How to Deal with Disappointment: 12 Helpful Steps

How to Deal with Disappointment

When you get disappointed then it can hurt. Sometimes a bit. Sometimes a lot.

It can drag you down into a negative funk for days or even weeks.

But if you learn how to deal with that disappointment in a healthier and more helpful way then it can be less a lot less scary and painful and actually a springboard or learning experience for further personal growth.

That’s at least been my experience in the past decade.

And in this post I’d like to share 12 steps, tips and habits that I’ve learned over the years and that help me to both handle disappointment and to reduce the situations where I get disappointed in the first place.

1. First, accept how you feel.

Disappointment hurts. And that’s OK.

Don’t try to push it away. And don’t try to hide it under a big smile.

I’ve found that it works better to not be swept away by such tempting impulses.

But to instead accept how I feel. To let it all in and to hurt for a while.

Because if I do then it will go quicker and in the long run be less painful to process what has happened.

If I on the other hand reject how I honestly feel then those emotions can pop up later and at unexpected times. And make me moody, pessimistic or passive aggressive.

2. Remember, you are not a disappointment.

Just because you may have been disappointed, had a setback or made a mistake and disappointed someone else doesn’t mean that you are a disappointment or failure.

And this situation that you’re in right now won’t last forever. Even if it might feel that way today.

The truth is:

  • Just because you were disappointed today or you disappointed someone doesn’t mean that you’ll be or do that tomorrow or the next time.
  • This does not label you as a disappointment (unless you choose to put that label on yourself).
  • If you keep moving forward and you keep taking action then you’ll move on and you’ll improve.

3. Learn from it.

Instead of getting lost in the pain and negative emotions that can come from a disappointment choose to see it more as something you can learn valuable things from (and something that’ll help you to grow).

You can do that by asking yourself better questions.

Questions like:

  • What is one thing I can learn from this?
  • How can I adjust my course to avoid this disappointment in the future?
  • What is one thing I can do differently the next time?

Maybe you learn that you can likely communicate better the next time when you’re in a similar situation or working together with someone else on a task or project.

Or that you need to give yourself a better balance between rest and work to avoid mistakes or to think more clearly.

You might even realize that you need to make a bigger change in your life and start spending less time – or no time at all – with someone who has disappointed you too many times (or always makes you feel like a disappointment no matter how hard you try).

4. Remind yourself: disappointment will happen if you go outside of your comfort zone.

Who is never disappointed? Or never feeling low about a setback or a mistake?

The people who never really go outside of their comfort zone.

Everyone who is now successful and you may look up to have had his or her share of disappointments and failures.

Setbacks and sometimes feeling disappointed is a natural part of living your life fully. A sign of you trying to grow and improve your situation.

I’ve found that just keeping this fact in mind helps me to stay strong and to more easily handle my own stumbles and setbacks.

5. Refocus on what you still got in your life.

To move on shift your focus to what you still got in your life.

The people, the passions and the things you sometimes may take for granted like a roof over your head and clean water.

Tapping into gratitude in this way helps me to put things into perspective and to not let a disappointment overwhelm me and derail my whole week.

6. Talk it over with someone close to you.

Getting a healthier and wider perspective on what happened is, as already mentioned, a vital part of dealing with disappointment in a better way.

And one of the most powerful ways to do that is in my experience to let it out into the light and to talk it over with someone close to you.

By venting as your friend just listens you can release that inner pressure, sort things out for yourself and accept what has happened instead of trying to push it away or ignoring it.

And if the two of you have a conversation about it then you can see the situation through someone else’s eyes and from another perspective.

This person can help you to ground yourself and to not make a mountain out of a molehill. And the two of you can together come up with the start of an action-plan for how you will move forward.

7. If your expectations are of perfection, then adjust them.

If you demand or expect perfection from yourself or from other people then you’ll often be disappointed.

So adjust your expectations a bit.

If you’re disappointed in what you did, what someone else did or how a situation turned out in your life ask yourself:

Will this matter in 5 years? Or even 5 weeks?

That’s one thing that has helped me greatly to not make mountains out of molehills and to adjust my own expectations.

Another helpful thing is simply to remind yourself that if you buy into myths of perfection then you will hurt yourself and the people in your life.

Because such myths that you may have picked up from movies, songs and simply what the world or Instagram highlight reels are telling you will clash with reality and tends to:

  • Cause much stress and suffering within you and in the people around you.
  • Get you stuck in procrastination because you become fearful of being disappointed or disappointing someone else once again.
  • Harm or possibly lead you to end relationships, jobs, projects etc. because your expectations are out of this world.

Keeping this reminder at the forefront of my mind – and sometimes written down on a piece of paper – has definitely helped me to adjust my expectations and reduce my own suffering and disappointments.

8. Take a break (and find other ways to reduce your stress levels as you move forward).

Just focusing on your goals and working towards them all the time can cause unnecessary stress and make you lose your perspective.

And sometimes you just need a break to get over a disappointment. So take some time to rest up, recharge and to have some fun.

After you’ve taken that time off from your goals and dreams you’ll likely be in a better place to accept and learn from what happened and to then move forward once again.

When you’re in this more level-headed place then also take a bit of time to see how you can plan for a better balance between work and restful downtime.

I’ve found that when my balance between those two things is in order then it is usually quite a bit easier to handle setbacks and things not going as I’d like in a more constructive and mentally centered way.

9. Get outside of your own head.

If you know you have a tendency to get stuck in mulling over a negative situation for too long and going down into a downward spiral then get out of your own head and thoughts bouncing around in there.

Two ways to do that and to focus your attention outward is to:

  • Help someone out. Help a friend plan for a party or a meeting at work. Or help him with moving boxes and other stuff into his new home. Or simply be fully there and listen to her as she vents about a disappointment in her life.
  • Exercise. I find that lifting weights or going out for a long walk is a great way for me to focus outward once again, to renew my energy and to sharpen my focus.

10. Find energy and motivation again with the help of others.

Lift your spirits, up the motivation and your positive thinking with the help of others.

It could be with the help of conversations with friends, family or co-workers.

But also help from other people further away in the world (and sometimes in time). Renew that focus and motivation to keep moving towards your dreams with the help of for example:

  • Books (motivational ones or perhaps biographies of people you look up to) and podcasts.
  • Movies, TV-shows and Youtube-channels.
  • Online forums and social media channels.

Spend anywhere from 10-60 minutes with one or a few such sources to find new energy and a shift in your thinking.

11. Find a small step to start moving forward again.

After you have accepted the situation, perhaps learned a thing or two from it and upped your motivation again start to move forward.

You don’t have to take a big and bold leap though.

When I’m in this place myself I usually try to come up with at least the start for a small action-plan for how to go forward. I do that together with someone – like for example my wife – or on my own.

Then I break that plan down into small action-steps. And get to work with the first of those steps.

If I start procrastinating on that step then I break it down into even smaller steps and take action on one of those.

12. Improve your self-esteem.

Improving my self-esteem has helped me to avoid getting dragged down too far into self-criticism and negative emotions after a disappointment.

It has also helped me to not get disappointed in myself as often as I used to but to handle a setback with a more level-headed mind and more emotional stability.

This also makes it easier to not blame others to feel better about myself and to learn more from this situation and get better results the next time.

So how do you improve your self-esteem?

A couple of the most helpful tips and habits I’ve found are:

Write down 3 things in the evening that you appreciate about yourself.

Take a couple of minutes at the end of your day to ask yourself: What are 3 things I can appreciate about myself? 

Write down your answers in a notebook, on your laptop or a smart phone. This will help you to start focusing on the positive things about yourself and to stop being so self-critical.

Stop falling into the destructive comparison trap.

If you compare what you have, what you’ve done and who you are to other people and their lives then you’ll most often start to feel depressed and bad about yourself.

Because there’s always people ahead of you.

So choose another way of comparing instead. Start comparing yourself to yourself. See how far you’ve come. What you’ve overcome. And focus on how you’ve improved your results.

Those are just two helpful habits for improving your self-esteem.

You can also use much of what you find in this article such as being constructive in the face of adversity, being kinder and more helpful to others, not thinking that YOU are a  disappointment just because of one setback and replacing perfectionism with something healthier.


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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ee San

    Great stuff. Love the tips!

  • Carol Eason

    This is an amazingly comprehensive document full of very helpful, practical tips.. I have used many of the techniques and also have recommended your newsletter to friends. Your newsletters in point formats are so very useful and easy to read and review.

    Amazing Work You have Done on This Post (and many others, too). All the best to you in all your endeavours.

  • Hello Henrik, Thank you for this message. It has arrived at exactly the right time for me.

  • Abdurrehman

    It is a great tools to get energetic and for regraunding,it could also use to stop rumination. Thanks a lot Henrik ?

  • Andy

    Thanks Henrik for the post,i find it really helpful in my current situation. Keep it up

  • PrincessTosang

    I am going through some disappointments and self criticism lately and this post I find very helpful in rebuilding my self esteem and learning some points on how to be more optimistic. Thank you !

  • Dawn

    Loved this: “ take some time to rest up, recharge and to have some fun.” so that’s what I’m about to do:)

  • Thank you. I always try to be more rational about my feelings. Articles like your helps me to understand I’m not alone.

  • Anonymous

    You are so sensible – I’m sure you know how rare that is!
    Thank you

  • Powerful Guide Thanks!
    Grab the new Personal Transformation Mastery here. It’s game-changing!

  • Xyntchen Lobaton

    This post is very timely. I am grateful that I bumped into your blog, I find this very helpful in our current situation. I hope I can put the tips mentioned into action as it will really help in improving my whole being. Enjoying the sweet side of life is always better than mourning.

  • misky

    thanks Henrik

  • Hi Henrik,

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I liked your point that we can accept disappointment without letting it control us. Instead, we can use it as a force for learning and growth. You also give us clear strategies we can use to recover from it along the way.

    I learned a lot from your idea that disappointing experiences are feedback from the world around us. They let us know what is out of balance in our lives, and what we need to change. If we are thoughtful, we might find a connection between many small disappointments, leading us to learn something about ourselves.

    You’ve given me lots to think about! Thanks again!


  • Really interesting tips. Thank you

  • Patcharaporn Murt

    This article is very helpful. Thank you very much for the tips!!