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If you feel disappointed in yourself or someone else, it means you care, and this is a good thing. Feelings of disappointment mean that you are actively engaged and that you have a stake in the situation.

Your mindful interest is great, it’s proof that you are turned towards life, but how you express your internal feelings of disappointment when things don’t go as planned is important. Disappointment is the evil twin of encouragement. You can easily transform your external manifestation of disappointment into an external manifestation of encouragement and life will improve.

Both encouragement and disappointment are reinforcers, meaning that when they occur at or around the time of a behavior, they impact the future frequency and level of mastery of that behavior. Encouragement is a positive reinforcer, probably the most powerful one of all, and when used appropriately, that is when levels of encouragement and praise are commensurate with variables like difficulty, effort, and time put in, people always feel better about themselves, their relationships, and their lives. They spend their time happy, thinking about how to improve upon their successes, instead of miserable, desperately searching for ways to avoid more failures.

Transforming disappointment into encouragement is easy because like we said at the beginning, both states have as their psychological foundation the fact that you are engaged and invested. You are passionately turned towards the object of your interest. As long as the goal is mastery of a behavior, why not use the way to get there that provides the best chance of success and makes everyone feel great?

Encouragement relies on figuring out what went wrong and then setting up a reinforcement schedule that rewards behaviors likely to elicit success on the next go around. Feelings of negativity, being let down, threats, admonishments, and all the other manifestations that mire people in negativity can be completely avoided. There is a much better chance of achieving a goal and maintaining success with positive reinforcement because there are no negative side effects to deal with like apathy, violence, depression, bitterness, sadness, or envy. These emotional states are all likely outcomes of learning new behaviors using negative reinforcement, because a negative reinforcement always includes an aversive, which is harmful for the psyche.

It comes down to a simple question. Would you rather try to succeed by seeking and receiving approval and encouragement from yourself and others when you are doing a good job, or try to succeed by avoiding disapproval and dealing with all of the negative feelings that go along with it when you do fail? People feel much better when they get rewarded for their successes, however small these might be. Any movement towards the goal is grounds for positive reinforcement in the form of praise and encouragement.

When the brain interprets a stimulus as a positive reinforcement the neurotransmitter dopamine fires. Dopamine is associated with the reward system in the brain. When dopamine fires, not only does it make you feel really good, but it also acts as a glue that binds newly formed neurons together into new neural pathways. This makes it more likely that the new behavior will stick and that you will be able to build upon it, because as the pathways get bigger and stronger they let you perform the behavior with less and less conscious attention, more fluidly, until finally this behavior just becomes a part of you. Encouragement doesn’t just feel really good, it also gives the brain its best chance to hardwire a behavior.