Dealing With Expectations Part Three: Life, continued

In the last post, we saw that prosperity, media, technology, and our world view can affect our expectations.  Unmet expectations can cause distress.  When those expectations are unrealistic, we are bound to be disappointed.

(c) Purestock/Thinkstock

(c) Purestock/Thinkstock

What you think about life matters much more than your circumstances.

My Life Expectations

If you asked me, I would have told you that I knew that life does not always go the way you expect.  After all, the evidence is everywhere:  in history, in my family and friends, and in my own life.  Yet down deep I harbored a 'cause and effect' expectation.  If I did well, then good should naturally follow.  I also believed that life should always be just.

Reality Bites

Then the unthinkable happened.  Not once, but over and over again.  I contracted a mysterious illness that kept me in the hospital for 9 days with no diagnosis, and left me weak for months thereafter.  I had a freak bike accident that required knee surgery.  Then the worst of all – my husband suddenly died.  Such an apparently random situation; he had been declared healthy at his recent physical.  My world came crashing down around me, and my world view along with it.  The underpinnings of my life had been wiped away in one fell swoop.  I can’t begin to describe it.

As the intense grief began to subside, I realized that I needed to somehow live beyond my circumstances – find joy in the midst of uncertainty.  I saw that my expectations had magnified and extended my grief.  I knew I needed to appreciate life for what it was, and not for what I expected it to be.   I saw people all around me living with expectations just like mine – holding on to the illusion that they could control the future.  Several people I knew even tried to rationalize my husband’s death, so they could keep their world view intact.

Control Is An Illusion

I see people like that today.  Trying to control every aspect of their life.  Staying home and programming the television so they don’t have to see or hear anything outside their own comfort zone.

And then things happen anyway.

  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Layoff
  • Career disappointment or failure
  • Death

When bad things happen, it is difficult enough.  But when we expect life to be perfect, it’s even worse.  Our life is thrown into a tailspin.  Faith that might otherwise be shaken is lost.  Relationships that might be rocky break apart.

When we let go of unrealistic expectations we can experience deeper joy and fulfillment. 

How to Develop Healthy Expectations

Recognize your expectations or beliefs.
See them for what they are.  Are they helping, or holding you back?
Choose some that are causing emotional harm and reframe them.  Here is an example

  • Original:  I expect life to be perfect
  • Reframed:  I expect to have a happy and fulfilling life.

My life could have plenty of difficult circumstances and yet overall be happy and fulfilling.  That leaves room for the negative, difficult, growth experiences.

Practice gratitude..  Be thankful for everything that you have, no matter how small.  Appreciate the people in our lives, the rich experiences, beauty in nature.  All of it.
See the big picture.  Your entire life is not a mess all at once.  Yet it sometimes feels that way.  Remind yourself of the blessings you have experienced throughout your life.

Question:  How have your expectations affected your life?  What have you done to overcome unhealthy expectations?  Click here to leave a comment.