Cultivating Resilience Through Disappointment

Marc from Maui, an applied improv colleague, texted me the other day and asked me if I had any activities that help to productively work with disappointment. He specifically wanted exercises to help his clients turn disappointment into motivation and new behaviors. 

It got me thinking…

These days disappointment comes at a regular pace. It creeps into our days, stalks our nights, and clouds our mornings with its sad refrain. The small setbacks stack up and the larger ones sucker punch us. 

We are being collectively challenged like never before.

It reminds me of the first time my daughter, Amy, experienced heartache. She was twelve. The boy she had been in love with since first grade declared his love for her best friend. 

Amy’s disappointment convulsed her body as she gasped for breath between bouts of tears. I held her silently. After a while, I drew a bath and lit some candles around the perimeter. She got in the warm water, sobbing softly now and again. 

The only words I had to comfort her were not aimed at solving her situation. 

That was clearly beyond the powers of a mom observing her child’s broken heart. 

The only words I had were these, 

“This won’t be the last time you feel pain like this. Disappointment is part of life. Now you know: not all the people we love, will love us back. There are times when you’ll get left out, not invited, and passed over. But these things, while they need to be acknowledged and felt deeply – these things don’t determine who we are. What you do with your disappointment defines you and determines your future. While you’re here, feeling like crap, know that it’s a step not a destination.

“Make yourself as comfortable as you can right now. Breathe into your discomfort. Your disappointment won’t destroy you. Be there for yourself by simply feeling what you feel. It takes courage. Being brave about feeling all your feelings is how you’ll find your way. Being brave creates a pathway to your heart and deepest self where your guidance and wisdom reside.”

Now twenty years later, we are experiencing a sort of heartbreak en masse: a disappointment felt around the world. 

While we may be experiencing similar feelings, it’s up to each of us to find our way from “dis”-appointment to “renewed”-appointment (or our appointment with the new), the inspiring, the next step for us. 

Sometimes being disappointed becomes a block to desiring what you want because you subconsciously or consciously don’t want to feel that pain again. Being brave about life, taking risks, and dreaming of what we want, is the fire that inspires us. 

We need to start the journey by letting ourselves lean into the disappointment. 

By accepting the discomfort, we align with the truth of what is in the present moment which can lead us to a deeper experience in life. When we acknowledge our pain, we are saying, “I’m here! I feel! I’m alive!” Then we can access relief as we stop resisting and allow the feeling to move through us. The word “motion” is even in the word “emotion”. 

When we allow ourselves to feel the discomfort, we shift from just thinking to a full body experience. Feeling what we feel in our body, expands our territory to feel more fully in a bigger way which actually helps us handle the feeling. It’s fuller and yet, less threatening.

On the other side is a lesson or a clearer understanding of what’s important or ideas of how you want to be going forward. We create the next step by allowing the one we’re on to move us forward into our renewed future.

Here are the steps you can guide your students and yourself to take to go from “dis(appointed)” to “renewed”.

  1. Acknowledge your disappointment. Be courageous. Let go of your fear of feeling the discomfort. Remind yourself that it’s ok to feel bad right now. Make yourself as comfortable as you can.
  2. Remember that our feelings are in motion… this won’t last forever.
  3. Breathe! (use the Breathing Fingers exercise or Slow Breath Practice© to move the energy from your reactive mind to your inner wisdom). Don’t rush ahead. Stay with your breath.
  4. Be open to the new insights that come to you. Because they will.

Once we move through the emotion of disappointment with an attitude of kindness toward ourselves and acknowledgement of our (at times) difficult journey in this life, we can be open to life again. We want to make sure that the disappointments we experience don’t stunt our hope and excitement about striving and taking future risks. 

We want to cultivate resilience.

This is achieved by being brave.

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