How good are you at dealing with disappointment? Can you shrug it off and move on to the next thing or does it niggle away at the back of your mind? Here are some insights offered by Paul McGee author of Shut Up, Move On. One of the topics he covers in his book is the concept of ‘hippo time’ and allowing ourselves to wallowing.

Just the mention of the word wallow took me into territory that I’m sure is familiar to us all.  The days spent working on an idea that’s turned down, the report that is rejected out of hand, the conference submission that is unsuccessful.

So what is hippo time?

Wallow is a lovely word isn’t it? I looked it up – to roll around or lie in. In this instance we are talking about rolling around in sentiments like: ‘poor me’, ‘what if’, ‘if only’, ‘it’s not fair’, ‘I don’t deserve this’. Have you been there? I know I have. If I think my years working in academia this is an environment where work is exposed to constant critique. Personal wallowing that spring to mind? Some of the following:

  • receiving feedback on a draft paper when the feedback was almost as many words as the draft
  • messing up an important presentation/meeting/phone call/conversation
  • having a paper rejected from an academic journal in a less than diplomatic way
  • having an application for a personal fellowship rejected in a way which felt like, ‘seriously you think you’re good enough to apply for this?’
  • being unsuccessful in major funding applications
  • not being successful in a job interview

Why wouldn’t you feel disappointed? We invest a great deal of time, energy and passion in what we do and the more important something is the more we care and the more vulnerable we make ourselves. So when something we care about greatly doesn’t come off we aren’t exactly going to jump with joy.

We may try to tell ourselves to be, ‘grown up’, our colleagues may tell us to, ‘get used to it because it goes with the territory’. But we know that is not what we feel at that precise moment in time. To stand on the high ground is a denial of what we are really feeling.

A comment Paul made is that, ‘no feeling is wrong’. This resonated with me as a phrase I hear on a regular basis in my coaching work is, ‘I shouldn’t feel this way’. We are so good at attaching judgement to our emotions. Seeing them as being right or wrong.

So give yourself a break when you experience a major disappointment allow yourself some hippo time. It is OK. It’s an expression of how much you care about what you do. This is serious self-care time. Time to connect with the things that you know lift you and people you know are good at patching you up so that you are ready to go again.

Here comes the but……

No self-respecting hippopotamus spends all of its time wallowing. Hippos wallow to cool down, it is a mechanism they use to control their temperature. Perhaps this is a good analogy to think about.

We can allow ourselves wallowing time as a way of cooling off, restoring our equilibrium before we climb out of the mud and move on. Therefore the key thing to remember about hippo time is that it is only a stopping off place to cool down in.

Paul provides 3 tips for hippo time:

  1. Think about who you talk to. Find someone who will listen actively and doesn’t feel the need to offer advice or turn the conversation round to their experience of something similar.
  2. Be careful how many people you talk to. Every time you recount a disappointing experience you are reliving a negative experience.
  3. Be mindful about how long your hippo time lasts. This is a temporary stopping off space. It’s important to know when you’ve wallowed enough. Be sure your wallowing time is proportionate.

An ear worm

I was reflecting on hippo time when I was out walking and you know when a song pops into your head and turns into an ear worm? Well the song was a childhood memory of, Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud. Of course I could only remember the chorus so needed to look it up. For anyone who is unfamiliar with it (or would like to revisit it) here it is. It will make you smile.

And remember the all important line, ‘They dived all at once with an ear splitting splosh and then rose to the surface again’.