It’s not that uncommon for me to feel disappointed in myself. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t speak up and say what was really on my mind. Sometimes it’s because I was hurt or embarrassed or afraid and said something I didn’t really mean. Often it’s because I hid instead of reaching out to connect with another person. Other times it’s because I let my fear get in the way of trying something new.
My first impulse when I feel this disappointment is to criticize myself for not being better. Why are you such a coward? How do you expect to make any friends? Why would you say that? What is wrong with you?
Not only is this sort of response unpleasant, but it also does nothing to help me act differently the next time a similar situation arises.
Actually, criticizing and belittling myself is more likely to reinforce those disappointing behaviors than it is to change them. Calling myself a coward leads me to believe I’m a coward. Rather than encouraging me to act differently, it undermines my belief that I can.
Instead, I’m trying to see those moments of disappointment as an invitation. Rather than just condemning the behaviors I don’t want to continue, I’m invited to be curious about the factors that lead me to do and say those things I don’t like in the first place. My disappointment is an invitation to imagine other possibilities for responding that better fit who I want to be.
Rather than fixating on what I think I did wrong, I’m getting very specific about what I wish I had done or said instead. I’m looking back to identify what emotions were coming up for me in the moment and what needs were behind them.
Then I practice. I practice noticing what those emotions feel like in my body so I have a better chance of recognizing them in the future and responding the way I want to instead of reacting out of habit and self-protection.
I imagine going through the situation again—except this time acting and speaking in a way that makes me proud. This isn’t about dwelling in the past, but about forming new habits.
When we want to change a behavior, at first we might only catch ourselves after we’ve already done what we no longer want to do. Practicing the behavior we want instead , even in retrospect, can make it easier to choose the new behavior the next time around.
All the while, I’m trying to remain gentle with myself. I can acknowledge that I’m disappointed without being mean about it. I can create different ways of responding through creativity and growth instead of through criticism and shame.
Above all, it’s important to recognize that change is a process. What matters isn’t that I get everything just right the next time, but that I keep paying attention and trying.
Sometimes these behaviors that disappoint us, especially the often repeated ones, can be a sign of a deeper issue. It’s important to look at those underlying patterns as well as working with the behaviors themselves. In the meantime, I hope this exercise will help you get comfortable with being curious about what is prompting your disappointing words or actions and give you a kinder way to work on changing your default responses.
This week, pay attention to notice when you feel a twinge of disappointment toward yourself. What emotions were you feeling? What unmet needs are prompting those words or actions you don’t like? What would your rather do or say?
Remember, this isn’t about finding all the things you’ve done wrong. It’s about practicing the words and actions that are aligned with who you are and who you want to grow to become.
Now, imagine yourself going through the situation again, but with the new behavior. This isn’t a guarantee that you’ll never be disappointed in the same way again, but it will start giving your mind other possibilities to reach for in similar situations.
I’d love to know…what did it feel like to practice ways of behaving in the future that will make you proud of who you are instead of beating yourself up for something you did in the past?