Dealing with Disappointments: Why do we struggle?

Dealing with Disappointments: Why do we struggle?

It is safe to say that there is nobody that has not faced disappointments in their lives, careers or business. Often, this takes the form of lost opportunities, failures or results not being as expected. The aftermath of the disappointment starts with an emotional burst of hurt, anger, resentment or despair. Our confidence dissipates, our fears are amplified and the stress starts to build up. This is also the time to slow down, take a step back and look at the situation with fresh eyes.

Before we can handle the feelings that arise from a disappointment, it is necessary to understand why they affect us so much. The fact of the matter is that all outcomes, no matter how big or important, can have only two possibilities. Like a binary pair, they can either be a zero or a one. In other words, the outcome could be a yes or a no. Each have exactly the same 50-50 probability of occurring. So, you could either land the job or not, she could either say yes or no, the customer could either buy or not. Until the decision is made, there is an equal chance of either outcome.

However, when it comes to our expectations of the outcome, this rule scarcely applies. In our minds, we assign a disproportionately high percentage in favor of one outcome over the other. We are always 99% sure that we will get the job offer, we are 90% confident of getting high grades and so on. What we fail to realize is that despite our expectation being in the high 90’s, the statistical probability remains at 50% either way.

When the outcome is revealed, if it is in our favor, we feel elated and vindicated. Our confidence shoots up and we are thrilled. However, if the outcome is not in our favor, we plummet down from the 99% confidence and happiness level to 0% leaving us floundering and unable to come to terms with the new reality. Our reaction? Hurt, Anger, Denial, Despair and loss of confidence. In short, our construct of reality has just come face to face with the actual reality.

The solution then seems to be clear. Instead of raising our expectations to an unnaturally high level, we should always realize that there could only be two outcomes and each of them have exactly the same probability of happening. Further, we need to realize that our desires are not our goals. While goals are linked to outcomes, our desires are the essence of who we want to be and no matter what the outcome may be, there are always different routes that we can take to fulfill our desires.

Living a life of resilience means developing and practicing the art of staying true to the essence of who we are and what is important to us while viewing both good things and bad things with equal detachment. By not creating our own reality that is not congruent with the actual reality, we are safeguarding ourselves from the plunge that inevitably follows an unfavorable outcome.

What to do When Nothing seems to be happening

Many of us have been in this place where nothing seems to be happening in our lives, in our careers or in our businesses. The goals that we expected to reach have not materialized and there just seems to be a vacuum where our future should be.

  • This could be a period of unemployment when job application after application is not yielding results, cash is running out and things are looking bleak
  • Perhaps this is a situation where your business is not moving forward, you are not landing new clients or generating revenue and yet have to pay for your rent, your staff, and other overheads.
  • This could even be in your life; the plans that you made for your life are not happening, you are staring at a blank wall and have no clue what you have to do next.

The default behavior that we all exhibit when faced with adversity and challenges is inertia. To just try to do the same things that we have been doing, hoping against hope that things would turn around for us.  We try to motivate ourselves with the thought that what we seek is just around the corner. But we still do not do what is needed to get ourselves out of the situation that we find ourselves in.

Consider world-class athletes and sportspersons. Do you think they do not fail? As a matter of fact, at the level they compete, they fail more often than they succeed. So, what do you think athletes do when they fail? Of course, they feel bad about it for a while; they are only human… but here’s the thing. They do not sit back thinking that they will be successful very soon. They go back to the basics. They start looking at their technique, their motivation levels, their physical condition, their mindset and above all, they work with their trainers and coaches to hone their skills and sharpen their competitiveness. In short, they take action to ensure that when the opportunity comes, they do not fail again.

I think there is a very good lesson here for all of us. When we feel that things are not going our way, it is time to take a step back and reassess our goals, look at the inventory of skills that we have, study the trends in the market, identify new windows of opportunities, build contacts with those that can help us pivot and above all, take action to make things happen.

Success does not happen by luck or by circumstances; they happen because you engineer them. So, start engineering your success and watch your life change.

The Elephant and the Mahout

Have you ever seen a mahout control a large animal like an elephant? He learns to do this through constant practice, skill, and experience. The elephant is so much stronger than the mahout but still does his bidding. If ever, the mahout was to weaken even slightly, the elephant could take over and stop obeying the mahout or even attack him.

The fight between our emotional brain and our logical, thinking brain is very similar. Long ago, when man evolved, one of the first parts of the brain that developed was the emotional brain. It wasn’t until much later that the thinking or logical brain developed. Thus, the emotional brain is way more powerful than the logical brain and can easily take over and dominate. It is only through sheer willpower and application that our logical brain is able to control the emotional brain and get things done.

This constant tussle plays out in our day to day lives. Your logical brain knows that you need to stop eating sugary stuff and that it is going to add to your weight, but at the very sight of a delicious cheesecake, your emotional brain takes over and you succumb to the temptation. Unfortunately, the reward center of our brain is located inside the emotional brain and every time this is activated at the sight of food, the logical brain becomes powerless to stop you from indulging yourself.

This explains why we are so bad at keeping to new year resolutions!

Just as the mahout learns to control the elephant through discipline and effort, so will you need to train your emotional brain to listen to the logical brain when it comes to achieving your goals. The mastery of goals requires iron-will and determination but the bedrock of the entire effort is the logical reason why you are pursuing the goal in the first place and this has to be the glue that keeps the entire structure intact.


So, the next time you give into temptation, remember that the logical brain is what is watching out for you and safeguarding you. Learn to go with the core reasons why you are doing anything you are doing at all and be aware of the greater satisfaction that achieving your goals can give you rather than giving in and gaining momentary pleasure that is going to take you away from the path you have chosen for yourself.