A mindful approach to disappointment
We all deal with disappointment in our lives. It’s a common human experience. There are times that the disappointment is minor such as, not having milk for your cereal or your favorite restaurant doesn’t have a table open for the next two hours. Though the everyday type of disappointments can throw a person off their game, the disappointment quickly dissipates as a new solution or different option arises. Then there are the larger disappointments in life, like not getting the job you were hoping for, a relationship suddenly ending, or being disappointed with a person’s actions or inactions. I recently had a week with several of these larger types of disappointments. My dog was in critical care, which cost thousands of dollars (thankfully she’s recovering); my husband’s car broke down again (yes, again!) and we spent over a thousand dollars to get it fixed; and I didn’t get a position I recently interviewed for. These types of disappointments can really derail a person, especially when they happen all in one week.
The old me would be sulking right now, ruminating, and creating stories about what a terrible dog owner I am, a horrible human being, a loser that isn’t qualified to do anything right, and I could go on. Does such negative self-talk after facing hardship and disappointment sound familiar? It probably does, because we all talk to ourselves like this at some point in our lives, especially when we are feeling disappointed about something we lost. However, my mindfulness practice has really helped me minimize the the length of time I spend ruminating and creating these stories. Don’t get me wrong I still feel disappointment and all the painful emotions that come along with it, but I don’t sit in these difficult emotions for a long time and feel like I recover from setbacks with more ease. Below I’m going to describe some mindful practices that I’ve used to alleviate my disappointment.
Acknowledge the disappointment
It’s so easy to ignore the emotional pain that comes with disappointment and distract ourselves with social media, netflix, alcohol, food, etc., but the reality is that these are just distractions from the truth that we should face. Disappointment feels horrible, but in order to move on from it we’ve got to face it head on and just sit with disappointment. I allow the disappointment and other emotions that may attach itself to my disappointment such as, sadness and anger wash through me. Imagine walking on a beach and a large wave comes towards you. Your automatic reaction may be to run away from the wave, but the wave is too big and fast. So, you stumble and fall, which is exactly what happens when we run away from our emotions. Instead, when you lean into the wave and even jump into it you have more control over the wave, which is true when dealing with emotions. So, jump into the wave of emotion that comes with disappointment. Acknowledge that you’re disappointed, that you feel terrible, and move on to sensing what disappointment feels like in your body with a body scan, which I’ll describe next.
When I’m disappointed I check where the disappointment has settled in my body. I scan my body from my toes to the top of my head to sense what may be different in body today and how it reacts to disappointment. Sometimes the heavy emotion settles in my chest and throat, and other times it’s in my stomach. I use my breath to guide me in the process. And wherever the disappointment has landed in my body I just sense what disappointment feels like in my body. For example, I ask myself does disappointment feel heavy? Is it a moving or does it just stick? Does it make me feel sick or good? I do this scan with no judgment attached about what I’m sensing. I’m just observing what’s going on in my body.
Allow yourself to mourn
When we feel disappointed we tend to feel a sense of loss. Many times we continue to ignore our emotions and the pain that comes with being disappointed. By ignoring these emotions we are only prolonging our suffering, allowing unpleasantness to simmer, and to come out at unexpected times. Give yourself permission to be upset and cry if you need to. It’s good, healthy and very normal to express your emotions when you sense loss in your life. However, as you mourn don’t allow yourself to create a story about your disappointment. I’ll explain further below.
Stop creating a story
Often times when we’re upset about an event we begin to create a story about it. We may blame the other person or ourselves. The story can go something like this: “I’m such as idiot. I can’t believe I said that. No wonder my boss does not want to promote me. If only I did this (a long list of actions) for her instead. In my last job the same thing happened….” And the negative self talk continues. Not only do we tend to speak ill of ourselves, but then we start to bring up past disappoints that have no connection to the current disappointment and create a story about our incompetence. This then spirals out of control and we continue to add to the story, continue to abuse ourselves with the negative self talk and predict that we will never achieve what we want to.
Does this sound familiar? It probably does, because we all have experienced this type of self-destructive behaviour. So, when you catch yourself creating a story and with the negative self-talk remind yourself that what you’re telling yourself is just a story. That what happened in the past doesn’t have an impact on the present situation. Let go of the judgment and return to the breath. The breath is your anchor and when you solely focus on your breath and where it’s traveling in your body you’re not focusing on the story. If you don’t like using your breath as an anchor you can choose a mantra to focus on such as, “I am enough just the way I am.”
Not only do we tell ourselves a story about the disappointing event, but then we ruminate. We repeat the story over and over and remain stuck not only in the story, but also in the emotions and pain attached to the story. Again, when you catch yourself returning back to the same old story and stewing over it, just return to your anchor, whether it’s your breath or a mantra. Don’t allow yourself to be trapped by the story and negative self-talk.
Take a walk and be in nature
I often find that I am rejuvenated, even after a disappointing moment, after I spend some time walking outside, especially on a sunny day. I was lucky that the weather this weekend warmed up enough to comfortably take a walk with my dog, Zoe. Not only did she enjoy the walk, but being surrounded by trees, listening to the birds chirp, watching the squirrels run and jump from tree limb to tree limb, and feeling the cool breeze kiss my skin got my mind off of the disappointing events. It grounded me in the goodness that the world has to offer, but also the goodness that I have to offer to the world. It rejuvenated my spirit,
my hopes, and by the time I got home my creative and entrepreneurial spirit was in full force. It always amazes me how powerful just spending thirty minutes walking outside can uplift my spirit.
Remember, as you practice these mindfulness practices while working through your disappointment to be compassionate towards yourself. It’s really easy to be your biggest critic, but the criticism comes from a place of fear. As Sharon Salzberg explained,
“A mind filled with fear can still be penetrated by the quality of lovingkindness. Moreover, a mind that is saturated by lovingkindness cannot be overcome by fear; even if fear should arise, it will not overpower such a mind” (p. 25). Compassion towards yourself can be powerful. To help you with lovingkindness towards yourself and others try the free lovingkindness meditation I recorded.
We all face disappointment in our lives. Feeling the pain of disappoint is just a part of the human story. Though disappoint is a fact of life, what we choose to do with the disappointment is where we have the power. I can choose to ruminate in the stories and negative self-talk, or I can choose to sense the physical and emotional pain of disappointment with lovingkindness. I can choose to be angry with myself and others, or I can choose to mindfully mourn the loss and let go of the story surrounding the anger. I can sulk at home with the disappointment or be energized by the beauty of nature. So, the next time you are disappointed try these mindful techniques of working through disappointment.
Salzberg, S. (1995). Lovingkindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, MA.