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How to cope when you don't get what you want.

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

How to cope when you don't get what you want is an important life skill. We are desire driven creatures. We have urges, wants, needs, goals. And these impulses motivate us to pursue after them. Many of our desires are for survival: We want to eat, we want to sleep, we want to be safe and secure, we want shelter, we want to be clothed. Many of our desires are relational: We want to be loved, we want to be known, seen, heard, understood, cared for, to belong, be accepted, respected, and validated. Many of our desires are driven by pleasure: We want to have fun, we want to be successful, we want to win, we want adventure, we want to relax, we want to be rich. This list could go on and on. We are driven by our desires.

But the reality is, we can't get everything we want. We don't get everything we want because of our own imperfections and because of the imperfections of the world we live in. Things happen. We get sick. People die. Accidents happen. And even when we do get what we want, we don't often enjoy it. We want more. I would go as far to say, we shouldn't get everything want (e.g., too much sugary foods). We don't always get what we want. This is one of life's most important lessons. And knowing how to cope with this reality helps us live our lives well.

Our natural response to not getting what we want is often denial, repression, and avoidance. We don't want to deal with the reality of not getting what we want. We don't want to feel the disappointment, let down, like a failure, to be left without. And so, we turn a blind eye to how we respond to not getting what we want. Many of us have developed an escape mechanism to avoid dealing with not getting what we want. We avoid it. We numb from it.

Another we often react to not getting what we want is disappointment. We get angry, frustrated, irritable, perturbed, infuriated because we expected to get what we wanted. Let's examine how we can cope well when we don't get what we want.


A helpful concept to understand how we react when we don't get what we want, is the concept of idols. An idol is something you place above God. If you prioritize something over God, then that thing is your idol. Another way to put it is: an idol is what you are living for.

1. The idol of self-indulgence. We do whatever we want. We don't want to be told what to do. We don't want to be corrected (even when we're wrong). We want more of everything: more food, more vacations, more money, more affirmations, nicer things, a bigger house. Our self-indulgence can fuel discontent, a critical, bitter spirit, a glass-half empty mindset. We tend to point out what we don't have. We are not thankful. We complain about why we don't have what they have.

2. The idol of comfort. We want to be comforted by food. We want more sleep. We don't want to work. We don't want to do hard things. We don't want to be criticized. We want to chill. We want to veg. We want to binge on our screens. We want to win the lotto. We want life to be served to us on a silver platter. We get anxious when things don't go our way. We worry about bad things happening. We worry the other shoe will drop when things are going well. We have a low-frustration tolerance, we are reactive, and are easily triggered at any perceived discomfort because we want and expect comfort.

3. The idol of self-centeredness. We are naturally self-centered, looking out for our own best interest. But our societal messaging of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-help, self-actualization, self-love, putting yourself first, is amplifying our self-centeredness. Much of this messaging about "self" is framed positively: Be the best version of yourself, fulfill your potential, validate your rights and feelings, your desires matter, prioritize your self-care and personal growth. Which at first glance seems healthy and good. But left unchecked, our life can become self-absorbed operating our own kingdoms of trying to control everything and expecting others to cater to our moods, needs, and wants.

How not to cope, when you don't get what you want.

1. You can whine, complain, and be bitter. Have a negative mindset and attitude. 2. You can lash out, yell, be destructive, project your anger at others.

3. You can avoid, deny, repress. Say, "I'm fine, I'm not upset." (When in reality you are really disappointed.)

How to cope when you don't get what you want.

1. Stop. If you don't get what you want, don't stubbornly and impulsively keep doing the same things to try to get it. Stop what you are doing. Reset. Reframe. Take a step back. Take a break. Reflect on the disappointment and learn from it. Then come back to the desires and organize a plan to pursue the desire in a new way.

2. Vent productively. Acknowledge your disappointment, grief, frustration, sadness, hurt, pain, anger when you don't get what you want. It's valid. Grieve the loss. But don't be destructive in how you express that negative emotion. Channel your negative emotion into something productive. Go work out, go for a walk, do chores, reach out to a friend, redirect your energy towards something constructive.

3. Acknowledge the desires of your heart. Take the time to identify your desires. Take the time to prioritize and reprioritize your desires from what is the most important to least important. Organize your life to invest in the priorities of your life.

4. Do hard things. Step out of your comfort zone. Make plans to do things that will stretch your capacity. Commit to do things that you may fail at. Practice failing and learn to pick yourself back up. This will build your resiliency and your ability to cope well when you don't get what you want.

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