Taking Control Of Our Expectations (so they don't control us!)

Updated: Feb 10, 2018

Saturday morning I woke up, for seemingly the umpteenth time, to our infant daughter crying in the other room. Being Saturday and close to time for our boys to be awake anyway, I expected my husband to get up for her, as he often does on Saturday, and give me my once-a-week chance for extra sleep. Key word: expected. I expected him to do so. And he didn’t. Not for any other reason than he was tired also and had mis-read the clock to be an hour later than it actually was, but all I knew was that he was making no move to climb out of bed and rescue me from my state of exhaustion, and I immediately became angry. Angry that I was tired, angry that I had to get out of bed again, angry that he didn’t do it for me, angry that this morning was not at all going the way I had expected. Expected. At this point I had a choice: stay angry because things hadn’t gone my way, or recognize the situation as simply different from my expectations, let those expectations go, and enjoy the morning. I get up for our daughter every other day of the week and don’t make a big deal about it. Why make a big deal about it now? Case in point: I could dig a pit of frustration and stew in it the rest of the day, or I could let go of my expectations and build a bridge of understanding, so to speak.

Our expectations play a powerful role in our reactions and decisions, and understandably so! We want something to be a certain way, we have reason to assume it will be, and our heart settles in the hope that it will in fact happen the way we want even when there’s no guarantee of it doing so. When and if it doesn’t, the nice little cozy house of expectation we’ve built in our mind blows all to pieces, and we’re left picking up the mess. Being expectant is part of our nature, but we can have a lot of say in how these expectations affect us if we’re willing to take the reins and guide our expectations accordingly. Here are a few tips I’ve learned:

1.   As much as possible, purposefully set your expectations ahead of time. Instead of assuming everything will go the way you want, assume it won’t! You’re far less likely to react negatively if you’ve already set your mind that you’re going to be surprised. On the flip side, if it does turn out the way you want, you can enjoy the surprise as a pleasant one.  

2.   Recognize your expectations. When a situation catches you off guard, think through whether or not you had expectations for that situation. Recognize them as simply expectations, not guarantees, and deal with the situation accordingly (see tip #3). 

3.   When helpful, let go of your expectations. Don’t let assumptions rule your emotions. If you recognize that your reaction is based on your own expectations, let those expectations go. Why dig a pit if you can build a bridge instead?

Expectations in themselves aren’t bad, but they have a powerful impact on the way we respond to life’s circumstances. The more we practice taking control of our expectations, the less we let them take control of us.       

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