ABCD EEE etc.), and she can play all the way through a song that way, but she cannot seem to memorize anything. Have you ever experienced a student like this? Any tips to share? Thanks!

    1. Hi, Anonymous: you can reach me personally at

      Why not write me there with your address too, so we can talk with each other?

      I have a few ideas to suggest, but I also have some questions. I have had experience with something similar, and I'd love to share what I learned.