Want to have happier holidays?
Drop those expectations.

The lower your expectations, the higher your level of contentment and joy will be. Don’t see how? Think through the following: 
        What do you expect your extended family members to act like at gatherings?
        What do you expect your husband, friends, or family to give you for a gift?
        What do you expect your kids to act like at different events?
Examine your answers to determine where you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
        Are you expecting your alcoholic father to drink responsibly?
        Are you expecting your critical mother-in-law to compliment your parenting style?
        Are you expecting your non-demonstrative husband to hold your hand and hug you by the
        tree each night?
Guess what? You don’t need a life coach to tell you that you’re going to be disappointed. 

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In life, expectations get me in trouble in two different ways: 

1) When I expect others to act differently than they always have in the past, or

2) When I expect others to act the way that I would in a certain situation. 

In the first situation, when I expect others to act differently than they have before, I feel let down, disappointed, and frustrated. Why? It comes from a good place. We want to expect the best of everyone and, in doing so, we forget that our definition of “best” may not be their definition of “best”. We forget that we are all different and that those differences is what fuels the human experience. Instead of expecting my demanding dad to be kind and easy-going, why not see it like it is? If he’s demanding, expect him to demand. If my mom likes to control everything, don’t be surprised when she tries to control everything. Have you ever thought: This year our holiday dinner (or vacation) will be different. This year we’ll all act in ‘this’ way and sing kumbaya.” What happens? People show up as their human selves and act as they always have. What I’d like to help you see is that, in accepting reality, you will be calmer and more at peace. Your family is what it is. Your spouse is what it is. Your kids are what they are. Let go of trying to control or imagine the “perfect holiday event” and embrace your holiday reality on its’ own merit. 

Years ago, I learned of a tool called “family bingo”. I’ve shared with many a client to great success. The idea is this, make a grid on a piece of paper, 4X4 or 5X5. In each box, write something that usually happens over the holidays that mildly (or acutely) bothers you.  Examples:

        Dad drinks too much.
        Mom criticizes my outfit.
        Sister asks if I’ve gained weight.
        Son swears in front of Grandma.
        Daughter keeps looking at phone during Christmas Concert.

Tuck that paper into your pocket and go into your holiday season. When the things in the boxes happen, cross them off your list. Can you imagine what happens in your mind? When you expect your mom to criticize you and she does, what do you think? Instead of thinking “Dammit, my mom is so critical. Why can’t I do anything right in her eyes?” you think “Yep, there she goes again, finding something to criticize. Wonder what she’ll criticize next?” How will you feel differently when you think the second thought rather than the first? Are you starting to see why expectations are so important? We can not control what others will do, say, or act. We can always control how we react. Let your mom be your mom. Let your son be your son. Let your spouse be your spouse. This does not mean allow people to treat you in an abusive manner. That’s a different situation where boundaries are needed and that is not what I’m talking about or covering in this blog.

The second way expectations can get us in to trouble: When we expect someone to act the way we would in a certain situation; When we think someone will act a certain way and they don’t; When we expect someone to do one thing and they do another.

Consider this incident: The other day I was in Harris Teeter and about to enter a checkout line. A woman I don’t know zoomed in front of me with her very full cart. I literally had to stop so she didn’t bang into my cart. I could’ve thought: “What a selfish and rude woman! She just edged in front of me”. How would I have felt if I focused on that thought? Irritated, angry, and like a victim. None of these are feelings I enjoy feeling. Instead I chose to think “How interesting that she chose to zoom in front of me in that way.” Which feelings did that thought generate? Curiosity, calmness, empathy. Think of how, upon leaving Harris Teeter and going about my day, those feelings could drive my day. If I left the store irritated and angry, I would’ve acted in a different way than how I would’ve acted feeling calm and empathetic. This is one example of the amazing power managing our mind gives us. We are responsible for the energy we bring into this world. Click To Tweet

Now consider an interaction with a loved one. One that comes up often with my clients is someone leaves dirty dishes in the sink or shoes in the middle of the family room floor. If you find yourself getting instantly annoyed, pause to discover which thought you’re thinking to feel annoyed. Probably something along the lines of: “What a disrespectful kid” or “How self-absorbed he is that he thinks I’m here to pick up his mess”. Beep – PAUSE! Why are you making his shoes or dirty dishes mean something about you? You are giving your power away! Do you really think that your son or mate or whomever intentionally left the shoes in the middle of the floor to piss you off? You are judging his/her behavior on the framework of what you would’ve done with your shoes or dirty dishes. This will get you in trouble because, alert, he/she is not you! Whenever I can step back and remind myself that people aren’t me, whether it’s someone I love or a stranger, I feel more peaceful. I constantly remind myself that not everyone thinks the way I do so not everyone is going to act the way I would act. I remind myself that their action wasn’t personal. I call this tool: Don’t Take It Personally. There are very few people on this planet that do things just to piss you off. In the case of the shoes, either they didn’t even realize that they left them there or maybe, they know that whenever they leave their shoes around they’ll be picked up and put in the correct bin.  Neither is personal. Neither is done to intentionally piss me off.  It’s my thoughts about it that piss me off, not the act itself. Insert second tool: Curiosity instead of Judgement. Choose to look at things with curiosity instead of judgement. Instead of jumping to judge your child, partner, friend, etc…. as selfish or rude, shift to curiosity. Ask: “I wonder why they did that?” or “how interesting that she left her dirty dishes there again….” This works with relatives too. “How interesting that she is criticizing my table setting instead of complimenting me for the meal.” 

When I drop my expectations from some lofty, fantasy world of how everyone’s going to act, I feel happier and calmer. It’s not that I have lowered my standards, it’s that I’m no longer trying to control how others should act or what others should do. This is a good thing because, newsflash, I can’t. I can’t control how other people act, what other people say or what others do.  I can only control me. I get to control what I do and what I say. I get to choose which thoughts to focus on and which thoughts to let pass me by. 

My gift for the holidays is to lower my expectations. This is a gift I’m giving to myself and to others. In lowering my expectations, I give others the freedom to be themselves. To accept them without trying to change them. To make their actions mean something about them, not me. Cheers to a happy, holiday season. Now let’s get out those BINGO boards!