The idea that suffering is inevitable (and subsequently, that suffering is an integral step toward enlightenment) is central to many religions, including Buddhism and Christianity.
Why do so many religions address suffering? I believe it’s for good reason: every human being will experience suffering, and that suffering has a great deal of power to contribute to your enlightenment or your destruction.
And what single emotion contributes to the vast majority of our suffering? It’s disappointment — the difference between what you thought and what is.
The Degrees of Disappointments
Many of the disappointments that chip away at resolve and energy are small ones: grabbing a quick salad on the go and realizing they forgot to put the dressing in the bag or receiving a utility bill that is double what you expected.
These small disappointments don’t usually result in total derailment; at least, not one at a time. But a failure to shake off these little let-downs can result in a slow, progressive change toward negativity and unhappiness. This can lead to our derailment over time or contribute to a fragility that can’t withstand a greater disappointment when it hits.
Some of the disappointments in life are big: divorce, loss of a loved one, your own serious illness, unexpected job loss. These are the disappointments that have the greatest risk of knocking you off your game, especially if you’ve allowed resentment to grow and gain momentum due to the little letdowns. Given all this, it’s critical to learn how to rebound from the difference between what you hoped and what is.
In this article, I’m going to share my five strategies for successfully rebounding. These tools have helped me become resilient. You can practice by applying them when you experience those inconvenient, annoying disappointments until you master the skill of rebound — or until you face an inevitable major disappointment and get a chance to put your skills to the test.
1. Establish a Routine for Coping
Professional athletes are experts at rebounding from loss. They’re able to put a loss behind them and move forward with the same confidence and resolve they had prior to the disappointment. In order to more closely explore the topic of resilience, I found myself asking the question, “Why?” Why are professional athletes so good at bouncing back?
What I found is that they make the process of acknowledging the loss and then shaking it off and moving forward a tangible process. They do something that engages all of their senses and symbolizes a fresh start. For some, it’s a hot shower and a good scrub with soap and water to “wash away” the disappointment, the embarrassment, and the not-good-enough lies running through their self-talk.
So, strategy number one is to develop a routine for shaking off disappointment, with these things in mind:
- Your routine should engage your senses, especially your sense of touch.
- Your routine should not overlook the emotional aspect of your suffering; recognizing the emotions you’re experiencing is critical to coping appropriately (more on that in the next section).
- Your routine shouldn’t require you to be on top of Mount Everest or have twelve free hours; choose something you can do anywhere, any time of day, in twenty minutes or less.
2. Recognize and Process Emotions
Even today, an overwhelming number of adults are functioning under the lesson their parents taught them when they were just children: be tough and don’t cry. It’s pretty hard to argue with the importance of being tough, but what does “being tough” mean? It should not mean repressing your emotions or resisting tears.
The second strategy to becoming more resilient is giving your emotions the attention they deserve. You can do that by:
- Facing and admitting the truth of the situation (i.e. “I owe this money and there is no way to get out of it,” or, “My spouse is moving on”).
- Allowing yourself to mourn (and that includes crying as hard as you want).
- Journaling to set goals, acknowledge emotions, and document progress.
- Redirecting your focus to moving forward.
If you’re struggling to redirect your focus or you’re stuck in the mourning phase for longer than is acceptable (long enough to lose your job, for example), seek help from a counselor or therapist who can walk you through the process of recognizing and processing emotions in a healthy way.
3. Fake It Till You Make It
You’ve heard the term fake it till you make it, and although it’s a cliche, it’s truly a helpful coping strategy.
So, the third strategy to implement is: fake it till you make it. Stand tall with your shoulders back, move forward with the routines of daily life, and persevere toward your dreams and goals despite setbacks (but only after a good cry, of course).
Standing tall with your shoulders back and putting on a positive front can directly impact the way you feel, improving your confidence and optimism. It can also directly impact your internal dialogue, primarily because it takes a positive dialogue to fake it till you make it, which looks something like this:
“I’ve got this. I can do this. One day at a time. I am moving forward. I am strong enough. I am good enough. I am resilient.”
You must convince yourself before you can convince anybody else.
4. Adjust Your Expectations
Remember, disappointment — a key contributing to suffering — is the difference between what you expect and what is. So, while the component we tend to focus on most is that which is out of our control (reality), we have complete control over half of this equation. Taking a little ownership can almost immediately restore your ability to bounce back.
There are two primary benefits to recognizing your own unrealistic expectations:
- It can help you process the current disappointment with less anger and resentment and more personal control.
- It can help you adjust your expectations to prevent or lessen future disappointment.
So, the fourth strategy is to examine your own expectations and adjust for resilience.
5. Be More Mindful
Mindfulness — that is, awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and the world around us — has become more challenging in a technically-advanced world but remains just as important as ever before when it comes to resilience. The fifth and final strategy I developed for bouncing back from disappointment is to be more mindful through twice-daily, five-minute journaling.
I developed the Happier Mind Journal to satisfy this purpose. It provides the template I need to set my vision for the day each morning, and then follow up on my progress and how I feel at the end of each day. What I’ve found as I document my progress is that my mindfulness increases, my mood and energy improve, and my resilience grows.