Want to be happier?
Drop those expectations.
Really Susie? That doesn’t sound like the path to merry and bright. Hang with me because it is. If you’re like most of us, you do the opposite.

How High Expectations Hurt Us

We humans are an optimistic bunch – we move into situations with the same people thinking there will be some miracle and they will behave differently. It’s not going to happen my dears. Think of what happens when we imagine a holiday gathering or family vacation. We usually put on our rose-colored glasses and think of the best possible scenario, instead of the realistic or worst case scenario. Then what? We’re disappointed and even a bit surprised. Thinking, but wait, I thought things would be different this year. That’s not helpful for us (or them) and so I am here to flip this on it’s head.

I encourage you to think of, if not the worst, then at least a realistic scenario. Why? Shockingly, you’ll be calmer and happier. Think about it: Say your mom has always been critical of you. If you go to meet her for a holiday event or a coffee with the idea that it will be a nice and connecting experience for you, you’ll be disappointed. If you go into that same coffee thinking she will find something to criticize about me, you won’t go through such an emotional roller coaster when she does. 

How Lower Expectations Help Us

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?
  • 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?

Examine your answers to determine where you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You don’t need a life coach to tell you that you’re going to be disappointed if you’re expecting people to behave differently than they ever have. Why Expectations Are Overrated Click To Tweet

How Expectations Have Gotten Me In Trouble in My Life 

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

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 those differences are what fuels the human experience.

Instead of expecting my demanding dad to be kind and easy-going, why not see it like it is? When I expect him to be demanding, I am not surprised or let down.  If my mom likes to control everything, then when she re-does my table setting, I am not surprised. In both situations I can remain in a neutral emotional state. In fact, if I view it from a lens of curiosity, I can almost laugh at the situation.

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. (This does not mean you get walked over. If you want your table setting the way it is, then check out last week’s post on boundaries)

My Favorite Tool to Lower Expectations

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, or print this one out. In each box, write something that usually happens over the holidays that mildly (or acutely) bothers you.  Examples of things to write in your squares:

Dad drinks too much.
Mother-in-law criticizes my cooking.
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 head 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 mother-in-law to criticize you and she does, what do you think? Instead of thinking “Dammit, she’s 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? Can you see how will you feel differently when you think the second thought rather than the first? Are you starting to see why lowering your expectations can help you? [tweetshare tweet=”We can not control what others will do, say, or act. We can always control how we react.” username=”SusieBarolo”] 

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 I covered that last week here. This is about showing up realistically in relationships that are healthy.

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. We can’t control how other people act, what other people say or what others do. We can only control ourselves and our reactions. 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 and have some fun! 

Please share this episode with one other person who may resonate with this message. If everyone who read this did that, we’d double the reach of this message!????The more people who go around with expectations based on reality, the happier we will be.

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