Preparing For Disappointment

Preparing for disappointment, it’s not something you want to think about at the beginning but for some it can become overwhelming, so how do you strike the right balance?

It is something that we all face, preparing, waiting, hoping and finally bracing ourselves for the chance we will not get what ever the big opportunity we were hoping for. From school grades to job interviews we all face disappointment and waiting for results can be agonising.

The frustration of not knowing can mess with your sleep and your concentration, so how do you manage during the time of uncertainty, rather than drop into a rabbit hole of potential negativity?


Amy Gallo spoke with some other experts to advise some coping mechanisms, and here is what they propose:

Ask yourself if worrying helps

According to Art Markman (a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Bring Your Brain to Work) Sometimes worrying is productive and can help the brain to get motivated and take action. Good examples might be if you were concerned about the economic downturn, you might build a personal budget get your finances sorted out and reach out to your network about any potential job leads. This is called “defensive pessimism.”

“In those moments when the outcome is utterly out of your control, the worry is only going to create heat,” Markman says. “Energy with direction is work, but energy without direction is heat, and it comes out as worry and anxiety.” So you need to consider if your worrying will actually help with the planning or not.

Think through what you will do in the worst-case scenario

One action you might take is to think about what resources you might need in that contingency and in doing so you are planning to be ready for any alternative.

Playing out all the alternatives is one approach to helping yourself prepare according to Zoe Kinias (associate professor at INSEAD), she suggests that imagining how you will survive the worst case scenario helps “steady the anxiety of anticipation in the moment” she proposes that you should tell yourself that “There will be other opportunities. I have the skills and experience to be up for consideration. So if I don’t get this, I’ll keep trying, approach the problem in a different way, or do something a little bit different next time.”

There are a number of other strong self-affirmation techniques that Kinias explains can help you reflect on your core values.

  • Connecting with and supporting the community
  • Mindfulness
  • Reach out to others experiencing the same worry.

Everything in Balance

Hope is still good for you, Markman says that “Thinking positive thoughts is fine. A certain number of fantasies about what you would do if you reached your goal can be helpful”. If its a new job then you could start planning through how you can start successfully in the first days and weeks.

Successful leaders have the ability and resilience to plan for and accept setbacks, this works best when “when balanced with positivity and an ability to enjoy and experience the present moment, through optimism, mindfulness, and social support.” according to Kinias.

The articles author Amy Gallo suggests that “Being both planful and hopeful can improve wellbeing and make us more resilient if and when the worst-case scenario comes true.”

Temper your confidence.

Hopeful is good but you don’t want to be overconfident, you need to balance or the devastation of loss can be overwhelming.

Don’t rehearse your misery.

As Markman says, “there’s no way to prepay your pain.” so don’t wallow in the unknown. According to extensive research from Dan Gilbert, Tim Wilson, George Loewenstein, and Daniel Kahnema, people often overestimate the intensity of negative feelings.

Reframe the anticipated pain.

If you really want something it demonstrates that it matters to you which is positive and any negativity is proportional as a cost of caring. “There will be a sting if you don’t get it, and the pain is often proportional to what you invested,” says Markman.

You can’t  avoid all negative feelings in life. Stretching yourself to achieve a goal means you that there is a risk of failure and pain but if you don’t try and don’t stretch, you can’t achieve your goals.

Finally Distract yourself.

We all have our own ways to distract ourselves, it might be going for a run, window shopping or watching a ‘Rom-Com’ which ever path you normally take a key idea is to keep practicing mindfulness to help manage your stress levels and emotions. (See the article feeling safe in an unsafe world)

Key Takeaways

  • Disappointment is a natural and healthy response, if you are not disappointed then you are not invested.
  • There are techniques that can help you to manage your responses and make sure that you are balancing your emotions before the outcome is known and dealing with disappointment if you don’t get the outcome you were hoping for.
Synopsis of an article from HBR
How to Brace Yourself of Disappointment
by Amy Gallo
Published: 3rd November 2020

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