13th December, 2022

How to Deal with Xmas Disasters and Other Disappointments in Life with Corrina Gordon-Barnes

With Dr Corrina Gordon-Barnes

Photo of Dr Corrina Gordon-Barnes

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On this episode

Do you look forward to Christmas holidays or other family celebrations only to be disappointed that reality is not what you had hoped it would be? Or has life not worked out as expected, and you’re struggling with regrets and disappointment? How do we deal with feeling disappointed, especially with the upcoming holidays?

In this 2022 Christmas Special of You Are Not A Frog, executive coach and relationship expert Corrina Gordon-Barnes joins us to explain several approaches to dealing with life’s disappointments. She builds on her years of experience as an executive coach and relationship expert to share the value of self-compassion and give simple tools we can use to turn disappointment into a learning experience.

If you’re perpetually being disappointed every holiday season, this episode might be for you!

Show links

About the guests

Dr Corrina Gordon-Barnes photo

Reasons to listen

  • Learn the value of self-compassion to overcome being disappointed.
  • Find out why bad experiences can actually be good motivators.
  • Get practical tips on how to handle disappointment (and other negative emotions!)

Episode highlights


Disappointed During Holidays


Practising Your ‘Scripts’ and ‘Dances’


The Power of Requests


Handle Expectations, Prevent Being Disappointed


Embracing Feeling Disappointed and Negative Emotions


Finding Self-Compassion


The Value of Regret


Top Three Tips to Handle Being Disappointed

Episode transcript

Corrina Gordon Barnes: I’d like to say that expectations are premeditated resentments. I also think they’re premeditated disappointments as well. I’ve learned to radically switch my expectations. Again, because I am a natural optimist idealist, I’ll always envisage things being the best, and then all I’ve got to go from there is really to be disappointed. Whereas my wife is very, very handy as a partner because she will tend to see the perceived problems.

That’s just how her mind works. It’s a different way of looking at things. This is actually a concept in psychology called counterfactual thinking. What many of us will do is will tend towards upward counterfactual thinking, which is that things should have been better, would have been better. Actually, it’s really, really lovely to imagine that, actually, the alternative to what is happening could have been worse, because then everything seems to be a pleasant surprise.

Rachel Morris: Do you always really look forward to Christmas, holidays or other family celebrations only for it to never to live up to your expectations, or perhaps life has not worked out quite how you expected it to, and you’re struggling with regrets and disappointment? It’s fair to say that everyone on this planet has had to cope with disappointment in one way or another.

But how do we deal with disappointment in a way which doesn’t leave us resentful and bitter, floundering and a pool of self blame or angry at other people? So in this our 2022 Christmas Special, Corrina Gordon Barnes, executive coach and relationship expert joins us again to talk about how to deal with life’s disappointments. We talk about how our own lack of self compassion can make things worse and the sorts of mindset changes which can help, and we tell you how to play Christmas bingo and hunt for the pony.

So listen to this episode to find out how we so often make disappointing events much, much worse for ourselves, some simple tools which can turn any disappointment into a learning experience, and how to cope better, even with the bigger disappointments and tragedies that life throws at us. Welcome to You’re Not a Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals in high stress, high stakes jobs.

I’m Dr. Rachel Morris, a former GP, now working as a coach, trainer and speaker. Like frogs in the pan of slowly boiling water, many of us don’t notice how bad the stress and exhaustion have become until it’s too late, but you are not a frog burning out or getting out are not your only options. In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you live and work so that you can beat stress and work happier.

Have you ever thought about going on a retreat to have time to reflect properly on your life or your career? Doors are now open for our offer off grid retreat, which is happening from the second to the fifth of May 2023. We have just 20 spaces available, and I know they’re gonna go really fast. So if your loved ones are looking for a present for you, or you know you could do with a proper break and the space to think, click on the link in the show notes.

While it’s taking a few days away, it’s just impossible at the moment, our brand new free resources just for you. It’s called How to Retreat When You Can’t Go on Retreat, and it contains everything you need to create your own retreat experience, audio resources, worksheets, activities in whatever time you have, even if you can only spare an hour. You can download it now by clicking on the link in the show notes or go to shapestoolkit.com/DIYretreat.

So whether you’re going to join me in Devon in May or are planning on making a little bit of extra time for yourself in the meantime, well done on making that space for yourself. I know you deserve it. It’s wonderful to welcome back with me onto the podcast today Corrina Gordon Barnes. Welcome back, Corrina.

Corrina: Hello. I feel like I am becoming part of the furniture like a nice saggy, saggy old sofa.

Rachel: Oh, I wouldn’t describe you as a sofa, maybe a beautiful armchair.

Corrina: Thank you. I’ll take that.

Rachel: Now, you are one of our regulars and we’re hoping to get you on a lot more. Corrina, why don’t you just introduce yourself for people who have not met you before?

Corrina: I have been coaching for many years, since I was 25 years old. I was a precocious 25 year old, started coaching, and I’ve been coaching ever since.

Rachel: What do you specialise in, in particular?

Corrina: I would sum it down to relationships, what makes a relationship work, whether it’s at work, at home, how do we deal with the disappointments of relationships, the resentments of relationships, because relationships can really make or break our working life and our home life too.

Rachel: They’re one of the sort of three fold things in life that’s important. I was listening to a podcast the other day with sort of Uber coach, and they were saying, really, lifestyle was down to three things that you need to be happy. One is a sense of purpose in your life. Two is your health, and three is good relationships. Would you agree with those three?

Corrina: Yeah, I would.

Rachel: So relationships quite, quite a big field there, and I know that you’ve done a couple of really popular podcasts. The one on Should I Stay Or Should I Go, I would recommend that people check out if you’re wondering about staying in a relationship or staying in a job or staying in a friendship that has been particularly impactful, I think.

Corrina: Absolutely, that real Limbo place where you’re not really in or out, and it’s that horrible, half-hearted place. Whatever it is the job, the relationship isn’t good enough to be fully in, but you’re not quite able to leave. So you’re just, yeah, you’re in limbo.

Rachel: I think this podcast is a really good follow up to that because today we are talking about disappointment, all sorts of disappointments. But as it is our Christmas Special, we’re going to start off with talking about disappointment around Christmas or whichever holiday you celebrate. I’m hoping that even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you’re going to have a little bit of time off over the holiday season to spend with family.

So Corrina, what sorts of disappointments have you noticed tend to happen in particular around Christmas?

Corrina: There can be so much hype and the Christmas movies play into that hype or the glossiness of Instagram or Facebook or whatever platform you’re on. I think we all have in mind what a perfect Christmas or seasonal holiday might look like where everyone’s just harmonious and getting on, and there’s joy and laughter and the songs all say it. They tell us what kind of magical time of year it is.

It’s the most magical time of the year. Just for context, I am married to somebody who loves Christmas more than is really quite sane. We wouldn’t traditionally have put our Christmas tree up the day after Halloween. We were not doing that at moment with two small children who are potential wrecking balls and just wanting to learn to crawl. But as someone who is married to someone who adores Christmas, there is that image of the perfect Christmas.

Matching pyjamas, we’ve got our matching pyjamas ready for this year. We have Christmases sometimes with friendship groups. We have Christmases with our family of origin. We have Christmases with our created family. Each of these we can have an image in our mind of how it should be and how he would long for it to be, and then there’s the reality of what it actually is like on the day. So often, people have that anticlimactic feeling after Christmas.

It’s like, that wasn’t how the movies presented it to be, that wasn’t how I hoped it would be. We got into this argument. People just sat around watching the telly. This person didn’t show up even, so there was maybe someone who wasn’t there around the table who you wanted to be there. Maybe it’s about presents. Maybe the presents you got suggested that people don’t really know you.

They don’t really understand who you are as a person. What? Why did you give me this thing? Why did you give me this blender? Do you think I should be cooking more? Why did you give me this jumper? This isn’t my style. There can be a lot of expectation that is then crushed by the reality of getting together with other humans with their own busy lives. So on the actual day itself and in the aftermath, there can be that disappointment.

Rachel: I think if you add in as well, the fact that most people get time off at Christmas. I know some of our listeners will be working on Christmas Day, and if you are, then we really wish you well on Christmas Day. You’ve been working as hard as you can. You’ve got all the extra stuff around Christmas that you’ve had to do, and then suddenly, you get to think, wow, time off, a holiday. Then it’s just frigging hard work.

For three days, you might spend it with people that you wouldn’t normally spend lots of time with, or you would normally choose to spend lots of time with. Then you wonder why you get sort of, a few days after Boxing Day, feeling really not and hacked off and think well, okay, that was my annual leave, that was supposed to be this wonderful time. As you know, I have to put a caveat here because I know that my mum listens to this podcast.

Corrina: As does mine.

Rachel: Yes, does your mum listen?

Corrina: Yes, so we have to be very careful about what we’re talking about.

Rachel: I’m very grateful to my mum, because she’s my main quality controller for the podcast, and so she’ll say things like, “Rachel, I was listening the other day and did you have a bad cold because there was some very funny breath noises.” I was like, I listened to the episode that had gone live. It’s been live for about a month and it was awful. But basically our audio editor had done something really weird to the audio.

Rather than cutting out weird noises, he had it accentuated, the breath noises. Every time one of us breathed, it sounded like Darth Vader was on the line. He had fixed it, but then he had not uploaded the fixed version. I was like, Oh my gosh, why didn’t he tell me? Anyway so thank you mum for all the quality control. It’s very much appreciated. But we’re talking generally here. So any similarity to persons living or dead is not intended, entirely coincidental.

Corrina: Exactly that.

Rachel: Entirely coincidental. But yeah. I’m really, really lucky. I have a wonderful family, and we generally have a lovely time at Christmas, but there always are those disappointments. Those things that aren’t quite as you’d expect. For me, I always expect to feel much more rested over the holiday season, and I’m always quite disappointed when I don’t. I don’t know why I’m disappointed, because I really just should learn.

But do you think that’s the issue that we’re expecting too much, and if we expected much less, we wouldn’t be disappointed? Or is it a bit more nuanced than that?

Corrina: Well, one of my absolute favourite games to play, and I might have mentioned this on a previous podcast, but all people are listening for the first time, it’s worth saying again, is to play Christmas bingo, any event or any occasion bingo, which is about imagining you have a bingo board in front of you, and on each of the squares, you’re putting something that you expect might happen, that would be disappointing, but would be kind of reality.

So it might be, again, no connection to anyone living, or dead, coincidental. It might be my sister will drink too much alcohol and will say something offensive to my partner. I would actually encourage people to make this as a bingo board, so you’d have that in one of the squares. Then maybe it’s my children will eat too much sugar, and we’ll just run around tearing through the house and be a bit of a nightmare, that goes on one or the other bingo.

So you have this bingo board of all the things that you actually do in reality expect might not be great about Christmas, because what this does is it takes us out of that kind of rose colored. I am completely a rose colored glasses person. I’m an optimist. I will always look for the ideal version of what’s going to happen. So I’ve really trained myself to try to look for. When actually in reality, what are the worst things that might happen?

Not in a pessimistic way, but just in a kind of eyes wide open reality way. This is my bingo board of all the things that might happen, and I’m going to get a trusted friend that I can message on the day. That friend can do the same as well. Each time one of these things will happen, I’ll actually smile to myself, because I get to cross off that item on my bingo board. I get to message my friend and say, yeah, I’m one down, two down, three down, and it becomes a game.

It becomes something that I can smile about, that I can feel light hearted about, none of it’s as serious anymore. Because everything can just get so serious when we’ve got our, kind of, dream expectations of how it’s going to be and then it’s all crashing, and it feels dramatic, and it feels serious. Rather than that kind of rolling your eyes, oh, yeah, Christmas with the family or Christmas with this particular group of friends again.

Then it becomes a fun competition with your friend who you’re messaging in quiet moments to say which one of you is going to fill your bingo board first.

Rachel: I love that. What prize do you have when you’ve filled it?

Corrina: Just the joy of knowing your people. But yeah, I know these people, these people and not just other people, but yourself. I might put on mine. Like I know that for me, when I go into stress, I’ll go to food. I’ll use food as a kind of numbing agent. So I could put on my bingo board, I will eat way too many roast potatoes and I will feel sick. Or I will start that conversation that I know it’s going to cause an argument with my brother. I know it. I’m going to do that. If I put it on my bingo board, then it’s like I know myself.

Rachel: Maybe you’ve got an excuse, right, so you can say, well, sorry, sorry, but I just started on my bingo.

Corrina: Yeah, no offence, it was just a weird thing going. For each listener, there’s a different version of how you just might make the whole thing more playful. Because if you’re talking about rest, another way of thinking about rest and relaxation is to think about play. How can you have things be more playful? So having a bingo board, having it be light, maybe even engaging the other friends and family at your event with this.

You guys, what are all the things that in past Christmases haven’t gone that well, and having a game with them?

Rachel: I love that. That’s really helpful because I guess if you’re predicting something’s gonna happen, I think that’s pretty much accepting that it’s gonna happen. I know a lot of your work you do is about acceptance, and that is something that I’m getting quite obsessed with is how do we just accept stuff that we can’t change. That’s a great way of doing it, because actually becomes great when it happens because you get to cross it off.

Are there any things to be said around predicting those behaviours and trying your best to avoid them, or doing something in different ways to avoid them? Or will that just lead to more disappointment when you’ve desperately tried to hide the sherry but still treat the family with it?

Corrina: I think it’s always worth trying, right? Without the pressure to like, I’m going to have this amazing Christmas. I’m going to be so much better and so much different from last time, and everyone’s going to be. Now, I look at my bingo board knowing what’s on here, what could I do if I start that conversation with my brother? Could I get my wife to give me a kick under the table?

Could I even tell my brother, look, I’m probably going to want to talk about this element of politics with you? It’s never gone that well before. Why don’t we have a truce for this Christmas? If either of us starts talking about it, either of us can go stop or anyone at the table can go, whoa, whoa, guys, you’re on that topic. So you can let other people in because everybody wants to have a good occasion. So let people in on what might go not so great, so that you can collectively make it better for sure.

Rachel: I think the whole kicking under the table thing can be quite helpful, just comes with a bit of health warning, though, because my husband started doing this for me because I’m like, okay, I can be quite impulsive and sometimes say stuff I don’t want to say to people, particularly when I’m out in a social situation and got my guard down. So can you just give me a signal, kick me on the table if I’m doing that. It’s got to the point where I’m getting black and blue legs.

Corrina: You’ve got a broken ankle right now.

Rachel: I’m like, “Why you’re kicking me?” He’s like, Rachel! Rachel! It’s supposed to be a subtle sign.

Corrina: I love that it, and it could be more subtle. It could be just like a gentle, gentle squeeze of the hand, or a knowing look in the eyes? Or, Rachel, could you just come to help me with something out here for a moment? I’m a really big fan of setting alarms on your phone that are going to just flash up. So it might be that I know that I don’t know lunch is going to be at one o’clock.

I know that probably I’m going to go to that fourth helping jacket of roast potatoes around 1:15. I could just set an alarm on my phone at 1:15 just to say something like space in your tummy or feeling lighter in your tummy, and that’s going to flash up on my phone. So that I go in that moment is like leaving little breadcrumbs for myself, well, potato crumbs for myself at 1:15, probably a good time to just check in with whether I really want to have that potato, that extra roast potato or not.

Rachel: Yeah, I love that, and I think we’re being a bit silly about Christmas and stuff, but there are social occasions that you’re looking forward to, but you know that sometimes things trigger you. They’ll set you off, et cetera, et cetera. I think, like you say, giving yourself alarms, giving yourself little cues, actually thinking about things beforehand, actually it would be better not to talk about that and just change the subject, rather than it just happening will help you feel a little bit less disappointed about stuff.

I think there are also when you know people really well, like family, there are triggers, aren’t there? There are scripts that keep going round your head, and there are dances that you get into that’s exactly the same as you always get into. It could be something, oh, let me help you, and you go, no, no, it’s alright. You just sit down and then you end up being really pissed off at the end of the day. I just did everything.

It’s like, well, they could have helped you. So how do you escape getting really triggered by someone who’s really not doing anything much, but just because the past every time they either, I don’t know, mention your brother’s career, you get really triggered thinking oh, well, okay, I know you don’t think I’m doing well enough, blah, blah, blah. That’s absolutely not what they’re talking about. How would you suggest people deal with that?

Corrina: Yeah, I think it’s great that you’re talking about the dance moves. I talk about this a lot, and actually, making those dance moves visible and knowing this is a dance that we always do and in advance just playing that dance move out in your mind. Okay, so she says that about my brother’s career. I will feel tight inside. It’s useful to look at your body. What does my body do? I get tight inside my shoulders go up, or I want to scream.

I want to run. I want to argue back. Okay, that’s my dance. I know that dancer, that when that dance starts to occur in your body, you can hopefully catch it. Oh, this is that dance move. This is the defend my career choices dance move. You can give it a name. So that then when it starts to occur, it feels familiar to you because you’ve rehearsed it almost in your mind. That’s what’s likely to happen.

Oh, I’m in that dance move. Okay, what is a different dance move? Again, to rehearse that in advance. When that happens, I’m going to excuse myself just so that I can go take a few breath in a bathroom, or maybe I quickly offer to go make a cup of tea or anything that’s going to get me out of that intense dance, so that I can recalibrate. I can reset. I can come out of that amygdala response, that is that very fast, triggered response.

I can come back into my more rational mind. My prefrontal cortex can take over again, and I could do a different move back if even that conversation is still happening. Maybe that’s enough just to stop that conversation. Maybe we get so fast that we don’t even need to go to the bathroom or go make a cup of tea. We just catch, oh, I’m in that triggered state. Okay, take a deep breath.

Maybe I can ask a question back to give myself a bit of breathing time. Okay, got another breath fair. Okay, everything’s calming down and my body. Okay, and then I can say something very different from what would have been my traditional dance move.

Rachel: I was listening to a podcast with Rob Bell, who’s obviously one of my favourite podcasters. He’s on one of our previous episodes, how to ditch the saviour complex and feel more more alive. If people have got any time over the holidays, I suggest you listen to it. It’s amazing. He was talking about these conversations, these circular conversations that you get into with people, and you just know how it’s gonna turn out, because you’ve had the same conversation 100 times before.

It’s just the same old. So do you recommend you just go with that conversation? You know how it’s gonna turn out. Or you just try and head it off? Because it’s quite hard to head off someone when they get into their groove, and you just know that they’re gonna do it, or do you just go somewhere in your head and just try and be a bit detached?

Corrina: Yes, it depends who that person is. If it’s someone that you have a relatively strong relationship with, you can address it in advance and say, look, remember last year, we did this thing. It kind of led to us feeling a bit grumpy, a bit stressed, or everyone was a bit tetchy. There’s a bit of tension in the room. Why don’t we collectively agree not to do that this time?

Or yeah, in that moment, can you de-escalate your own reactions so that you could do something different? There are different options, and the other option is to make requests either in advance or in the moment. I’m a huge fan of making requests. I think we massively underestimate our power to make a request. I’ll give you an example of this. For my 40th birthday, when it was coming up, and it had been quite the year.

We had lost our femur. Our first son was stillborn that year before I turned 40. I think I’d broken my wrist as well. So there was a lot going on, and I thought you know what, that I don’t feel disappointed that this 40th birthday is not where I want to be in my life right now. I’m going to make requests, and I put a post on Facebook saying, for my 40th birthday, this is what I would like. I made a really, really clear request of the presents that I wanted.

I mean, this was on Facebook, right? This is some people who are not my closest friends and family. I just said, this is what I would like, and I was amazed by how many people, people who again weren’t really so so close to me, but we’re just people I knew or had known in the past, who sent me really generous gifts, because I had asked for what I wanted. You and I, with the shapes toolkit, we talked about the zone of power.

Within our zone of power is the capacity to ask for what we want. Whether other people give us what we want is entirely out of our zone of power. But from within our zone of power, we can ask for what we want. So I could say, let’s say, back to the Christmas dinner, I could say to my brother, please don’t bring up this topic. It doesn’t go well for us when we talk about this. Please, if I start talking about this, could you please help me and change the topic?

I could say to whoever’s serving dinner, please, could you not let me have more than five roast potatoes? Please, could you if you see me going to put that six on on my plate. Take it away from me. Be really, really specific. I have seen that you, Rachel, have broken your ankle, and I saw you making a really clear request in a group that we’re on, asking for this specific help that would be great right now for you.

So that we then don’t need to feel disappointed that other people haven’t read our mind, other people haven’t given us what we need. We just ask for what we want and what we need.

Rachel: Yeah, it’s interesting you say that because actually that was a real joke that I put on WhatsApp. I broke my ankle, and the lovely group was saying, oh, what can we do to help. I said, well, if you could pop over into my dishwasher, washing out, yeah, would be brilliant. But I’m asking my children to do that at the moment and to be fair, they’re not really responding in the way I would like them to respond, let’s just say.

I’m getting quite, let’s say, I’m trying not to moan. I’ve made this decision when I broke my ankle. I’m not going to moan and I’m not going to criticise people, and I’m not going to whinge at them or nagging at them. But I’m feeling a little bit disappointed by the response. Now, it is entirely fair. It’s an entirely normal child response when I say, can you go and get me hot water bottle.

Then two flights up, I don’t want to go into it. But I am feeling a bit disappointed by my family’s reaction to my request. So what do I do about that?

Corrina: Yes, yes. Well, you know that if you have done what is in your power, then it is back to what you were saying at the beginning, it’s about acceptance, which is so hard, right? It’s such a small word, but such a big, huge, philosophical, spiritual endeavour in everyone’s life’s work somehow to find acceptance with reality. Being disappointing, that have you made really clear request, as you say, without the wind, without the complain, without the demand, without the poor me, without any of that just, hey, this would be really supportive.

If your family aren’t responding, then you have options like this lovely Whatsapp group that we’re on, for example, there are adults who are not your family on that group, who you can genuinely make that request. Without any shame, please, could someone come in and empty my dishwasher? Could someone come in do some shopping for me? I think we often hold back from asking because we feel like, oh, we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t need help, or we shouldn’t, but actually, people like to help.

I remember really well, Rachel, and I had a hospital appointment coming up. You just so kindly said, “Do you need someone to go with you?” It hadn’t even occurred to me that I could ask someone to go with me. I think as caring adults as I imagine, all of the listeners of this podcast are, we know that we like to help people when they make requests, if we can, if it’s within our capacity, and our time and everything. So we can do the same. We can actually make really clear, clean requests of people.

Rachel: That’s really interesting, because they think, yes, a lot of disappointment is probably a little bit self-inflicted. So just reflecting on what you just said about my family, I’m asking them. Say they’ve just come home from school, and I say, oh, can you make me a cup of tea? I’m like, oh, do I have to or they really tired? Whereas, you’re right. I haven’t been really, really clear in my requests.

I haven’t said to them during the day, actually, guys, it’d be really helpful if you could empty the dishwasher, if you could hang out the washing so my other half of the way at the moment. So I’m asking them at a time where they’re actually gonna be receptive to it. Because I think when you ask people in the moment, you do often get a bit of whinging and push back.

But when they sort of stop and think about it, then they do it. I think reflecting on life’s other disappointments, maybe the bigger disappointments, may be relationship breakdown, or bereavement or something like that. We may layer pain on top of our original disappointment by not expressing what we need. Then when people don’t give us what we need, we get really upset and even more disappointed, when often people just can’t read our minds, can they?

Corrina: Yeah, yeah, I do believe that we, as humans, do like to help other people. We just need to sometimes have a pathway to do that. That’s really clear.

Rachel: I think helping people out is a total gift. I had to go to fracture clinic on Tuesday morning, and everyone was out. I knew all the taxis would be booked up. I thought, oh, I felt really bad about doing it, put a request on our neighbours, what’s up, just can someone drive me. It’s only five minutes drive to the fracture clinic, and of course, I’ll drive you to fracture clinic, I’ll only be too pleased, and it was really lovely because we got to catch up in the car.

I’d felt really bad about even asking for that. I mean, that’s a really, really small thing. But it is a joy to be able to give to someone in a way that is significant. If you look at the ways of well being, giving is one of the ways to wellbeing. So if you’re giving somebody an opportunity to give to you, that’s actually really good. I must say I think healthcare professionals, we’re really bad at asking people to give stuff to us, asking for that help, because we’re so stuck in the rescuer.

We’re all always the people that are strong. We’re always the people that are helping other people. It’s quite alien, but it doesn’t stop us getting hacked off when people don’t offer the help. So we really are our own worst enemies.

Corrina: This might go back as well to that why Christmas can not feel like a very restful period for many of us. If we are in rescuer mode, if we’re doing all the I saw on my shoulders and I know you’re gonna sit down. I’ll do it. If we go into that martyr role, whereas could we find more chance for rest? Could we ask really clearly? Could we ask assign roles more clearly?

Could we become more coach-like maybe of our friendship group our family in delegating or asking or having other people step up so that it’s less on us so that we can have a bit more rest?

Rachel: Where does expectations plough into this? Because I always think with Christmas, that when we’re organising who’s going to do what at Christmas, and those japes that I’ve always had, oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just go skiing at Christmas. Let’s stuff everybody else. Let’s just go ski or go somewhere really exotic. Then we think that there are people who have time off that we’d like to see.

There are family members that might not have anyone else to go to. We think, no, actually, for Christmas, we’ll make sure that we can be available for those people. We always end up saying, why do people have such expectations of Christmas Day? Because we can do other stuff with each other any time.

But what’s the role of actually lowering your expectations of, well, firstly, Christmas, but then I’m going to broaden out to relationships and to life. Does that help with the acceptance? Or is that just a very sort of nihilistic way to live?

Corrina: I think we absolutely want to look at expectations. I like to say expectations are premeditated resentments. I also think they’re premeditated disappointments as well. I’ve learned to radically switch my expectations. Again, because I am a natural, optimist, idealist, I’ll always envisage things being the best, and then all I’ve got to go from there is really to be disappointed.

Whereas my wife is very, very handy as a partner, because she will tend to see the perceived problems. That’s just how her mind works. It’s a different way of looking at things where she will automatically see all the things that could go wrong, or could be bad about a situation, so we’re a great match for this. I’ll give you one example of where we’ve used this a lot recently, and hopefully, is our daughter who’s now six months.

She had a lot of medical needs in the beginning. We had a hospital stay, and we had various appointments with paediatricians. They’re still ongoing even. Before a medical appointment, because I would go into, oh, it’s going to be wonderful. The paediatrician is going to be on time. She’s going to be really helpful. We’re going to leave with some really useful, whatever it is, remedies.

Sam has trained me to instead look at all the things which could not be great about that appointment. So literally, as we’re walking to the hospital, as we’re sitting in the waiting room, we’re talking about, okay, probably, the paediatrician is going to be late. She’s probably going to be distracted. She’s not going to really feel like she has read our notes. She’s not going to have time for us, and so we’re setting up all the things that could possibly go wrong.

Then when the paediatrician comes out on time, I’m like, oh, my gosh, this is amazing. I’m so pleasantly surprised. She then actually listens to us, and I’m like, oh my gosh, this is so much better than I thought. I didn’t realise it when we started doing this, but this is actually a concept in psychology called counterfactual thinking. What many of us will do is we’ll tend towards upward counterfactual thinking.

So counterfactual thinking is our ability, our desire to create alternative realities in our minds to think that things could have gone differently, and we tend towards upward counterfactual thinking, which is that things should have been better, would have been better. Actually, it’s really, really lovely to imagine that actually the alternative to what is happening could have been worse, because then everything seems to be a pleasant surprise.

To bring this to a kind of more, like a more serious level, after Alfie died, a lot of my grief, a lot of my tragedy of it was comparing reality with what I think should have happened, which would have been better, which was he would have lived. He would now be three and have imagined a better reality different from the current one.

What has helped me over the years so, so much is the opposite, is downward counterfactual thinking, which is that the alternative to reality was that we were never pregnant in the first place. Was it that pregnancy test was negative, and so all that we actually got with him was a bonus actually. Isn’t that amazing that we got to have him in the womb? We got to meet him.

We got to hold him. We got to name him. We got to have his existence versus the alternative reality where we didn’t. So that is like the most absolute powerful thing I’ve ever come across is to imagine that what is happening is actually a pleasant surprise, a bonus versus what it could have been.

Rachel: Is that similar to gratitude? Because that’s the word that floated through my head, then, when you were talking about actually we got to meet him. We have him in the womb. So even though it had such a bittersweet ending, what you’ve done is flip that disappointment into gratitude for what was rather than resentment for what wasn’t. Was that too simplistic?

Corrina: No, exactly that. Exactly that is what are you comparing with, because we’re always comparing with something, I think. So if we’re comparing with, oh, the Christmases of the movies, the relationships of the movies or of our imagination, then yeah, how can we feel gratitude because the reality looks less good than that.

But if we’re comparing with what would have been much worse, then the gap between that worse alternate reality and our present reality, it’s so much to be grateful for, because we actually have something better than we could have had.

Rachel: How does this play out in things like relationship breakdown? Because I’ve noticed that it does seem to be incredibly hard to feel grateful, even for the time that you were with that person, when it’s all gone really horribly wrong, but I guess there’s always good things that did come out of it, mostly.

Corrina: Yeah. I think what I don’t want to suggest here is that we are bypassing any of the sadness, the loss, the grief of a relationship, a person. That’s so important that we start there, I believe, is that we start by honouring, gosh, like this is lost. This is grief. This is bereavement. My heart is broken. We honour that. We lean into our support networks, our trusted people. We cry, we breathe, we mourn. We do all of that.

Once that energy of that, it feels like we have expressed that we’ve honoured it with, embrace that, then there is that opportunity for gratitude by looking at I could have not had that relationship at all, and then where would I have been? But I think if we go to that, if we tried to go to gratitude, or that that counterfactual thinking too quickly, it’s bypassed, and I feel like that’s only then going to come out later to bite us.

Rachel: That turns out to be toxic positivity, doesn’t it, then I think.

Corrina: Absolutely, which I am not an advocate of.

Rachel: Yeah. How does this apply to other disappointments in life? Obviously, we started to talk about disappointing Christmas, and then we talked about bereavement and relationship breakdown. I think, for a lot of us, a lot of us listening to this podcast, there might be a bit of disappointment about careers and jobs.

Because either we’ve had to give stuff up because of family commitments and work less than full time, which has meant that our careers have had to take a back burner, and we got overtaken by everybody who didn’t have to work less than full time. Or we’ve ended up in roles that we thought we would really enjoy, but maybe not quite as good. Or there’s been family stuff going on maybe children with special needs.

It’s taken up a lot of times that we haven’t been able to give what we wanted to our career, or we’ve been overlooked for promotion or roles that we really wanted to. Where does that sort of leave us with handling the disappointment?

Corrina: Yeah, I think it’s really helpful just to normalise it, to say human experience, life has so much potential disappointment, and therefore it’s okay to be disappointed about this. Not trying to get out of that, not to think, oh, if only I had done this, that no, do you know what, this is my reality. I wish it was other. It’s not. I am disappointed. Can I be with that disappointment?

Then can I look at, okay, well, how could this actually potentially be opening other doors? Are there any benefits that might be coming out of this? Is there anything I can be grateful for? But again, when it comes to the career side of things as well, exactly the same things that apply. Don’t bypass the experience of disappointment, the experience, the feeling of disappointment, we can sit in it.

My son is two and a half, and I’m really teaching him at the moment, which is teaching myself as well, how to be sad, how to be angry, how to be frustrated, disappointment. These aren’t feelings to try to get over. They are feelings to sit with. So we have a little, a little ditty each evening as we cuddle up before bed, I say when you feel sad, I love you. When you feel disappointed, I love you.

There’s no feeling that he can have that’s not acceptable, that’s not wanted and cherished, and it’s okay to be that. You can be disappointed. Accepting and acknowledging that feeling doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t set certain boundaries, right? If he’s disappointed and he’s throwing toys, I’m going to stop him from throwing those toys if it’s going to hurt him or something, but you can feel disappointed.

I think many of my generation, and I know people listening will be in different generations, we weren’t really shown how to just sit in disappointment. That wasn’t somewhere to escape. It wasn’t something to get over. Oh, come on, cheer up, feel better, and you’re disappointed right now. That’s okay. It’s okay to feel disappointed right now. So I think that is the kind of re-parenting certainly that I am doing at the moment through parenting a child, and for anyone listening is can we sit in that disappointment?

Rachel: That takes a lot of self compassion, doesn’t it? Because I think one thing I’ve noticed in healthcare professionals, doctors, and myself is that we take that. I think it is called the second arrow, so we feel anointed, and then we have emotions, like anger and sadness and frustration. Then we beat ourselves up because we shouldn’t be feeling like that.

We should just be getting on with it, or we look back and blame ourselves for what happens. There’s a lot of self flagellation going on. When I broke my ankle a week ago, ice skating, my predominant emotion was anger at myself. It wasn’t so cross. I slightly lost it when the radio refer to it. X-ray, she went, oh, yeah, definitely broke it. I just started weeping, oh, you okay? Is it painful? It’s like, no, I’m so cross with myself. Why did I do it?

Like, had an accident, you fell over. Yeah, but I was trying to show someone, showing off. I didn’t need to have done it. This is ridiculous. I think she’s a great woman who’s losing the plot in front of me, and I can’t quite work out why. Then after about five minutes, I thought, well, this is absolutely ridiculous, and then got crossed myself for being ridiculous, so obviously need quite a lot of therapy.

But yeah, my dominant thing was not, oh, I’m disappointed. Let me sit in the sadness. It’s getting crossed myself for doing it the first place, and then for being annoyed myself for being upset.

Corrina: Yeah, sounds like the third, fourth, fifth and sixth arrow got jammed in your heart, then afterwards. Yeah, I think you’re so right, that self compassion is a huge part of this, compassion that you are having an experience that you did not want to have, that you did not plan to have. You didn’t plan to end up on the floor in the ice rink or in the hospital.

If for some of us, we need to think about how other loved ones might treat us if we can’t quite give ourselves that compassion, because that can be really hard to be self compassionate. We can imagine who was the kindest person in my life that I can think of and how would they talk to me right now. I don’t know who that person is for you, Rachel. But what would that person say when they saw you sat on the ice?

Rachel: No, they would say, oh, silly you. Yeah, they’d be like, oh, you were just being playful like you are, and that’s why people love you. Yeah, you weren’t showing off, because you’re just having fun. Yeah, absolutely. We find it so hard to do this for ourself. What I think we do, which stops us dealing with this disappointment, is looking back and using the if only, if only, if only I hadn’t hadn’t met them, if only hadn’t been so stupid, if I only had made that decision, if only.

Corrina: Yeah.

Rachel: That’s pretty toxic, or, a, because you can’t actually do anything different. Because it’s in the past, you can’t change it so well out of your zone of power. But that also actually, if you had gone back in the past, would you make a different decision? You probably wouldn’t, right?

Corrina: Yes. That if only if it’s used constructively can be great. Like, okay, next time I go ice skating, what would I do differently?

Rachel: It will go off to the teacher after the lesson and go, oh, look at this new move that I just learned. You break my ankle. Yeah.

Corrina: It’s like, okay, so I did that. That’s what I did. What would I do differently? It can be so hard to ask that question, because that critical voice inside is like, oh, you were such an idiot. Why did you do that? It was like, okay, what did you do? What would you do differently next time? You just become a learner, then you become a learner. This goes back to again, if we go right back to the Christmases discussion, okay, that’s what happened last year.

These are all the things which I was disappointed with, or when it came to that relationship or when it came to that work. Okay, with a really clear head and asking the question as a genuine question, what would I do differently next time and what would support being to do that different thing? On the ice rink, what would actually support you? Because your natural inclination was to show people the move.

So what would be different next time? What would you need to think differently in order to do something different next time on the ice rink?

Rachel: Is that a question?

Corrina: Yeah.

Rachel: That’s a good question. Yes, I think I would go to the side and show the move next to the side of the rink, so I can actually cling on when I fall backwards. I think that’s really good, because that stays in your zone of power, doesn’t it? Okay, so I am in control of what I do next time. I think it’s for me as well, there is something, now, I have to tread carefully about how I say this, because it really is unhelpful.

It really bugs me when people say, oh, something good will come of it. Every cloud has a silver lining, or people start quoting you faith based stuff, if things work together for good and all this stuff. When actually, if there’s been a tragedy, that’s really hard to hear. But I think there’s been a couple of ways of thinking about things that have helped me. The first one is about playing hunt the pony. I don’t know if you’ve heard about hunt the pony.

Corrina: I haven’t. I’m so excited to hear it.

Rachel: Okay, I was getting very frustrated with a particular situation. I’d go every week to this particular thing, and I just not enjoying it, it would be be so annoying. Someone said, I need to pay him the pony. I’m like, what do you mean? They said, if there’s a pile of poo sitting in the middle of the room, then there’s probably a pony somewhere around.

Corrina: I love that.

Rachel: Oh, that’s good. Okay, so I’m not enjoying this bit. But actually, when I come here, I get to see that person and that person, and they’re doing a lot of good around here, so that’s the pony. So maybe I can put up with that pile of poo there. So that is one thing that helps. The other thing that helps me is I was listening to a podcast with Daniel Pink, who’s just written a book about regret, which I have bought. I haven’t yet read.

So I’m sure there’ll be a podcast coming out of that regret. Wouldn’t it be good if you get Daniel Pink on You’re Not a Frog? So Daniel Pink, if you’re listening, please really come on, don’t think he’s listening. Anyway, he was talking about regret and how regret can actually be quite a powerful motivator. But one thing he said really struck me, and that was that, if you could go back to that thing that you’ve regretted, and you could take an eraser and completely wipe it out of history.

But everything that happened as a result of that thing would also be erased from history. Would you do it? That’s quite an interesting question. I think for some people, of course, they would do it because there are some utterly awful things that happen. But he was saying actually, 9 times out of 10, or maybe it was more than that, you wouldn’t, because of either what you’ve learned or the other stuff that’s come from it. What was your response to that bit, Corrina?

Corrina: Yeah, I think two things. One is that you’re absolutely right. That kind of silver lining messaging from others is not helpful. It feels really squashing of your experience. So other people saying, oh, well find the good in it. No, but if I can in a situation that I’m finding disappointing or heartbreaking or whatever it is, if I can ask, huh, I wonder if not, there is a silver lining.

But I wonder how this might turn out for my good or I wonder what other doors this might open? Or I wonder what I might learn from this, which currently feels impossible? But I just wonder, and that, for me, is an antidote, but we can only, I think, ask that of ourselves. It feels really harsh when someone else wants us to look in that direction when we’re just in the disappointment.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. That can be really annoying. But I think it is quite a powerful question, and then you look at all that research that shows that true resilience is only built by going through crap or going through difficult stuff. We learn best through failure. We only tend to change when things are going wrong or things are difficult. That’s what builds character.

In a way, all these disappointing things are actually honing our characters and turning us into better people, but it still doesn’t mean that you would choose any of it, I guess.

Corrina: Can we be in that learning, growing mindset with it? I think we’ve then got more of a chance. Because I’m just thinking, imagining myself as a listener thinking about every single Christmas, every single time at work, everything, it’s all there just continuing to be bad. I’m not learning anything. But can we switch into that curiosity of being a learner?

Rachel: Yeah. If you’re talking something, just every single Christmas, every single time at work, I would probably go to the quote, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’re always gonna get what you’ve always got.”

Corrina: Yeah.

Rachel: Nothing changes. Probably things are going to carry on, given that you can only change what you do, the conversations you have, the plans you make. Expecting other people to change is just going to lead to disappointment, but doing what you can asking for what you need, catching yourself, doing all those little things like setting alarms on your phone, doing a bit of work, doing a bit of therapy, if needs be.

I think therapy is amazing for uncovering those deep down scripts that we’ve got going on. I’m doing a bit of therapy for a few reasons at the moment, and my goodness, there’s so…so much going on in my head that you really don’t want to know about, Corrina.

Corrina: Oh, you know I do.

Rachel: That’s for another episode. Rachel bares her soul and everyone thinks I’m a complete nurturer. But I mean, it’s the usual stuff, all these sorts of things that we’ve got deeply ingrained in us from childhood. Sometimes it just takes a bit of work and a bit of time to uncover those things, and it’s not very pleasant when we do uncover them, but it is quite healing, isn’t it?

Corrina: Yeah, and just that compassion to bring to all of that, that we are human. We’re human beings having this human life thing, which is just very hard for many, many people. So any support we can get to help with that? Absolutely.

Rachel: So Corrina, we’re at the end of our time, sadly. What would your top three tips be for dealing with either Christmas disappointment or bigger disappointments in life?

Corrina: So I would say it’s that bingo board, that planning for or expecting or the things that could not go well, and then being pleasantly surprised if indeed things do go better than expected. It’s like making requests. So being unafraid to actually ask for what you want to need.

Then I think number three will have to be that compassion, that being with yourself, with the disappointment, accepting yourself in that disappointment, knowing that you’re human, and that disappointment is part of the human experience.

Rachel: Brilliant, I think for me, I would agree with all those three. The ask for what you need, I would add clearly ask for what you need, because I think I lost what I need, and often, no one really understands what is that I need, really clear about it, and the thing about self compassion. For me, that looks like stop the blame, stop the self blame, the why am I so stupid, I should have known better, et cetera, et cetera.

You would never say that to your best friend. So why do you say it’s yourself? Finally, I think playing a little bit of hunt the pony in some of these situations can be helpful. So Corrina, right, will you come back again, because there’s lots more to talk about?

Corrina: I certainly will. We’re gonna go into that deep dark Rachel therapy.

Rachel: Maybe, maybe, maybe in time, maybe eventually. But if anybody has got any dilemmas or anything that you’d like Corrina and I to explore, then please let us know just drop us an email at hello@youarenotafrog.com. We would love to hear from you, and I always love, love getting emails from people telling me which episodes they particularly enjoy, because then it makes us understand what it would be good to talk about in the future.

So please do let us know, or any dilemmas or any thoughts or any questions or any comments. If people wanted to get ahold of you, how can they do that?

Corrina: Yep. corrinagordonbarnes.com is my website. There’s a contact page there and my spelling of my name is Corrina Gordon Barnes.

Rachel: That’s fantastic. We’ll put all those links in the show notes so you’ll be able to get to them. So Corrina, I do hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I’m sure you will, because I know that Sam has had it planned for about six months.

Corrina: It’s been planned for 364 days.

Rachel: Oh my gosh. Okay.

Corrina: It starts on Boxing Day, the planning for the next Christmas begins.

Rachel: Oh, my word. I will probably start planning second week in December. Wish me well.

Corrina: I wish you well. I wish everybody well. Happy Christmas or whatever it is you’re celebrating.

Rachel: Perfect. Speak soon. Bye bye. Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the show notes. If this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at hello@youarenotafrog.com. I love to hear from you. Finally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now.