The 6 Steps Emotionally Intelligent People Take to Deal with Disappointment

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Hannah Berman175
June 21, 2024 at 10:33AM UTC

I recently decided to pitch some ideas for articles I'd like to write to the editor-in-chief of a publication that I had worked with before. I was a little nervous, never having reported to this particular editor-in-chief, but I wrote my pitches quickly anyway, assuming they would be up to par. Even though I had jotted them down rather quickly, I thought that they were good ideas, and I was feeling pretty confident by the time that I sent the email. 

A horrifyingly short seventeen minutes later, I received a response. 

“Dear Hannah, 

Nice to meet you.

I think that each of these is problematic in its own way, and I’ll explain why and then give my suggestions.” 

My heart didn’t just stop beating, it practically fell out of my chest. I had considered these pitches a mere formality and was already planning on how to spend my commission. I’m no stranger to disappointment, of course — in my time working as a writer, I’ve faced constant rejection, harsh edits and brutal feedback from my peers. I can’t count the times that I’ve been immensely proud of a piece and it has been met with blank stares and yawns. Thankfully, there is a silver lining to this parade of rejection: due to my near-constant exposure to the feeling, I’ve found a few ways to ease the pain of a shocking disappointment. 

6 steps for dealing with disappointment.

I’ve figured out that processing and recovering from disappointment becomes easier if you break down the process into a few manageable steps and tackle them one at a time.

1. Understand the emotions you’re feeling.

If you don’t fully understand the emotions you’re feeling, you might as well not even bother trying to get over your emotional reaction. It’s important to analyze what you’re experiencing so that you know exactly what elements of your situation have led you to feel this way — in the future, that introspection will become useful as a tool to examine your actions and determine whether they’re worth your energy. 

When I got that email, I was disappointed by the response, sure; but when I really examined what I was feeling, I was more disappointed in myself. I had treated these pitches as if they didn’t really matter, when in actuality, they did. I was mostly upset because I hadn’t dedicated myself to this task the way I should have, and for that reason, I had lost the chance to write some really interesting articles. That was an important realization for me. 

2. Allow yourself to be sad.

Although it might be counterintuitive, I’ve found that allowing myself a limited amount of time in which to feel disappointed can actually help me recover more quickly. Note, of course, that I said “limited:” if you allow yourself to feel so much sadness that it ends up consuming you, you need to rethink your strategy. Instead, set a timer, and promise yourself that by the time the alarm sounds, you will begin the next stage of moving on. Cry a little, if you need to. In response to stressful stimuli, your body can have an emotional reaction that is difficult to hold inside; let it out, if only for a little. 

3. Distract yourself.

The next stop on my well-traveled road to recovery is finding an appropriate distraction. Distracting yourself from your problems is necessary because in order to properly appraise your situation and figure out where to go next, you need to be able to make a judgement call that is emotion-free; without distracting yourself, it’s hard to achieve the emotional distance in order to see your position objectively. I am personally a big advocate of both healthy and unhealthy distractions — as long as it’s taking your mind off of things, it’s doing its job. With that said, keep in mind that any activity or indulgence that you take too far can be undoing its positive influence. Know your limits. Here are some distraction suggestions, if you’re feeling stuck:

• Going to the gym.

Working out can be a good distraction, because it will also serve to elevate your mood. Physical exertion releases serotonin and norepinephrine into the brain. These chemicals help create the sensation of joy, so when you go for a run, you’re not just getting your mind off things but also actually forcing yourself to be in a better mood.

• Hanging with loved ones.

Just being around the people you love, whether they be friends, family or a romantic partner, can distract you immensely. Ask them how their day is going, and you'll likely be engaged in conversation for at least 20 minutes. 

• Cleaning your living space.

If you’re upset and looking for something mindless to do, take on the dirty dishes, or get out the mop. At least there will be some positive side effects from your disappointment.

• Watching a TV show.

Getting sucked into a thrilling narrative can take your mind off your problems even when nothing else can. I recommend episodic shows like Law and Order for when you want to spend a little time focusing on someone else's life before you have to return to thinking about your own; that way, when the episode is done, you're ready to deal with your problems. 

• Eating some really, really good chocolate.

This is my failsafe method of distraction. Cons: the distraction only lasts as long as your chocolate supply does.

4. Address the problem

After I’ve spent enough time distracting myself and gotten adequate space from my former emotional state, I like to return to thinking about my problem. I usually know that I’m ready for this step when I notice that I've been calm without thinking about my problems for 15 or so minutes; once my mind has stopped freewheeling back to the topic without my consent, I can start addressing the issue. 

This step can look different depending on what you're disappointed about. For a romantic disappointment, maybe this would be the moment wherein you decide that you can’t let yourself get your hopes up as quickly about the relationship that might arise from your Tinder hookup; for a social disappointment, maybe this is when you realize that if your friend keeps blowing you off for dinner, you should wait for them to reach out next time. When I finally returned to thinking about the response I had gotten from the editor-in-chief, I realized that I had let myself down. I knew immediately that the next time I sent in my ideas, I needed to put more thought into my pitches. 

5. Make a concrete plan.

Of course, it’s not enough to just decide to do better “next time” — in order to truly bounce back from a setback, you need to figure out when “next time” will be, and make a concrete plan to better yourself for when it arrives. If you have high romantic expectations, plan to delete Tinder and download OkCupid instead. If your friend isn’t putting the same effort in as you are, plan to have a chat with them about what the friendship means to each of you, or plan to stop putting in the effort. With a plan, when “next time” arrives, you won’t make the same mistake you made that left you so disappointed.

6. Put that plan into action.

This may go without saying, but sometimes it needs to be said: once you’ve made your plan, follow through. There is power in planning, of course, but there is also power in delivering upon your word. I’ve found that nothing makes me feel better in the wake of a disappointment than the act of putting my plan into motion. 

After having eaten around 43 chocolate chips and recognizing that I needed to send in work that I was proud of every single time, I realized something big: I didn’t want to wait for the next time. I emailed back the editor-in-chief, acknowledging the suggestions sent to me, and proposed a new idea — one that I thought was even better than my previous pitches. This time, the response email came within three minutes, and it was much less terse. I got the go-ahead from the editor-in-chief, and I ended up writing something that I was really proud of — all because I allowed myself to feel my disappointment and then figured out a way to combat it.

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