Are You Setting Yourself Up for Disappointment?

September 4th, 2009

DisappointmentEven though nobody likes disappointment, many people frequently experience it as a result of their own doing. Are you one of them?

Many of us tend to grow hopeful for some kind of change in our lives and gradually become dependent on the expectation of how happy it will make us. If the change doesn’t happen, we tend to perceive it as failure, and the resulting disappointment often leaves us feeling cheated and unhappy. With a different perspective, the same situation could instead be perceived as a positive and valuable experience.

Although this applies to any aspect of life, it’s especially pertinent to your health and the associated prospect of life altering changes. Fortunately, with the right perspective, it’s possible to aggressively pursue such changes while also minimizing the risk of disappointment and the unhealthy emotions that it brings.

A Different Perspective on Disappointment

I recently read a thought provoking article by Stephen Mills of The Rat Race Trap called When Wonder Replaces Hope. The article describes how hopes, wishes, and expectations promote a mentality that invites disappointment.

Being an extremely determined individual with very high expectations, I immediately found myself at odds with what I was reading. I had always considered hope and expectation to be important drivers of motivation, and I also considered disappointment to be a valuable opportunity for growth. However, my perspective on hope, expectation, and disappointment began to change as I gave this more thought.

What Matters Most is Your Perception of the Outcome

Hope creates an emotional bias towards a particular outcome, and in turn, encourages all other outcomes to be perceived as a failure. If the desired outcome is not achieved and failure is perceived, the resulting disappointment often invokes ugly emotions such as frustration, anger, and depression.

In Stephen’s article, he discusses the concept of wondering what the future will bring rather than hoping for a specific outcome. With the impartial nature of this approach, disappointment will be much less of a possibility. I initially had trouble accepting this idea because I think the impartiality implies a lack of passion.

Perhaps I simply don’t understand the concept well enough to see it’s full value, but after giving it more thought, I came up with a different perspective that made it easier to embrace. Regardless of whether you wonder or hope, what’s most important is how you perceive the outcome. If you’re prepared to make the best of whatever happens, I think it’s possible to have a passionate bias towards a particular outcome without inviting unnecessary disappointment.

Lemonade Keeps the Disappointment Away

When life gives you a lemon, you make lemonade. Most of us have probably heard this expression many times without giving it much thought. It means that you should embrace the positive aspects of your current situation regardless of how bad it may seem. If you’re able to do this consistently, happiness will be easy to find.

Most of us go through life wanting what we don’t have. We fool ourselves into thinking that we’ll be happy once we get it, but when we do, it quickly loses it’s appeal and we move on to wanting something else. This often leads to depression and makes happiness seem much more elusive than it really is. In contrast, those of us who can passionately pursue change while maintaining a strong appreciation for what we already have are much more likely to live a rewarding life.

We all have the unique human ability to change reality by choosing how we perceive it. The stories of two incredible individuals exemplify how powerful this ability can be. Viktor Frankl endured years of horrendous treatment as a prisoner of several Nazi concentration camps, but was still able to find meaning in his misfortune. Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs, and despite his initially miserable outlook on life, he eventually chose to be happy by embracing what he did have instead of dwelling on what he was missing. He has since found an abundance of happiness and fulfillment by inspiring others to do the same.

If Viktor Frankl and Nick Vujicic can overcome such unfortunate circumstances, then we can certainly overcome the much more trivial matters that often overwhelm us with disappointment.

How Hopes and Expectations Have Effected My Life

Expectations are a level beyond hope in terms of committing yourself to an outcome and inviting disappointment. I’ve always held very high expectations for myself and am also a perfectionist. Although this has given me the courage to take on big challenges and the determination to accomplish a lot of great things, it’s is a dangerous combination. On many occasions, I’ve pushed myself too hard and have been too critical of my progress. By doing so, I ultimately invited disappointment by perceiving failure.

Fortunately, I now realize that I could have chosen to perceive the same situations as positive experiences rather than failures. Doing so hasn’t taken anything away from my determination, and in fact, it allows me to pursue my passions and goals in a more enjoyable and effective manner. I can’t say that I’ve mastered this ability, or that I’ve even come close, but I’ve made valuable progress that’s improved my life and I encourage you to do the same.

Your Hope for Better Health

We all know that too much stress is bad for your health, and as I pointed out, becoming too attached to hopes and expectations can be a significant source of it. Because of how important our health is, it’s an aspect of life that can inspire wild expectations. As I describe in my story of poor health, I became extremely determined after realizing my potential for a much better life. However, I also established very high expectations which led to some major frustration and disappointment that was tough to endure. Although I did make tremendous progress and am extremely grateful for it, I now realize that I could have approached the process in a much more balanced way and probably have saved myself a lot of grief.

I’m definitely not suggesting that you should surrender to the limitations of poor health and accept a compromised quality of life. I fully encourage you to let your imagination run wild with possibilities and to put forth your best effort to make them a reality. However, it’s important that you find happiness in your current situation and come to terms with the possibility that you may not achieve your goals. Whether you consider this “wondering”, “hoping”, or a combination of the two, what’s important is that you stay positive and maintain your enthusiasm for life.

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