I’ve been thinking a lot about beliefs lately.
For one thing, I believe we can change our beliefs. (Ooh…meta!)
But I’ve been very aware lately that my responses and reactions to various situations don’t seem to line up with what I believe.
For example, if I believe that the process of creating something is more important than the results, why does it feel like an unrecoverable disaster when I launch something that falls flat?
That sense of failure is a big struggle for me.
Intellectually, I know that none of that effort is wasted. There’s learning and experience woven throughout, just waiting to be assimilated.
I found myself asking, though, when would I reach the point where I would feel it in my bones? When would I know it so well that a setback was no big deal?
But asking that question means there’s an underlying assumption that’s gumming up the works.
The assumption I’m making is that if I truly believed that none of my efforts were wasted, I wouldn’t feel disappointed.
In other words, it’s not okay to be disappointed in how a project turns out because then it means I don’t really believe the process is more important than the results.
But is this true?
What’s true is that I feel disappointment.
Part of that is coming from not getting what I want. And sure, part of me does feel I’ve done all that work for nothing.
But the rest of it? I think it comes from what the “failure” says about me.
It’s about the meaning I attach to failure.
A disappointment turns into a disaster when we assign meaning to it in unhelpful ways.
And it doesn’t much matter what it is – if I make a plan and that plan doesn’t go the way I want, it cues a chorus of loud, angry voices saying things like:
I’ll never figure this out.
This is too hard.
I’m not good at this.
I’m not cut out for this.
I should just give up.
I should have known better.
But does a mishap or setback or disappointing outcome really mean any of those things?
Drawing those conclusions from a setback (however painful) is really a form of self-sabotage. If I define myself as a failure ever time something doesn’t go my way, it’s way too tempting to give up.
The truth is that a disappointing outcome is nothing more than a disappointing outcome. It’s okay to want something to turn out in a certain way. And it’s okay to feel disappointed when it doesn’t.
It’s okay to grieve and even throw a tantrum.
(I think there’s a lot of drivel out there that implies if we’re “doing self-development right,” we’ll never feel negative emotions. On an unconscious level I’ve bought into that, but it’s complete bullshit.)
It’s not easy – at all – but I’m working on remembering that the only person who gets to assign meaning to my setbacks is me.
Since we were all taught what meanings to assign various outcomes from a very early age, the grooves in our brains are well worn. So we can’t expect to unlearn them overnight.
Just like meditation, it’s a practice.
As you meditate, your mind wanders and you just keep going back to your breath, time after time.
The goal of meditation isn’t to reach the point of not having thoughts. In fact, the more you try to stop your mind from wandering, the more it will happen. Rather, you’re trying to meet your mind’s tendency to wander with kindness, letting go of the thought and returning to your breath. No matter how frequently it happens.
In the same way, when dealing with the fallout from a setback of some kind, you’re not trying to squelch the disappointment (or anger, sadness, grief, frustration) you feel. All you can do is meet the sad parts of yourself with compassion, while choosing the meaning that works for you. Over and over again.
I’m choosing (well, trying to choose) to see setbacks as a necessary step along the path. And slowly I’m learning to meet the accompanying emotional upheaval with acceptance. To allow myself to experience the emotions without believing they define me.
It’s completely counter-intuitive, but the more I accept who, how and where I am, the more quickly things shift.
Do the setbacks still hurt? Yep. Do I still wish I would “just get over it already?” Yep. And then eventually I remind myself that the meaning is what I say it is. Again.
What meaning do you assign to setbacks and disappointments?
How would it feel to choose a more supportive meaning?