If there’s one thing you can count on in life, it’s that you’ll have to deal with disappointment. As a dancer, there are disappointments around every corner. Not making a team you had your heart set on, losing a competition you felt confident you would win, or being cut from a routine. How come some dancers are resilient through disappointments and seem to easily pick themselves back up? Well, it’s probably not actually easy to do, but we can learn from each experience and teach ourselves to be more resilient. As a coach, I think it’s an important life lesson to teach our dancers to deal with disappointment. We can’t protect them from every possible negative outcome, that would be doing them a disservice. Instead, we can teach them to have big goals and dreams, go for it, and if you fall short or the opportunity is taken away, you will survive the disappointment and live to dance another day.
It’s in the past…
If you are experiencing disappointment, then by definition the thing you are thinking about is in the past. It already happened, it’s over, and now you are experiencing a sense of loss or defeat. But the point is, it’s over. We don’t feel disappointment before an event. We feel disappointed after an event if it doesn’t go our way. So if you’re feeling disappointed, you are probably ruminating over something and going over it in your head on repeat. But you can’t change it. You can’t go back. Dealing with disappointment takes conscious effort. So how do you transition from disappointment into a place of acceptance and move forward?
6 Steps to Dealing with Disappointment
1. Emotional awareness
The first step is to be aware of your emotions and understand that what you’re feeling is disappointment. It’s a feeling of regret, sadness, or a sense of defeat in expectation. Disappointment can look like anger or other emotions, so it’s important to first understand your own emotions and recognize that the real reason you’re upset is disappointment.
2. Accept that disappointment is a human experience
It happens to everyone. Even the best dancers in the world and the coach you admire most right now, has been severely disappointed more than once. If you can recognize that these feelings are normal and start to accept that everyone has to go through this at some point, you start to feel less alone.
3. Start to reframe the experience
Once you’ve accepted that disappointment is normal, you can start to reframe the experience. Try to take an objective view of what happened. Write down what happened but try to separate the emotion from it. Stick to the facts. If you can detach your emotions from what happened then you start to regain power over the situation.
4. Change your self-talk
When we feel a sense of disappointment, we go one of two ways… we either 1) blame ourselves or 2) feel like the world it out to get us and we’re doomed to be disappointed again. When you’re upset, notice your thoughts. Do you say things to yourself like, “I never get what I work for,” or “I have such back luck,” or “I can’t keep trying.” That type of self-talk will keep you focused on the negative events in the past without allowing you to gain control on the situation. Instead, once you notice those thoughts, change your self-talk to something like, “I feel disappointed, but it’s a phase and I can get myself out of it.”
5. Focus on a new accomplishment
After a sense of defeat and disappointment it’s easy to wallow in it and decide no goal is worth striving for. Rather than sitting in that dark place, focus on a new goal, even a small one. Set yourself up for a sense of accomplishment. Work on something new and allow yourself to feel a sense of success and personal triumph. Make a plan to move forward on a new goal and shift your focus forward. The disappointment is in the past, so reframe the event, change your self-talk, and focus on a new accomplishment.
6. Reach out for help from others.
Since disappointment is a common human emotion, we all go through it and if you reach out for support you will find someone who understands. You don’t have to experience disappointment alone so share your emotions with a trusted friend and then have that friend help you with the other steps. They can help you see the reality of the situation and recognize fact from fiction. Empathize, and then help you refocus your thoughts and energy on the future. Getting over a disappointment in dance is normal, but that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve definitely lost events I thought I should have won, been sent home from auditions that were really important to me, and recently in 2020, had things out of my control take away events that bring me so much joy. So, if you and your dancers are experiencing a lot of disappointment lately, you’re not alone. But you do have the power to either wallow in it and let that negative emotion consume you, or instead sit in it for a bit, acknowledge it, and then make the choice to look forward.