Harmless Expectations

Weekly goals are posted. Intentions stated. Daily "To-Do" list constructed. Calendar is color coded. I've never quite understood the label "Type A," but I guess if the shoe fits...except that I can be really laid back about other things. Like my sweaters--I shove them in the back of my closet; they're just too bulky to fold properly. Or finishing a book--if I don't like it, I put it down. But I digress...

This is about expectations. Or better yet, how we perceive expectations. 

You expect someone to be on time, and when he/she isn't, maybe you're frustrated. You expect someone to hold the door for you, or remember your birthday, or follow through on a promise, and when she/he doesn't, perhaps you're disappointed or even hurt. Some people say expectations are dangerous. I completely, 100% disagree. There's nothing dangerous about feeling frustrated, disappointed, or hurt. Those are normal, human emotions. It's the INTERPRETATION of the expectation that makes it so lethal. 

The real danger is the story we attach to the expectation. 

Your expensive coffee maker broke: Great! Just more money down the drain! Your application/screenplay/book/request for a date was rejected: I must not be                        enough (fill in the blank with any adjective that fits). Your spouse/child/student/employee/boss didn't follow through on a task: I guess I'll have to do it myself if I want the job done. Over time, these interpretations build up. They corrode our vision of the world around us, so much so that we're slightly more impatient than usual, slightly more irritable. The "to-do" list becomes exhaustive, accompanied by heavy sighs. The weekly goal list gets longer, and the time for R&R gets shorter. You suddenly hear yourself annoyed at every little thing that isn't "going right" or the way you expected. 

In the spirit of trying to build a healthier relationship with "to-do" lists and weekly goals, here's a quick, 3-step process to manage expectations:

1.) When the desired outcome is not met, own the feeling. If you're hurt, be hurt. If you're disappointed and frustrated, feel it. State it aloud to someone who will listen and let you vent. Remind yourself that you're human, which means you have emotions. But allow the feeling to stand on its own. Raw and real. No story attached to it. 

2.) Ask yourself: Is there any action I can take or thought I can have to change the desired outcome? Sometimes, the answer to this question is "No." Maybe your thoughts are positively aligned and you've done everything possible to ensure the desired outcome is met. If so, move on to #3. But, if there's a pattern going on and you're continually feeling hurt, disappointed, or frustrated by the same results, then start to dig a little. What thoughts do you have about the expectation? Are your thoughts empowering? Do they serve you? Or are they limiting you? What actions are you currently taking to meet your desired outcome? Perhaps there are some alternative solutions. 

 3.) Take a deep breath and say, "I accept what is." Like the serenity prayer, there are some things you can change and others you can't. As soon as I accept that the gym is crowded and it might take me longer to find a parking space or that some people left their manners at home that day, I quickly feel the anxiety leave my body. Surrendering is a constant discipline. It takes daily practice, but when you repeat, "I accept what is," something truly remarkable happens. The world suddenly doesn't feel so edgy. You laugh things off a little more. You're not as bothered by all the small things. Certainly, it's quite empowering to take positive action for positive change, but it's also just as empowering to allow life to flow naturally without trying to control every circumstance. 

Create your own definition of "best" and expect it. 

Posted on November 29, 2013 and filed under Harmless Expectations.