There’s nothing quite like the days leading up to January 1—that idealistic time when we start plotting for the year ahead and it feels like anything is possible. (Okay, so maybe some of that optimism is just a lingering dopamine high from holiday cookies and cocktails.…)
But if there’s one thing that’ll kill a vision-board buzz, it’s this: the realization that your big goal for the past year didn’t actually come to fruition.
Maybe you resolved to start a serious relationship, but all you have now are a handful of new friends with benefits. Maybe you were gunning for a promotion, but your LinkedIn profile hasn’t changed. Or perhaps you wanted to run a marathon, but brunches and happy hours always seemed to trump training.
“Disappointment is the flag you should seize to go deeper and figure something out about yourself.”
No matter what the scenario, the disappointment that comes along with failure is real. But according to life coach Lauren Handel Zander, co-founder of The Handel Group, it’s a feeling that can actually benefit you if framed properly.
“Disappointment is the flag you should seize to go deeper and figure something out about yourself,” she says. “It’s an indication that you either should have put more effort in, or the effort you did put in wasn’t right. And when you have that insight, you can make a new promise for next year.”
Before you start setting your intentions for 2017, Zander says it’s helpful to take time to do your own personal year in review to pinpoint exactly where you went off course. Pull out your journal and follow her process, and she says you’ll most definitely feel better while watching the ball drop.
Keep reading to find out how to handle disappointment when your year didn’t work out as planned.
Step 1: Acknowledge what went right
Even if 2016 felt largely like a flop, there were surely some things that worked out in your favor. Problem is, it’s sometimes hard to see those things when you’re dealing with a major disappointment.
“Everyone should get a prize for living, because there’s nothing simple about it,” says Zander. “Really take the time to honor and love the year you just had, whether it was good or bad.” She says that this is especially important for “achieve-aholics” who tend to focus on how they fell short of their own high expectations.
If you start out by counting your victories, you’ll see that your unfulfilled resolution doesn’t have to define your whole year. “You can sweeten your life by understanding your accomplishments, acknowledging the people that are connected to them, and really relishing what worked about 2016,” says Zander. (Need some pointers on starting a gratitude practice? Here’s how spiritual leaders give thanks.)
Step 2: Evaluate what went wrong
According to Zander, there are two types of failure.
The first is when you set a goal, but didn’t give enough effort to achieve it. “It’s really important to look at whether you put the work in or not,” Zander says. “When you tell the truth, there’s usually an action missing—I didn’t exercise enough, I didn’t go on enough dates, I didn’t look hard enough for a new job.”
From there, she says, you may realize that there’s something deeper standing in your way—like fear that needs to be addressed—or maybe you’ll find the goal isn’t all that important to you, after all. If that’s the case, leave it off your 2017 to-do list and move on.
The second type of failure is when you put in serious effort, but still didn’t get what you wanted. In some cases, Zander explains, you may just have unrealistic expectations when it comes to timing. “We are instant gratification junkies,” Zander says. But the reality is “it takes as long as it takes, and it’s always longer than you think—and definitely longer than you want.”
But if you’ve been plugging away at a goal for years and still aren’t seeing results, Zander believes it may be time to call in some outside help. “It could be that the actions you’re taking aren’t right,” she says. “That’s when you should sit down with [an expert] and go through your plan.”
And if all else fails, says the life coach, set a deadline. “If you’re wondering how much longer you should be pursuing something you’re failing at, and the effort is really there, give it six more months,” she suggests. “If it doesn’t happen by then, it’s not meant to be.”
Step 3: Get closure
Zander’s favorite New Year’s Eve ritual is the anti-vision board—she and her friends create collages of all the things they want to leave behind from the previous year and throw them in a bonfire. “You could say goodbye to your laziness, to that guy, to that job,” she says. “And then gather photos of what you want to create, and throw them in the fire, too.” Looking for an activity for your high-vibe holiday party? This is it.
Step 4: Make a fresh start
When setting your intentions for the coming year, try focusing on a single project. “Take on a big goal and mean it, rather than six half-baked things,” says Zander. “Make 2017 about one real thing—like having more fun or getting ahead in your career—and then map out how you’re going to do that.”
You’ll also have a better chance at success if you’ve got an accountability buddy. “Doing something alone in your head is where the enemy lives,” the coach warns. “Get someone to [work towards your goal with you] and have one dinner a month where you check in.” You may just find your late-December buzz lasts all year long.