Handling Disappointment and Failure with Neurolingustic Programming (NLP)

Lawyers are not used to dealing with our own failure and disappointment. We did well in school. We’ve been leaders our whole life. Then we hit the reality of law school and the fact that we were surrounded by people just like us—overachievers all.

We began to experience real disappointment and failure, maybe even for the very first time in our lives. We were not at the top of the class. We were not the smartest. We were not the best exam writers or speakers. Disappointed in not reaching our self-imposed expectations, we resorted to the self-reliance that always got us through and set even higher goals for our next situation. We usually reached those goals, but sometimes we fell short again. Falling short started to happen more often. We had to learn to live with it, but how? We’re usually to self-reliant to ask for help, even when there are helpful resources all around us.

A good friend of mine, we’ll call him “Steve” failed the bar exam. He was crushed. All that work and study and he failed. People were asking him about it and he was feeling crushed into a smaller and smaller ball of self each time someone cared enough to ask if he had passed. So, I shared a simple Neurolingustic Programming (NLP) technique for dealing with this kind of disappointment. This is a powerful “reframing” technique known as “Disassociation and Association.”


The key to dealing with disappointment and failure is to mentally step out of it, to distance your sense of self with the disappointing result. So instead of saying “I didn’t pass” say (with a smile if you can) “Steve didn’t get the result he’d hoped for.” It sounds simple, and it is.  It sounds silly, but it’s not. It make a difference and feels really good. But we’re not done yet, because we can’t leave that hanging, we have to mentally pick up the loose end and reattach it to something positive.


We want to associate with positive emotions. Association is activated with “I” statements. We put our “I” self into the good. For instance “I am going to study hard and take the exam again in February.”

The physical act of smiling also fires brain chemistry that help reform mental associations with the thoughts happening at the same time, so it’s very important to smile when reframing from negative to positive intentions.

Putting it together.

With a smile say to the person (real or imaginary) “Steve didn’t get the result he was hoping for, and I am going to study hard and take the exam again in February.” The formula is simple:

<smile> “[third-person name] didn’t get the result, AND I am going to [positive intention]”

Disappointment and failure are part of everyday life. Learning how to deal with those events and even leverage them into positive experiences, motivations, and stories is an exercise in developing true wisdom.

How do you deal with disappointment and failure? Share your experience in a comment.



  1. I am a very big fan of NLP and it works! Thanks for sharing this and for anyone who is interested there is a lot of information out there- if you google bandler nlp or just nlp.

  2. Avatar Attorney David says:

    I tried to NLP model myself after Danny Crane and Alan Shore and whenever I had a big court appearance coming up would watch Boston Legal the night before.

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