How to Not Let Expectations Bite You in the Ass
Updated: Sep 5, 2021
Expectations can bite us in the ass. Especially expectations of ourselves and others.
I remember a client years ago that was getting married. She kept saying, “Oh, I hope my family doesn’t argue, we always argue at things like this, I just want it to be nice.” She repeated this wish several times over a month or so. I asked her what would happen if she accepted that they probably will argue because that’s what her previous experiences had taught her? Could she imagine a way that they could argue AND she could have a nice time?
My thought was that yes, there was a faint possibility that her family may show up well-rested with soft, open heart centers and be harmonious, but it was more likely that they would show up with their regular load of stress, repetitive thoughts, and their own set of expectations. Some would be defensive, some over-sensitive, and others in avoidance. Regular humans, in other words.
People are going to show up as who they are. We all have different hats (responsibilities), and masks we wear (roles we play and self-identities). These do and should change over our lifetime, but they usually do so very slowly. Not in time for a wedding.
We often default to expecting either the best or the worst of those we love. This is understandable because intense experiences, both good and bad, imprint on our memories more than the moderate, everyday ones.
So how do we manage our expectations? I like these two strategies:
Go ahead and expect the behavior. Be it pleasant or unpleasant to you, expect to see it and even watch for it. Allow yourself to be a bit in a witness state. If you were at that wedding, you would be watching for the argument. When it flared up, you could say to yourself, “Oh, there’s the argument I was expecting. Yep, it happened and I’m still OK.” It’s almost like you’re being an anthropologist and watching the primates do the dance that they always do. This allows you to be just a little detached and not get hooked emotionally, yet still be present.
This is almost exactly the opposite of the first.
It is to allow whoever you are placing expectations on to be who they are in the present moment. What does that woo-woo sentence even mean?
It means to pretend as if you have never met them before, and see who they are right now.
When you’ve known someone for a long time, it can be difficult to look at them with fresh eyes. And that makes sense because we partially create our perceptions based upon our past experiences, when you have experienced someone a certain way multiple times it makes sense to expect that again. But it doesn’t always happen. Give people space to change. Allow them the grace of the possibility of becoming someone new.
How do you do that? Relax your expectations. Soften your thoughts about them, and like strategy one, observe. This time, instead of looking for the same old thing, you are looking for how you feel around their present actions and mannerisms. You are noticing who they are right then, in that place and time. It is a rediscovery. This approach is especially helpful if you know that you may be holding a grudge or being unfair to them in some way.
Give yourself that same grace and soften your edges to new possibilities and ways of relating to the world and other people.