Moving on from disappointment
When facing a major disappointment – it is natural to wonder what you did wrong? or what is wrong with you and how to fix it. There are two stumbling blocks here when you dwell on such questions. Asking: “What is wrong with me?” is not a helpful, as it both reinforces negativity and keeps you from seeing the big picture. (Asking what is wrong with you — is asking for trouble. And when you go looking for trouble, you will invariably find it). The second issue is hanging on to a past reality you’ve decided is ‘right’ (hence deeming any alternative, like the new reality, ‘wrong’). Letting go of something or someone you valued is hard to do in the best of times, but hanging on only serves to prolong the agony. In fact, becoming attached to positive experiences and people (and/or being averse to negative experiences) is among the greatest barriers to happiness, according to Buddhist lore. To move on, it helps to step back and objectively evaluate the experience you’ve had and draw a lesson from it – and this involves a fair consideration of your contribution to the disappointment. If you do find you were partially ‘at fault’, it is important to recognize that any shortcoming is in your action or inaction, or decision, rather than about you as a person. Perhaps you lost a job that was mismatched to your skill set, or broke up with a partner whose values or interests didn’t align with yours, neither of which would say anything about the worthiness of either of you. Instead, the feedback about what didn’t work, and why, may inform more satisfying future decisions, such as choosing a more suitable job or partner. Being grateful for the lesson you derive from the disappointment and its potential to benefit you in the future can also be helpful. Most successful people in love and life attribute their success more to what they’ve learned from their failures; as I like to say, there are no mistakes, only lessons. This can be challenging if you tend to be especially hard on yourself, as that inner critic keeps punishing and niggling at you, suggesting that you’re missing something that you could use to ‘correct’ the disappointing situation. This ‘magical’ line of thinking only serves to keep you stuck. If you do have regrets, about your decisions or behaviour, your next task is to learn to forgive yourself (and perhaps make amends if appropriate). While you cannot control the fact that you made a mistake or bad decision, you can control what you learn from it, and how you will apply this lesson in the future. Imagining applying it can actually be uplifting (see “Rewriting History” guided imagery in my book Imagine, as well as the recording), as can a good dose of self-compassion (see self-compassion.org for more about that).
And finally, who’s to say that the experience was as bad as initially perceived? You might very well look back upon this disappointment as a blessing in disguise? for what better things/people it eventually led you to. Not unlike the famous Taoist parable “We’ll See” (that appears below) in which apparent misfortunes as dramatic as an escaped horse from the farm and broken leg were in fact realised as the height of fortune in the grand scheme of things. If you can employ these tactics to move through this disappointment, you’ll be in a powerful position to handle subsequent disappointments which, let’s face it, are a necessary by-product of a rich, fulfilling life.
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“We’ll see,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbours exclaimed.
“We’ll see,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbours again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“We’ll see,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“We’ll see” said the farmer.