For some this past presidential election was a very tough loss, and for others, it was an unexpected win. Whether you’re happy or sad about the events of the last couple of weeks, at some point we’ll have to learn what The Rolling Stones sang about almost 50 years ago…you can’t always get what you want.

Life is full of disappointments, both big and small, some that you’ll have no control over. What you do have control over is how you think and behave after you experience a disappointment. Our failures and losses, while they truly suck, will always give us more information about ourselves than our wins.

It may seem crazy to think that failure is a good thing but imagine what life would look like if you always won. Winning is like anything else in life; it’s not special or significant if it’s always easy. If your life was all ice cream sundaes and unicorns, eventually you’ll crave vegetables and that damn unicorn would stop being so unique and special.

Whether you’re feeling a big loss right now or not, it’s important to learn how to process disappointments so you’re able to transform your losses into a gains. Here’s the 5-step process:

Grieve your loss

Taking the time to grieve your loss is critical so please don’t skip this step. You may want to jump ahead so you can either “fix the problem” or “be over it already” but by allowing yourself to grieve, you’ll make it possible for yourself to transition into the next step.

Grief is a tough process because there’s really no answer or quick-fix cure. While there are the five stages of grief, most people don’t go through them in the same way or even in the same order.

While you’re grieving your loss, here are the 3 most important things to remember:

a) Don’t try to push away or forget your feelings because you’ll end up spending more time avoiding your feelings than what it would take to just feel them in the first place.

b) Recognize that grief is more like a roller coaster than a Ferris wheel; there will be good days and bad days and in between-days.

c) Be compassionate with yourself and don’t succumb to the pressure to “get over it already.”

Distance yourself

When you experience a disappointment, it’s easy to attribute the loss to something you did or didn’t do or because you’re not “good enough” to have what you want. The problem is when you take something personally, you’re preventing yourself from gaining significant wisdom and perspective on the situation.

If you believe you deserved the loss then you’ll never be able to gain the perspective needed so you can learn from the loss. Feeling that “you lost” or “you suffered a disappointment” is very different than thinking, “I’m a loser” or “I’m a disappointment.”

Notice that expectations are a killer

There’s a huge correlation between how high our expectations are before an event and how significantly we feel the loss when the event doesn’t go our way. In other words: the higher the expectations, the harder it’ll be to accept the loss.

Expectations are tough. We have high expectations for how other people should treat us. We have unrealistic expectations of how certain events should go. Oddly enough, we get resentful and frustrated when unrealistic expectations are placed on us. While we intellectually know this isn’t fair, it doesn’t change how we feel when our expectations are not met. 

Ask yourself what you have learned

You’ve grieved the loss, you’ve distanced yourself and you now understand how your expectations can cloud your perception, now it’s time to take all of this information and ask yourself: “what did I learn?”

It’s through our challenges and failures when we learn the most about ourselves. This is your chance to do more than reflect; it’s your opportunity to focus in on what you discovered about yourself from this disappointment.

Without the clarity and insight of what you learned from this loss, you’ll never grow from this challenge, and you’ll find yourself back in the same place after your next loss or disappointment.

Make a plan because it’s time to take action

You experienced a disappointment that you had no control over which feels unfair and frustrating. Creating a plan of action is your opportunity to take control. You’re not happy with a particular outcome or you’re not happy with your performance, so what are you going to do about it?

Remember when I said that experiencing a loss is very different than “being a loser?” There’s a big difference between losing and feeling upset about it versus losing, feeling upset and still making the conscious choice to rise to the occasion.

Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who spent over four years in a concentration camp and wrote the book, Mans Search for Meaning. Frankl said, “when we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Frankl lost everything when he became a prisoner, yet he was able to recognize that no one can take away how you decide to see a person, an event or a situation.

You can’t avoid disappointment and you can’t run from loss but what you can do is decide how you’re going to react to the loss and that is everything.

5 steps for when you're feeling disappointed

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