(Not So) Great Expectations

We expected this pandemic would take a year or so, then it would be back to normal. We expected most people to rally to the cause of protecting their neighbors and not their own self-interests. We expected a safer world would return, yet it is getting decidedly less safe. We expected a rest from political and civil turmoil here and around the world.

We expected many things at many points in the last three years. What we expected and hoped for has not happened. Now what do we do?

The events of the last three years have been critically difficult at the system and the personal levels. So many systems and people are reeling under the strain of the endless cascade of setbacks and disappointments.  Especially the disappointments.  Nothing turned out as we thought it could or should.  The stress and turmoil are enormous.

What if a good portion of our stress and turmoil came not from the objective difficulty, but from our sense of disappointment at our unmet expectations?  Expectations that things would be different, that people would tell the truth and get a vaccine and wear a mask?  That we would be safer through it all?

We become invested in our expectations, so if they are not met, we feel a sense of loss.  Expectations are a form of opinion as to how things should be.  Our opinions are valuable to us, and if they are not fulfilled, we feel cheated.

Consider the following words:  “What is is. What matters is what you’re going to do. No excuses. No anger. Take responsibility for your life and live it.”   These words can be applied to our emotional responses to disappointment.  If we are mindful, proactive instead of reactive, we can let go of the stress and negativity accompanying unmet expectations

Here are three tips for limiting the impact of holding onto our expectations when the reality turns out differently.

1.  Stop the train.  Work to let go of expectations regarding circumstances and people.  We have little to no control over events and people, and to hold expectations closely regarding them is to set oneself up for disappointment.  It is not that we give up all hope for accomplishment or improvement.  We are simply eliminating sources of potential emotional setback.

2.  Mind the gap.  Monitor your emotional response to situations that disrupt your expectations and equilibrium.  Anger is a choice you can make or reject.  Dwelling on disappointment is as well.  The same with bitterness, ingratitude, and offense.  We can reject these and choose better emotional responses.  Gratitude for the good in your day and your life, or faith that even in setbacks you will be able to thrive.

3.  Change the channel.  When you realize you are stuck in a negative self-talk cycle, switch your thoughts to more positive channels.  Again, gratitude is a big one, as is thinking about loved ones and what they mean to you.  Recalling and journaling positives from the day and the week.  Getting outside to clear your thinking and be mindful. And if you pray, spending time praying with thanksgiving.

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