How Does One Bounce Back From Crushing Disappointments?

Have you ever wanted something so badly, that you couldn’t imagine what you would do if things didn’t work out your way?

Failing to get into your first choice school. Failing to advance in the competition you’ve spent the last nine months preparing for. Coming up just short in the audition for your dream orchestra, which hasn’t had an opening in five years.

How are we supposed to rebound from moments like these?

The 5-step formula…or not

I wish there were a 5-step formula for getting back on your feet with a smile. But I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

Even though sport psychologists have been researching mental toughness, determination, and resilience for years, I’m not sure how well the findings in this area help us handle defeats of the demoralizing, devastating variety. Regular old day-to-day defeats absolutely, but crushing ones…I’m not so sure.

After all, most of us can learn to handle the occasional bad performance, or the audition where we don’t advance. But when we only get one chance to go to the college of our dreams, and there may not be another opening in our dream orchestra for years?

That hits us a bit harder.

Athletes and injuries

Athletes are accustomed to dealing with physical adversity of all kinds, but for many, a serious injury may be one of the most challenging mental and emotional situations they will ever face.

Amidst concerns and uncertainty about whether they will ever be able to return to their former level of performance, and whether this will significantly affect (or end) their careers, injured athletes experience a range of emotions, including feelings of loss or grief, anger, frustration, fear, depression, and decreased self-esteem.

There may not be a magic formula for getting the sun to shine and birds to sing again, but there are a few guidelines that sport psychologists recommend in times like this. Many of these seem as though they would be relevant to musicians dealing with crushing setbacks (or injuries) of their own.


1. Support

Most athletes report that their support team played a major role in the “bounce-back” process. Of course, having the right support team is key, because the wrong support team can add unnecessary stress and make you feel even worse.

You can choose whomever you want to be on your team, but here are some things to look for in those you consider.

Sense of humor

We all can use a good laugh from time to time, and now is no exception. People who can make us laugh at the right time are invaluable.


Start with people whom you’ve known for a long time, and whom you trust have your best interets at heart. And who won’t disappear when you need them most. A trusted family member, friend, or mentor may be a good place to start.

They get it

Look for people who have been there themselves, who understand how devastating it can be to experience what you have, and who understand how much this means to you. If they can’t appreciate how much this hurts, they’re probably going to irrirate you more than they’re going to help.


It’s one thing to have someone who can empathize with you, but you might also need a kick in the rear, or a moment of some honest truth. Make sure you have people who are not afraid to tell you what you need to hear (but gently and appropriately) even if you may not want to hear it.

2. Perspective

It’s easy to lose perspective when it feels like we’ve just been crapped on by the universe.

Remember who you are

Take time to engage in activities in other areas of your life that you find fulfilling and meaningful. Remember that as big a part as music plays in your life, that’s not the entirety of who you are. You are many other things, and contribute to the world around you in so many other ways that you might take for granted. There are people around you who need you for you, not just for your ability to make music.

Remember what you really want

Someone once said that how we feel is the only currency in our life that matters. Indeed, we often get so fixated on the details, that we forget what it’s all for – to be happy, inspired, content, excited, etc.

How often have you gotten exactly what you thought you always wanted, only to discover that it didn’t make you feel like you thought it would?

Conversely, how many times have you found yourself being happy with something you never would have wished for in a million years?

Try this exercise: Write down a list of the three things in your life that you are most grateful for. Now, take each one of those items, and go backwards in time, tracing along the path that got you there, until you get to an event, which at the time, felt like really bad news.

For instance, my wife and kids are the thing I am most grateful for. So how did I meet my wife?

By getting rejected by my top two colleges as a senior in high school.

I was pretty devastated at the time, as I really had my heart set on going to those two schools. I tend not to cry (my wife affectionately accuses me of being dead inside), but I do remember tearing up a bit.

Though I got into other schools that most would consider just as prestigious, I wasn’t really interested, and found myself attending a school that I never planned on going to. Yet that was the first step along the path that led me to my wife, kids, and my present work (also in my Top 3).

Indeed, we are surprisingly inept at predicting what will make us happy. There’s a terrific book related to this subject called Stumbling on Happiness, written by Harvard professor (and high school drop-out) Daniel Gilbert.

To 2013 and beyond…

It’s that time of year when we tend to reflect on the last twelve months, and begin thinking ahead to the next twelve.

I stopped setting New Year’s resolutions several years ago, and if you’d like to try some alternate (and possibly counterintuitive) approaches, I’ll be writing a 3-part subscribers-only email series this week with some ideas on how to take 2013 by the horns and give it a good kick in the rear.

Frankly, I’m not quite sure what I mean by that, but if you’d like to find out, just subscribe here (subscribing is always free, of course) and I’ll make sure it gets to your inbox.

photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photopin cc

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

For most of my life, I assumed that I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, with time and performance experience, the nerves would just go away.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing, and start enjoying more satisfying practice days that also transfer to the stage.


8 Responses

  1. Hi Noa,
    congratulations on an excellent post.
    One of my sons gave me Gilbert’s book for my 60th birthday earlier this year. It has had a profound effect on my thinking.
    Best wishes to you,

  2. Continue to do what you love and try new interests. You’ll find there are joys and opportunities beyond what you had previously imagined possible.

  3. Now I truly wonder if you are following me around. The timing of your articles are truly uncanny, especially now. Aka, thanks. I can’t tell you how much I needed this.

  4. Thanks Dr Noa.
    I’ve been playing piano for a Disadvantaged Pre School. While Preparing for the Year End concert, I wasn’t cutting it. I got upset, went home upset, and Hubby said, that I must get out. He didn’t want me bringing those vides out.

    Well to answer the Question — How does one Bounce back from Crushing Disappointments? I suppose the answer is to dust yourself off. [All my friends say that I’m better out; That part of my life is behind me; and things like that. No one even suggested giving it another try in the New Year.] I play piano at the Old Age Home. And I’m playing for The Christmas Carols on Friday 2 Weeks time. I also play organ there once a month. Maybe if I get bored I can visit Old folks too. Another thing I’ve started doing since I stepped back is. Taking Pictures of Wildflowers and writing up a Herbarium about Wild plants. There was a Day workshop on Flower Photography, which Roger, my Husband attended and enjoyed. I’m still trying to learn to play a simple version of the Trout by Schubert, just for fun.
    Thanks for your words of wisdom

  5. The only way I ever found to deal with this is to ALWAYS go into a big situation like this with a contingency plan. Never go into something, no matter how badly you want it, without a Plan B.

  6. Frank Herbert wrote, “Any road followed precisely to its end leads nowhere.”

    If somehow you achieve every single thing you aim for, then you have to set fresh goals.

    Either way — win or lose — you’ll be setting fresh goals. So the task is the same, once the triumph or the disaster is in the rearview mirror. Like Kipling said, treat those two imposters just the same. And keep moving; mentally, physically, emotionally –life is motion.

  7. Good Post.

    Even a crushing disappointment can teach you what you are doing wrong, and if you get back up you’ll do better next time.

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