(Originally posted July 19, 2018)
Think about unmet expectations for a minute. Everything from the expectation that we’ll arrive at our destination on time and instead getting sidelined by a flat tire, to something as simple as ordering a meal at a restaurant and getting food you don’t like. We expect we’ll have certain things accomplished by a certain time, then we see that milestone approaching (whether it’s 2pm, the end of the week, or a certain age) we see we’re falling short and we get stressed out, feel down on ourselves, and maybe even feel angry or depressed. We see only the absence of what we want – all our attention focused on the difference between where we are at in the present moment, and where we expected we’d be – instead of seeing how far we have come.
This applies to relationships, too. Unvoiced expectations or desires with your partner or friend. Maybe we expect our partner to be home at a certain time, or to remember something important that we were doing that day, and hope they’ll ask us about it – and they don’t. We don’t share with our partner our expectations because – well, they should just do it, or they should just know, right? Then, they’re not home at the right time, or they don’t ask about the important thing – and we get mad! Little did we know what took them off their usual routine, or what derailed their whole day and they simply forgot about our important event.
These expectations of ourselves and others bind us up. They tighten us up, energetically. We feel constrained – angry, frustrated, sad. Ahhhh! Things didn’t work out the way I needed or wanted them to, and it sucks! Who hasn’t uttered something similar at some point? And you felt it right in the core of your being, didn’t you? Almost like your feelings were folding in on you – like tunnel vision toward this absence of the result you wanted.
But what is it that is actually happening here? Let’s break it down. There are two things at play here: what you really wanted or thought you needed (i.e. expected) hasn’t come to pass; the other: our perception of what actually happened.
So we wanted or expected something to happen, and instead – something else happened. Both of those possible outcomes, themselves, are just neutral – neither positive or negative. It only us who has hung a label on each of them as positive or negative. In fact, the outcome that you find to be the most terrible outcome, might be someone else’s preferred result.
So, since we can’t change what has happened, what do we have control over? Our perception, our attitude toward what has happened! Look really closely: we only call what happened a terrible thing because it’s our opinion of it, based on our own perception, or others’ perceptions, or information we’ve absorbed over time about society’s perception.
My favourite Shakespeare quote is from Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Merriam-Webster dictionary says “Perception: a judgment resulting from awareness or understanding.”
What if the so-called “terrible” outcome sends us down a pathway leading to us meeting the love of our life! Or makes us realize something about ourselves, or learn a new skill, or innumerable other possibilities that are positive. What about switching our perspective to see an opportunity rather than a terrible thing that we’re a victim of? One step further – how about leaning into the outcome and saying to yourself: this is actually awesome – I’m now full of joy and anticipation at what’s next on this journey even though it started out different than I thought. See how different the event appears when you label it awesome instead of terrible! See the control you have – the control over your own view, which is really control over your own joy (or disappointment – your choice).
So, here are two things to try: first, release your expectations of yourself, your day, of others, of upcoming situations or events. Be open, don’t hold onto a certain preferred outcome. Removing the expectation removes the disappointment that would come from the unmet expectation. Second – make an effort to change your perception, or your judgment, of the situation, of yourself, of the other person. The restaurant you’d been craving all day is closed – ok, well this means you get to try a new place; I didn’t get the job – ok, that means there is something else out there better suited to me anyway; my relationship is over – ok, now I’m free to find someone else out there who is an even better match; my friend forgot and didn’t show up for our dinner plan – ok, so now I have time to do something for myself. The world is your oyster, so will you see it for the beautiful shell, or just the sand stuck in it?