5 Steps to turn Disappointments to Growth Opportunities

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Disappointments are appointments to development

It is safe to say that no one likes to go through or suffer disappointments.  It is also safe to say that no one has never suffered disappointments.  Disappointments are part and parcel of life.  Disappointments are directly proportionate to how much we want to risk.  The more risk you take whether it is putting your dreams, expectations, hopes and goals out there, the higher the chances of facing disappointments.  Why?  Simple really, you only face disappointments when something that matters to you does not turn out the way you expected. 

You won’t feel disappointed if you don’t put yourself in a place of vulnerability or take the risk to not succeed.  People who don’t face much disappointments probably live a very “safe” or risk-free one.  Not ever going out of their comfort zone.  The benefit of that is a pretty much “comfort zone filled” life without much excitement.  I know people who are extremely comfortable and sometimes I do envy them but most of time I do wish that they could experience more, broaden their thinking and not just envy others for doing the things that they wish they could have done themselves.

Disappointments however does not define who you are.  In fact, disappointments are growth drivers that can propel us forward if we choose to let it.  We can be disappointed with people, outcomes, situation and pretty much just about anything and anyone that does not meet a certain expectation.  Afterall, the depth of disappointment is tied to the depth of the expectations.

Recently I faced a pretty huge disappointment.  The disappointment was not about anyone or anything but more about my expectation and intention that did not produce the intended outcome.  In fact, it was the opposite outcome, instead of helping, it caused grief.  A great reminder, harsh as it may be, that intention and impact or outcome does not always go hand in hand.  Afterall, no one intents to be selfish or grows up with the desire to be selfish but the impact to others could be perceived as selfish by your actions or behaviours.

As I was trying to navigate the emotions that come with disappointments, after all, no negative emotion comes alone, it likes plenty of company.  Along with feeling disappointed, I also felt hurt, angry, confused and wishing that I had done things differently.  One of the personal benefits of being a coach is the awareness of these triggers and I am able to “coach” myself. 

Navigating these emotions and finding a constructive path out of it to find the gems of disappointment is essential in turning disappointments into growth opportunities.

I basically followed steps that were introduced by Dr. Caroline Leaf.  In a nutshell, these 5 steps are:

  1. Acknowledge.  Acknowledge the emotions, situation and thoughts.  Don’t deny it or avoid it.  That never works and in fact probably will make things worse for you in the long run.
  2. Re-conceptualise.  Refocus or rethink the situation and ask yourself Why?  Why are you feeling this way?  Why are you feeling hurt?  Why should this situation cause me to feel this way?  Ask until you find a common theme or answer.
  3. Write it down. Writing your thoughts down is one of the most powerful self-awareness and diagnostic tool that you have.  When we are able to write our thoughts and emotions down, we are able to articulate and see patterns and themes much clearer than just have “self-talk” taking place in the mind.  We are also able to stop the repetitive cycle in our minds which typically will enlarge the negativity or create a bigger problem than it is really is.  The over-emphasis of negativity takes place and that’s the last thing that we want to do.
  4. Read and edit the narrative.  Writing it down and reading it makes it real in that we are able to visualise the situation.  We are then able to analyse the situation somewhat objectively and logically.  We are then able to edit the narrative but replacing the critical lense of criticism with a lense of a learner.  What can I learn from this?  For example, you might have written down.. I am disappointed with this negative feedback about my lack of leadership skills.  In another word, I suck at it.  I should just quit now.  What’s the point?  How would you edit the narrative?  You could now choose to find the learning opportunities.  I now know that this is an area that I need to develop, and this is what I will need to do to develop this skill.  I am going to attend this particular training, learn from this book, get help from a mentor or coach and so on.  I am not going to give up but address this skill gap.  I know that I have skills in this area else I would not have been in this leadership position.  I just need to intentional develop this skill it.
  5. Turn the disappointment into growth learnings and opportunities.  When we are able to identify the cause of the disappointments, we are then able to move forward to figuring out what can we learn from it.  We can then start to ask forward or goal-oriented questions such as, What areas do we need to improve?  What needs to change?  What needs to stop?  What needs to start?  Build and have a plan.

Looks easy enough and in essence it is once we start the process.  However, it does not mean that after doing all those 5 steps, you will not still have emotions or thoughts of disappointments.  What you are able to do instead is to acknowledge the emotions and then refocus your thoughts on the learning or growth opportunities action items. 

It could look something like this. 

  • Feeling disappointed and remembering the situation or the words that caused the disappointment.
  • Acknowledge it by saying, Yes, I am feeling disappointed about this and that.
  • Then refocus your thoughts on what you have learned and your action item.  You could say something like this, “However, this is the plan moving forward to make the best out of the situation as I have learned this and that.  I am going to make the best of this situation and be better for it.”

It is process that you will have to repeat more than once.  In fact, at the start, it will be one that you will have to repeat and remind yourself frequently and consistently until the thoughts are “built” into your mindset.  This will take days to get to a point where the disappointment does not cause negative emotions, but the learnings become part of your habit and actions.

Don’t be disappointed if it does not work the first time, it is a process and it takes effort and time.  Your thoughts need to be trained or disciplined depending on how you view it.  Just like building new habits, it will happen when we intentionally and consistently practice it.  The outcome is certainly way better than being stuck in disappointment.  Growth is so much better.

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