A certain snake-hipped, large-lipped frontman once sang, “You can’t always get what you want”. There’s a chance he may be right, but that kind of thinking doesn’t cut it when only three people make it to your birthday drinks. Or when you’re pipped on your dream house at an auction. But life’s bummers serve a purpose – they build your resilience and help you figure out what you really need. You’re probably well versed in the after-effects of a let-down, which can vary from chucking that burnt lasagne at the wall to wallowing in self-blame when Mr Potential turns out to be a dud. But the good news is that adversity not only shows how strong you are, knock-backs also help you develop strength of character. Want to flex your bounce-back skills? Read on.
Plenty of roads can lead to disappointment. There are the smaller let-downs, such as letting your tennis doubles partner down with a shocking run of serves, or ordering a faulty iPad. Often these setbacks are temporary and you get over them quickly by putting it down to an off day (or making an irate call to Apple). The more crushing blows are the ones where you’ve invested time, effort or pride in a goal that doesn’t deliver: your online business fails, you miss out on round three of a job interview, you fail to fall pregnant after the ninth month of trying. The psychological aftermath varies greatly; some people recover quickly, others wallow in frustration or blame and can even become depressed. You’ll feel anything from powerless to frustrated to sad.
TRY THIS Download but don’t dwell. “After a let-down, don’t deny your disappointment, feel it,” says transformation coach Janet McNally. “Allow yourself to mope for a day or two and get over it. That ends the cycle. But then you need to focus on ‘what next’. It’s important to have good friends around who’ll tell you to dust yourself off and have another go.” Avoid catastrophising, says psychologist Michael Burge. “Look out for ‘shoulds’ and ‘why did/didn’t I’s,” he says. “Many situations are simply beyond your control.” It helps to think how successful people – like tennis player Sam Stosur or newsreader Jessica Rowe – have dealt with bum deals and gone on to shine through adversity.
Burge says we need to understand that disappointments are often about developing boundaries. “What we want versus what others are prepared to give us, working out what’s realistic and when we’re being overly idealistic,” he says. “This trial-and-error process is crucial in our development.” WH stress-less expert and psychologist Dr Suzy Green says that women tend to expect more of their friends than men do, so we experience more disappointment when our mates let us down. After a fall, ask yourself whether your expectation was too high and work to adjust it next time. “There’s a difference between saying ‘I need to be in a new job in three months’ and saying ‘I’d like to secure at least five interviews over three months’,” says McNally. “If you set realistic expectations it’s more likely you’ll achieve them and if you don’t, the disappointment isn’t as huge. You’re more likely to see that you’ve given it a go.”
TRY THIS Soundboard your situation with someone after the event. Pick someone who isn’t attached to the outcome of your situation, such as a mentor, life coach or a trusted confidante. McNally suggests you grab a piece of paper and draw three columns. In column one present the scenario: what happened. In the next write what your actions and expectations were. Then in the third write the outcome: what actually happened. “Ask your mentor or friend if they can see the gap, or where you should have done X instead of Y. The light will go off and you’ll go ‘bingo’.” says McNally.
No one wants to be a negative Nelly who thinks “I’ll never find love/get a book deal/throw a fabulous dinner party”. “But also you don’t want the other Monty Python extreme, where your leg’s falling off but you’re ridiculously positive the whole time,” says Burge. The trick is to find middle ground: the night before your netball final consider the possibility that you could lose. Then get out there and play your socks off. “Ask yourself what the bigger disappointment would be: the regret caused by not taking the risk or the risk of it not working out,” says clinical psychologist Dr Alice Boyes.
TRY THIS Spend a moment self-mentoring. “Tell yourself: ‘Well I may not be successful in what I’m trying to achieve, but I’m still proud of myself.’ Ask yourself what else you might do if things don’t turn out the way you hope,” says Burge. Have a plan B, C and D – often the antidote to disappointment is figuring out how to take back some power. Even if plan B is heading to the pub for a wine or three, at least you’ll soon be laughing at how cheesy Mr Potential’s lines were.
Let-down and learn
A setback can be a gift and a great learning tool – even though you want to cry at the time. “Disappointments are a signaling system, they let us know that there’s something we need to pay attention to and they motivate our actions,” says Dr Boyes. So, if you feel bummed about not getting accepted into a course it can spur you to work harder. Or if you feel let down by your boyfriend for the hundredth time, this is part of the process of breaking your emotional attachment to him. The key thing to take away is: what next? “Even Freud said you have to deal with disappointment to understand who you are, and unless you continue to try different things, you’re not going to learn how to be happy,” says Burge. The alternative to not moving on and having another crack is playing safe and never taking another risk. You wouldn’t be thumbing through this magazine if you were the kind of woman who thought like that.
Try this Look at the bigger picture. If you’re reading this after being blindsided, then at least two important things have just happened: 1) Your disappointment is helping develop your emotional intelligence and pushing you towards what’s really right for you; and 2) You now have more empathy for the disappointments other people experience, so you’re now an even better friend.Trust us, further down the track, when you do score the house/child/lasagne of your dreams, your success will be all the sweeter.