"There are too many people in the world today who decide to live disappointed rather than risk feeling disappointment."
~ Brené Brown

“There are too many people in the world today who decide to live disappointed rather than risk feeling disappointment.”
~ Brené Brown

Dealing with Disappointment

​This is a quote I came across the other day while reading Brené Brown’s excellent new book, “Atlas of the Heart.” It was one of those quotes that immediately had me pause to admire the depth of the thought, and the potential for inclusion in my weekly quote and comment that I send to around six thousand people who have subscribed to the list.

I loved it because it spoke so clearly to the experience of living one way in order to avoid experiencing something else… in this case, living disappointed to avoid the risk of feeling disappointment. Of course, if you are aware of my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that how we “live” or experience life on a regular basis is a major focus of the model. And further, that living a meaningful life of purpose and joy is what it’s all about.

Therefore, the idea of living disappointed to avoid risking feeling disappointment would be incongruent with what I would want for myself and/or recommend to others. Further, in looking at the neuroscience behind my model, we can see why this goal of avoidance is not recommended, i.e., we are trusting the reactive, fear-based part of the brain (the limbic system and lower brainstem) to keep us safe from disappointment by expecting the worst, or just living as someone who is “disappointed.”

This reminds me of another quote that I have used in the past that says, “When our purpose becomes avoidance, our life becomes a void.” The dictionary describes a void as “a completely empty space,” or “an emptiness caused by the loss of something.” In this case, the “something” that seems to be lost is a sense of optimism or some vision that things will turn out fine. What we are left with, therefore, is the experience of living disappointed, and while this may serve to protect us from some degree of feeling let down if things do not turn out fine, the cost seems to be a life of low expectations and a lack of confidence in our ability to create the experience of life that we want.

What I also love about Dr. Brown’s quote is how she defines what we are trying to avoid as “the “risk of feeling disappointment,” because to live with a sense of optimism does involve some risk, which means it will take courage to believe that we are able to influence our experience of life… now, and in the future.

Of course, one way to mitigate that risk is to ensure that we are using what psychologist, Martin Seligman, describes as “realistic optimism” versus “pollyanna optimism.” Realistic optimism is indeed looking at the future optimistically, but it isn’t about just hoping things will turn out fine. It’s about having as much influence as possible in the process. From my perspective, this means defining who we are (choosing the qualities and characteristics that we want to bring to life) and trusting that this way of being will put us in the best position to influence both the present and the future.

To do this, we must be coming from the clear, confident, purposeful part of the brain (the neocortex, or what I call “The Top of the Mind), versus the lower, fear-based reactive brain, and putting our trust in those aspects of life that we can influence versus people and things beyond our control. Easier said than done, to be sure, because our lower brain thinks that if we are not worried or anxious, we are not safe, which may have been true early in our evolution, but now only traps us in the part of the brain where avoiding risk becomes our highest purpose.

If you have decided that living a life of avoidance is not something that you would recommend to those that you love, I suggest you begin to explore trusting the clear, confident, creative, and compassionate part of who you are versus that part that wants to live disappointed in order to avoid the risk of feeling disappointment. This means trusting a “realistic optimistic” vision of both the present and the future, and looking at how our bringing our best to life in terms of who we are can be an influential factor in how we create our “now” (the only time there is) and how this perspective sets us up to influence what is to come.

In other words, rather than living a life of avoidance and creating “a void,” I suggest that we fill our experience of life with those aspects that we can control (who we are and who we are becoming) and create a vision of trusting that the best of who we are will put us in the best position to deal successfully with what we encounter. Does this involve some risk? Yes. Will this take courage? Yes.

The question that we all must answer is whether the risk is worth the reward? Or, put another way, is the experience that we create by trusting the best of who we are and consistently bringing this to life worth the risk of feeling disappointment from time to time?

If you are going to decide what to trust versus just finding yourself being a certain way, what do you want to trust… awareness or worry…realistic optimism or pessimism…love or fear?

What would you recommend to someone you love?

~ All the best, Dr. Bill