How to Deal with Disappointment

Disappointment is a fact of life. It’s going to happen. How you deal with it, however, will greatly determine the effect disappointment has on your life, and the extent to which you can control that effect.

istock_000005641386xsmall.jpgDisappointment is a factor of two things: Your expectations and perceptions of an event, and the actual resolution of that event. One of the key point about disappointment is that it is based on comparative, rather than objective, results. Our disappointment isn’t based on what happened, so much as how what happened compares to what could have happened. For example, winning ten thousand dollars can either be a positive event or a disappointment, depending on what the maximum prize amount was. If the grand prize was ten thousand, we’ll be ecstatic. If it was five million, we might well be somewhat pleased at winning something, but disappointed not to have won more. (

Therefore, the key to dealing effectively disappointment lies less in controlling the events as it does with managing your expectations. This is not to say that you should go around sporting a pessimistic outlook in the hopes of avoiding disappointment. For one thing, it won’t work. Even your worst fears can sometimes be blown out of the water by reality. And for another, it’s a miserable way to live even if you do manage to get lucky.

No, managing expectations is more about being realistic about what is likely to happen, being proactive about risk reduction and viewing the end results on their own merits, rather than in comparison to arbitrary possibilities.

1. Set your sights realistically. By all means, hoping for the best – you never know, it could happen. But don’t plan on it. Take an objective look at the bell curve ( of likely results and accept the fact that the options that make up the central hump are many times more likely to happen than those occurring on either end. It will be up to you to decide if less-than-best-case scenarios are worth your while to pursue.

2. Proactively reduce risk. Once you know what you want, and what you’re likely to get, you can take steps to tip the balance in your favor. You can do this either by reducing the risk of a negative result, or increasing the likelihood of a positive one, or both.

Reducing risk is a three-step process: First, you must gather enough information to adequately understand the various risks inherent in the decision or action. Second, you must assess the likelihood of each risk occurring, and decide which risks you can or are willing to address. Third, you must determine what, if anything, can be done to eliminate or minimize each risk that you have chosen to address and make a plan of action for doing so.

3. View results objectively and subjectively, rather than comparatively. When the situation does resolve, try to look at the results on their own merits (either objectively, by virtue of clinical gains and losses, or subjectively, based on how well the results actually serve your needs) rather than by comparing them to what could have, but didn’t, happen. No, you may not have won five million dollars. But you did win ten thousand, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Focusing on what you “lost” is pointless. For one thing, you can’t lose what you never had. And for another, fretting over it not only won’t make it any more likely to happen, but it will ruin any joy you could have received from what you did get. Focus on and enjoy your gains, deal with any real losses and move on.

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