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How to deal with Disappointment

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“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we will find compensation in every disappointment.” – Henry David Thoreau

Photo by Freshh Connection on Unsplash

I had something disappointing happen to me today. Future plans that my husband and I have been working on for close to two years hit a snag. A big one. It was disheartening in the moment, and has created a speed bump. 

Even thought all is well, no one is injured or in danger, and I still have so much to be grateful for, it just stinks. The vision we had is being challenged, and it’s moments like these that make you wonder if it’s worth it any longer.

Why do humans get disappointed? What happens in our mind to create this emotion? And how can we gracefully deal with it, and then perhaps harness it to create something better? 


The What and the Why

All emotion comes from thought. Your sensory organs pick up information, deliver that information to all the programmed neuro-pathways in your brain, and thoughts are manifest. When you receive “disappointing” news, your brain is reacting according to how you learned you should act if something you wanted to happen is not going to happen.

But why is this perceived as a negative? Because you are a master at imagining things, and there’s a really good reason for this, beside creativity. The human brain does not like undefined things. There is safety in definition and knowing exactly what something is. This is why people can get anxious about the future. It’s highly uncomfortable for most people to not know what’s going to happen. So our brain creates a story about the future, creating definition, and along with it expectation.

If we’re imagining something positive, like the expectation of a meal at a new restaurant, the way we think a vacation is going to be, or how a new relationship will turn out, our brain is setting up an expectation for future feel-good neurochemicals and emotions.

This makes me think of my dog. She is very food motivated, and if you get her attention and hold something edible up, she sits, puts her ears at attention, and has only one focus: the food. But the feeling she ends up getting from the food is very different depending on what she’s offered. A piece of bacon is exactly the reward she’s looking for . A kale leaf? Wha-wha. But right up until the moment she gets the food, she thinks something REALLY good is coming her way.

Humans tend to do the same thing. Our imaginations take hold, and we fantasize about the future. When something threatens that fantasy, the brain seems to cope by creating disappointment. 

While not a great feeling, disappointment can be somewhat cathartic.

In her ground-breaking book “Daring Greatly” Brene Brown writes about a particularly human state of emotion called foreboding joy. This is also known as the concept of waiting for the other shoe to drop. We can sometimes build up so much joy in our imagination that we start to fear losing it, and when disappointment happens it can be a relief.


How to deal

If you are experiencing disappointment (my hand is currently raised), know this: it’s temporary. All human emotions are. That doesn’t mean that your body won’t produce the emotion again, but the physical aspect of emotion is chemical, and each time the chemical is released it has a fairly short lifespan.

And since those chemicals are triggered by thought, that means that the disappointment you’re feeling is connected to the thoughts you are thinking. If you want to change the feeling, all you have to do is change the thinking.

But feeling disappointment is part of being human, and there is NOTHING wrong with it.  The biological machine you inhabit developed ALL its emotions for a purpose. Remembering this and thinking on it creates curiosity and wonder for me. Sure, a lot of the chemicals in our body can create feelings we perceive as “bad”, but isn’t that weird and wondrous?

If you can allow and get past your disappointment, and STILL go after your goal, you’ll be creating resiliency that will serve you well your entire life. The biggest success stories in human history typically suffered an untold number of disappointments, but yet they persisted.

Disappointment does not mean done. It only means the “how” you imagined is taking a different shape than you thought it would. 

Keep persistent, stay resilient, and remember that disappointment is a natural part of an accomplished life.


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