7 Powerful Ways to Deal with Disappointment and Unmet Expectations

unmet expectations lead to disappointmentThings don’t always go as planned. Sometimes they turn out differently—much to your dismay. And then you feel disappointment.

That’s normal.

When you have expectations about an outcome and get a different result than planned or desired, your expectations go unmet. Unmet expectations lead to disappointment every time.

Don’t Stop Expecting the Best in Yourself and Others

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have expectations—especially for yourself. You need expectations. Your expectations drive you to do and be more, perfect your skills, accomplish your goals, fulfill your potential, and become the person you know you can and want to be.

Some experts will tell you to stop having any expectations at all. They’ll tell you that a lack of expectations creates less possibility of disappointment.

While it might be true that you will experience less disappointment, I disagree with the advice to drop all expectations.

Expectations Push You to Greatness

An expectation of high performance drives you to become a high performer. Parents who have high expectations for their children raise high-performing children. World-class athletes have expectations for themselves; their coaches also have high expectations for them—and they rise to those expectations most of the time.

But sometimes those expectations go unmet. And, yes, someone—or everyone—feels disappointed when that happens.

Imagine the marathon runner who has the potential to win the race and has trained hard to do so who gets a cramp in his leg or falls and sprains his ankle and crosses the finish line last instead. Did he expect to win? Yes. Is he disappointed? Yes. Does that mean he should set a new expectation (or goal) for himself? Absolutely not.

The same might happen to you. You expect a promotion—and have worked hard for it—and don’t get it. You send out your book proposal to an agent expecting representation and don’t get it. And so you feel disappointment.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have expectations for yourself or others. It does mean you need to learn how to deal with disappointment, though. That lesson will help you push through disappiontment, set new, possibly higher, expectations for yourself, and rise to greatness.

Don’t Let Disappointment Stop You from Achieving Your Goals

It’s hard to deal with the disappointment that comes when the expectations you have for others go unmet. However, when you don’t meet the expectations you have for yourself, the disappointment can feel even more significant and harder to handle.

Imagine an Olympic ice skater or skier who expects to win gold…and then falls during the event and comes in third or eighth or doesn’t even place. (And the fall happens in front of millions of people all around the world.)

I used to be a competitive equestrian. I watched so many riders work hard to qualify for the big national events. When it was there time to compete, many never make it much past “go.” They would ride to the first hurdle, and the horse would stop. That was it; event—opportunity—over without jumping even one fence. Don’t you think they were disappointed and ashamed? Of course. They failed in front of a huge audience. More importantly, they failed themselves.

But they go on.

Successful people come back and perform or compete again. They learn from their mistakes and improve and don’t let disappointment stop them in their tracks.

High performers feel their disappointment, and they deal with their embarrassment and shame. Then they pick themselves up and try again. They learn and improve. And they live up to their new expectations.

Successful people do not let disappointment stop them in their tracks—and neither should you.

How to Deal with Disappointment and Unmet Expectations

So how do you deal with your unmet expectations—and the resulting disappointment? How do you not let disappointment stop you? Here are a few strategies and mindsets that might help.

  1. See the event as just one small blip in your career or life—one unimportant moment in time. In fact, that’s all it is. In the course of a lifetime, 20 seconds, an hour, a day, or a week that doesn’t turn out the way you wanted is nothing. It’s not important unless you don’t learn from it or let it negatively affect your entire life. And over time, that disappointment becomes small—unless you make it large.
  2. Don’t give the event too much importance. We humans have a habit of enlarging the significance of specific life events—specifically negative or unwanted ones—and creating huge stories around them. In fact, most things that happen mean nothing at all—except to us. But we give them great meaning or significance. Remember that whatever happened is quite insignificant—or will be. Other people have already forgotten what happened. Only you are hanging on to it and building it up in your mind into something huge. When you realize that the event wasn’t so important, you can stop making a mountain out of a molehill.
  3. Let it go…as fast as possible. The longer you hold onto the disappointment and rehash the event in your mind, the harder it gets to move forward. As soon as you can, accept what happened and move on. Learn from it…and do it differently next time. Develop a new expectation (and don’t think the new one needs to be lower). Each time you find yourself thinking about what happened, tell yourself, “Let it go!” Then think about how you want it to be the next time. Visualize success or the goal achieved. Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want or on a so-called past failure.
  4. Get back to work. The best thing you can do when things don’t go as planned is to take action. If you get a rejection from a literary agent, fall during a dance performance, don’t get the promotion you asked for, lose the client, don’t get the raise, or don’t hit your financial goals, do something—preferably something different! But take action. Get back to the computer, the studio, the job, the telephone, or your marketing plan. Use the advice given to those who fall off horses: get back on…immediately. Practice harder. Try new mindsets and strategies. Ask for help. Set new goals. Do something that moves you forward.
  5. Learn from the experience. Many people see unmet expectations as “failure.” And they despise failure and want to avoid it at all costs. Failure is just an opportunity to learn and improve. Yeah…maybe you failed in front of a lot of people; you let them and yourself down by not meeting expectations. That’s a good reason to learn and improve. Your fans will respect and love you all the more for doing so. Maybe you failed in front of yourself alone; determine the lesson in whatever happened, and apply that lesson. The most successful people don’t recognize “failure.” They only see another opportunity to succeed.
  6. Forgive. When others disappoint you, it’s because you expected more of them. They likely expected more of themselves, too. So forgive them, and move on. And when you feel disappointed in yourself, do the same. Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. We all fail. It doesn’t matter as long as we use the experience to better ourselves and our performance. Don’t beat yourself up for whatever happened. Accept that it happened; you can’t change that fact. And then go do it better next time.
  7. Let go of shame. As soon as possible, tell someone about your disappointment. Fess up to whatever happened. As you do, you release the feeling of shame. If you are afraid to speak to anyone about what happened, the shame grows inside you and eats away at your self-confidence and self-esteem. So share…and laugh about it. Listen to the stories others share with you about their own foibles (because, despite what you might think, you are not the only one to whom this has happened). Then notice how much lighter you feel and how much less significant the event becomes. But don’t share too often or for too long; that just gives the event more significance.

It Happens to Everyone

Everyone feels disappointed by unmet expectations at some time. Keep that in mind. Know that you are not the only one. Somehow, that helps a bit.

Keep your sights set high. Expect the best and the most of yourself and others.

And practice the seven steps above often for little missteps. That will create the habit of dealing well with disappointment. Then, when you experience a large unmet expectation, you’ll automatically do what’s necessary to move forward. You won’t be stuck in disappointment long at all.

Accept that you will feel disappointed again, and that’s okay—because you expect a lot of yourself and you have the tools to move through that emotion. That’s what makes you excellent at what you do. Your expectations for yourself (and even for others) make you world class and a high performer.

How do you deal with disappointment? Tell me in a comment below.

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Does disappointment stop you in your tracks? Do you have low expectations for yourself? Do you struggle to become the person you know you can be…the person you want to be and feel certain you were meant to be? It’s time to get out of your own way and get from where you are to where you want to go. Give me an hour of your time, and I’ll help you see how to step into your best self. I’ll push you… Apply for a free Certified High Performance Coaching strategy session, and make 2018 your best year ever. To apply for a one-hour FREE Certified High Performance Coaching strategy session, fill out this application.

Photo courtesy of Copyright: yarruta / 123RF Stock Photo

13 thoughts on “7 Powerful Ways to Deal with Disappointment and Unmet Expectations”

  1. Hi Nina , what would you say to someone who has had very high expectations from their teenage years and are now aged 54 and a complete non achiever and full of self disillusionment.
    I believed I could achieve so much but did the complete opposite .

    1. I would say, you’re never too old to become a high performer. Make 2019 the year you change that. If you want help with that, consider hiring me as your Certified High Performance Coaching or join my upcoming Certified High Performance Coaching GROUP. If you are on my mailing list here on NA.com, you’ll get notification about the latter in a few weeks.

  2. Hi Nina! What would you say to someone who wants to meet the expectations of others but is not happy when meeting with it?

  3. What if your old and don’t have time left to take them as a learning lesson, blips, and cannot go back to work?? how do you deal with a life that is over and just waiting to check out?? Most people my age are happy with the life they led and wouldn’t change a thing… I’m not happy with the way my life turned out and would not do anything the same way!! But no time to change it…

    1. There is always a way to make some changes, Tim. You can’t change the past, but you surely can change the way you life your life between now and the time you transition.

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